Yesterday, Alec Couros went “Back to School” to “Meet the Teacher” of his first grade daughter. Here is what he saw:
Here is what he Tweeted:
It reminded me of the night I met Tucker’s first grade teacher, and the first words out of her mouth were something to the effect of “First grade is where we learn the rules.”
If I’d had Twitter back then, I’m sure I would have Tweeted something similar to this:
Alec’s Tweets registered a slew of responses which, to be honest, I found to be a fascinating read, so fascinating that I decided to capture the bulk of them here. (Start at the bottom and read up if you want to get the flow of the conversation.) They really are worth the read as they capture not just the emotion of a whole bunch of teacher parents who are met with the same reality when they go to their “Meet the Teacher” nights but also the complexity of what to do about it. It creates a dilemma; do we corner the teacher and give her a new view of the world, look for another class or school, march down to the principal’s office, or lay back, do what we can to help that teacher and fill in the blanks at home. We’ve tried them all, and none of them seem to work very well.
I want my kids’ schools to prepare them for the world that I and many of us see them growing toward. I want it desperately. (Emphasis mine.) But it’s not happening. For Tucker, it means handing in all of his sixth grade assignments in cursive (emphasis not mine), and it means another year of 50 lb backpacks filled with less that real world text books and a slew of worksheets that he’ll work through and forget. (Tess starts school on Friday so we’ll see what her realities are.)
So, while Alec struggles with his realities, I’m once again struggling with mine. And for what it’s worth, here’s what we’ll do to make the best of it once again this year.
1. We write an e-mail (or a letter) to each teacher introducing our kids and ourselves, letting them know what our hopes are, what we’d love to see our kids doing, and what we’ll do to support the classroom. We also introduce ourselves, and talk a little bit about what our worldview of education looks like. Finally, we offer to continue that conversation and help make it a reality in the classroom in whatever way we can. And we cc the principal and headmaster (since Tess is in private school.)
2. We co-school as much as we can. I found the Tweet by @dschink to capture it pretty well:
“We’ve always considered public school ed our kids receive as supplemental to the ed we provide at home so we don’t go crazy about it.”
Problem is, at least in our case, co-schooling is pretty scattershot, not as deep as I’d like it to be, and frustrating at times for our kids. In other words, I feel like we do our best to engage our kids in the bigger conversations, but it’s the reality of both parents being self-employed that it doesn’t always work that well.
3. We opt out when we can. I’ve written notes to teachers in the past when my kids get the first 10 problems of the homework right excusing them from the next 20 same old same old problems on the worksheet. Gets interesting responses sometimes. Also, this year, we’re 90% sure we’re going to have Tucker opt out of the 6th Grade NJ ASK assessment. Enough is enough.
4. We occasionally send links with resources to specific teachers and cc the principal.
I’m sure we could do more, but my radar to meddling parents may be a bit too sensitive having been in the classroom for 20 years previous. I know how difficult it is. I don’t want to make it more difficult, but I do want to try to strike that balance. Hard sometimes.
Wondering what other strategies might be working for you?
Brian Crosby says
The classic for us was when my oldest daughter was a HS freshman and at back to school night the geometry teacher was thanking parents that had sent in colored chalk for her blackboard, and she announced how excited she was because she had just been told she might get a new whiteboard and markers in a few months! BTW – she didn’t and over half the classrooms in that school still have blackboards.
alot of teachers hope for things that will make their classroom more enjoyable, not only for the kids but also for them. so regardless of whether or not they actually get what they want, they still hope for the best.
OMG! Blackboards! Do you text with your kids about their hw??? You all sound like complaining losers. The best thing you can do is stop complaining and (as so called biz 2.0 owners) (a) control your time mr ceo of your own firm and meet with your kids for dinner and a half an hour min before or after for HW 4 days a week (b) goto a therapist if you are concerned you may be transferring your issues with authority or technology onto your child or schooling experiences and/or (c) understand you get what you pay for and if you don’t like it pay for more expensive schooling. Which won’t solve either point a or b btw.
You need to get control and lead your kids, nobody else will, whether your child goes to school with a white board or sits on couches the size of a mercedes or not…
And lastly : EMAIL / TEXTING IS A COPT OUT FOR ANY COMMUNICATION. SHOW UP to MEET WITH YOUR KIDS TEACHERS. BE CONSTRUCTIVE and SPEND TIME WITH YOUR KIDS “LIVE!”
Chris Lehmann says
Very smart answers… I struggle with how much I can be a meddling parent as well, since my school is two blocks away from Jakob’s school and the (excellent) principal is a very good friend of mine. I already cringed when I saw that Jakob, as a first grader, will be allowed to sharpen his pencil twice a day and must come in with three pencils sharpened every day.
