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.