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Tracey | September 18, 2011

Parents in the Classroom


Screen shot 2011-09-17 at 6.33.59 PM
By Tracey

I'm a huge fan of the Moth podcast.  If you haven't heard of it before, it's a collection of true stories told live, without notes.  I was listening recently and heard the story, My Unhurried Legacy, by Kyp Malone.  The story is a good reminder that the children we teach are, often times, small replicas of their own parents, fated, or perhaps doomed, by genetics.  The story is about a man whose daughter begins kindergarten.  Without giving too much away, the teacher has some concerns.  But, the "concerns" were him.  He had the same issues growing up.  He recognizes himself in his daughter, and realizes where this will lead if he keeps her in her current classroom with a teacher who doesn't understand them.  

The story stuck with me for days, as I began the school year and met my new students.  Two and half weeks into the school year, I've started having some "concerns."  As I pick up the phone to talk with parents, I remember Kyp Malone's story.  I might just be speaking to an older and more experienced version of my student; and so I tread carefully.  I should anyway.  I'm OK with that.  But, I wonder if, in today's high stakes testing environment, these "concerns" might be interpreted differently.  Are they intensified by the need for all students to reach standard?  Even for students as young as kindergarten?  

Luckily for Kyp and his daughter, he was able to pull her out of the classroom and send her to a Waldorf school.  For what shouldn't feel like a utopian view on assessment, but does, I recommend reading the Waldorf school's approach, Assessment without Testing.  Just don't look up their tuition rates. 


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You know, they do have to be on board, and they don't.

My family had a lot of strengths, but it had some pretty major problems. For example, my parents gave me the silent treatment on my 13th birthday because I had all Cs and one D on my report card.

They just didn't know how to deal with it, given the other things that were going on. They didn't need my problems added to the ones they already had.

For me, phone calls home wouldn't have helped at all unless they were only good news.

What did help was having teachers and coaches who accepted me for who I was, encouraged me without a price tag, and made me love them so much I would have done anything for them. Now that I think about it, the ninth grade teacher who probably saved my life (and made me want to be a history teacher) saw only the good, even though I wasn't always good. She just was too busy teaching and getting us to think to slow down long enough to notice me talking, or to look at my record and see that I spent eighth grade on academic probation and was probably going to be a big pain in her butt.

I think some kids don't have parents who can be supportive in any way of their academic success. For those kids, I don't call home unless it's good news. If things have gone south, I try to figure out who else in the building has a bond with the child, or who it is in their life they love, and I call that person. It's one of my questions on my first-day questionnaire.

It's incredibly important to build a positive relationship with every student's parents. Unfortunately, it takes both parties to make a relationship work. We can - and should - do everything we can to make it happen, but at the end of the day the parents have to get on board.

Tracey, that link took me to a completely reasonable request on the part of parents whose local school had obviously failed them. Satire to the rescue:,17159/ ...the easily offended ought not click, considering the other fare at theonion.

(To be honest, I'm sure we all have some excellent parent-partners that actually help make our jobs easier... my good parents... or good parent-interactions... have outnumbered the bad ones.)

Mark, have you seen this?
Sorry, if that made your blood boil. :-)

It's probably also wise to consider that if a child hates school and acts out in the classroom, or thinks it's a waste of time, it's very possible the parent does, too. When they were in school, they may have had a very similar experience. And getting a call from the teacher brings back lots of not so good memories.

Travis, I'm sorry about your phone call. Although it's rare, I've had a few of those, too. I know they can weigh on you. Maybe there's some other adult in that boy's life that can help? He's lucky to have you for a teacher. HIs stories will be powerful.

But Travis, remember that teachers are the reason that young people are failing. If you would just "teach harder" that kid would succeed...right? (I must be tired...resorting to sarcasm too much.)

It is experiences like your phone call home that frustrate me to no end when policymakers and the public start pointing fingers of blame. Each kid is a complex and complicated entity. These are human beings we are teaching--and sometimes the best we can do is just to do our very best, and sometimes that won't be enough if there are more forces stacked against a kid than for him.

Parent dispositions toward education are not "the" critical factor in a kid's success or failure, but they are certainly a significant proportion of the recipe for either.

Travis A. Wittwer

Tracey, so very true. Thanks for posting this. It is a reminder as well as a point that what goes on within the classroom can only have so much impact given the environment from which the students came. Teacher instruction is crucial. However, so is, and maybe to a greater extent, the life the child has.

I made a call recently about a concern I had as well--blatant disrespect in class to students and teacher. While talking with the parent, and I totally did the compliment sandwich as I do think the student has talent, it became clear that the student's lack of respect may just be from knowing no other way--the parent told me to not bug her with her son's problems. It has been like that since elementary school and I should do my #%*@ing job.

I wished her a good day and stated again that I will work with her son as I feel he has talent as a writer. He certainly has a story to tell.

Tracey, you make a really good point here. Perception plays a role in the conversations we have been having in our strategic planning meetings for Career and Technical Education. We are trying to work on strategies for marketing and recruitment into our programs. Parents play a key role in what their students choose for classes. The experiences parents had in their high school classes drive what they want their students to take.

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