His Kindergarten teacher certainly knew who I was in the district, and she quickly learned that I was the more mellow parent, actually. Kat pushes harder than I do, because I do try to remember that the lessons we teach Jakob at home are every bit as important. But yeah, I’m going to be doing some push back as well.
Will Richardson says
It really is interesting when the teacher becomes the parent. I know it affected what I did in the classroom after I sat in that tiny desk a few times.
Diane Main says
My son is in first grade this year, Will. I don’t really fit in the chairs, so I stood for all of his teacher’s talk. I fully support her, though, and I think she’s wonderful. Of course, I know what he’ll be doing in technology class this year because I teach it.
Diane Main says
Wow. The sharpening pencils thing is definitely micromanagement in kids so young. I keep a box of pencils, already more or less sharpened, in my computer lab so that kids who don’t bring them don’t have the do the excuse dance. I get that we want to avoid disruptions, but teachers with a good handle on classroom management and who are proactive don’t need to have such strict rules about every little thing.
David Gohrband says
What about using mechanical pencils? Is that an option? Just curious. Thanks!
Marlo Gaddis says
It is interesting that you are the more mellow parent. My son just started kindergarten and I am really struggling with how the year has started. As a former member of the school staff and district staff, I recently learned that I cannot stay quiet. However, I think the school is about to learn the same about me as Jakob’s school learned about you. My police officer husband has already asked forgiveness for his behavior to come at the curriculum night this coming week. I think I may sit back and just listen… 🙂
Lisa Parisi says
This topic seems to keep cropping up. Might have to use it on Conversations one Sunday morning soon. My daughter is now in 10th grade. She had lots of homework over the summer which Gary Stager suggested we ignore. She didn’t but she certainly didn’t put much effort into it. And I don’t care that she didn’t. She came home from the first day of school saying she hated it and never wanted to go back. I asked my fifth graders to tell me the best and worst parts of the first day of school. Many said there was no worst part. Wish my Ali could have said the same. She does like her AP Euro teacher, which surprises her because she hates social studies. Maybe this will be the year she finds purpose in learning history. She also is impressed by her AP Bio teacher who actually told the kids that he would teach them how to study but they can do it anyway they want that works for them! Bravo!
But, by now, we just wait. As I mentioned in my most recent blog,( http://lisaslingo.blogspot.com/2010/09/ch-ch-ch-changes.html )she and I are waiting for college when learning will, hopefully, be more meaningful for her and more interesting. And I continue to take her to museums and on road trips, give her books and articles to read, help her and her friends make movies and publish songs, and encourage her to continue blogging. In other words, I supplement her education. And she goes to school for the social aspects, which, for a teenager are all important.
Good luck to you and Alec and all the educated parents out there. Maybe the next generation will be lucky.
I’m in the same boat with my 10th grader. He’s doing much better in high school than he did in middle school, but he, too, is biding his time until college. My daughter just started at the lovely all-girls school where I work. Part of my job is to bring the school and its teachers into the 21st century. While there are some teachers who will probably never get there, I’ve already gotten questions from many who want to figure out how to make things more valid. In my own classes, I’m teaching 6th graders how to make websites and use blogs and wikis. My 7th graders are making digital stories and videos and my 8th graders are doing beginning programming. I plan to send notes out to teachers about what the kids are capable of, so that they can see what’s possible in their own classrooms.
Gary Stager says
Here are a few of the articles I’ve written about Back-to-School
When the Jumbotron says, “read,” you read!
Pointing in the Wrong Direction
The Last Back-to-School Sale Ever
Chris Betcher says
I feel you pain Wil and Alec. As the parent of two teenage kids I have to bite my tongue until it bleeds sometimes because I see and hear about some appalling teacher behaviour and teaching practice from my kids… and yet I know that they would be mortified if i actually went and made a fuss about it.
Where is got much more difficult is when my daughter applied for, and was awarded, an academic scholarship at the school I teach at. I feel in a real bind sometimes because I hear about (and see) stories of very ordinary teaching sometimes but again I feel very compromised about being able to do anything about it. When some of the teachers you feel like complaining about are also your colleagues, it’s a very delicate situation that could very easily turn sticky. Don’t get me wrong, she has some really wonderful teachers… but there are also some that I’m quite appalled at when I hear about the way they talk to students, or do stupid things like forcing the students to sit in alphabetical order in the classroom, or to publicly pronounce that they will not allow the students to use their laptops because it will ruin their handwriting. Arrrgh!!!
