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Follow-Up: Engaged Parents Enable Teachers to Help Students

Ilana Garon
In my previous post, I ruffled some feathers through my discussion of parents in the high-needs school at which I work who are unreachable or seemingly unconcerned about their children's educational progress. Several readers responded that perhaps these families are experiencing crises (homelessness, drug abuse) that prevent engagement. It's not my intention to belittle these families' struggles; my point is that lack of parental engagement is a trend we cannot ignore. Students even say, "Miss, please. You think my mom's gonna bother showing up to conferences?" or "Come on, after middle school, parents give up!"

Of course, it is not solely the responsibility of the parents themselves to foster an attitude of engagement. I respect the efforts mentioned in Jose Vilson's post, "Building Proactive Parent-Teacher Relationships": Vilson describes a culture of accountability wherein teachers keep files of prior contacts, test scores, and behavior records to give parents up-to-date information. Furthermore, school systems can work to educate parents—starting when their kids are in pre-K—about their power to affect their children's education, ways they can affect it, and reasons it's important to remain involved.

Last week, I was in a conference with a parent who is fighting a serious illness, which she revealed to us will likely be terminal. She had come to school to make sure that her kids were getting the correct course-programming and help they needed so that they would ultimately graduate from high school. Because she was too sick to be able to oversee their study habits and homework completion the way she wanted, she hoped perhaps someone in school could step in—specifically, to help them study for their upcoming Regents exams.

The conference was heartbreaking. Yet, when her son and I talked later, he told me he felt the outcome had been positive. He was pleased to have been able to adjust his course schedule, and relieved, he admitted, that some adults would be "on him" to study for his Regents. For my part, I was humbled by this parent's efforts. In a situation wherein she couldn't "be there" the way she wanted, by coming and expressing her needs, she had enabled us all to help her kids more effectively. It was a stunning example of parental engagement—one that showed me what was possible when teachers, parents, and students work together.

Ilana Garon has been teaching high school English (and math, in emergency situations) in the Bronx since she graduated from Barnard College in 2003.

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