Parent Involvement: A Matter of Perspective

by multilingualmania on May 18, 2010

in Education, parent education and support, Serving the Community

The other day I went to a meeting about school improvement reform, which has lately become an emotionally charged topic since the state of California unveiled their lists of chronically under-performing schools. During the meeting, the topic inevitably turned to a conversation about the lack of parent support as well as student interest in the school.

I sat and listened to the following conversation between educators in the room:

“We should try to become a charter school because then we can kick kids out if they don’t get with the program,” one educator commented.

“Yeah, we should write into our charter contract that parents need to come and volunteer at the school, and if they don’t then we can exit their children. These parents need to take responsibility for their children”, suggested another educator.

(I didn’t know that we have now entered into the business of excluding certain children from receiving an education. But hey, don’t listen to me…maybe I’m just one of those crazy liberals).

Since the topic continued on and on about parent and community involvement, I began to probe them about their levels of parent involvement at the site. According to the teachers and administrators, parents do not attend meetings, do not attend parent-teacher conferences and are not present at any school functions. The teachers’ explanations were that parents “just don’t care about their children” and that the area around the school was extremely dangerous and no one wanted to be near the school.

It was bizarre listening to their discussion because it seemed as if they were talking about an entirely different street and community than I was seeing. In fact, I had grown up one block away from the school and my mother just so happens to still live there. So it was extremely bizarre for me to listen to the picture that they were painting of the community around the school, because I don’t see the same thing that they see.

What I see when I drive down that street on the way to my mother’s house-during the day as well as night- is a vibrant community full of people walking around with their children-a community of people who walk their children to school, but who are also being accused of not attending school functions. If parents “don’t care” about the education of their children, then why are they walking them back and forth to school?

Eventually I had the audacity to ask, “How many people attended your open house? How many parents typically attend any family nights that you have at school? What about parent meetings such as the School Site Council and English Learner Advisory Committe (ELAC)-how many parents attend them?”

“We didn’t have an open house or any family meetings, because it is too dangerous outside and people don’t want to leave their house. We don’t ever have any School Site council meetings”, they explained.

I almost had a fit, but I finally controlled myself long enough to say, “So is it that you don’t have parental involvement, or are you not offering any opportunities for parent involvement?”

It is nothing more than a matter of perspective. All week long the educators blamed the parents for not caring about their children because they hadn’t attended school functions, yet upon investigation it was revealed that the school didn’t offer many opportunities for parental involvement. After I pointed out this contradiction to them, they then continued to state that they didn’t offer any parental involvement opportunities because the area was too dangerous, although I frequently drive down the street at night and I have never had a problem.

It’s all a matter of perspective. You see what you want to see.

Looking back on my life, I was probably one of those children whose teachers thought that my mother didn’t care about me or my education. What they surely didn’t realize was that my mother was a single mother working three jobs just to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. They also might have been unaware that she also didn’t attend parent-teacher conferences for a few years because she broke her back so seriously that she was bed ridden for a couple of years and could barely walk or drive.

I can still clearly remember the ways in which teachers responded to my mother’s lack of presence at school functions. A music teacher once ridiculed me that he had been trying to get a hold of my mother and she was not returning his phone calls because she was “apparently too busy”. Of course she was, because she was laying in a hospital bed with a broken back for almost two months. On another occasion, I lost my recess because my teacher accused me of not telling my mother about the parent-teacher conference.  On that occasion I’m pretty sure that my mother didn’t have a ride to the school because her car had just recently been repossessed.

But what if the case had actually been that my mother really didn’t care about my well-being enough to attend a parent-teacher conference or help me at home with my homework? Should I be pushed out of a charter school because of my mother’s lack of involvement? Should I be ridiculed because my mother didn’t care about me enough to return a telephone call? Should I lose my recess because my mother had other priorities?

One would most certainly hope not.

The next time as an educator you have the urge to whine and complain about parents who “just don’t care”, remind yourself to cease and desist with the blame game and instead focus your precious energy on what educators are supposed to do-teach all children, regardless of whether they have an involved parent or not. After all, isn’t that what we are getting paid to do?

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathy Seal May 19, 2010 at 7:16 pm

I hear you and sympathize. How very frustrating that must be.
Here’s what’s ironic:
research is now showing that attending school functions isn’t the kind of parental involvement that helps kids most! I’d write mroe about this but am in a rush (going on a trip to visit my son), so here’s an article I wrote about this research: http://www.miller-mccune.com/culture-society/are-parents-too-involved-with-their-children-12882/

Maybe it’ll help explain why you succeeded in school, and others too.

Kathy

smashedpea May 20, 2010 at 9:39 am

Yikes, I wonder what my daughter’s teacher is saying about me today then…. Given that I didn’t ‘bother’ to show up at her hop-a-thon this morning.

I wonder if it’s ever occurred to them that some of us work during school hours and can’t have time off whenever something goes on at school, regardless of whether we want to or not, or that maybe we’re home with a little sibling who happens to be sick? Really, that all we want to is to be there for our kids, but that we’ve got other things going on in our lives, too? And do they even notice how much we do outside of school hours to help our kids succeed???

I’m just mad now. But it’s kind of weird – I work in post-secondary education and we constantly talk about how to make things easier for our students, recognizing that they have other obligations….

You go fight the power!

z January 11, 2011 at 9:15 am

I don’t doubt what you say, but I think it’s interested that I have the opposite problem with my child’s teacher. Educators don’t want parental involvement or input, they mostly seem to want to dictate to the rest of society and punish the children of others. Tell them how to appropriately handle your child’s behaviour and they nod and mm-hmm a lot, then proceed to do the exact opposite and order the educational assistants to help them “manage” the parents. No wonder homeschooling is on the rise. These people are jerks.

multilingualmania January 17, 2011 at 8:37 pm

Many parents have told me the same, and it is true that bad experiences with teacher are contributing to an increase in homeschooling. I work with teachers and I sometimes notice exactly what you are saying. My article that I wrote about this topic was just about that-that some people in the school system think that there is no parental involvement but they are also not taking into consideration that the schools often put up many obstacles that make it hard for parents to feel that they are supported by the school. Attitudes of school personnel, such as you suggested, are just one of those unfortunate obstacles!

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