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Teaching Part 2: Dear Parents

Ron Clark with His Students

This is the second in my series of posts about teaching. (See Part 1.) In this post, I want to point you to an interesting letter from Ron Clark, an award winning teacher, to parents. He offers suggestions for how parents can join the team of their child’s teacher in an effort to really challenge their child and bring out their best. Here is his introduction:

This summer, I met a principal who was recently named as the administrator of the year in her state. She was loved and adored by all, but she told me she was leaving the profession.

I screamed, “You can’t leave us,” and she quite bluntly replied, “Look, if I get an offer to lead a school system of orphans, I will be all over it, but I just can’t deal with parents anymore; they are killing us.”

Unfortunately, this sentiment seems to be becoming more and more prevalent. Today, new teachers remain in our profession an average of just 4.5 years, and many of them list “issues with parents” as one of their reasons for throwing in the towel. Word is spreading, and the more negativity teachers receive from parents, the harder it becomes to recruit the best and the brightest out of colleges.

So, what can we do to stem the tide? What do teachers really need parents to understand?

Read the rest here to see his answers to those questions. I think his opinions would mirror a lot of teachers. I especially resonated with the following quote:

This one may be hard to accept, but you shouldn’t assume that because your child makes straight A’s that he/she is getting a good education. The truth is, a lot of times it’s the bad teachers who give the easiest grades, because they know by giving good grades everyone will leave them alone. Parents will say, “My child has a great teacher! He made all A’s this year!”

Wow. Come on now. In all honesty, it’s usually the best teachers who are giving the lowest grades, because they are raising expectations.

Now, before you jump to a conclusion, I don’t believe that Clark is implying that low grades indicate good teaching. I do believe, however that neither do high grades indicate great teaching. If no one in your child’s class is struggling, it is quite possible that the teacher is teaching to the lowest achiever. It is my experience that every class has a student or two who just don’t want to do any work or apply themselves. Of course, work is required to really grow and learn, so these students should in have some consequence. My goal, when grading, is to give grades to students that correspond to the quality of their work, with the hope that I have made assignments that enable me to correctly assess their learning. Honestly, giving only A’s (or even A’s and B’s) weakens the meaning of these grades unless I truly believe that all of the students in the class have learned all of the material I have taught them.

But the other things in Clark’s piece also resonate with me. I’ve had parents question my version of what has happened in the classroom, even in my setting here at Messiah College! Here is a thought for you, teachers rarely “have it in” for your child. If your student says their teacher hates them, they are probably making an excuse so that you will expect the low grades they are going to bring home. These low grades are almost never due to a teacher hating your child. The child may fully believe that their grades in math are low because their math teacher hates them, but it is almost undoubtedly due to incorrect answers. These answers are often due to a lack of effort on your child’s part, or lack of natural ability. If it is the former, you need to encourage them, and keep after them about it. If it is the latter, you need to encourage them and think about ways to help. Brainstorming with the child’s teacher may help you discover ways to make this happen for them. If you consider your teacher a part of your team trying to help your child achieve all they can, your results will be much better than if you take an adversarial approach.

Teachers and parents actually have the same goal: a child who is flourishing and achieving their full potential in school and in all of life. Look at us as your friend and support, and we just might make the goal happen!

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