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Otis Kriegel

Otis Kriegel

Veteran teacher Otis Kriegel has taught all grades 1-5, in monolingual, bilingual and inclusion settings in the public school systems of Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City. He created the website The K5 to help parents of elementary school children with everything from how to get to school on time to how to help your child improve reading comprehension. Author, teacher, educator, former adjunct faculty at NYU and guest lecturer at Bank Street College of Education, his new book What Every New Elementary School Teacher Really Needs to Know (and didn't learn in college), published by Free Spirit, will be available March 2013. You can find him on Twitter @mynameisotis.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012 11:30

A teacher's POV: I assign homework

There is so much information flying around about whether homework is worthwhile or not, it's hard to know where to start. Just last week, the French president said that one of his educational reforms is to do away with homework because some students get help from parents at home, while others do not. A 2006 Duke University study, based on a review of 60 homework studies, found that homework is most beneficial  for students in 7th-12th grades, especially when there's not too much of it. 

Some schools assign a lot of homework while others don't give any. Some teachers within the same school give more than others. And some parents demand it while others hate it.  Beliefs about what is important differ from school to school, classroom to classroom, household to household. Who is right?  

I always assign homework. Beyond the debatable academic benefits, I think it teaches a life skill: responsibility. Some teachers hand out a packet on Monday that is due Thursday or Friday. I like to give homework each night so my students get used to bringing their work home, completing it and bringing it back the following day.  I might assign some work on Monday that is due on Friday, but for the most part, it's an evening ritual and I stay away from  weekend assignments   Do I assign hours and hours of busy work?  Countless pages? No. Never. As a 1st - 5th grade teacher, I never assign more than an hour, and for younger kids, just enough for them to practice a skill at home.  

Thursday, 08 November 2012 11:28

Teacher's POV: Prepare for parent/teacher meet

Parent/Teacher Conferences take place at most elementary schools on Tuesday and Wednesday, Nov. 13 and 14. It's finally your chance to talk to your child's always-too-busy teacher!

Some elementary schools allot as little as ten minutes (which in my opinion is absurd!) so you want to make the most of whatever time is offered. I've had some ridiculous meetings, where families want to chat about recently viewed movies, share recipes or talk politics. It's all fine if we're socializing, but we're not – these are precious minutes to be used to focus upon one thing: your kid.


Here are some ideas to help organize yourself to get the most out of the Parent/Teacher Conference. (and watch my video below for more tips)

Wednesday, 19 September 2012 13:03

Getting ready for "meet the teacher" night

Is it Meet The Teacher Night? Back To School Night? Curriculum Night?

Whatever your child’s school calls it, parents generally arrive with high expectations and leave disappointed, feeling that they didn’t get enough time with their teacher or weren't able to ask enough questions because they didn’t know what to anticipate. 

Let me explain what you can realistically expect. Your kid’s teacher(s) will introduce themselves and hopefully provide an overview of the year.   No, you’re not going be able to drill your teacher about how your child is doing after 10 days in school or why the cafeteria is so loud, but you can anticipate getting a pretty good idea about what is going to happen in the classroom.

You wait to receive the postcard in the mail to find out who your child’s teacher will be in the coming year. Is it that guy down the hall that you think yells too much? Or is it the woman who is known to give boat loads of homework and never lets parents come in the classroom? Perhaps it’s the teacher who supposedly never teaches math?

Bugging your child’s principal to change your class assignment is probably not going to work. Here’s why.

Schools work hard to get the right mix of children in each class--a balance of loud and quiet kids, active and sedate kids, students who struggle with their behavior and those who demonstrate composure and self-control. Some students do better with a strict teacher while others find freedom inspiring, bringing out their best.

The ideal is to have a mix of strengths, abilities and personalities that create a classroom where students can learn from each other while also being in tune with the teacher’s teaching style. You might think it’s a random group, thrown together the day before school begins but each class, when done thoughtfully, is a delicate balance of children.

One child removed and the equilibrium can be thrown off. And it doesn’t always work. Trust me, some of my classes gelled together perfectly while others have rolled though the year like a square wheel.

We live in a democracy, but when it comes to choosing a teacher for your child, you may discover that you don’t have a choice.

Thursday, 06 September 2012 11:19

A teacher's plea: Hey parents! Just respond!

I know you’re busy. I know you work three jobs, are taking care of an aging parent, are getting a divorce, have health issues, have kids in two different schools and you breathe a sigh of relief when your kid goes to school in the morning and you know someone else is in charge, if only for a little while. I get it. But I do need one thing from you. I need to know you’re there.

It doesn’t need to be much. A signed permission slip, submitted on time. A response to a question or a question sent to me about an assignment, or even a critique.  Just something to let me know that there is a living, breathing parent out there that is keeping an eye on their child and their classroom life.