I love reading advice columns.
They reassure me that no matter how complicated my problem feels, there’s a simple solution. That said, I have nagging doubts if the solutions are really that simple. Life is complicated. Often, we must face realities that make us squirm a bit. This is especially true of parent-teacher relationships. Teaching at its best is not a service that can be delivered like a package. It’s a human transaction, and must be up-close and personal.
Parent involvement in schools is tricky to navigate. On the one hand, schools and teachers say, and I think genuinely believe, that they want you involved. On the other hand, their definition for “involvement” might be closer to supporting what they think is right and what they are doing. Schools are not set up to allow parental influence over policies and structural changes, and questions and concerns are often met with a defensive stance. One reason for this is that teachers and school people work very hard, in isolation from one another and from parents. There’s no time built into the school day for teachers and parents to meet and share knowledge. Another factor is that it’s generally women who are the educators, both at home and in the school.
The phrase “parent involvement” masks the fact that it’s mostly moms, and working moms at that, who try to make schooling strive to make schools better. Teachers, especially those of young children are usually women. Both parties feel that their work is not valued or respected in our society. If parenting and education were given the value they deserve, we’d have the kind of parental leave other countries provide as a legal right. We’d fund schools adequately so that moms didn’t have to raise money for kids to have arts and afterschool programs.
But what’s to be done while we work to create more respect for those who care for our children, both in the home and in the school? Relations between teachers and parents can be tense. It’s important to start off by being explicit: tell the other party that you appreciate her. It’s not easy being a teacher, and it’s no easier being a parent. It helps to hear that the other person appreciates what you do.
Beyond that, teachers and parents need to understand that the school, as an organization, cuts them off from one another. Teachers often feel that the parents of struggling students are “hard to reach.” Parents often feel teachers are “hard to reach.” Communication and collaboration are difficult, especially when each party feels they are bending over backward to make themselves available.
In other words: give your child’s teacher a break. And teachers, keep in mind that mom is doing the best she can.