One key factor for teachers to see more student success is to better understand how to communicate with parents. Could an improved partnership with parents and teachers outscore No Child Left Behind or any other national education reform? I think so.
I have a friend who left teaching two years short of the retirement option she had planned for her golden years. She quit teaching early because she was no longer getting through to the parents. Although she was having more academic and behavioral success with students who were at risk than other colleagues at her school, she often found herself at a loss when communicating with parents. She added new things she learned each year and adapted to the changing lives of her students, but it didn’t occur to her that she would also have to adapt to new parenting principles. After all, she had been a parent too; she knew what they were going through, right?
On one occasion, after her usual bag of tricks to get a student focused had been exhausted and that student had missed his third homework assignment, she told him that she would have to call his mom. Three missed assignments was the number the students had decided at the start of the school year was fair to deserve a call home. Upon receiving the call, not only did the mother not speak of any plans to help motivate her son, but she also did not appreciate the call. In fact, she accused the teacher of prohibiting her son from meeting his potential, and calls home, such as this, were a waste of her [parent] time. Does this sound familiar to other teachers?
I would have been in serious trouble if my parents had received a call that I was becoming irresponsible in my schoolwork. Knowing this teacher and the lengths she took to keep her students engaged and motivated, I was stunned that a parent would prefer to stick up for their child rather than listen to the observations of a trained professional who sees their child for more than 30 hours a week.
After learning about this situation, I began to hear more examples of the changing dynamic of the parent/teacher relationship when I learned of the term “Helicopter Parents.” These are parents who are not just supporting their kids; they are taking it a step further by helping or doing homework and making decisions to shield their kids from making the wrong decisions. An article in a recent New York Times, When Helping Hurts, begins as follows: “American parents are more involved in our children’s lives than ever: we schedule play dates, assist with homework and even choose college courses.”
I had to take a moment to try to picture my mother scheduling a play date. Can’t do it.
Helicopter parents often want to play a more active role in their child’s lives than their parents played. They make efforts to protect their kids from problems they can foresee, even if the kids don’t want that kind of help. All of that sounds reasonable except when it holds back a child. Why would parents help produce negative outcomes that leave students unable to make simple decisions without parental guidance? The article surmises, “It seems that certain forms of help can dilute recipients’ sense of accountability for their own success.”
I am dating myself by using this reference, but I enjoyed commiserating with other teens by proclaiming the words of a young Will Smith. I suspect students of today might still agree with Mr. Smith’s lyrics from “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” back when he was in a duet with a gentleman called DJ Jazzy Jeff. Lately, I have noticed the number of times a week rising when my staff indicates how uncool I am, thus, I thought I better crosscheck my suspicions with that of today’s youth. I discovered that I am still relevant, or maybe as relevant as I want to be, in Sam Koppelman’s observations via the Huffington Post of 10 ways parents of today still just don’t understand. Koppelman outlines some classics, such as how parents embarrass their kids and how clueless parents are. He also reveals some insightful information advising parents not to focus so much of their attention to shield kids from swear words and rated R movies, because they hear/see them anyway.
There is no magic word or technique that will fix all of the hurdles in child development today, but I think the parent/teacher dynamic is one that needs a stronger focus. While the questions and comments from parents are fresh in your minds, take a class when school lets out. We have 130 courses this summer, but our upcoming Conferencing with Parents and Professionals on June 17th might be of interest to those of you wondering if better parents/teachers relations could see that bump in test scores we’d all like. Think about it.