Monday, March 7, 2016

The apple shouldn't fall far from the tree, if you can find the tree...

Teachers love parents, especially involved parents.  We love you, love you, love you!  Unless we hate you.

I’ve spent most of my teaching years working in Title 1 schools, so sadly, I’ve seen little in the way of parental involvement.  Most parents of Title 1 kids have bigger issues to worry about than how little Johnny fares in class, so contacting a teacher isn’t at the top of their list of priorities.  Some struggle just to get by day to day, and others feel that school is the teacher’s job, not something the parent needs to be concerned with.

When I worked at CISD and TCS, parent-teacher conference day was an exercise in futility.  I typically had 75-90 students total.  But when we’d clear an afternoon or evening to have parents show up for conferences, I never had more than 7 people show up, and usually one of them came to the wrong classroom.

I loved the parents who came.  They were involved with their kids, asked questions, checked up on what needed to be done and were invested in their child’s performance.  Those were the parents I knew I could call if Johnny stopped turning in homework, or suddenly seemed to have anger issues.  It’s not that their kids were angels; these students knew that whatever I asked in class would be reinforced at home.  It made my job easier.

The rest of the parents made it harder.  I had a few who I’d prefer stay uninvolved.
Only one time did I ever have a parent argue with me about his child’s grade, and that guy was a jerk anyway.  (HE didn’t show up for parent-teacher conference day.)  He felt I was unfair for giving his daughter a zero for talking during a test.  Even though it was a school rule, and in my syllabus, the principal wouldn’t back me up and I had to let her retake the test.  I was furious, but not at his daughter, who was actually a good student and seemed embarrassed about her dad’s involvement and apologetic for the fuss he was making.  She was willing to take the zero, but he wouldn’t stand for it.

Another dad emailed to say that he was sure his daughter could earn an A in my class, so why was her grade so low?  I assured him that she certainly could get an A if she’d turn in all her work.  She didn’t.  He asked if she could turn in late work.  I said she could, but she’d only get half credit for all of it.  She turned in some of the late assignments.  The rest of her work was lazy at best, but surprisingly, she eked out a B minus.  He kept emailing me to see if she could do extra credit work.  I quit responding, because clearly, Daughter wasn’t as invested in her grade as Dad was.  Eventually he left me alone, probably resigned to the choices his flesh and blood had decided to make.

Then there was the dad who wanted me to write a letter of recommendation for his daughter (why is it always dads and daughters with me?)  She was a decent student, managing about a B or C each term.  I explained that I only wrote recommendations for students that I’d had in prior years, in order for me to have more to say about the student.  He was disappointed but understood.  The next year he approached me to write the letter right at the beginning of the school year.  I did, and he sent it back with edits.  Yes - edits!  Basically, he wanted me to punch it up, to make it sound more enthusiastic and describe her as a take-charge type of person.  The daughter was incredibly shy and hardly spoke; I didn’t even know what extracurriculars she was involved in, even after a year in my class.  I still wonder if he was hoping to present his daughter as a dynamic go-getter, which she wasn’t.  I spent the rest of the year pitying her for having a dad who clearly didn’t understand anything about his child.  By the way, I passed on doing the edits, by pointing out that parents are actually not supposed to read letters of recommendation anyway. 

It’s sad, really.  The parent-teacher relationship should be a good one, where both are working together for the benefit of the kid.  This is why conferences are so important: It’s a way for the parent and teacher to form a relationship and feel comfortable communicating about what that student needs or what s/he struggles with.  But as busy as teachers are, most parents know that they’ll only hear from him/her if there’s a problem, and vice versa.  No news is good news, or else it’s just that – no news.

So parents, we need you to be involved.  These are your kids, not mine.  I know you’re busy, but I have more teens to look out for than you do.  And they never give me anything on Mothers’ Day anyway, or even on Teacher Appreciation Day.  Stay involved, and I’ll bend over backwards to help you, unless you are a dad with an axe to grind about his daughter, and then I’ll avoid you.