When the kids were younger, i had no qualms about speaking up about this stuff, and I tool a number of their teachers to task about various things… but as the kids get older and don’t want to be singled out, it gets a bit trickier, even moreso when they go to the school you work at.
I really do despair sometimes at the level of ineptitude I see in some teachers. Thank god there are enough good ones to balance it out a little. Fortunately the kids know who is good and who isn’t… the crook teachers are not fooling anyone, but it’s a shame they waste valuable time that could be better spent.
Will Richardson says
As I read through this thread again this morning, I think what really stands out is the idea of being “that parent” because I advocate for my kids. I’m trying to remember what my reaction was to parents who were involved, and frankly, I can’t remember feeling like that. (Frankly, I can’t remember too many parents that were involved at all.) But the idea that we fear being “singled out” simply by expressing our hopes and concerns is really disconcerting.
Kevin Geary says
I’m a Libertarian that’s been doing a lot of research on progressive education theory (how to most effectively teach children). I must say that I agree with most of what you guys are suggesting.
This post was an entertaining read. And I know you’re all in the same boat about this (a broken system with broken teachers).
But I think you’re looking for the solution in the wrong place.
Government doesn’t have the capacity to fix the problem. There’s far too much bureaucracy, too many political implications, there’s a gigantic teachers union you have to deal with, and they already got your tax money so they don’t particularly care what you think.
Have progressive education advocates considered looking to the private market for their solution?
Jon Becker says
Parents are considerably more likely to find “true” progressive education in the private sector. Especially in the earlier years, there are a number of private schools that espouse (and in most cases carry out) an orientation consistent with the principles of Montessori, Waldorf or Reggio Emilia, etc.
The problem, of course, is that these are “private” schools that are quite expensive. We face a situation here where my son (now 5) attends a preschool that is very strongly committed to a Reggio Emilia approach (so much so that Leila Gandini visited last year). They’ve merged with a K-8 independent school and are adopting the RE orientation up through the 8th grade (gradually, apparently). It’s nearly everything we want for our children. BUT, to send our son to kindergarten there next year would require a significant change in lifestyle for us (perhaps even “downsizing” our house).
It doesn’t have to be this way. There’s no reason we shouldn’t have the “option” to send our children to a public school that is strongly committed to the ideals of progressive education. Notice, please, that I’m not even mentioning technology here (and neither was Alec referring to technology).
So, my wife and I have this one more year to figure out what the heck to do. It’s overwhelming and nearly all-consuming.
Kevin Geary says
You’re battling uphill, I’m afraid.
For the reasons stated (and more beyond that), the government will never have a solution to your problem. It’s why the government was never supposed to be in charge of education in the first place.
The government is the very entity that’s doing all the damage to our children and our society. The public education system has singlehandedly created the absolute atrocity in education and society that we have today.
The government works for itself and the lobbyists. It doesn’t give two shits about your kids or how you think they should be educated. The private sector does because the private sector wants your money. They’ll listen to you. That’s where you need to put your focus.
As you turn to the private sector and competition increases, the price will drop. If you could succeed in getting everyone OUT of public education, the price would drop like a rock. You’re working against yourself by trying to reform public education. Your mission should be to privatize education first.
Kevin, I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, no one can opt out of funding public education and saving their money for private tuition.
The NJEA always frames the voucher issue as an initiative that steals public money to fund religious education, thus violating the Establishment Clause. This is pure bunk; I understand the voucher issue is a way of “voting with your dollars” to encourage competition among public/private schools and to really change the way they do business.
I’ve just about had it with teaching. There is so much to battle, from paying $620 to be a non-member of the NJEA, to ineffective/uninspiring leaders, to endless “conversations” that never seem to get anywhere. I’m a concrete answers, action oriented type who gets frustrated that no one is willing to just make a change. But I understand why they cannot; the endless bureaucracy present in public schools makes direct action fairly impossible.
Kevin Geary says
Here’s the secret: the bureaucracy is designed to create an environment of stagnation. The whole point of government is to be stagnant to outside change, thus giving those on the inside all the power to drive their ship where they see fit.
The private sector does not share the ability to take money from people at gunpoint (the way the government does). Thus they have to earn your money by giving you what you want/need.
Don’t give up. Knowing that they’ve made it complicated on purpose to prevent you from changing it should strengthen your resolve.
Preacher Kevin, meet choirgirl MB.
I a “small-l” libertarian not 100% opposed to public schooling, as long as parents can get the kind of schooling they want, not just what they are stuck with wherever they live.
I fully understand that most of the $10,628 I pay in property taxes go to fund my local district, and I’m not at all happy with it. If I had that $10K back, my children could be taught by me or by a school of my choosing.
