by Erica Jacobs, The Examiner
Mar 17, 2008
WASHINGTON (Map, News) - We read in the newspaper about the latest study of No Child Left Behind, or of the effect of larger classes or larger schools on children. Reporters investigate stellar students, award-winning schools and teachers, and the occasional atrocity committed by student or teacher within those cloistered walls.
But where are the voices of the teachers? I have been writing about teaching, students, and education for more than 20 years, but I have very little company. Most of the writing about education is done by reporters and educators who no longer teach—if they ever did in the first place.
This makes absolutely no sense. There is no subject that creates more anxiety in parents than the education of their children. Just go to any school board budget meeting about program cuts, or any boundary change meeting, and look at the pain and fear on the faces of the parents lined up to speak.
Hardly anyone from within the classroom talks to parents. Often you are treated to only one back-to-school-night at the beginning of the year, which typically includes a brief address by the principal — heavy on PR with glowing words about the school’s test scores.
Maybe you will be able to see your child’s teacher for 10-30 minutes, depending on grade level, and there is no time to get a sense of what the classroom is really like. It’s in and out, bell ringing just when you had that really important question you wanted answered.
And then there’s the non-communication of the PTA newsletter that arrives monthly or quarterly, a manicured document with not much evidence of the pulse that makes your child’s school lively or deadly. Ask your child what happened in school on any given day and—you guessed it—the answer is almost always “nothing.”
So no wonder Jay Mathews of The Washington Post gets semihysterical letters when he asks parents to comment on public school programs and policies. There’s no one out there who actually talks to parents in ways that bring to three-dimensional life the experience of their child between the hours of 7 a.m. and 4 p.m.
As I have discovered time and time again, if teachers actually speak to “scary parents,” they are not the least bit scary. I have never had a parent conference in which compassion and commiseration were not welcome; often a teacher’s simple vow to try to help the student succeed with one or two different approaches is enough to make the parent smile and thank the teacher with genuine gratitude.
Because we know that our unconventional interdisciplinary Advanced Placement course is mystifying to parents, Eliot Waxman and I invite them to a two-hour “class” each fall so they can experience a “Senior Seminar” themselves. The e-mails we receive subsequently are testament to their appreciation that, finally, teachers have welcomed them into the world of their child. Their reactions are surprisingly touching.
It’s time for teachers to stop being scared of parents. What factors keep teachers from speaking out, in print and in classrooms? I will look at that question in my next column.