The Parent’s Role

I was going to post about unschooling and crying kids (two separate topics), then I got an interesting comment from Dawn about the snarky letter to parents.

Dawn brings up some really good points. Definitely worth considering. Here’s my (admittedly ranty) response.

1) Parents like the ones portrayed in the article do exist. I agree. Parents who honestly send their kids to school and expect to do nothing in return – or worse yet, abuse the teachers as a great big “thank you”, do exist and they make the teacher’s job much harder. However, making sarcastic remarks about the parents doesn’t help the situation. Nor does it make these kinds of parents more aware of their “stupidity.” I’d wager, it would just piss them off more. The person who wrote the piece might be venting, but they aren’t exactly helping the situation.

2) Teachers are stuck in the middle. Yes. Absolutely. But guess what – they choose to be there. And, I would hope they are choosing to be there to help the children, not to try and make everyone a better parent. Granted, parents who don’t respect the school system might be a major obstacle to teachers being able to do their job. But I question, if it requires that all parents be these wonderful, teacher-abiding angels in order for the system to work, perhaps something is wrong with the system. Maybe, just maybe, the teachers should be pissed at the system, not the parents. The parents are beyond help (at least from the teachers). They’ve gone through the system, it failed to make them upstanding system-respecting parents. Something is seriously wrong if the system is supposed to teach that, and this is the kind of parents these teachers are seeing on a regular basis. Being nasty and claiming that the lack of respect on the parents part has anything to do with the system not working, is accusing the wild horse for not complying when the master does nothing but whip it and complain that it’s not doing its job. The fact that parents are trapped in this system, far more trapped than any teacher, lends itself to at least a certain number of parents who don’t care. Basically, from what this article says, the book explains that schools aren’t succeeding and students aren’t doing better because the parents aren’t behaving. It’s an attempt to convince the prisoners parents to behave. It’s the system that’s the problem – not the parents. The parents are simply a product of the system.

3)  Homeschoolers don’t really get this – Not true. In fact, homeschoolers absolutely get this, that there are parents out there that make it difficult on the system. Hell, homeschooling parents often rank among those parents who “don’t want to get up before 7:30”. The problem isn’t that parents don’t want to get up before 7:30. The problem is that schools demand compliance – and in many ways a compliance that is arbitrary. This isn’t a job. This isn’t something people sign up for. Everyone is required to do this. Of course there are going to be parents out there who don’t give a crap about the schools, and what the schools want. Especially those people who went through the system themselves and got lost. I’ll bet you that these annoying, problematic parents were the same kids that went through the system 5-15 years ago and were tossed around,  disrespected, lost, ignored, mistreated, and otherwise considered “too stupid to really pay attention to”. Why would they then respect the schools that they were so disrespected in?

I understand that these parents are a pain in the ass. But there is a reason. And it’s not because they are bad people. They lived a hard life. And were probably unhappy in the very schools they are sending their children to. To expect them to suddenly respect the teachers like little lambs is shortsighted and arrogant.

Simply put, to demand blanket respect from parents, is to make the assumption that the schools have something that is worth respecting. Obviously, to these parents who aren’t respectful, there is nothing at the school to be respected. Instead of being pissed off at the parents, perhaps a search for something that the parents have motivation to respect would be a better solution. Or better yet, give the kids unconditional respect and love, and hope that when THEY get out of school, they will have experienced a reason to keep respecting teachers.

The parent’s role in education, isn’t to be respectful to teachers. It’s to be parents. And if they aren’t being parents, and are instead more interested in themselves, the schools have failed to do their job 5-15 years ago, frankly. And, if this breakdown in family functionality is the true cause in kids failing in school, then perhaps being pissed at the parents isn’t exactly the best solution. How often did a pissed neighbor change the way you kept your lawn? How often did a “loving” family member change your mind about your decisions because they were sarcastic with you? Does increasing the animosity between family members, by saying, “well, we know who you got your a-hole behavior from” ever fix things?

