The Crowded Classroom
Yesterday an online psychic who lived in my house two owners ago showed up and wanted to take a look around the old place. “This is where I used to do my face-to-face counseling,” he remarked as we passed through the dining room. “Senators, lots of famous people have been in here.” Passing a wall in the kitchen into which I had drilled more than a few holes to hang a pesky shelf, I was shocked upon hearing that he had fished a lot of wire through there when renovating the upstairs bathroom.
Oddly enough, the previous owners have also made a recent appearance. They popped up just the other day, ruefully eyeing the wicker-strewn porch and the front door they’d painted fire engine red. Turns out “country living” in Vermont didn’t suit them and they wanted to return to a town where it didn’t take an hour and a half to reach a Greek restaurant.
Remarkably, two weeks ago an elderly couple knocked on the door when our sitter was here and also asked for a quick walk through. (Cue twilight zone music.) One of them had lived here before the psychic, and married the other, his sweetheart from up the block. Now in their 80s and visiting from Florida, the fellow recalled growing up with 5 kids in the then one-bathroom house.
Turns out, these walls can talk. The shed I built in the backyard and the flower beds my wife put in at the base of the trees we planted for the boys when we moved in are just the latest brushstrokes on a mural of living that this house has been painting since 1912 (before that, the psychic told us, this plot was a paddock for a lucky gambler’s race horses, and the school down the block was the site of the local race track where he made his fortune.)
All of which goes to show that the past is always with us, whether we see it or not. And in no place is this more true than the classroom. Kids have histories that are revealed in shards through their writings and actions, and the parents that come with them sprinkle fragments of their own into the mosaic. Piecing these together requires the patience and intuition of the artist teacher, hence this week’s top 10 list, based on the innocuously worded but essential:
Standard XVI. Family Outreach
Accomplished Early Adolescent/ English Language Arts teachers work with families to serve the best interests of their children.
10. Families are the first teachers. Understanding them is crucial to knowing the kid.
9. Get them on your side with two-way communication. Seek information from parents on how their kids learn; provide information about your program that can guide parents to participate productively.
8. Parents are allies. Not us vs. them but us and them.
7. Communicate regularly and respond thoughtfully to parents. The fewer surprises, the fewer problems.
6. Parents’ history as learners affects their perceptions of how you’re doing as a teacher. If they had a negative experience in the classroom, the may be “reluctant” partners. If they were work-booked to the bone, they may want to see their kids bringing home workbooks.
5. Invite productive participation from all parents, which includes reaching out to ESL parents with the help of school translators.
4. Be “respectful” of parents who understand but don’t agree with what you do (I won’t digress right now into a conference from hell story, but remind me to tell you some day about my chat with the parents of Harry, the nice black Nazi.)
3. “Enter discussions” with parents with the goal of keeping the focus on two things: the learning of the child, and instructional strategies.
2. It is our job to “wean parents away from an overreliance on test scores and grades” (hallelujah, hallelujah) by showing them actual student work.
And the number one goal of family outreach, as delineated in Standard XVI...
1. Invite parents into the class as volunteers, observers and speakers, and also make sure to “devise assignments” that bring the students and parents together in the pursuit of truth and knowledge. That’s right: fun for the whole family! (Can someone bring a few extra chairs in here, please.)