Monday, November 30, 2015

Teachers and Parents

Teachers all over the United States feel like they are under siege.  It’s true. Ask them. The cartoon to right illustrates how the culture has changed. Where there used to be a sense of trust in our teachers, teachers now feel attacked. As a result, teachers end up losing sight of the supportive parents and are left feeling like parents think everything they do is wrong. 

The constant barrage of attacks on our teachers, nationwide, hurts us deeply. 
Teachers have been effectively blamed for our lack of educational achievement, while at the same time, teacher pay has been cut and classroom resources have been curtailed. My brother, who teaches in one of the wealthiest school districts in the southeast, had furlough days last year for which he wasn’t paid. This, of course, is in a county that is paying $260,000,000 to build a new baseball stadium for the Atlanta Braves. 

I think we all know that teachers don’t get into education to get rich. Teachers know that they are going to make $34,000 per year, when they could make more money working in a job that requires far less education. Yet, every day, they go to work and deal with as many as 150 children and try to meet each child’s social, emotional, and educational needs. They don’t get to go home, like regular people, and enjoy their families. Teachers have to make lesson plans, grade papers, enter grades, work on individualized educational plans, communicate with parents, and probably sponsor some sort of extracurricular opportunity. Most days, we feel like doing nothing more than curling up in the fetal position when we get home! Add to that the lack of prestige, and it can be a pretty tough career choice. 

Despite popular conception, Houston Academy teachers and administrators make far less than their public school peers. We aren’t subsidized by the state. However, teachers generally come here because they feel that the teaching environment is better, and they don’t have to deal with all of the bureaucratic issues present in public schools. Also, we have much more supportive parents. 

Still, it’s a labor of love. I tell the teachers that often, in our jobs, we touch thousands of lives with an impact that will last generations. However, it’s disheartening to feel like you are constantly under attack. 

New teachers now work in education an AVERAGE of 4.5 years. Studies have shown that one of the primary reason teachers leave the field is because of lack of support from parents and administration.   A recent study showed that 80% of teachers who have left the field in the last five years cited “the parents” as a primary reason. 

Now, the reality is that we have AWESOME parents here at Houston Academy. They are THE BEST group of supportive parents I have ever been around. Moreover, 
I don’t believe there is a teacher or administrator in the school who doesn’t want constructive feedback. Personally, I WANT to hear from you, but we need to do it in such a way that our children learn the right way to handle conflict. Anytime there is a situation involving your child at school or in the classroom, this is what I would ask. 

1) Ask your child, “Have you talked to the teacher or administrator?” I know that’s not appropriate for a first grader, but for older students, that should be the first step. In my experience, 99% of all our problems can be solved if there is a dialogue between student and teacher. I would assume that we all WANT our children to learn to advocate for themselves and to do so in a respectful manner. Our teachers have children’s best interest at heart. We won’t keep a teacher at Houston Academy who doesn’t love kids. 

It should be noted that in the Upper School, for issues of broad policy, we meet monthly with student government officers to talk about school issues. In each of the last two years, we have made changes in response to student concerns. Our uniform committee, which helped draft the dress code, is made up of teachers, parents, administrators, AND students. Our next five-year strategic plan is going to have students on the committees that will chart our future. Additionally, our Upper School Honor Council makes binding decisions about student conduct and it is made up entirely of students. We have all this in place because we want to give your children the opportunity to learn to be advocates for their own lives and their own learning. 

Again, there’s research behind this approach. Tammi Holman, our Head of Upper School, asked our faculty to pick a book to read over the summer.  One of those books was The Price of Privilege by Madeline Levine. Dr. Levine has a psychological practice that has been built on dealing with adolescents from upper-middle class backgrounds, who despite outward signs of success, are suffering from any number of emotional issues, some of which are brought on by an overly involved parenting style:
Parents who persistently fall on the side of intervening for their child, as opposed to supporting their child's attempts to problem solve, interfere with the most important task of childhood and adolescence: the development of a sense of self. Autonomy, what we commonly call independence, along with competence and interpersonal relationships, are considered to be inborn human needs. Their development is central to psychological health. In a supportive and respectful family, children go about the business of forging a "sense of self" by being exposed to, and learning to manage, increasingly complex personal and interpersonal challenges. 

Trust me, our kids can do it, and they will gain self-efficacy and self-confidence in the process.

2) If it becomes necessary to contact a teacher, approach the meeting with the attitude of “How can we make this better for our child?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in conferences that have begun with accusations. That doesn’t make things better for anyone. Remember, too, that teachers make mistakes. Administrators make mistakes. However, I don’t know of a single person in this building who doesn’t have the best interests of the children at heart. 

3). Then, if you still aren’t satisfied, I am more than happy to meet with you. I’m also happy to meet with anyone at any time about general school issues or ideas about how we might improve. Again, though, if your child has a problem, I’d rather meet with your child first, because that is the person we want to teach. I don’t think you would talk to anyone (student or parent) who has met with me who hasn’t come away at least knowing that I listened. The same goes for Mrs. Boothe, Mrs. Holman, and Mr. Hart. Moreover, I certainly have confidence in our intelligent parent body to know when to “make that call.” 

Obviously, though, we need to keep in mind that our faculty work incredibly hard and deserve our support. This, after all, is “the HA family.” Like any family, we’re going to have hurt feelings and misunderstandings, but also like a healthy family, we can work it out. 

Here are a couple additional links to read:

The Hamlin School Embraces No Rescue Policy for Parents to Encourage Resilience in Children

If Our Kids Fail, Are We Bad Parents?