The teacher’s job is to give information and help people learn. To be honest, if the kids don’t want to learn (or can’t because their lives suck so bad), there really isn’t much a teacher can do but be willing to meet the child’s needs when the student comes back and is ready. A teacher can’t force a kid to be ready. A teacher’s job is not a parent. And shouldn’t be. Not when there are 40 kids in a class. A teacher’s job is to be a mentor, a friend, a facilator, a safe place to go for help. But, if a teacher is so busy being pissed off at how bad the parents are, how can they be all these things for the kids? If they are so busy having to cow-tow to the system, how can they be available when the kids really need them?

The system is what is screwed up, not the parents. The parents aren’t any more screwed up than any other time in history. Parents are doing the best they can with what they have. So are the kids. The system, that’s what’s going in circles. It’s a system where nobody has a choice – teachers, students, parents – except in the best of schools. So the only solution is for teachers to try and convince parents that their role is to submit. The fact that the system can’t work without the parents submitting, and the students submitting, and the teachers submitting, is a sign that it’s not “respect” schools are looking for in parents, but submission. Teachers want parents to submit, because they have to. Everyone has to. It’s how it works. In order for children to learn at school, parents have to be perfect. Those poor, poor kids who have parents who are less than the perfect school parents. They are screwed. The kids have no control over their parents’ behavoir, yet, their very success depends on it. Kids’ success depends on things that kids have absolutely zero control over. Kids’ success depends on everyone acquiesce to the process. This is a goal that will never be achievable. Since every single kid has to go to school, to expect that there won’t be a certain percentage (a large percentage in some schools) of completely unhelpful and obnoxious parents is a fantasy. It comes with the territory. We’re educating everyone at school. Including the kids with parents who don’t care.

How about setting up a system where kids can succeed, on their own, without the help of their parents if necessary?  How about setting up a system where the kids learn what they  need to learn when they are ready, and that’s it? No mandatory homework, no requiring children read at night, no requiring that families have to do the work – but making school a place where kids have the freedom to really learn? Not be herded until they go home where they are supposed to do the real learning? If school was a place like this, it wouldn’t matter if parents are a-holes. Or even if kids missed a lot of school. They would come back the teacher would help them learn. No questions asked. And for the kids who have parents who are involved, then they benefit too. Everyone wins. Well, except perhaps the people who have to prove a school deserves money from the state.

But the system is so bogged down with process, and protocol, that nothing can work unless everyone involved does exactly what they are supposed to do. No wonder some teachers are pissed. I’d be pissed too. But to place the blame on the parents -that’s a defense mechanism of a set of employees who are powerless against their boss, and so look to the clients to make their jobs easier. When in fact, it’s their boss who is putting unrealisting and unfair demands on them.

I don’t envy teachers in the slightest. They are doing one of the toughest jobs on the planet. And often with little reward or acknowledgment. I admire anyone who is willing to stand in front of a class of 40 kids and take responsibility for their learning, even though they aren’t their own kids. In a system that can never be completely problem free. In a country that doesn’t take education (in the real sense, not the “fill in the blank” sense) seriously. I don’t envy teachers. And I thank them for being there, because not many people could do that job at all.

Feel free to give feedback. Remember, on this assignment, there are no wrong answers. (Name calling automatically disqualifies you though.)

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8 Responses to “The Parent’s Role”

  1. Ellen Says:

    I feel like being very much less polite about teachers than you, Tammy. I’m always hearing that there are so many “wonderful teachers” out there in the government school system. Where are they? I went through 13 years of forced government school in suburban Connecticut without having a single “wonderful teacher.” I’ve read about them (like in “The Freedom Writers”) but have not encountered a single one.

    Meanwhile, I sure read a lot of whining from teachers about how long-suffering, underpaid, and mistreated they are, while their average salaries and benefits are considerably higher than the average salaries of the people paying them, at least in my community. Do they think everybody else has a perfect job where they never have to deal with an irate customer or boss, where they only thing they have to do is the fun part of the job?

    So Dawn, there were parents who didn’t appreciate you. Somebody even swore at you, huh? My one single memory of 4th grade – and again, remember this was not an inner city school but a high tax suburban community – is my teacher calling a kid a jackass and forcefully dragging him out of the room (he’d called another kid “grass ass” which apparently is a crime if you’re ten but not if you’re the teacher). The following year the teachers went on strike and my fifth grade teacher gave our bus the finger as we drove into the parking lot. His teaching partner used to throw things at us when he was in a bad mood. Wonderful teachers.

