There are many things that require credentials. You can’t drive without a license; you can’t teach without a degree. Yet the role of parent—the most important role in a child’s life—requires no preparation at all.
People often ask me if my students with emotional disabilities are placed in my classroom because of their families. I explain that while family factors have to be ruled out when diagnosing students with emotional disabilities, families actually play a huge role in a student’s success.
This year’s students are a prime example of that. I have more kids in the custody of people other than their parents than any other year I have taught. Most of their parents/guardians are rarely home and are often frustrated, overwhelmed, and unsure how to help their students. I call home and get no response. I send home daily communication journals, same thing. I try setting up conferences and no one RSVPs. Only two sets of guardians showed up for Open House.
I’d previously thought this was an issue for parents who were busy with work or who lacked education or resources. However, I recently starting tutoring in a very affluent neighborhood, and I often go weeks without seeing the stay-at-home mothers; rather, my primary contact is with babysitters.
These families have every resource available to them, including private schools and tutors, but they can’t seem to find the time to make flashcards with their students or read with them nightly. I asked one student why he didn’t study his spelling words before our one-hour tutoring session, and he insisted no one is ever home to help him.
At my previous job, I was fortunate enough to receive a grant to start a monthly parent support group. I brought in guest speakers to talk about literacy, social supports, gangs, and other topics relevant to families. Sometimes only one set of parents out of the entire school would show up. The social worker at my current school also started a parent group with similar results. Why, I wonder, won’t parents welcome this free assistance to help them support their students?
My job is not just to teach academics, to modify the curriculum so students can meet state standards. My job is to teach social skills and basic everyday manners like using “please” and “thank you.” I am supposed to help students learn their addresses and phone numbers, things most people assume are taught at home. I teach my students how to tie their shoes, when and how to use the bathroom, how to add and subtract, how to read, and how to play appropriately on the playground. Am I wrong to expect that a lot of this should be taught at home, especially when the parents have the resources?
The biggest gift parents/guardians can give children is time: quality time spent playing, learning, and caring for their child. I know it is not part of my job description, but my students know I love them. They know I care and that I will be there for them consistently.
My mentor once told me I would cry—not because the kids were mean, but because the stories they have to tell would break my heart. I don’t think I will ever burn out because of the kids, but I may burn out from the fight.
How can I motivate these parents to support my students’ education?