What CARING Teachers Want To Tell Parents

Sorry, Ron Clark. You don’t speak for me.

Ron Clark, a Disney Teacher of the Year and Oprah’s pick for “Phenomenal Man,” wrote this article on CNN titled, “What teachers really want to tell parents.”

One of the gems from this article:

If we give you advice, don’t fight it. Take it, and digest it in the same way you would consider advice from a doctor or lawyer.


Don’t fight it? Okay, I can deal with that… but it almost sounds as if he is telling parents not to question his advice.  The entire article, in my opinion, comes off as arrogant and condescending to parents.  One sub-title in the article is about the only view I found we had in common, and that was asking parents to become partners with teachers/educators.

Here’s the main problem that I have with an article like this… and I know a lot of my friends agreed with the article, retweeting, posting on Facebook, and shouting out an “Amen” after reading it. Please don’t take this as a personal attack. Hear me out first.

I am a teacher AND a parent. I am extremely fortunate to have been able to see both perspectives for nearly 20 years. My oldest daughter just earned her Bachelor’s degree, and my youngest just entered her freshman year at university. For me, the experience as a parent has made me a much better teacher. I’m constantly reminded by my own children that they are more than the scores they receive on tests, their good or not so good behavior on a day to day basis, and much more than the personalities they exhibit during school hours and school activities.

Here’s a thought: why not invite parents to be partners? Sure, some aren’t going to react the way we would like, but why start off on opposites sides? We’re doing that at Anastasis Academy, where I’m now happily teaching. Happy parents + happy teachers= better opportunities for kids.

I wrote the previous paragraph in a response to a Facebook post by a friend. I received a reply from another reader. He said (and I’m paraphrasing) that inviting parents as partners is more about making parents feel good, but it’s all talk and not really feasible. They should support the experts (educators) and leave it at that.

This is exactly the type of arrogance that creates an Us vs Them environment for parents… and since when are PARENTS not the experts of their own children?!?

I used an analogy to respond. When I walk into a doctor’s office, I expect the doctor to listen to what I have to say is going on with my health. I know and trust the doctor to make the best diagnosis she can, but I also know that she can’t do that completely without me being specific about what is going on. She’s the medical expert, but I’m the one living day to day with my own health issues. If she doesn’t listen to me at all, I’m not going to be able to get better. Likewise, if I don’t listen to her and follow her suggestions, I’m not going to get better either.

Caring teachers invite parents into a community of learners. When parents feel that their thoughts and opinions matter, they are more likely to be involved in helping their children succeed in school.  I am SO amazingly blessed to be in a school where we all are part of this community. Parents, teachers, and students are working together to do what’s best for kids.

I know the world isn’t always perfect, and I have also had experiences where parents wanted nothing to do with their child’s education. I’ve been physically and legally threatened by parents.  Some have given me more advice than I ever wanted or needed… but in the end, it has always been easier (and much, much better for the child involved) to treat parents with dignity and grace. Copping an attitude of  “well, I’m the expert and you’d better just deal with it” has never fixed any problem and only serves to drive a larger wedge between parents and teachers.

In a time where educators are taking the blame for much of society’s problems, why on earth would we want to alienate parents or make them feel like their opinions about their children are not worth our time? Parents are the best advocates we educators have!

So here’s what I want to tell parents:

1. I promise I will care about your child.

2. I promise I will listen to your concerns about your child.

3. You are your child’s first teacher. You have a lot of influence in your child’s learning… more influence than I will have.

4. I promise that I will not believe everything your child says about things going on at home. 🙂  AND- if your child tells you about activities at school, I promise that, together, we will all discuss what happened, as well as how your child perceives those events. As a mom, I know those things sometimes can be misconstrued, but I also understand that teachers don’t always know exactly what happened either.

5. As a certified educator, I promise to provide the very best education I can for your child. And if you have questions about what we’re doing, I will be more than happy to talk to you about that.


As a parent, I wish that more teachers had really listened to what I wanted to tell them about my children.  I can tell you that my kids succeeded in classes where the teachers remembered a) that they were CHILDREN, and b) that as their parent, I could help them understand my children. Those who chose to go the route of “only teacher knows best” were lousy teachers, and my kids have carried baggage from those experiences into their adulthood.  I promise that will not happen with my students.




23 thoughts on “What CARING Teachers Want To Tell Parents

  1. Great post Michelle. I think your doctor example is bang on. I remember being frustrated when I tore my ACL talking to my family doctor about the lack of stability in my knee and I kept being told to just give it time. I was frustrated because I knew what I was experiencing and he was not listening to me. I can only imagine the parents feelings when we keep telling them all the things that are wrong with their child without listening to how they are at home, soccer practice or dance.