    Do I think all teachers are such jerks? No. And are all parents such jerks? No. But the teachers can quit if they don’t like their job – the kids can’t and neither can the taxpayers.

    It seems to me public school administrators and teachers have found that continually shaming the public and blaming them for the failure of this horrible system works – it pushes a guilt button for many people so that their attention is turned from the terrible system we have and the damage it is inflicting on our children and society to a few jerks who of course exist but who are not the problem.

  2. Sheri Says:

    I so agree Tammy. I was considered one of those parents who refused to conform and was treated very much like a pariah. Not by all the teachers granted, but certainly by those who thought I had no right to be as involved with my daughter’s education as I was trying to be.

  3. Anna Says:

    I don’t have time to respond to EVERYTHING, but I did want to jump in with this little item.

    Remember, though the book was written by a teacher, this article was not. I think most teachers understand that using sarcasm and attitude are NOT the ways to get parents to comply. The article was simply poorly-written by someone who is not living the life that a teacher does. I think teachers do want respect, and most try to earn it. I don’t know any teacher who thinks he or she can earn respect by being an ass.

    I think that parents are FAR more screwed up than at anytime in before. When I was in school, no one in my class was being raised by grandparents. http://www.voanews.com/english/archive/2006-09/2006-09-20-voa58.cfm?CFID=192798557&CFTOKEN=23014618

    The family looks very different in many ways than it did 30 years ago, and schools, being the sloth-like adapters that they are, have not come to terms with it. In poor schools, kids are being moved from relative to relative on a weekly basis. This falls under your ‘kids can’t learn because their lives suck’ category.

    In poor schools, there is little time for innovative programs or planning to create real change. So much time is spent being a part-time social worker than education is not really the role of the school at all. The school becomes the resource for making sure the kids are safe, fed and cared for. Not a lot of time for teaching.

    Yes, these parents are products of the system, but the ed. system never set out to make them good parents. They should have learned that at home. AND if you choose to buy into the school system, you have to be ready to buy into all that goes with it, including smiling compliance and turning over your parenting rights for 8 hours a day to a teacher.

  4. Dawn Says:

    Anna, I agree with your points…very well said.
    Ellen, you are very angry. I as a former teacher did not hold all parents responsible for the poor behavior of some. Some people have problems in life and school has nothing to do with it. Ellen by the way, I never said parents swore at ME. I actually had good relationships with most of my parents. I was just stating for a fact that poor parents do exist. I’m sorry you had such bad experiences. The things you mentioned are not acceptable for teachers or anyone else.
    As a former teacher and now as a home schooler I can see both sides. I just thought I’d jump in an add a comment to Tammy’s blog. I follow her blog and find what she says very interesting. I honestly had no idea some of the deep seated bitterness that is out there.

  5. Ellen Says:

    I’m sorry Dawn – I do get angry over this issue and you’re probably a nice person. I can also see that being blasted by somebody who really disagrees with your perception about the percentage of wonderful versus mediocre and even horrible teachers in our government schools would make you feel like you aren’t free to express your opinion. And I hope Tammy isn’t offended, since this is her blog, not mine. At the same time I think anger over our government schools is not something to be apologized for and patronized. I mentioned my past school experiences not because I think I was especially abused and I want somebody to sympathize with me but because I think my experience is far from atypical. Furthermore, I’m a taxpayer, as well as a former student, and while government school budgets are rising 7% and 8% a year, I see the 15%, 20%, and 30% proficiency rates from the government schools, (THE highest was I believe Minnesota, with a 44% proficiency rate, and I think it was Alabama that came in lowest at 14%) … teachers who are highly compared with the general population, and yet are continually contending that they are underpaid … and on top of that complaints from teachers and administrators that the public is to blame – either the parents or the taxpayers or both. Maybe that is deap seated bitterness, but if so I think it’s entirely justified.

