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Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

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Earlier this year, researchers reported that the number one source of frustration for teachers is parents. This week, the L.A. Times provided details on just how strained those relations can be, particularly, and this may come as no surprise, during conference time. In spite of the mood lighting and refreshments that some teachers offer to tamp down tension, stories of parents striking students or towering over their teachers or refusing future meetings can make for unpleasant encounters.

Myra McGovern, spokeswoman for the National Association for Independent Schools, sees a loss of respect for institutions and parents' growing sense of entitlement as possible causes for the increased stress in the parent-teacher relationship. “The parents feel like they …are their [child’s] advocates. Whereas in the past the parents may have sided with the teacher, now that’s less likely.” Scott Mandel, middle school teacher from California and author of The Parent-Teacher Partnership, sees it as a two-way street, “If you as a parent don’t respect your teacher, you should probably be at another school. Teachers in turn need to respect parents as a consumer. It’s like a doctor and patient who work together for the health of the body.”

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As a parent and teacher of children in the Chicago Public schools, I see the frustration from both sides. Parents are frustrated because they don't understand what is happening in school. "It's not the way it was when I was in school!" So what do we do about it? As parents, we take our frustration out on teachers who don't seem to be responding to our needs.

As a teacher, I have to agree with you--to a point. First, you are right! School is not the way it was when we were young AND it better not be! When I was in elementary school, it was a big deal to have a television in the classroom. Now we expect our students to be accessing the internet.
The world has expanded exponentially. Kids can sit in their local library or their home computers and communicate with family or friends traveling anywhere around the world as though they were in the next room. We, parents and teachers, had better be preparing our children for the reality around them. It's NOT enough to have a high school degree. It's NOT enough to have students be able to "bubble" rote answers on standardized tests.

Jobs, as we used to know them, are being outsourced. We, as a country, need an educated population who are creative thinkers who will develop their own job opportunities. Like the early pioneers, we can't wait for a job to come pre-formulated. We need to create our own opportunities.

"But how do we do this," parents ask? "Help me to understand. I see test scores going down. I see violence in school done by children--children who shouldn't be so detached from their fellow human beings that they can take a life. I see my children failing high school and becoming a burden to me and my family. What can we do? So we take out our frustrations on the people we feel are responsible for treating our loved children as numbers,"

I understand, now that I'm working in the system, that the schools in America are a self-propelling bureaucracy. Somehow, parents and teachers, those who know the children best, have been taken out of the loop on decision making. We are both told we should use objective research to see how best to educate children. By allowing this to happen, we have been complicit in creating a system that objectifies our children. To the bureaucracy, our children are NOT the loving, loved people we first sent to school. They are simply numbered bodies that can be poked and prodded, tested like guinea pigs, and shifted around from school to school without any consideration for neighborhoods or familial connections.

One of the jobs I see as a teacher, is to be an advocate for my programs at school. I need the parents to understand what I am doing and why. I try, as often as I can, to keep parents informed through internet. It's not perfect but I feel it's a start. This way, when I have a chance to meet with a parent at Report Card pick-up days, they have some idea who I am and what their children should be doing in school. Parents can see the dynamics of a classroom as it's being taught today.

I see the parent's part is to trust their instincts. Parents know a good teacher when they see one because their kids come home excited about learning. Parents don't need some "objective" test to verify that. When your children come home talking about the things YOU found boring in school, you've got yourself a good teacher. Even if it's something parents don't understand, remember, this is a new world. This new world will not look like the world we have been familiar with.

Parents, we have to work together and trust each other. We each have to trust that we have the best interests of these kids at heart. Together, we just may be able to stop the bureaucratic thinking that treat your children (these wonderful minds and souls) like numbers.

While I agree with most of Lorudes Guerrero's post, I struggle tremendously with one part. I don't think parents know "a good teacher when the see one" and I don't believe it is absolutely important that "kids come home from school excited about learning." In fact, I believe that this is the primary paradigm shift that has most altered the relationships between parents and teachers. When I was in high school in the 70s I had several teachers who were well-known to be especially tough. When I would go home and whine about my difficulty grasping math and would assault my dad about how I hated the teacher and the subject, my dad would sternly rebuke me. He would tell me that some things, usually the important things, in life come hard. He would rail at me about how anything that "didn't kill me, would make me better." Guess what? That was the same message I got from those hard teachers. I can't say that high school was ever "fun" or "exciting" for me. I did learn though. I learned that I had to adapt to others. I learned that I had to advocate for myself and my own learning, because my mommy and daddy would not. And I also learned that sometimes things come at a very high price simply because they are valuable and in order to get things of value, you have to work extra hard. I will admit, I didn't appreciate my "mean,""un-exciting" teachers until long after I left high school. But, oh, how I appreciate them now . . . and I am also thankful that my parents believed enough in my ability to become strong and to persevere that I don't have to be ashamed because they were always down at my high school fighting my battles for me. I learned much, much more than math and reading.
I have taught, now, for 15 years. When I look around I see very few of my colleagues who are as "tough" as the teachers in my memory. Most of my fellow teachers appear, well, worn down and exhausted. Administrators are tired too. They are constantly barraged with parental politics--and everyone, it seems, blames the tough teacher. How many times I have heard an administrator lament, "If my teachers could make their classes 'fun'." Fun, . . . like life, right? It seems that students, parents, and administrators want "entertainers," not teachers. I have not succumbed to that yet, but I know it is what many in the educational community want--it keeps the students happy and their parents happy. But what do they learn from it? Whine and daddy will see to it that I get my way. Will daddy go to college with them? Will daddy follow them to their job? How will they ever learn the lessons I learned? The paradigm has definitely shifted . . . and I fear the outcome if it is not corrected.

Teaching Standard A, of the National Science Education Standards is: “… [N]uture a community of science learners.” It goes on to say that the relationship between parent/caregivers, child, and teacher is central and pivotal in this “community.” In view of this goal, a confrontational relationship is most regrettable and counter productive. What can we do about it?

I believe the kind of homework we assign can be a key. When homework consists of filling out worksheets that can be done “mechanically” and seem aimed mostly at reinforcing rote memorization, parents are put in the role of being simply taskmasters— Have you done your homework? Do it now! If the homework is deemed busywork in any way, this sets the stage for confrontation between kids and parents and then between parents and teacher.

In the science curriculum that I have developed, I take a different tack. Each lesson contains a section, “To Parents and Others Providing Support.” This gives ways in which parents can help their kids see, understand and discuss how their lesson applies to and provides an avenue of interpreting what they see and experience in their everyday lives. Need it be said that it provides parents with an ongoing assessment of their child’s learning.

Will there be any reason or cause for confrontation if this sort of relationship is promoted?

Bernard J. Nebel, Ph. D. Author. “Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding”

I agree that we are expected to be EDUTAINERS in class. It is a big reflection of a society that wants to be entertained at all costs and on all levels.

As for parents and teachers, I agree that there is a huge disconnect, but I don't agree that we should respect "parents as consumers." Education is not a BUSINESS. There are no profits and losses. But for those who are intent on trying to apply the business model, I would say that it would make teachers and parents PARTNERS in a business venture to educate the student. Both parties need to be clear on what their responsibilites are and be prepare to hold up their ends.

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