In deciding what the topic of this blog should be, I realized it was staring me right in the face courtesy of the Monday, 3 September Salt Lake Tribune. Scattered throughout the paper were not one, but three separate articles on parenting and school. So, following suit, I will add my two bits. Now, I’m not a psychologist with a specialty in parenting, but I have raised my own two children and taught thousands of others (this calculation caused a number of new gray hairs to sprout), so I feel I have some credibility in this area. With the start of school, this is probably the best time to address this subject as children in school seems to bring out some of the best and worst in us as parents.
Some of you may wonder why on earth we need so many articles about parenting, but it is a skill that like other skills is done well by some and not so well by others. During my 13 years of teaching I have seen things go from bad to worse in this area. A fact, which unfortunately is responsible, in part, for the dwindling number of college graduates going into teaching. No matter how much enjoyment one derives from working with children, it only takes one rampaging parent to take the fun out of the job. In case you are unaware of how much of a problem some parents (by no means the majority) have become, think about the following items from two very different sources.
A professional development flier from Berg systems here in the U.S. entitled:
“Berg now announces their latest in-service for teachers: ‘How to Handle Problem Parents’”.
Or, a recent article in The Daily Yomiuri (Japan 7/26) started with this:
“More than one in three public school teachers and other school faculty in Tokyo, Japan, have taken out insurance with premiums of less than $10 monthly to protect themselves from lawsuits. ‘I didn’t know what parents might try to do to me,’ a Tokyo teacher said. ‘As a teacher, I’m quite sad about this state of affairs.’”
I have had my fair share of experience with parents who suffer from what I refer to as the “Lake Woebegone Syndrome”: a belief that all children are above average, and that their own child is gifted in all areas. Trying to work with these parents is not only frustrating but, at times, can be gut wrenching as well. I have spent a lot of time trying to understand why, for a few parents, nothing one does as a teacher is right. This has brought me to the following idea for a letter.
I am your child’s teacher this year. I am truly looking forward to working with both your child AND you. Yes, teaching is a three-way partnership between the student, teacher, and parents. As such, I would ask that you consider the following:
A. I, as the teacher, am not your enemy. Quite the contrary, my goals are very similar to yours. I want to provide your child with the tools and knowledge that will allow him or her to love learning, and to develop an internal drive to succeed to the best of his/her abilities. Contrary to popular belief, I do not derive enjoyment from the torture of young children, rather my enjoyment comes from seeing their eyes light up at the discovery of something new.
B. This is your child’s chance to learn, and he or she needs to be the one doing the work; you have already been through school. Parent support is great, but there is a fine line between support and doing. One reason for homework is to see what a child remembers long term after a lesson. If they are really struggling with it, we as teachers need to know that. You, as parents, need to accept the fact that your child is not necessarily gifted in all things. No one thinks any less of your child, and certainly no less of you. Remember this is all about your child. Who you are as a person should not be dependent on your child earning all As. If it is recommended that your child receive special help at school, embrace it, don’t be put off by it or your child’s particular need. We all want your child to succeed, and receiving help to learn how to adapt to a deficit, or to overcome it is the best thing that can happen. Appreciate what the teachers are trying to offer, don’t think of it as a mark against you.
C. In regards to grades, please think about what the grades are trying to communicate. The purpose of grades is to give the student and parents an idea of where strengths and weaknesses lie. Students earn grades; grades are not given. Grades should not be used as reasons for punishment or excuses to lavish more material items on a child. If a grade is not what you expect please try the following:
1. Remember: Your child is responsible for his/her learning and the grades that reflect that learning.
2. Check any web-based source for grades. In the Park City district, parents and students can go to Power School. Look at the grades for the individual assignments for the particular subject in question. If test scores are low, ask your child to explain how he/she reviewed the material. Are there a number of NHIs (not handed in) or assignments never made-up after an absence? You may not need to go further. Also, reflect on what you have done. Are you a supporting parent or one that does the work for your child? The latter could make a huge difference as to how a student performs on assessments where you cannot be present.
3. Ask yourself if the grades truly represent what your child is capable of. Remember, there may be a difference between what you as a parent would like to see, and what your child is actually able to do. Accept your child for who he/she is and what he/she can do. Don’t settle for less, but don’t expect what may not be there. Belittling grades that have an honest effort behind them robs your child of self-esteem and the desire to continue learning. In other words, if what he/she does isn’t good enough for you, why should they bother doing anything. In general letter grades reflect the following:
A = works well above grade level expectations
B = works somewhat above grade level expectations
C = works at grade level expectations
D = works below grade expectations
F = is failing to do most work
If you are not sure what the grade level expectations are, ask your child’s teacher.
4. If #2 and #3 don’t answer the question, have your student talk to the teacher about what he or she is missing/not comprehending. Remember, this is about your child’s learning; he/she needs to take responsibility for it. Do not accept the line “I can’t do that, the teacher scares me.” The teachers I work with, and all but a few exceptions anywhere, are all in this for the students, and not one of us would be less than welcoming of a student trying to self-advocate. That line (I used it as a kid, and heard it from my own kids) is an excuse, and a way of manipulating parents to remove the responsibility of learning from the student. You can always follow-up with an email or meeting, but let your child take the lead. Once the student has talked to the teacher, go straight to #5 on this list.
5. Talk to your child about what needs to be done by him/her to improve the grade. Ask how you can support this effort. This is the same conversation the teacher will have had with them. Doing this accomplishes three things. One, your child knows he/she is responsible for his/her learning, two, that there is unified support at school and home for accomplishing what he/she needs to do, and three, that there is a strong communication between the teacher and parents, so the student can’t push the responsibility off on one or the other. With consistency like that, short of sitting on their thumbs, all students will be able to meet with success.
6. Support the teacher. This seems so obvious, but as mentioned earlier, there are parents who think the teacher is the enemy and is solely responsible for the child’s grade. A little respect in emails or meetings goes a long way to building a very strong partnership.
7. Use praise to encourage an intrinsic or internal drive to succeed. If lavish material objects are used as reward, what will you use next time that will be deemed appropriate or enough by your child, and what happens if those rewards go away? Students should want to succeed for their own internal pleasure, not because they’ll get $100 for each A (you’d be amazed how many students receive this and more), or some expensive toy.
D. Please remember, just like the doctors who take care of your family, we as teachers have been through, and continue to go through, specialized training to qualify as teachers. We know what our job is, and do our best to meet the needs of all of our students. Just as you trust a surgeon to properly perform a surgical procedure, please trust us to teach your child. If there are specific needs that we may be unaware of, by all means share them with your child’s teacher, but please don’t tell the teacher how to do his or her job. Remember, we are a team supporting your child from our two areas of expertise.
As I stated at the beginning of this letter, I do truly look forward to our year as partners. For my part, I promise you that I will teach your child to the best of my abilities, and will treat you and your child with the utmost respect.
Your child’s teacher