A Parent's Back-to-School Wish List
By Kwok-Sze Wong, Ed.D., Executive Director of the American School Counselor Association (ASCA)
This is the first school year since 1994 that my wife and I won't have a child in a K-12 public education system. Our youngest son graduated from high school in June and starts college this month. Because my wife is a middle school teacher, we aren't completely losing sight of the annual back-to-school excitement. We just won't experience it from the parents' side again.
As parents we tried to tread that fine the line that distinguishes active and involved parents from the hover and smother variety. From a parent and school counseling perspective, I wish several things could have been different to improve parent engagement in our children's schools.
I wish we could have gotten to know our children's teachers, administrators and school counselors better. We generally saw teachers only when we needed, which often didn't mean good news, or when we bumped into them at school activities. Even with regular grade reports from some teachers, we didn't get the feeling that we really knew what our children were doing in the classroom, and we would have liked to meet with teachers and administrators about successes and not just problems.
I wish we could have told our children's teachers about our children's challenges and talents. Every student is unique. Each has a learning style that either can facilitate or hinder their ability to achieve academically. A teacher's teaching style and classroom environment has as much to do with student success as the content of the lessons. Too often a teaching style just didn't fit with our child's learning style, not because our children had bad teachers, but because the system simply isn't built for individualized instruction.
I wish we could have heard more often about our children's life at school outside the classroom and extracurricular activities. In his book, Immigrant Students and Literacy, Gerald Campano describes a second classroom that exists in the halls, cafeteria and playground. This is the classroom where students learn their lessons in personal and social development. This is the classroom that parents usually never hear about from their children. We knew our children's friends outside the school, but we had no idea about their peers who were influencing them within the school walls.
I wish we could have encouraged our children to use the school resources more. We're fortunate that our children went to schools that afforded opportunities many schools don't. There were countless programs and services our children didn't take advantage of, particularly when they were researching colleges and admissions. Our school kept extensive listings of scholarships available and encouraged students to apply, but did our children ever even look at the listings? Apparently not.
I wish every parent, teacher and administrator understood the value of a school counselor as much as we did. Our children's school counselors were invaluable allies who helped us navigate through academic hurdles and the bumps and twists that are a natural part of childhood and adolescence. I was always surprised at parents who struggled with questions about their children and didn't know they could turn to their school counselor for help.
Even though our children's education was not without some challenges, it was still the best education we could have hoped for. They all got into good universities and are on their way to successful and meaningful lives. And that's all any parent could wish for.
Views expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.