Every year, just about this time right before school starts, I reach out to my child’s teacher for the upcoming school year with an email or hand written letter that reads something like this:
My name is Lisa Owen and my child, ____________, will be one of your students for this coming school year. I just want to touch base with you to introduce myself and to tell you a few things about my son/daughter that you may find useful.
___________ is a very curious child with tons of energy and a vivid imagination. He/she enjoys reading, being physically active (tennis, soccer, dance, etc.), is a hands-on learner and benefits from being given responsibilities in the classroom. While _________can be very sensitive, he/she is also a very independent thinker and student, He/she is a very capable student, but also may need to be encouraged to ask questions. Please keep your expectations of him/her high because we do here at home. [Here is where you can insert any information about learning disabilities or health issues that you feel are important for the teacher to know.]
Please feel free to contact me at the following telephone numbers (h)__________, (c)__________, (w)_________, and this email address, with any questions, concerns, compliments (I especially like those) or anything else as the need arises. Now that you have all of my contact information, I expect to be notified of any problems or concerns BEFORE they make it to my child’s report card or permanent record, so that it may be addressed accordingly.
Thank you so much and I look forward to working with you over this next school year!
In my 23 years of parenting, this letter has always set the tone for a successful parent/teacher partnership. By “successful”, I don’t mean that there have never been some tense moments or disagreements between the teacher, my child and myself. However, these situations have always been handled effectively with mutual respect and with the common goal of serving the best interests of my son or daughter. That right there, my friends, is the single most important purpose of the parent/teacher partnership – successfully educating your child. In my previous post, Back to School Basics: Let’s Get Organized! , I talked about the need for parents to focus on their goals for their child’s education. What is it that you want your child to gain from this school year? To become a better reader? To develop independent thinking skills? To create a desire to dig deeper into subjects? I also wanted you to think about your role in achieving your goals. Obviously, I want you to be comfortable with your role as a parent, but try to keep an open mind as you read along because sometimes it requires us to step outside of our comfort zone to achieve what we need and want for our children.
Increasingly there seems to be a growing sense of acrimony between teachers and parents with each side openly, and often unfairly, criticizing the other for failures in education. Let me tell you something: education, whether it be public or private; charter or magnet; at the local, state or national levels belongs to ALL OF US. Parents, teachers, administrators, aunts, uncles, grandparents, neighbors, social workers, cousins, community activists, politicians, religious leaders…Black, White, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, etc….ALL OF US! I have to say that I am beyond tired of everyone trying to pass the buck when it comes to educating our children. Each of us has a role to play and it’s our own responsibility to fulfill it. Having said that, I really do believe that the road to effectively educating our children starts with parents. By the time children enter Kindergarten, parents have had a good five to six years to start their child on a learning path and to instill a foundation for their core values.
Let’s start with the learning path. When it comes to learning, young children are like sponges because during those first formative years, they absorb information faster than at any other time in their entire life. Not to mention that kids at that age are fun, too! They haven’t developed the negativity that often comes along at older ages. Although I am a strong proponent of formal early childhood education for all, I am realistic and realize that, at least for now, it’s not available to everyone. Parents, that’s where we come in. In general, by the time a child enters kindergarten, they should know their alphabet, be able to recognize most upper and lower case letters, count and recognize numbers through 10 (if not 20). They should be able to spell and write their first and last names and know their shapes and colors. These are the basics and remember, children are sponges! They are capable of so much more! Some of them can read; can handle more complex concepts such as patterning, addition and subtraction; and their technology capabilities are absolutely amazing. I realize that many parents work outside of the home, may be single parents or are not in situations where their finances provide a lot of opportunity for educational activities. However, exposing our little ones to literature and starting them on a learning path doesn’t really require a lot of time or money. It can be as simple as heading to the library and spending 15 to 20 minutes a day reading. Best of all, it’s free and it provides much needed uninterrupted time for parent and child to spend together. As our children get older, it is our job as parents to make sure that they stay focused on their learning path. Admittedly, this gets harder as they get older (keep them doing school work over the summer; provide real life learning opportunities; and continue to read books with them for discussion) but, it’s still part of a parent’s role in education.
Family core values is a little tougher to discuss because I think that it varies depending on the family. While different people place different degrees of importance on certain issues, I think that it’s safe to say that some things are universally accepted as important for classroom success. The most important of these is respect for the teacher and other students. Teachers are there to teach. Period. They are not there to teach children manners or the importance of being cooperative. They are not there to make sure that kids get fed or that kids have on clean underwear and clothes. They are not there to provide hardcore discipline for disruptive students. All of these things should be provided at home. By the way, this is an issue that affects every school district across the country at every socio-economic level, from children who feel entitled and have too much given to them, to children who do not have enough and feel disenfranchised and isolated. It’s simply appalling the behavior displayed in classrooms on a daily basis and worse, the parents that feel like they have no control of their own children. Now, of course kids do act out every now and again. It’s all a part of growing up. However, instilling behavioral expectations in our children is simply part of a parent’s job and right now, teachers are spending entirely too much instructional time disciplining unruly children. And we all know our children, right? We all know that they are capable of being unruly? We all have had to deal with their less than perfect behavior, right? I’m just sayin’….
Now, before you jump on me for being too hard on parents, I don’t expect anything of anyone else that I don’t expect of myself. I hold my own feet to the fire over these very issues and am convicted almost daily of something that I feel like I’ve failed at in this area. I am not, nor have I ever been, an educator. I am a mom and while I have no control over the school’s end of the process, I do have control over mine. I do have expectations of my children’s teacher’s and school administration, which are:
- mutual respect for me and my child
- clear and prompt communication between me and the school
- purposeful instruction and not simply facilitation
- honesty and integrity
- genuine knowledge of and interest in my child
I do not hesitate to contact the school when I think any of these things have been compromised. I do suggest starting with the teacher because sometimes the problem can be a simple miscommunication. If that doesn’t yield results, then the next stop is the principal’s office. Again, the most important thing to focus on is the result for your child.
Finally, I think that I must address the issue of race. As an African-American parent there have been instances with more than one of my children when I have been forced to confront the fact that the situation at hand was either the direct result of or the bi-product of racial bias. The result has not always been comfortable for all parties (the teacher, administration or myself), but I did always get what I thought was best for my child. Not by yelling or screaming “racism” at the top of my lungs or threatening law suits (that’s not to say that it couldn’t come to that), but by purposefully pursuing truth and arguing the facts. However, minority parents do have to recognize that every situation isn’t always the result of racism. Alternately, teachers and administrators have to admit that sometimes, it really is the issue.
The bottom line is that teachers and parents must work together for the common good of the students. When it comes to my children and what I want for them, the truth is that I am a bad-ass mom and my guess is, so are you (or dad for that matter). We have the power to have a real impact on our children’s education. Volunteer in the classrooms or do projects for the teachers at home; chaperon field trips; join the PTA and be an active member; and take part in parent/teacher conferences. Make sure that your child’s teacher knows that you are an involved parent. Teachers want and need our help, so step into your role and run with it! Next post we will talk about back to school shopping (trust me, it’s not what you think).