Voices of the Dropout Nation: Gwen Samuel on What Parents Expect of Teachers
Last month’s revelations of the American Federation of Teachers’ true feelings about Parent Power and Parent Trigger laws has embarrassed the nation’s second-largest teachers union. It has also sparked discussion about the growing Parent Power movement in this country (and, according to some traditionalists, whether they should even be seen at all).
But it also made clear one of the biggest reasons why systemic school reform is necessary. Each and every day, parents — especially those from poor and minority households — are often treated condescendingly by those who work within our schools. As D.C Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson noted this week, there are too many instances of parents (and everyone else) being greeted by “Sad Sack, Sorry Sue and Sister Snap-at-You”, then being talked down to as if they have no right to demand the best for their children. Contrary to what Michael Goldstein, the generally thoughtful school reformer who founded the MATCH charter schools in Boston may think, it isn’t just a perception generated by the experiences of just the 20 percent, but a real problem that explains why so many families have non-existent relationships with the teachers and principals in the schools entrusted with our children.
In this Voices of the Dropout Nation, Gwen Samuel of the Connecticut Parents Union reflects on the revelations, asks why so many education traditionalists are hostile to Parent Power, and argues that families have the right and obligation to hold accountable American public education and those who work within it. Read, consider, and take action so that all families are truly lead decision-makers in our schools.
Why is it that when parents advocate for their child’s well-being and right to a high-quality education, we are called “anti-teacher”? It always seems to be that we, the mothers and fathers, become the targets of stereotypes, gross perceptions, name-calling, degradation, intimidation and fear tactics.
I think about this as my organization, and advocates of Parent Power, deal with last month’s revelations of the American Federation of Teachers’ presentation earlier this year on how to defeat parents. (Cue the soundtrack of suspense.) It is hard for me, as a parent, to fully understand how “some “ individuals entrusted with our children – including teachers – can be so threatened by a parent or guardian who only wants the best for their child.
You would think that public policymakers and educators would realize that the best, most-productive, and logical way to improve relationships between parents, teachers and principals is to understand that it’s the love that parents have for their children that moves them into diligent advocacy for them. Policymakers and educators would be wise to channel that love into meaningful support for highly effective teachers because they have our most-precious commodity in their care. This would allow parents to support that teacher 200 percent because we know that when teachers are successful in the classroom, our children will be successful in the classroom and in life.
So I find myself asking: Why is this logical approach to parent-teacher partnerships met with such resistance? Politicians and teachers are parents too. So why do they distinguish their love for – and obligation to – their children from the vast majority of parents whose kids are in the schools and in their care?
We have to go so far so often to protect our loved ones simply because our children cannot vote; we do it for them. Our kids can’t go to a doctor’s office without us. They cannot go on field trips without we, the parents, giving our permission. Parents are responsible for every aspect of our children’s lives. So, by logical conclusion, we must know what happens in classrooms and demand accountability.
As parents, we also have no choice under law to not send our kids to school. More than 150 years ago, parents didn’t have to send their kids to school until Horace Mann helped Massachusetts establish a statewide system of education that required that all children attend public school. By 1918, all states required children to receive an education. Today, every state and territory requires children to enroll in public or private education or to be home-schooled. Thirty-two states require students to begin their education by age 6. We require our kids to stay in school at least until age 16, and increasingly (and for good reason) until they reach voting age. And today’s economy means that our kids need to stay in school longer in order to get the higher education they need for lifelong success.
This is a great thing for our children, for society, and our economy. But if our children don’t learn, then that time is wasted. We, as parents, cannot let any day go by without our children learning all they need to be successful in the classroom and in life.
So the bottom line is that my child’s well-being is not negotiable. One may not like the color of my skin, my social class, the size of my waist line, the color of my hair, or my belief system. But the fact remains that too many students in this country are not graduating from high school with the skillsets they need to become productive citizens, engaged community leaders, and participants in a trained and qualified workforce. Needless to say, this has serious impacts on the economy in my state of Connecticut, and throughout America as a whole.
So we need our children to be empowered, parents to be engaged and empowered, and our teachers and principals to be effective. When this happens, our children become productive citizens who can work in our economy, pay taxes, and build families. And we all win.
Policymakers and educators need to stop fearing parents. They should build school systems in which we can help our children succeed. Instead of judging me, the parent, on what I do not know, teach me so that I can learn to be a better support for my child. And we will take the power in education that we deserve.