Parents are not Necessary for Students to Learn.
Parents are a favorite subject of complaint in teachers’ rooms across the country. Now I know why Bertha behaves the way she does: the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree! Or, if the parents did their job and raised their children well, then she would have no problem with the student’s learning. Parents are regularly heard in these rooms, I know that girl’s father, you will never see her, and she never answers the phone. Don’t parents believe that their children’s schooling is essential? I even heard a teacher disparage the quality of parents in school in this way. In our school, we judge parents’ intelligence by how many teeth they still have.
However, schools are required to work with parents. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) needs schools to contact parents and try to engage them in a learning partnership or compacts. When schools do not meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) or state standards, parents must be invited to needs assessment meetings, school improvement meetings, and performance-based monitoring meetings. Every teacher should call parents home when their students misbehave and prepare for a parent-teacher conference at least once a year. How can we complain so viciously about the people we are supposed to work with?
Endemic to this attitude toward parents is the unspoken shift of blame that some teachers and schools engage in: We don’t believe it’s our fault that Albert isn’t learning. It’s his parents’ fault. There is too much looking out the window and not in the mirror. The point is that parents send us the best students they have. Yes, parents can do more with their children’s learning at home, whether it’s reading with them, helping them with their homework, or taking them on field trips. But we have to accept the fact that we are professionals. And we don’t need parents to help students learn in our classrooms. Let me explain why.
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I had the privilege of attending probably the most outstanding professional learning event of my career: the Professional Learning Community Institute here in San Antonio this summer. (I even got to have lunch with the DuFour’s and other dignitaries, but that’s another blog.) During the closing opening session, Mike Mattes, former elementary principal, forcefully explained why we shouldn’t trust parents in this way (to paraphrase). “Parents haven’t gone to seven years of college, they haven’t passed proficiency tests, and they have their full-time jobs, so we can’t expect them to do our job of teaching. Children don’t get to pick where they’re endured. Fifteen thousand hours are spent in our schools; how can we blame the parents?
Suppose we genuinely believe that all students can learn. In that case, we must also honestly believe that, as professionals. We can make that happen, regardless of whether we have parental support or not. If we genuinely believe we can help all students learn, we need to stop worrying (complaining) about external forces we can’t control and focus on what we maintain: all the learning that happens in our classrooms. We have no command over what ensues at home. Thus parent involvement is not essential to student learning.
Think about the body: Is your hand essential? No, it’s not. You can cut it down and still survive and thrive. How about the heart? Yes! If the heart stops, the whole body stops working. The human hand is lovely, and parental support is appreciated and welcome but not critical. The definition is that if we don’t have them, we can’t function.
What is at the Heart of Student Learning?
A teacher who is willing to do whatever it takes to help them learn. A teacher who accepts responsibility for ensuring high levels of learning for all children, and a teacher who collaborates with other teachers who also believe that together, in learning communities, professional, they can overcome any social or economic obstacle to learning.
Of course. We want and encourage parents to be partners in the school, but first. We must break the habit of criticizing parents. If we agree with Mike Mattes’ vision of what is at the heart of student learning, then we have only one course of action: improve our teaching to such an extent that when students get home from school and parents ask them: Did you learn? This day? The students do not say, Nothing! Thus, the parents will never be able to say: Those are not good, dirty, rotten teachers! If only they would teach my children how they are supposed to do it then. I would have no problem raising my children!