Every year we as teachers face a certain challenge, that despite our best efforts, we are never able to totally meet. The challenge I am talking about is making sure that our students’ parents know about all the tools available to them to get any information they want and/or need. I am amazed at what parents today have available to them in the way of tools, and at the amount of information to which parents have access. However, at the same time, I am amazed at the number of parents who say we the teachers do nothing to communicate with them.
It goes without saying that as with everything in life, if you don’t know what you’ve got, it’s not much use to you. With that in mind, here are some tips from a parent and teacher that might help. The number one thing to remember is that there is a learning curve for parents in knowing what the available tools are, and how to use them. Just like your student, you will have a transition period when you change schools. Parents must also understand that they will have to put in the effort to understand the system and all that it offers. Unfortunately, you will have to go to the information; it won’t come find you. Fortunately though, the information is not at all hard to find, and a little bit of effort on your part can truly make life a lot less stressful for you and your student.
In order to learn what the tools are and how to use them, parents must pay close attention to all information handed to them at the beginning of each school year. Now as a parent of two former Park City School District students, I know that the information sent home by teachers can be daunting, but rather than get upset at how much there is be grateful the teachers are trying to help inform you. All of the information given to you is part of the teachers’ job. I know from the parent part of me that the inclination is to just sign all the papers so the kids get credit, and be done with it. However, don’t give into this thought. Go ahead and sign the papers, but then take the time to read them, to understand what they are saying. If you have questions about anything, talk with your child (yes, they usually do know what’s going on despite what they may tell you), and if need be contact the teacher. As you read through the papers look for web sites and then check them out. I know at my school the teachers maintain personal web pages chock-a-block full of information pertaining to their individual class. We also have team pages that provide information such as calendars of upcoming tests and projects. Be sure to also look for other things such as policies concerning absentee make-up, late work, and information concerning available help for students. Once you have read the information provided to you by the teachers don’t throw it out! Put it in a folder, put the folder in a readily accessible place, and then refer to it any time you have a question. Quite often you can save yourself a lot of time and frustration by doing this because the answer is in the information. I would also suggest you spend time not only on the teacher pages, but also on the district home page, your particular school’s homepage, and Power School (link to this found on both homepages). Again, there is a plethora of information on these sites that can make your time in the district much less overwhelming for you and your student . Also be sure to read the agenda given to you at registration, and the PTO newsletter for information specific to your school. Talk to the board members about any concerns you may have. The sooner we in the schools know about the concerns the quicker we can take action.
Another area of contention for parents and teachers is conferences. Originally, conferences were intended to close the gap between school and home because none of today’s information tools existed. But while our tools have changed and evolved, the concept parents have of what a conference should be hasn’t. Nowadays, a parent can request a conference with a teacher quickly and easily via email or through a telephone call. There is no need to wait for the district scheduled conference dates, and if you have a concern you shouldn’t be waiting for the two conference dates in the year to voice those concerns. This last thought is exceedingly important for several reasons, not the least of which is your sanity. If you have a concern about your child, we as teachers want to know about it as soon as possible, so we can nip things in the bud, and help to get your student get back on track. Another reason to not wait is one of simple logistics. I know that at my school we have two nights of conferences, four hours each night. That adds up to a total of 480 minutes of conference time. Most of the teams at our school have anywhere from 130 to 180 students. If each teacher conferences with each set of parents for exactly five minutes, which by the way is not enough time to do justice to the parents, students, or teachers, that would be a total of at least 750 minutes. Okay, so 480 minutes conference time for 750 minutes of conferencing, not physically possible. Having been at my school when we used to try to accommodate parents in this way, I can tell you no one was satisfied, in fact many parents were downright angry, and I didn’t blame them. As a teacher, I was angry too, as I was unable to satisfactorily do my job. It was a lose-lose situation that infuriated the parents and made the teachers look inept. The other problem that I and other teachers had with this type of conference was that it invariably left the student out of the conversation. This is a huge shame because whose education is it anyway? The current portfolio conferences are wonderful because the student gets to take charge of the conversation. I never cease to be amazed by the level of maturity of my students as I listen in on conversations during which they discuss what they have learned about themselves as learners, what they need to change to improve, and what they should continue doing. In a world where many people prefer to shift responsibility to others, it is refreshing to hear students stepping up to the plate and taking responsibility for their actions and learning.
So parents please know that the teachers and schools are working hard to keep you informed and up to date. The tools are there for you. If you don’t know where to find them contact teachers, the school office, the PTO, or a friend whose kids are in the same school. It doesn’t matter who you ask, but you must ask; this is your responsibility as a parent.