    Are there times where I get frustrated as an educator because I am trying to help them with their child and they are not listening? Absolutely, but it is a 2 way street. If we are to be partners then we listen to each other, we ask questions, we seek clarification, and then mutually we come to a better understanding of the child which only allows us to become better teachers for these children.
    How dare we be so arrogant as to think that we can talk from the pulpit and not listen. There are constant tweets and posts about the arrogance of business and government of not listening to teachers. Aren’t we accusing Rhee, Gates and Duncan of not listening and respecting our knowledge? How can we talk about a child and not include parents in the conversation? If we are not going to model cooperation, how can we expect it from others?

  2. Thank you for putting together such a thoughtful response, Michelle! Great personal experiences and examples shared to help all!!

  3. I agree with your sentiments with all of my heart! I had the same reaction when I read the CNN article.

  4. Fantastic response! Partnership is the only way that kids truly win.

  5. Ron Clark’s article got a lot of people upset and talking and writing about effective partnerships. Thanks for giving a really good come back and difference of opinion. I love the Doctor analogy it works so well in making your point.

  6. I wish you were my teacher growing up Michelle…seriously…I enjoyed the Ron Clarke story and was fortunate enough to have seen him speak in Des Moines, however, I have to agree with you on this note. Maybe his article is reflective of the parents he has to deal with in Atlanta, with a majority of them on drugs and alcohol addictions. I really couldn’t blame him, although, that has been what his whole story is about, helping the less fortunate urban youths. One can only wonder…I totally agree with your partnership philosophy.

  7. It appears to me part of the intent of the CNN article was to cause more controversy – after all that’s what drives website traffic. Articles such as your suggesting treating one another with dignity and respect don’t receive nearly as much attention, but I respect your views much more. Thankfully most of my children’s teachers were ones who treated us with respect, kindness, and dignity when we had questions and concerns about our children’s progress in their class. Unfortunately, I’ve experienced the opposite as well.

    Keep up the good work and thanks for putting your views out there.

  8. I see both sides to the story. What I think Ron is talking about are the parents that have that arrogant attitude that their child does no wrong. I too believe that there should be a partnership, however the parent needs to think about that as well. I believe that everyone that has replied are probably the type where you listen to both sides and do not come in to the teacher with “guns blazing”. I have seen many things blow out of control because the parent did not take the time to get the facts straight and just assume that their child is right. I think what he is saying is that you need to remember that teachers are people and we deserve to be treated with respect and we will do the same. I think that if we just step back and see the whole picture he is not that far off. I don’t believe he is trying to offend anyone or say that one is better than the other, but what often happens is that the parent comes in to talk with a closed mind and is not willing to believe what the teacher is seeing, just because they do not want to face the facts that their child maybe doing something different in different situations/environments.

    • Thanks for your response!

      I see both sides, as well, and as I wrote in my post, I’ve also worked with the parents you describe. The problem with Clark’s article is saying those things to parents such as that doesn’t help at all… and it usually makes things worse. Why direct advice to people who won’t listen to you anyway? Go the positive route and gain the trust of those who WILL listen.

      Why did the article have to take such a condescending slant toward the very people we need to call upon for help? In my 20 years in education, the parents you describe have been a pain in the neck- sometimes worse- but they have been in the minority. Clark’s article and advice alienates more parents. Who wants advice that makes you feel like you’re a nuisance?

  9. I agree with what you are saying, and do make an attempt to include parents’ input on their child every year. However, I think that there are many parents who fail to understand that if we are in the classroom we are qualified to do so (I know some aren’t, but majority are). Some parents question a teachers ability based on rumor and hearsay, or even because they are different, and automatically dismiss them as a qualified professional. Regardless of the numerous research based effective teaching strategies they use in their classroom. It is during times like that when yes, parents need to realize that we know what we are talking about.

  10. Michelle,

    You’ve written my thoughts exactly. I almost bled to death because I didn’t question my doctor’s advise. I won’t make that mistake again. Teachers are not god – and they aren’t perfect; parents have the responsibility to not accept everything but to think critically and respond thoughtfully.

    And just because we want great teachers for our kids doesn’t make us against teachers – just not fans of people who should be in the profession that aren’t good at their job. Right?

    As a teacher and parent who is like-minded, I hope you’ll stop by my blog where I’m talking about this same issue – and http://imaginationsoup.net. I hope we meet soon! I’m nearby in Centennial.


