You Have Scheduled a School Tour. Now What?

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Empty-HallwayMary Ann Giordano

My husband and I tend to agree, or at least find common ground, on everything from food and movies to travel. And for six years now, we've been compatible when it comes to parenting, too.

So it took me by surprise when we got into a bit of an argument after leaving a school tour. We were exploring elementary school options for our daughter and had visited a few schools already. This day, we were in a rush to get to work and began comparing notes as we hurried to the subway. But we began arguing over what we had seen and what it meant.

He thought the classroom decorations were colorful and cheery, and he was glad to see a lot of instructional posters and student work on the walls. To him, it was a sign of a vibrant environment where a lot of learning was happening.

I had the opposite reaction. Room after room at the school looked cluttered, and the posted materials seemed overwhelming — there was no order, nowhere for the eye to rest. To me, it suggested that the teachers didn’t have time built into their schedules to work on their rooms; they had just added more and more to the walls as the year went on.

I wondered how well students could focus on instruction and activities amid such a mess. Sure, the students could be learning a lot there, but I wasn’t convinced simply by the copious materials displayed in the classrooms.

Guess which one of us is a former teacher?

We are only a few days into the school year, but already parents all over the city are starting to look at schools for next year.

Whether your child is heading next fall to preschool, elementary, middle or high school, you have probably already begun the vetting process. You’ve asked around, done Web searches, visited parenting chat boards. You may even have already scheduled a school tour.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll walk you through the school tour experience, reviewing what to look for and what to focus on before, during and after your visit. I will try to offer some insights from my own teaching career, and from education and childhood experts.

I will not be providing advice on how to increase admissions chances. But I will try to demystify the tour and help you get the most out of it.

After all, many parents have rarely entered a classroom or school since they were students themselves. It can be hard to know what to look at or what to take into account when trying to make decisions or figure out what a school has in store for your child.

Part 2 in this series of posts will be about preparing for a tour. We welcome your questions or suggestions.