“The sooner we recognize that if we want teachers to treat our students with an ethic of care, we have to create school systems that treat teachers with an ethic of care. If people don't believe that for ethical reasons, they should realize it for practical reasons, because if we keep on with our current model, we are never going to get enough of the teachers our students deserve.”
This had me thinking about my own career and what kept me teaching all those years in special education. What happened to make me love it so much and keep me from giving up when times got rough? It made me realize that we have a powerful resource that schools and teachers do not use and have actually pushed away over the years. I know what I’m going to say will be controversial to many and have seen this when I mention this to groups of teachers and when I have talked about this in my university classes to other teachers. But I still believe in this with my whole heart and will probably go to my grave preaching this: Schools and Teachers have got to become partners with the Parents.
Over the years I have seen the school systems become School vs. Parents rather than Schools and Parents working together. I think that is why so many parents are dragging schools through the court system. It has been a gradual change and the attitude of the school system has trickled down to the teachers and now it has become a Teachers vs. Parents world.
Throughout my career, I have contacted parents every two weeks, saying mostly positive things but negative if I found it necessary. This close communication allowed me a working relationship with the parent that helped my students succeed. It was this extra time that I took to show students and parents that I really cared about their success so when I had to say something negative, the parents really showed their support. In 27 years of teaching, I may have had about 5 parents who did not support me which was pretty good odds, I think. Now, I have heard teachers gripe to me that they don’t have the time or I don’t have a family etc. During this time I had two small daughters, was a cheerleading coach, and was working on my Master’s Degree so I too was busy. But I made the time to do this and it paid off. During my regular communication with parents, I also found appreciation for what I do and also support when I needed encouragement. This really goes a long way to keeping good teachers. Let’s face it; teachers don’t go into teaching for the big amount of money they will make. They want to help students and make a difference in someone’s life. Without support and appreciation, teachers won’t feel they are doing either of these things.
By gaining the respect and support of the parents, I built a system of trust too. I gave them my home number at the beginning of the year and set up a time for them to call (“please do not call before 7am and not after 9pm). Only 2 parents abused this and I refused to talk to them outside of these hours. This really helped when I had a parent mad at me because I let a nail technician paint her son’s nails. We had told the boy that she wouldn’t, but he had Down’s Syndrome and I hated to see him cry so I let her do it, which was wrong. His mom called me up at home and let me know she was mad at me and we talked it out. I explained why I did it and now realized that I was wrong. I apologized and never let it happen again. The mom calmed down and accepted my apology. We have stayed in touch for years after this happened. She could have waited until the next day and contacted my administration and the whole thing could have blown up into a complicated situation but because we had a rapport and established communication early in the year, she felt comfortable dealing just with me. This strengthened my feelings that the key to a successful career was communication with the parents.
Schools need to be more transparent to the community. I feel the school system discourages this by their actions. They say they are open to the parents and encourage volunteers but I hear differently when I am in faculty meetings or closed doors. During testing, I have seen administrators encourage guidance counselors to use military recruiters, business people, or others who are not parents as monitors. We had a PTSA (parent, teacher, student Association) but instead of a two way communication system, it has become a fund raising organization. Teachers are not strongly encouraged to contact parents on a regular basis. We are told to call if the child is having problems or failing or if the parent requests a call. I strongly feel that teachers need to call the parents often on a regular basis as part of their job.
I have also encouraged parents to visit my classroom without an appointment. They do have to schedule it with the administration due to safety reasons but I don’t need to be notified. Many teachers do not like this because it makes them do their job. I never did anything any day that I didn’t want a parent to see. If so, then I wasn’t doing my job. There have been discussions about videotaping in the classrooms and I wouldn’t care about that either, because I don’t do anything in the classroom that I would be embarrassed about if it was seen on camera. Sure I may make mistakes but that is natural but if I am doing my job, I should have nothing to worry about. When cameras first came out on police cars, policemen were against this because it could be used against them too. I think the cameras have help improve the law enforcement system. Maybe that is why we need cameras in the classroom. In fact, if some of the parents saw how hard we work in the classroom, they might appreciate us even more.
I feel this is an important reason why our schools are failing our students and why we are losing good teachers. If parents are encouraged to be an active participant in the schools, schools will have to do their job. Schools are afraid of criticism by the parents but that may be what it takes to make our schools better. School systems do not want parents to see what is going on in the schools. School systems have to take the first step into rebuilding relationships with parents. Administrators will need to set the example by changing school attitude from a “vs. parents” to a “partner with parents” frame of mind.
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