If you are both a parent and a teacher, you probably have noticed a certain discomfort as the deeply held philosophies and attitudes you hold as a parent sometimes clash with those you hold as a teacher. I think a lot about this, and I feel that more and more often my feelings in these two roles are drifting ever further apart. Here are a few examples:
I, parent, do not care about his test scores. Unless they are low. Then I care, but not if it shows growth. As long as he’s in the middle of the pack. No, I don’t want you to teach to the test, just show me numbers that make me proud.
I, teacher, hate to teach to the test. I loathe it, actually. I try to embed the standards well enough that the students do well on the test, which I really don’t care about. Unless the scores are low. Then I need to teach that standard MUCH more. But it’s only a test.
I, parent, do not want there to be lots of homework. I have my own job and we have work to do at home. We have many other rich, important things to do in our home time, except when we don’t, in which case it would be great if there were something she could work on. But for sure no projects. There is nothing worse than the drama that goes with projects. However, we would like to see many more real-world projects and engaged learning. Is there anything we can work on at home to help her learn?
I, teacher, want the richest possible learning environment possible, so I try to institute project-based learning as often as possible. I love seeing the way the approach the projects. Except the ones they actually finish. Those are horrible, rushed, and often done by parents. If only they could be done fully in class. I hate sending homework home, because most kids don’t do a good job on it, but yet I still send plenty home because we can’t get it all done in class. I would love the parent to help her, but make sure she does it all on her own.
I, parent, want him to be a great citizen in class and to be generally pleasant around others. I want you to help reinforce manners and friendly behaviors, except when it’s my job. I would like my kids to behave well at school, but if they don’t, I hope you will help them learn, except that I don’t because I’d rather you helped them with math. I can handle the social stuff at home, or not. It really depends.
I, teacher, want to assist you in helping your child to be a great friend and school citizen. Except when he isn’t, then we should talk about your part in this. We can reinforce the positive behaviors, but you have to teach those. Except when we do it. That’s important.
This mass of contradictions is an important part of the concept of home/school relationships, and a conversation I don’t think we have often enough. Do we as educators have a specific understanding of what parts of education are fully on the shoulders of the parents? Do parents understand the areas of education they have the most influence?
I see a fairly wide disconnect between what education asks of parenting and what parents ask for from education. I also feel a heartfelt sadness for those students whose parents don’t, can’t, or won’t do the things that are inherently expected of them. Does the student pay the price for this? Is it fair that they do? Is a parent who works two jobs a bad parent because they don’t help with the glue and paste project? Can reading be taught well without the parent?
Perhaps this conversation needs to be had more often. It seems that the more complicated a child’s home life is, the more the system in school is stacked against them, and I think that is a problem. I’ve been on both sides. I understand the frustration of minimal support of my students from their parents, yet I, too, have been a busy parent trying to hold together the complicated life we sometimes lead. Sometimes I ask parents to study spelling with their child, or to help with a project, and in the same day forget to go through my child’s backpack and help him study his spelling because we ran out of day.
Is there a solution? Perhaps. A greater empathy between parents and the school would be a great building block. What would probably make the biggest impact would be the idea of an IEP for every child. In that agreement, parents could honestly indicate how much time and resources they have available for at-home learning, and a plan could be built around that. I think an accord could be struck for almost every situation. Individual family needs should dictate this conversation, not a single expectation. I’d be interested to see what that kind of compassionate conversation might produce, and how it would value the child at the center of the learning.