  6. Scott Says:

    Wow! Obviously some deep convictions are showing through on these comments! It is good that people do have deep conviction about their beliefs… I suspect that these convictions have something to do with why so many of us have given up on the public school system…

    Full disclosure — I am Dawn’s husband… Ellen, I want to let you know that I am not angry or anything like that — I have a slightly different perspective than Dawn, and wanted to share a little of where she is coming from…

    A little background — I have been anti-public school for many different reasons for a long time. My exact reasons are not important here, but the fact is that after I married Dawn, I learned some things that I didn’t really understand before.

    Before saying anything else, let’s get something straight here — there are good parents and bad parents. There are good teachers and bad teachers. Any blanket statements really cannot be applied to all — either to all parents or to all teachers…

    Let me try to make an analogy that most of us can relate to. When you (in the generic sense) as a customer have a beef with a company or a retailer, you call or go in to see someone, and the person you talk with is a customer service representative. This person gets to deal with all the angry customers… That’s their job. Is it there fault that something you bought broke? Yes, they work for the company, and it is their job to field your complaints, but you must agree that they are simply the point of contact. They quote back to you policies that have been handed down to them. You think their policies are ridiculous, and you use colorful language to say so… It doesn’t mean those policies or the products or whatever can be fully or even mostly attributed to the particular person you’re complaining to…

    So it is with public school teachers… They are the point of contact with students and usually parents. Sometimes the administration gets involved, but it is the teachers that bear the brunt of the “contact” at least initially…

    Consider for a moment how the teacher arrived at this career… Most teachers do not go into the field for the salary. You may think they are paid a lot of money, but I make more than twice what my wife made, and we both know that if someone can go to college for teaching, then they could have chosen any number of career paths… So, if not for the salary, then for what? Most choose teaching because they care — not because it is the highest paying career. Remember, a teacher is a college graduate, so you have to compare their salary with the salaries of other college graduates.

    Most teachers do not set out to do the sort of ridiculous things that Ellen describes about her experiences, yet I most certainly agree that such things happen. Some teachers are jerks — no question about it. Some are born jerks (not sure why they became teachers), but most (if they are jerks) became so along the way…

    For those teachers who are not “born jerks”, it doesn’t take most teachers too many years to realize that as much as they might want to teach kids and be successful, that things are pretty well stacked against success… The curriculum is handed to them, they are forced to spend a percentage of the teaching time “teaching the standardized tests” instead of focusing on the actual curriculum (admittedly, there should be some overlap between the curriculum and the test content), and then they have to deal with some small percentage of students and/or parents that are truly jerks themselves… So how many disruptions does it take to prevent the other 95% of the kids from learning? Even if most of the kids want to learn and have parents that love them and are reinforcing the teacher and the curriculum at home, it only takes one or two others to ruin a day or class period of learning.

    If you can get a teacher talking about the “politics” in the school (shouldn’t be too difficult), I think you’ll find that they are simply frustrated that they can’t have a real impact on students learning because of all the garbage in the system (garbage policies and curriculum handed down to them as well as garbage from those few students and/or parents that just frankly don’t care). I believe that often, this frustration turns to bitterness, and a jerk soon emerges…

    This brings me to some of the core reasons I’ve long opposed the public school system to begin with…

    1) Politicians are trying to legislate education — not so that education succeeds, but so that they can be re-elected.
    2) The NEA brings a bunch of self-serving policies and social engineering to the table…
    3) The public school, being “free”, is stuck with whatever kids can’t afford a private education (or maybe their parents are obliviously happy with the public schools — we could call them ignorant or maybe they just don’t care anyway). These are kids that, as Anna alludes to, are not from “winning” homes — some of those kids go “home” to a place that you or I would be very uncomfortable for a 10 minute visit! These kids are often growing up to have babies starting at 16 (or 14?) themselves, and are never able to give their own children much of a chance to succeed in life… When will this cycle stop! They are so caught up in trying to make a living that they just don’t have any time or energy to really care about anything beyond basic survival — let alone encouraging their children in education…

    This has become the job of the public school — to try to raise these kids AND teach them — just as Anna said!

