(Carol L is a retired high school English teacher from Pennsylvania who was recognized by PA for excellence in teaching. Her view of parents follows this introduction.)
Few of the problems in education are more frustrating to a teacher than the role of parents in today’s failing educational system. On average, according to the hundreds of surveys and interviews I conducted during three years of research leading up to Lifting the Curtain: The disgrace we call urban high school education, teachers have 3.1 hostile interactions with very difficult parents each month. A minority of parents (a mathematical minority, not a demographic one) dominates teacher time and effort. And, as we’ve discussed in earlier blogs, they end up dominating school policy when everything a teacher is mandated to do begins to center on forcing us to find a way to “educate” and pass their children.
Thankfully, most parents, even in the urban high schools I researched, still are supportive and committed to their children’s education.
For teachers, this minority of parents especially hurts us. There is nothing in the nature of a teacher that can accept or understand those parents who don’t seem to care about their own children. You don’t become a teacher if your heart is anywhere else than all about helping children excel. So when we face the 31% of parents, who teachers in my survey felt did not care about their child’s education, it’s personal and painful. Trying to teach these children becomes a challenge of trying to motivate a child for an hour, while knowing the child will be in a home environment for 12-15 hours that works against everything we try to do. Is it any surprise that these children in urban high schools do an average of just 1.5 total homework hours per week, 29% copy most homework, and 24% routinely take zeroes on homework?
And yet, it is not these day-to-day problems and bitter conflicts with a minority of the parents that hurt us the most as we try to teach their children, despite all the system does to prevent us from teaching. No, the far more serious issue is a subtle one that prevents our ability to ever fix the problems.
The critical issue with parents is that they are the very people who teachers most need to help us tell legislators and career DoE bureaucrats to fix the real issues with education, yet parents have no idea what is actually causing the problems. If we ask the typical parent what is wrong with education, they will reply with the usual four issues:
- Bad teachers
- Lack of Funding
- Students who don’t want to learn
Even though these issues don’t even make the top five in the eight systemic failures I identified in Lifting the Curtain, and even though they are completely wrong that “….students don’t want to learn,” it is understandable that they only see these four items as possible reasons. For one, parents look at today’s education through the lens of their education twenty years earlier – before inclusion classes, standardized testing, abuse of Sped, bullying, lockdown drills, forced promotion of failing students, and a host of destructive mandates by career DoE bureaucrats.
But even the most caring parents who genuinely try to understand what is happening don’t have a chance to see what we really need to fix. The inept career DoE bureau Bureaucrats have become masters at hiding the real problems they caused that prevent us from teaching. In Massachusetts career DoE bureaucrats are certain to tout, in every education press release, that the state is “…first in the nation” in standardized testing. Of course, these same career bureaucrats are careful to hide that the “passing” grade on the state test is just 29%, that they salt the test with many easy middle school problems, and they routinely reduce that to as low as 25% in years when the students do worse.
The Massachusetts standardized test long has been a way for career DoE bureaucrats to hide their DoE failures, and has little to do with helping children learn.
Meanwhile, unqualified school administrators focus first on taking care of their friends, and second on bullying teachers who speak out about the problems in schools, with a culture of intimidation that dominates almost all schools. (See “Intimidating our teachers – the silence of the lambs.”) The one potential objective view of classroom issues that the parents might hear, teachers, has been effectively silenced.
Given this, even the most caring parent cannot see beyond the four red herrings listed above. Enlisting their help in fixing education is monumentally more difficult for us. And that is why a growing number of blogs like this one try, day after day, to get the message out about the real problems with our children’s education.
Here is Carol L’s view. It has been selected by the panel to be included and quoted in the main chapters of the 2nd edition of Lifting the Curtain: The disgrace we call urban high school education.
A minority of parents – missing in action
Teaching high school English for thirty-two years before retiring provides strong insights regarding education. First I must be clear: I loved the craft of teaching. I looked forward to interaction with the students, I relished their triumph when they met with success, and, most important, I discovered that while kids might never verbalize it, they wanted structure and discipline. The problem I found most discouraging rested squarely with the minority of parents who ignored the latter. I believe, unfortunately, the number of parents falling into that category today has increased dramatically.
Too often teachers must deal with the ever-present reminder that society as a whole, and parents in particular, believe they are experts in the education process, simply because they spent thirteen years in the system. Add to that mistaken perception the fact that so many parents live their lives vicariously through their kids. Finally factor in the sense of entitlement that is growing exponentially, and the stage is set. Rather than working with the teacher to help the child, the parent aligns himself with the child against the teacher.
When all parents finally accept the idea that teachers and parents should and must work together, and that kids are just that – adolescents who rarely think beyond the ringing of the next bell – then the vital structure and discipline so necessary for truly successful students will fall into place.