What Parents Need, But Don’t Get

In a stack of papers called Reform.

  • Feb
  • 20
  • 2006

Students need power; teachers need support; parents need communication. Schools need to establish an open-door policy early in the academic year. Teachers need to work with parents to raise students’ awareness. Students need to respect the authority their parents bring to the equation. Everyone needs to be prepared to sit down at one big table to discuss issues from time to time. To do that, parents need information.

Phone Calls

Admittedly, this is the part of the job I hate the most and argue about with many other teachers, most of whom are also parents. But I understand that a phone call from a concerned teacher, or ever a grateful one, can make a big difference. Continually, I find myself jealous of those teachers who know the parents of many of their students, who engage in regular email conversations with them and who are the beneficiaries of parental support when it’s really needed. Parents with children in a classroom where the teacher can establish communication home know a bit more of what’s expected during the day and are in a better position to offer consistency in those expectations.

If I was a parent and my child was not doing well in school, I think I’d want to know about it more often than every 9 weeks, which is normally how long it takes for those 6-week-grade reports to arrive home. And something more informative than a grade of F with “In danger of failing/Call immediately” would help me get my child back on track. A weekly plan from each class would be great, but even that much detail wouldn’t be necessary. Just a general scope of the content covered in a course, a more substantial version of the course syllabus, would give me a feel for the class and what I can do to help my child succeed. The best thing would be a phone call from the teacher, so that I can ask questions and the teacher can know a few things about my child that might make things easier in the classroom.

I acknowledge that parents still fit into the puzzle of a student’s life. Parents deserve regular communication from the school. Very rarely, though, is academic communication a two-way street. Often, it’s a one-lane, unpaved, windy, hilly highway plagued with potholes that the parents have to traverse in order to find out what’s happening at the big building that holds their children for the better part of the morning and early afternoon.

Schools don’t tend to be on the cutting edge of technology nor do they tend to be in possession of the skill set to bridge the digital divide presented by the majority of parents that don’t even have an email account, let alone a computer. Occasional newsletters accompanying the school paper and the flashing digital kiosk in front of the school grounds fill the list most campuses keep of communication methods. Information via things like RSS feeds or automated email lists are not yet the norm and are even scorned by some districts and principals, met with furrowed brows by many parents and students.

Somehow, the lines of communication between academic institutions and the homestead must open up a bit wider to allow the flow of information back and forth.

Necessary Information

Graduation requirements, yearbook costs, testing schedules, curriculum maps, night school and summer school options, tutoring hours, API/APY data, honor roll students, teacher awards, observation hours, sports schedules, performance dates, contact information, morning announcements, college entrance assistance, student contests, ASB events, campus needs, construction timelines, course offerings, student expectations, teacher work hours, union contract regulations and negotiations, at-risk help offered, parent education, school hours, bell schedules, content area standards, budget plans, PTSA updates, substitute teacher information.

A small team of scientists at Stanford works diligently every evening to find an end to the list of what parents need to know from schools. Items 256, 257, and 258 were just added to the list last week (“number of computers per classroom,” “penalties for swearing at a teacher,” and “detention policies in an age of under funded schools,” respectively, if you’re curious). Not many people hold hope for reaching the end of the list, much like the quest for the end of pi.

All of this information should be readily available on a school Web site, at the very least. This information should also be available in hardcopy for any parent who walks in and requests it. And, in order to put that information into the hands of parents who most need it, community outreach must see a resurgence, schools should have more than one evening devoted to inviting parents onto the campus (with back-to-school night being that one evening), and teachers might want to think about openly inviting parents into the classroom to observe a day’s lesson.

I’m not a parent, so I could use some help here, people who can check my understanding. Not only will that make this a better post, but it will help me be a better teacher, so leave a comment!

UPDATE: Mark Gross of School Loop writes about the information divide. Check in over on his site to see how the conversation evolves.

No comments

1. Ben says:

[2/21/2006 - 8:58 am]

The community nights are definitely a tradition of the past that are in need of revival. A school I used to work at did a great job of this with themed nights. We had fmaily math night, with lots of fun math games to play, writers’ night to show off student work and talk about what writing in the classroom and at home, and of course the kids’ favorite “Safe Trick or Treat.” The PTO would sponsor safe trick or treating at the school so parents could bring their kids into a safe, controlled, friendly, and rain-free environment, so they could trick or treat in all of the classrooms.

As far as elementary goes, I’m always a fan for community feasts like Thanksgiving feasts for the whole family during lunch time.

2. Todd says:

[2/21/2006 - 6:00 pm]

We have that Trick-or-Treat night on Halloween, but the parents that attend that are not parents of our students…yet. Wait a few years and those kids will be here.

Family math night? Writers’ night? Sounds cool! I wonder if those kinds of things work for high schools. Yeah, community nights would go a long way toward making public schools an integral part of the community and people might care a bit more about what’s happening there if they felt like it was their school, regardless of whether or not they had a child attending it.

3. Ben says:

[2/22/2006 - 6:06 pm]

I think a writer’s/author’s night would work very well at High School. You could even go so far as to have monthly Poetry Jams and/or Reader’s Theater. Whichever way you take it, live performances or just plain live readings might work.

As for Family Math Night, you might end up with more parents coming in in High School just to figure out how the heck to do the math :) My parents were never able to help me with any of my high school level math courses, but then again most people can’t after they’re a few years past taking it (except for the those darn engineers).