    I am really not “blaming” anyone at this point — I mean, you might have to go back several generations to see how these families got into this cycle… But, the fact is, the cycle does exist, and it is often these kids, even in rural communities, that are consuming so many resources (that are already sorely lacking)…

    The fact is that the public education system has no competition. The NEA is trying their hardest to prevent us from having a choice! The problem with abolishing “free public education” is that there truly are those in this ugly “cycle” that cannot afford the education that you and I are willing and able to make great sacrifices for… Were it not for them, the abolishment of public education would be the best thing our country could do for education!

    Dawn and I married less than two years ago, and both of us had been widowed very young, and both of us had children. If I did not have the job that I do, we would never have had the option of her quitting her job so that we can home educate… Many people simply have no choice…

    Most teachers are themselves appalled with the fact that the word “fail” has been virtually wiped out of the public school vocabulary. I was told two years ago by the principal of our middle school that all of the eighth graders would be promoted whether they failed ALL tests or not. He was almost proud. When I then spoke with my sons teachers (in that same middle school), they confirmed that they had recommended retaining failing students, but the administration routinely promoted them anyway. The teachers are as cynical as you and I! They see the problems, and are virtually helpless to fix anything!

    Ok, time for me to vacate the “soap box” for someone else 😉

    By way of explanation — my deceased wife and I had homeschooled for years, but when I remarried and moved, I was forced to put my children into school — it was the end of the school year. After the experience described briefly above, Dawn and I decided to homeschool… She was at that meeting with the principal and came home utterly embarrassed to be employed by the same school system!

  7. Tammy Says:

    Thank you all for your comments. You obviously put quite a lot of thought into your responses. I appreciate it!

    Ellen – I can see where your experiences really made you bitter about teachers. It has also made you very aware of your own style and how you want to do better for your own kids. BTW, no offense taken at all. We’re all thinking together. If everyone agreed, I’d have to bring out the Little Bo Peep costume.

    Sheri – Me too. Really, the local school should thank me for homeschooling my kids.

    Anna – You’re right that the article wasn’t written by a teacher. I should have been more sensitive to that. I wonder though, how many people reading it would assume that’s the way teachers feel? I dunno. And, who knows, the person writing the review might not really be doing the book justice. It might have been a more of “parents, love your kids, and they’ll succeed kind of book.” I guess, really, it wasn’t a book review at all, was it? It reminds me of my “reviews” where I use it as an excuse to rant about something 🙂

    Dawn – Sorry if it seemed I was a little harsh on your mellow. I tried to be fair, but it’s hard sometimes when I’m so annoyed with the fact that everyone’s trapped and there’s nothing people can do about it. Also, thank you for reading my blog and willing to stand up and say what you believe in. Your opinion matters to me, and made me remember to see it from more than one side.

    Wow Scott – just the fact that you felt inspired to come out of lurkdom and make a comment makes me so happy I posted this today. You bring up a lot of good points, especially about the teachers’ positions, and their hands being tied. Thanks for popping by.

  8. Karen Says:

    Well, I’ve come late to this debate, but never let it be said that I let a chance to pontificate go by! LOL

    I am another former public school teacher who now homeschools. I remember when I was going through my teacher training, how idealistic–make that, naive– I was. I was going to be a such an effective teacher!

    And then I had a nervous breakdown in my first year. Racial tensions, apathy, total lack of support, overwhelmed by duties and paperwork and grades…. And I had come out of teacher training with straight A’s and was hired by the teacher I student taught under!

    I had to laugh out loud at the reviewer’s comment about the “highly educated professionals”! Teachers come from the bottom third of the grading scale. When all the teachers at one school’s inservice had to take the 9th grade exit exam, there was a near-physical mutiny. The principal didn’t dare make public the results. I knew a woman working as a teacher’s aide because she couldn’t pass the teacher’s certification exam even though she’d tried 12 times already.

    There are some really great teachers. I never was one of them. They are few and far between. They generally do not have families of their own. There are also some really horrible teachers. But the vast majority are just like the vast majority of employees in any other government bureaucracy. Doing, frankly, the minimum to get through to retirement.


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