Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Parents: Ah, for the good old days!

The Anonymous Teacher did a post on conferences last week, and she listed some of the comments that parents made to her. This one really struck me:
The woman whose daughter isn't turning in homework in my class...she told me
that her daughter has always loved language arts, so it must be me. She
proceeded to tell me how I should teach...because apparently I didn't go to
school to learn that.

Since, like A.T., I am a teacher, I might be biased, but this sounds to me like a pretty stupid parent. However, it seems like there are more and more parents who take that kind of position in dealing with teachers these days. It make me long for the good old days.

When I was in school (many, many years ago!), not all of my teachers were great, but the idea of blaming any of them when I performed poorly was not something my parents would have considered. I remember them saying negative things about a teacher only once, and that was about one of my brother's teachers. There were times as a student that I might have suffered minor injustices, but I would not have been foolish enough to complain to my parents about it. The teachers and the school were right -- period! It was my job to do what my teachers wanted me to do, to the best of my ability. If I did something wrong and got into trouble, I should expect to suffer the consequences, whatever they might be, and make sure I didn't do it again.

There are still parents like that today, but I think it's clear that there were a lot more parents like that when I was going to school. One reason parents have become more difficult for schools to deal with is that the definition of a “good parent” has changed in the minds of many people. They think that instead of supporting teachers and the school, as my parents did, a good parent should make sure the teachers and the school are doing what the parents think they should, and to serve as advocates for their kids whenever the students have conflicts with teachers or principals.

I have to admit, however, that there are times when normally supportive parents should speak up rather than simply say, "Do what the teacher says!" I deal with 150 students in school, so I’m going to make some mistakes. There have been times when parents have pointed out that I’ve done something as simple as recording the wrong test score for a student. There have been times when parents have given me information to make me realize that I needed to change my approach to a student. There have been times when parents have politely told me that they disagreed with something I have done while acknowledging that they understood my reasons. And there have also been times when I’ve had to look a parent in the eye and say, “You’re right; I screwed up! Now what can we do to correct it?”

The key is for parents to approach these situations with the presumption that the teacher or teachers involved are competent and want to do the right thing. Many parents don't do this. Instead, they immediately assume that the teacher or the principal or whoever else from the school who is involved is wrong or lazy or acting out of ulterior motives. Obviously, the media’s constant barrage of criticism of public education helps fuel this assumption. With all the talk about "failing schools," and with talking heads constantly reporting stories about how schools have messed up, it is no wonder that many parents aren't willing to give schools and teachers the benefit of the doubt.

The bottom line is that I believe the old way of parents backing the school and the teacher was better. Whatever damage there was to my education from those minor injustices I suffered and from those less-than-great teachers I had was much less than the damage that would have resulted if I had thought that I could get my parents to support me whenever I got lazy or screwed up. There are many parents today who believe they are doing a great job because they are "backing their kids." Some of them aren't serving anyone well.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think parents nowadays are less concerned with their student's success than with their mark. The appearance of success (a high mark) matters more to the parent than actual success (comprehension of the subject). I think this goes back to your earlier posts on parents demanding higher standards until it applies to their child.

In my growing understanding of parents, I've come to realize that they are just as much, or more, competitive than their students. They want to be able to tell all their relatives that little Johnny got an A in math or brag to their neighbours that little Suzy is top of her history class. I can't tell if they just experience success vicariously through their student, or whether this is another example of "helicopter parents" who are trying to clear the path for their student's eventual acceptance into the most prestigious college they can afford.

10/17/2006 8:03 PM  
Blogger jettybetty said...

Once again, I think you are right on! An occasional *bad* teacher is something students should learn to deal with--they won't have all perfect supervisors in the working world.

10/20/2006 5:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I was in school (and it wasn't that long ago), the teacher was nearly always right. And the one time my parents really had an issue with a teacher's actions, they went to the principal, and when she stood by the teacher, they let it drop.
That being said, I am by no means perfect. I do make mistakes...it's my second year, afterall, and I'll be the first to admit when I've screwed up. But, as you said, Dennis, if this parent had come to me RESPECTFULLY with a concern, I would have listened and tried to correct the situation. But all this parent wanted to do was blame me for the poor choices her daughter was making. Then she wanted to tell me how I should run my classroom.
I just don't understand how things have gotten to be this way...or why, for that matter.

P.S. I love being the inspiration for a post ;).

10/20/2006 6:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think part of the problem is that we bother to listen to them.

My highschool teachers, back in the 80's and 90's, would not have given ear to hear such nonsense.

11/03/2006 9:43 AM  

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