I have taught secondary students for over 15 years, and over the years, I have been constantly challenged by the schism between parents and the school. It seems that some issues are just not addressed enough. What follows are ten friendly suggestions from one caring, veteran teacher to the hard working parents of high school students. Remember, we’re all in this together.
1. We don’t all love giving homework. We know you are often busy at home and sometimes lots of homework is harder on you than the student. We are often lead to believe that if we don’t assign homework we are not challenging students. Most teachers are looking critically at what they assign and why. The trend today is to “flip” instruction, so the outside work consists of watching videos or looking at other online content. This seems to be a good compromise for most families, but we are fully aware that this, too, could get overwhelming. When this happens, we need to hear from you.
2. We don’t care about your child’s grades in the way you think we do. What we really care about is the learning. It makes my heart sink a little bit every time a parent calls in to ask how the student can be getting a D when all of the work is in. In my experience, grades often tell the tale of how a student does in jumping through hoops, not how well they learned the material. Many teachers are working toward grading only skills, but it is a difficult transition. When you call in, please ask questions like “is Julie doing better with her reading?” or “How do you think Steven’s been doing with learning the those trig formulas?” Maybe you don’t know the specifics; you can still frame your inquiries in terms of learning and not grade book points.
3. If you have a gripe about the school, the district, the superintendent, principal, coaches, or teachers, please resist the urge to spread rumors and negativity about the community. The school district is not a reality show that is meant for entertainment and conjecture. If there is a problem, call the appropriate person and discuss it with them. If you are still not satisfied, move up the chain of command. The school community is made up of real people trying very hard to do well by students. Negativity as sport or as politics is unproductive and harmful to students.
4. We live in 2013, not 1993, 1973, or 1953. When most parents were in school the internet had not even been invented, or had only just. We live in a completely different, digital, global world. There is no real comparison. Please don’t compare teaching methods and strategies to what was used in the past. Students today use computers to learn, because the world we live in uses computers. Times change. There may be many things we need to improve about education, but taking instruction back to the Johnson era isn’t one.
5. Stay involved in what your kids are doing in school, but allow for some successes and failures. Some parents lord over the online grade portal so as to jump on their kid the moment a low score comes in on a test or project. Try to watch for overall trends. Have conversations, just don’t micro-manage your student. We generally see a decrease, not increase, in learning when parents push too hard.
6. If the reason the student can’t concentrate on school is because of sports, theater, or band, then it needs to go. School is for learning first. We all need to remember that. For some students, the extra-curricular is the driver for ambition and perseverance in school; and for others it is the distraction. Help them determine the difference. If the parent cares more about the extra-curricular than the student, that’s usually a cause for concern. It would be refreshing to see a school community rally around academics in the way many do for athletics or even the arts.
7. I don’t think most of us think you need to sit with your child and work on schoolwork. In my view, just having your child at home and safe is what will help them do well in school. It’s amazing how many kids spend almost every night out, or online, with no guidance from parents. In school, we can take care of the learning. At home, you need to be the parent. They will not be socially stunted if they are expected to be home on school nights or if you impose screen time limits. I think they may even thank you some day.
8. Talk about careers and post-secondary options with your child as a matter of fact. Don’t push, don’t pressure, just make sure they know you expect them to pursue a career after high school. Encourage them to have high ambitions. Encourage them to learn from your own successes and mistakes. It really makes a difference.
9. Value education. If you value smarts over looks, your child will too. We need to cure the idea that cool, popular kids can’t be also bright and well educated. We also need to fight the impression that where we come from determines how we will do in school. Teachers want success for every student, but we often fight very deep-seated ideas about the value of education. We need help with this, there are too many voices in their world that contradict the idea that education translates to success in life.
10. Let us know where you need help. We are in this business for the benefit of students. We want to help. If there are challenges in the life of our students, there are many things we can do to help. Many families let us know after the fact, and are amazed that there are entire programs that might have alleviated the issue in the first place. We know privacy is a concern, but if we can help you child overcome a barrier to learning, we are all ears. Please ask.