A facebook friend posted a link to an article penned by Ron Clark, a reputable and award-winning teacher. I started to leave a response in that tiny little comment box under her link, but my response grew and grew until it was a length that is completly unacceptable for a facebook comment:
The article is an open letter to parents, asking them to be partners with their children’s teachers, begging them not to make excuses for their children’s poor effort, and pleading for parental respect for the professional education, knowledge, and experience of teachers. Mr. Clark offers several examples of unreasonable parental behavior, behavior that undermines the teacher and serves the student’s educational growth in no way, shape, or form.
In theory, I agree. Parents should be education partners with their children’s teachers, should hold their children accountable for the effort they put into their education and the grades they receive, and should provide their children’s teachers with the respect and support they need to do their job well.
But therein lies the caveat: “to do their job well.”
All of Mr. Clark’s pleas for cooperation from parents stem from the fact that he is clearly a good teacher (I’m basing this solely on the fact that he’s won awards for being a good teacher; I have not actually seen his track record for student progress, but one would hope that awards are only given to teachers who make marked academic progress with their students).
But what about the teachers that aren’t good?
“The truth is, a lot of times it’s the bad teachers who give the easiest grades, because they know by giving good grades everyone will leave them alone.”
Sadly, I think there are just as many of these bad teachers as there are scary parents.
I’ve got a foster kid in fourth grade who performs on something more like a second-grade level (if that) and yet she has still somehow made it all the way to fourth grade. When the grades a teacher assigns don’t match a kid’s performance, I become a noisy parent. Yes, I complained when her third-grade teacher gave her a “satisfactory” on a piece of writing that was clearly something a first-grader could have written—how the heck is she supposed to make any actual progress if her teachers keep telling her she’s doing a good job when she clearly is not? According to the ideal parent defined in Mr. Clark’s article, I’m a dream. I expect my kid to put forth her best effort, and I expect her grades to reflect her knowledge, her skills, and her effort. Her work isn’t reflecting grade-level knowledge and skills, and it isn’t because she isn’t putting forth the effort—it’s because she isn’t learning.
With this particular child, I seem to be the only one acknowledging I’ve got a kid with both learning and behavior issues. Her teachers, her principal, her school psychologist…well, I requested testing her for learning disabilities last February to ensure that an IEP didn’t need to be part of the action plan for getting her on track. She was still passed onto the fourth grade, we’re still waiting for the testing, and she can still barely read.
I am more than willing to put my trust, my respect, and my child’s education into the hands of a professional, but I’m only willing to respect teachers as professionals in as much as they exhibit professional knowledge, skills, and behavior. If you’re not teaching my child, then I’m not going to respect you as a teacher. I don’t expect you to give my child grades he or she didn’t earn; I do expect you to teach my child the knowledge and skills he or she needs to earn the grades that indicate successful learning. Yes, the child should be held accountable for effort, and as a parent, I am more than happy to partner with you to hold my child accountable for effort, but I’m only going to hold her accountable for knowing what and how to do the things you’ve taught her. If you didn’t teach it to her in a way that she understood, that she grasped, that she got–I’m not holding her accountable for things you didn’t teach her. “She’s just not trying hard enough” is not a legitimate excuse from a teacher who has completely ignored the documented psychological needs of a child and who refuses to be a partner in trying to assess any special learning needs of a child.
Parents certainly play a role in their children’s education, but holding parents and children accountable for their participation within the constricts of the education system doesn’t let teachers of the hook. Teach my kid to a professional standard in which all of the kid’s learning needs are met and marked educational growth occurs, and I will respect you as a professional and support you all the way. Hold me as a parent responsible for the fact that my kid is earning bad grades because you aren’t providing her with the knowledge and skills she needs to succeed, and you can forget it.