  11. I had a similar negative response to that phrasing in the article! Thanks for taking the time to verbalize your thinking and share it. 🙂

  12. Michelle,
    Great post! As a parent of teenage children and an educator I must agree that educators must not claim they have the high ground when it comes to knowing what is best for students. We cannot blame parents for lack of involvement and not pushing their children, then turn around and say we have the expertise to tell parents what they should and should not do. Schools have to do a better job of engaging parents in a partnership to create the best learning challenges for students.

  13. Michelle,

    Well said…we can’t make assumptions that parents are either not interested or ill informed. As my own kids enter school I know how it feels to send your child off to spend the day with a complete stranger. I strive every day to open my classroom door to let parents in and make them feel a part of the learning process. Yes, we are experts in education, but parents are experts in their child. We can’t forget that.



  14. Hi Michelle,

    I recently returned to teaching after taking five years off to support my family at home. I knew within the first week back at school that I was a better teacher because I’m now a mother. Before I had kids, I held parents at arms length. Now I welcome them and have good working relationships with them. They trust me with their child… an honor I did not respect before I became a mother.

    Thank you for your response to the CNN article; I love the doctors analogy. The best teachers are those who listen to others and truly strive to meet their students’ needs, which involves communication with parents. Unfortunately, the teaching conditions in many public schools, as well as the politics, tax cuts and exams such as NCLB, has left countless good teachers feeling overwhelmed and unappreciated. Many teachers aren’t able to teach as well as they want to due to lack of proper resources and/or unrealistic expectations, so they feel less open to partnerships. The social dynamic of the American teacher is terribly complex.

    Thanks for your blog. Truly enjoyed it.

  15. I went back and read Ron Clark’s article a second time after reading your post, and I agree with some of both “sides”. I think when Ron said: “Take it, and digest it in the same way you would consider advice from a doctor or lawyer” I think that is okay…you take it and digest it, consider it, process it. I don’t think he meant it to be that a teachers word is God’s word. My opinion is Ron wrote a bit of a knee jerk reaction to a common sentiment of teachers. For some parents who are living in denial of bad parenting, they need a wake up call–just like some patients need a wake up call from their doctors when they ignore symptoms and fail “to follow doctors orders”. I agree in an ideal world, partnerships would be grown and developed, but we all know how difficult this can be sometimes when the relationship is “one sided… Arrogance is definitely not the answer either, but I have also experienced occassions where teachers who have their own children in school creating very difficult and awkward situations when their own children “act up” in another teacher’s class. I think both of these posts by Ron and you are bringing up good conversations that need to happen 🙂

  16. Hi Michelle!

    Excellent post – I absolutely agree with your views that teachers should be caring and that is the way to invite parents into the classroom.

    I was very much disturbed by the Clark article and your post came as a great and positive message to all of us.

    It is great that you have the opportunity to do all the wonderful things you want to do in your new school.

    Thank so much for a fantastic post, Michelle!

    Kindest regards,

  17. Thank you for the great post! The doctor analogy was particularly useful. I am not a parent, and I work in a district where the parents are seen as the enemy. You’ve given me needed insight into the other half of the story.

  18. Michelle, I love your post. As you know from my post, I totally agree with you about how to work with parents. Too bad Ron Clark doesn’t have a clue. Have a great school year.

  19. Just forwarded this for a second time after someone sent me the article you linked to… Thanks for elequently putting into words what I only understood as an unpleasant feeling about the Ron Clark article.

  20. It was a great analogy with the doctor situation. That is definitely something we can all relate too. If we as a patient go into the doctor appointment refusing to even hear the doctor’s advice, why bother even having the appointment? If the doctor refuses to even hear the patients’ symptoms, how is he or she going to give the correct analysis?

    Partnership in the end is the best way to help the students succeed in school. In order for the partnership to succeed it takes effort on both sides. Both sides need to stop thinking that each other is the enemy and work together to help the child succeed.

  21. Ok, I take your point but I also take Clark’s. Sometimes we need to tell parents things they don’t want to hear. If a child is struggling with everything, sorry but they may need extra help. I know that your child was technically old enough to come this year (by 2 days) but they are having lots of trouble staying awake all day and they’ve wet their pants every day for a fortnight (maybe wait another year?). There are also those parents who think coming to school 3 days a week is enough (sorry it isn’t). My personal favourite is when you have a child who clearly has a special need and parents refuse to accept it. While we often ask parents to get an expert opinion on behaviours we think are autism, I recently heard of a child diagnosed with Down’s at 10 years of age. Talk about denial. Not fair on the teacher but more to the point not fair on the children in the class (especially the child in question). There are some crap teachers out there but there are also some crap parents. Compassion and tact are important but sometimes so is honesty.

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