Monday, March 4, 2013

Wherein I ramble about parents

So you've probably seen it by now: the CNN article that purports to say what teachers really want to tell parents.  A friend of mine posted it on some other social networking site and (somewhat foolishly) solicited opinions from her teacher friends.  (The "you" is my friend and the little girl is her less-than-1-year-old daughter.)

I responded.


I have an easy solution to this. I never talk to the parents, ever. For any reason. During parent teacher conferences, I set up a cardboard cutout of myself with a motion sensor; when a parent sits down, a speaker plays the pre-recorded phrase, "¡Hola, y bienvenido a nuestra escuela! ¿Qué tal tu estudiante? ¿Le gusta la escuela?" I'm told that parents say, "Well, thank you for your time," leave my table, and never come back.

No, really, though. I read this article from time to time, and I know I have co-workers who feel this way about parents. Some of them are real pains. I don't know if I do, strictly speaking. I DO know that parents are the #2 reason I will never be a principal. (Having to catch kids chewing tobacco or having sex in the bathroom is #1.) Everbody wants what's best for their student, and everybody wants to work with their teachers. But riddle me this: your little girl is likely to be on the bright side of the comprehending-things spectrum. She will probably understand lots of things faster than her classmates, and that's okay. What will you do when a teacher paces her class to accommodate people who don't learn as fast? When she's not learning as much in her classes as you know she could be, because her classmates need more practice at a concept? When she has slack time because she finishes her in-class work faster than everybody else? When she uses that slack time to do things that get her into trouble? Working with teachers looks a lot harder all of a sudden.

Or worse--imagine a student who is NOT crazy intelligent, one who, in fact, has a hard time grasping the simplest mathematical concepts. Or one who doesn't understand how squiggly lines on a paper mean words. Or one who doesn't know that THIS face means "happy," and THAT face means "angry." Or one in whose family nobody has ever graduated high school ever, and they all turned out "just fine." In short, imagine the whole pile of students that school was always MEANT to serve, but hasn't historically been very good at it. Imagine you're the parent of one of THOSE children, and you want what's best for him, but no matter how hard he works and no matter what you do, he's falling further and further behind all the time. How do you work with a teacher now? 

I want my students' parents to trust me. I also want them to take an active interest in their students' education, to advocate what is really best (not just what is easiest) for their students, to understand the role education has in their students' lives and the transformative power of what an education can do for them. Honestly, what I expect for them is to be busy people with an agenda that only deals with their child, and for them to cover for that with the phrase, "I know you have 30 other kids to deal with, but...". I expect them to not understand why it's important for EVERY SINGLE KID, yes, including yours, to take a world language or to learn to multiply or why we "waste time" on skills and knowledge that they'll "never use in the real world." (Is there a more odious phrase to a teacher?) I expect them to associate me with the teacher they hated in high school, and to view my interactions with their student through the prism of their experiences with their own teachers. I expect that when I say, "Your student has a problem I'd like your help solving," they hear, "Your student is a problem I'd like to get rid of." So what I'd reallly want to tell parents is this: I'm on your children's side.

...You did ask.


The rest of the exchange is worth noting.  I'll try to get permission from the involved parties to re-post here.

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