What Should Parents Expect From Their Child's Teacher and What Is Unacceptable?
Don't Let Teachers Get Bogged Down in "Rigorous Standards" and Forget the Uniqueness of Each Child
First, let me come clean; I'm both a teacher and a parent. I know the long hours educators put into their jobs without receiving the compensation and respect they deserve. Moreover, with the rise of national testing, they're under tremendous pressure to meet rigorous standards, which reduces their autonomy and creativity. Now more than ever they must teach in ways that are developmentally inappropriate and ignore the uniqueness of each student.
Teachers: Not as Powerful as They Once Were
With the federal government increasingly involved in educational policy with legislation such No Child Left Behind and Common Core, it's essential that parents get involved, ask questions, and don't take anything for granted. They might be shocked to discover their child's teacher – the one they so like and admire – doesn't have nearly as much power in the classroom as they thought. With people outside of education (politicians, bureaucrats, technology companies, standardized test makers) seizing more control, it's important that parents communicate directly with the teachers. It's essential they express what they like and dislike in education today. With this in mind, here are 7 things parents shouldn't accept from their children's teachers:
#1: Reducing Students to Test Scores
When I started teaching kindergarten 25 years ago, parent-teacher conferences focused on the Whole Child – body, mind, and spirit. We'd touch on a wide-range of topics: the child's ability to make friends and handle conflicts, her motivation to use class time productively, and her budding talents in art, math, science, and reading. Today, conferences typically focus on test results – a narrow set of skills that children are supposed to master during the year. Parents often walk away from these meetings feeling disappointed, wondering if the teacher sees their child as a unique being.
When my son was in second grade, he was a smart and capable student but didn't interact with peers at recess. I became concerned about this so I arrived at his conference determined to discuss it. While his teacher wanted to stick to the script about test results, I pushed her to discuss the recess situation until we reached an understanding. In today's climate, parents need to let teachers know they're concerned with their children's overall development, not just test scores.
Parent-Teacher Conferences Should Focus on the Whole Child, Not Just Test Scores
#2: Not Acknowledging the Uniqueness of Each Child
In recent years, educational policies demanding academic rigor have resulted in a one-size-fit-all approach to learning. There's little acknowledgement of the differences among students -- much to the frustration of educational psychologists. Children get measured against their peers and, if they are lagging behind, parents become needlessly panicked.
My neighbor enrolled her 5-year-old daughter in after-school tutoring when she got placed in the lowest reading group in kindergarten. She became convinced her child was cognitively deficient. In reality, her daughter was simply one of the youngest students in the class and just needed more time to catch up with her older classmates who were 6-12 months older than she (a substantial difference at this age)!
#3: Using Terms Without First Explaining Them
Like any profession, education has its own lingo with words going in and out of vogue. In trying to sound knowledgeable, some teachers use these terms too often, not slowing down to explain them to parents (this is especially true in special education). Some of today's buzz words include: inclusion, mainstreaming, phonological awareness, Whole Language, math manipulatives, cooperative learning, and best practices. When this occurs, parents should immediately ask for clarification, feeling free to ask as many questions as necessary until they understand. Since teachers also tend to talk rapidly at meetings, parents should kindly ask them to slow down so they can absorb all the information.
Teachers Often Talk in Jargon so Parents Should Ask for Clarification of Unfamiliar Terms
#4: Speaking in a Condesending Manner
Most teachers are humble, down-to-earth people who enjoy interacting with parents. However, having a son with autism has opened my eyes to the problem of educators who speak in a patronizing way. When I talk with teachers about my child, they don't know I possess both a teaching credential and a master's degree in special education. So, in a way, I'm undercover. I've been disheartened by a few teachers who've spoken to me in a high-and-mighty manner with no compassion for my situation. They act as if I have a low high I.Q. because I have a son with special needs. They act as if they have all the right answers, and they need to "educate" me. I've reminded teachers -- in a lighthearted way -- that they're talking to an adult now, not a child, so they don't need to talk down to me.
#5: Not Getting Parents Involved in the Process
There's no question students perform better in school when their parents are involved. Some teachers, however, leave moms and dads out of the equation. Because coordinating parent participation is time-consuming and often frustrating, they just give up on it.
As a first-year kindergarten teacher, I was excited about getting parent volunteers involved in the classroom. But I quickly became disheartened when moms and dads failed to show up at their assigned times. Through that experience, I learned to adjust my expectations. There's always some way parents can help at school, and they should always expect teachers to include them.
Teachers Need a Plan for Parents to Help
#6: Giving Too Much Homework
Many teachers and parents today question the usefulness of homework. Some schools have even abolished it, claiming there's no proof that it enhances learning. While most experts agree it should only be used for review and practice, some teachers continue to give homework that causes children to struggle. Kids get frustrated. Parents get overwhelmed, and unnecessary tension is created in the family.
Parents should always make sure their children's homework is meaningful and doesn't require an unreasonable amount of time. A common rule of thumb is 10 minutes for first grade, 20 minutes for second grade, 30 minutes for third grade, and so on – adding ten minutes each year. New concepts should not get introduced through homework. Teachers should accommodate students with special needs. For example, they can assign them only the odd-numbered problems in math and 10 spelling words instead of the standard 20.
#7: Letting One Student Take Up Too Much of Their Time and Energy
My biggest complaint as both a parent and an educator is when one disruptive student is allowed to take up too much of the teacher's time and energy. This happens far too often – largely because administrators are relunctant to get involved. Teachers must jump through so many hoops before something is done so they usually just put up with it. But, without a doubt, the whole class suffers and many talented teachers leave the profession because of it.
This is when parents must advocate for the teacher. They should go to the principal and state their concerns: “We think Mr. Jones is an outstanding teacher and we're so thrilled our daughter is in his class. However, we see that one disruptive student is taking up too much of his time. What can be done so Mr. Jones gets the support he needs and deserves?” With enough pressure from parents, the principal will take the steps necessary to improve the situation.
I Highly Recommend This Book for Parents and Teachers. It Helped Me Develop Confident and Competent Kids.
This short but powerful book packs a lot of valuable information about promoting motivated children. When I taught preschool, I saw teachers and parents go overboard with their praise ("You're painting is amazing...You look so gorgeous...You're the smartest kids I know"). These excessive compliments turn kids into praise junkies who don't value their own work, thoughts, and opinions but crave accolades from adults. This book teaches a simple strategy for noticing a child's positive behavior and re-enforcing it. It will change how you interact with your youngster and help her develop independence and initiative.