Chelsea Kaplan’s Musings About Life... After Birth

AresponsetoRonClark’s“Whatteachersreallywanttotellparents”

Posted by Janna on September 20, 2011

On September 6, 2011, an article by Ron Clark titled “What teachers really want to tell parents” was featured on CNN.com. I’m guessing most of you saw it because it seemed to harvest a lot of attention on Facebook and Twitter. If you missed it, I encourage you to take a look. Clark offers some important suggestions that, if put into practice, would serve our children well. 

In this article, Clark addresses what he believes are the key issues that are encouraging some really phenomenal teachers to leave the field of education. These issues are, in Clark’s opinion, due to problems with parent-teacher relationships and I gotta tell ya, he knows what he’s talking about. The challenges he mentions are real and they do make teaching more of a headache than it should have to be.

I’ve been in the field of education for six years, but right now I am taking a break as I re-evaluate my career path. There are a lot of things that I miss about being in the classroom…I miss middle schoolers. I miss the humor that can only take place inside of a school full of pre-pubescent kids. I miss opportunities to help struggling students master a new math skill. I miss exploring Greek Mythology and Shakespeare with my students. I miss working with the parents who went out of their way to help me help their children succeed.

Clark’s article, though, reminded me of what I do not miss about teaching.

For example, it is a pretty crappy thing when a parent refuses to hear something that you need them to know. Obviously, it is a problem if a student is uncooperative. Teachers need to try to help students choose to cooperate, but sometimes, even if a teacher is doing more than his or her part to keep students engaged in the lesson, some students will still choose not to cooperate. I know that I’ve done a million different things to foster student interest in my lessons. I’ve even been known to wear tap shoes to class and shuffe-shuffle-flap around the room to keep things interesting, but that didn’t stop some students from making poor choices, and when that happened I had to let their parents know. However, a lot of parents can’t handle it when you make that phone call to explain that their child is making that choice. As a result, there were many times when parents spouted off a laundry list of ridiculousness as to why it was my fault that their child was not being cooperative in the classroom instead of working with me to try to find a way to reach that kid.

And excuses were not only made for children who chose not to cooperate. I often heard them made in response to me calling to discuss behavior issues. Conversations such as this were not uncommon:

“Hi, Mrs. Jones. Do you have a minute to chat? I’m calling because I have a concern about Joey’s behavior today.” 

“Oh, he already told me about that. He says that he can’t behave because he is sitting next to Billy and that distracts him. He also told me that all the other boys in the class were misbehaving, but you didn’t discipline them. And he said that he was bored because he already knows how to multiply fractions and the way you were teaching it just confused him. And I forgot to remind him to take his medicine this morning. And we were running late, so I think that just threw him off today.”

Unfortunately, in the minds of some parents, those are all valid reasons to excuse poor behavior. Now, teachers should do what they can to prevent poor behavior in their classrooms, but even the very best classroom managers will have students who refuse to behave. And when students make poor choices, excuses being made for those choices are the last thing they need from the adults entrusted with their care.
I have also encountered parents who make excuses for their children earning poor grades instead of holding them accountable for being unprepared for assessments. If a student chooses not to study and earns a low score when they are definitely capable of a better grade, what does it teach them when mom or dad excuses that choice? I heard stuff like this on numerous occasions:

“Madeline couldn’t study because she left her book at school. And she has test anxiety (which does exist, but in my opinion is used as an excuse in too many cases). And she had an argument with her best friend yesterday, so she couldn’t concentrate. And she doesn’t like the desk you assigned her. And she couldn’t attend the tutorial you offered last week because she had basketball practice.”

Believe it or not, I even had one mother tell me her son flunked a test I gave because he didn’t have a bowel movement that morning before school. She requested that I give him a chance to re-take the test. I wanted to ask, “Are you shitting me, lady?”

As if those issues weren’t insane enough, I have also had parents attack and/or belittle me in front of their children. One occasion in particular comes to mind. We were doing a pretty cool geometry project that required the kids to each sketch a tessellation that would be used to create a fabric square for a class quilt. I cannot tell you how many times I reminded the kids to put their names on the back of these sketches. Despite my reminders, one sketch was turned in without a name and when I checked off the names of the kids who had turned them in, it became apparent that two students were missing their sketches.

I spoke to those two kids the next day to try to figure out what happened. They both swore adamantly that they had turned in sketches. I showed them the sketch that was missing a name and they both swore it was theirs. Clearly, one of them was not telling the truth and because I am not a mind reader, the only fair course of action I could figure to take was to require that they both redo the assignment. Neither boy was very happy about that, of course, but there was no other choice.

Later that day as I was getting ready to go home, a man in a black suit and tie stormed into my classroom. He blocked my doorway and yelled at me for over twenty minutes about how unfair I was and how his son hated school because of me making him redo the project and how I was obviously out to get his kid and how he couldn’t believe that I was certified to teach school because I was such a horrible and mean person. I was appalled when I noticed that hovering behind him was his son, who was looking rather smug while listening as his father berated me. After the father finished his rant, I explained the details of what really happened. In the shocker of the century, it turned out that his son actually left out some of the details and added some others that simply weren’t true. Once this father had the whole story, he apologized and said he would make sure that his son handed in a new sketch the next day. I suppose that it was nice that he apologized, but the damage was already done. Once a kid sees a teacher treated with such a lack of respect, how can he or she be expected to be respectful? Not surprisingly, this student was a behavior issue for the remainder of the school year. When students see their parents treat teachers with blatant disrespect, everyone’s educational experience suffers and teachers can’t do their jobs. It isn’t fair, especially to the children.

I have a child of my own. I understand those *mama bear* feelings that burst in a parent’s heart when they feel that their child has been unfairly treated. I understand that parents love their children with a beautiful fierceness. I understand that parents want their children to have the best of everything and that parents want to protect their children from feelings of hurt or disappointment. I understand all that, because I feel all of those things for my son. I also know from teaching these last few years, that I need to not let those feelings get in the way of forming positive and supportive relationships with the teachers who educate him, because kids don’t benefit from “parents vs. teachers” environments. However, they can flourish when parents and teachers support one another. And yes, there are some terrible teachers out there…but don’t forget that there are some truly amazing ones as well, and like Ron Clark, I believe that there would be a greater number of the amazing variety if more parents were supportive of their efforts.

 

Comments

Picture of Jennifer K. Hale Jennifer K. Hale on September 20, 2011 at 3:47pm

Janna,
I am SO with you on this. I taught high school for 5 years, and the one thing that made me angrier than anything else was that 100% of the student engagement was my responsibility. I can tap dance or deliver the lesson on my head, but that still doesn’t mean I’m going to reach all the kids if they choose to be uncooperative. And how is it my fault if Little Johnny doesn’t do his homework? 57 nights in a row?
Yep, I’m in total agreement with you. Until we get parents on board, teachers are fighting a never-ending battle.

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