I’m trying to fight, it just gets so tiring sometimes. My kids are no where near being school age (one is 5 weeks away from birth, actually!) but I worry about what I see and hear being done in schools. I worry for my kids and for my future students, if I ever return to the classroom.
I’m not a traditionally educated teacher; I came from the biz world, so I come to the classroom with different expectations of what kids need outside of high school. It’s depressing when you can’t replicate the “real” world, yet are expected to educate them for it.
Gary Stager says
Exactly how would a voucher solve the problem Jon mentioned? Would there suddenly be an explosion of Reggion Emilia-based private schools or the same interchangeable private schools, with religion too, that there are now?
When private schools are paid for with public money, what are they?
Vouchers would be more like a bridge step, not a permanent solution.
I would not expect my neighbors to fund my child’s private or religious education anymore than I would want to pay for their child’s religious education. I know it is a sticky and imperfect solution – but vouchers would not necessarily be used only for private/religious education. Parents can look at other public school districts and opt to send their money and their child there, instead of whatever crumby district they’re stuck in.
Overall, funding of public schooling must stop being tied to the property taxes of individual home/business owners. I imagine that if my taxes were substantially lower, I would have significantly more free dollars to make educational choices for my kids, and as schools (public or private) begin to compete to get enrollment up and dollars flowing into their coffers, quality will rise.
Will Richardson says
Jon…yeah…good luck with all that.
Btw, I’ve been thinking about your Tweets around holding a parent night or getting some parents talking in your district. I think you’re on the right track with that. I’m trying something similar here in my high school district. Will let you know how it goes.
Consumer Reviews says
It really is a struggle. What works for me is to be as involved with school as possible, and ‘co-schooling’. Participating in my childs education is proving beneficial. Showing interest in her school work, and her school, in general definitely helps keep her interested in learning and doing well.
J Silver says
So, how do you think conscientious teachers feel when their hands are tied? I am one of those – I believe in real-life project-based learning with all kinds of tools (high tech and low tech) for all students, not just kids in middle to high economic areas. I believe in teaching kids from WHERE THEY ARE, whether that means ahead a few grade levels or catching them up. This means I believe in differentiating and individualizing instruction and curriculum to meet students needs. I believe in meaningful work and projects. I believe in thematic instruction…
So, how do I handle a school district that tells me I MUST teach “this” way (their way, not mine) and ONLY “this” way. I MUST use “these” books and ONLY “these” books? I MUST teach all students the exact same things in all subject areas whether they’ve already learned them or are not ready for them yet?
In my case, I’ve taken some time away from the classroom. One thing I’ll be investigating is how to open a charter school that supports my philosophy of education and beliefs about how children learn.
Parents, stay involved, but move away from the classroom & get involved at the district level. It’s your school board members (you voted for them, they should be representing YOU!) and superintendents who are making a lot of the decisions about how, where, when, why, what, and who will teach your kids. If you want things to change, the teacher can only do so much. Our hands are tied, too. But the school board, well, money talks!
Hope this has been helpful…
Good on ya, J, and good luck with your time off and potential charter school idea. I think you’re idea of meeting the students on their ground and level is spot on.
Mandates and dicta about curricular levels and objectives are more of a hindrance than a spur to reach a goal. It’s part of that bureaucratic structure that Kevin and I discussed briefly above. Boards/admins/teachers have to look like they are “doing something” so sometimes you get saddled with a directive that takes your teaching and your students anywhere but the intended endpoint.
Will Richardson says
Thanks for this comment…I think it is helpful because it sparks another conversation for me around the choices we make as teachers. Not so much in your addition here but in some others I’ve read related to this, I’m struck by our sense of helplessness as teachers, that we have NO choice in teaching what we teach. I find it really problematic and worth poking at more deeply. Have we really no opportunity to develop these ideas in our classrooms, or is that an easy excuse for avoiding them. I mean that question sincerely, not as a dig here.
I’m about as lost on this issue as you, Will. Toeing the line seems to be very important in schools, and it is hard to follow administrative/department policy and be creative in your approach at the same time.
Mostly, it just gets exhausting trying to plan lessons that will work for your students and fit your ideas AND fit the curriculum to the letter.
Maybe it’s my lack of long-term experience in the classroom. I’ve been working since I was 14, in school up to the grad level ’til I was 29, and only teaching for three years. I thought my life experiences with work and education would help translate to the innovative classroom of the future, but it still feels very much the same to me as it did when I was in high school. Part of what drew me to teaching was a passion to be a different kind of teacher, but being different is not always welcome, despite what some might say they want.
Heather Ross says
I still have several years before my daughter is school age, but I’ve often thought about how I’m going to deal with a school setting that I may not think is the best for her (or any child). How hard do I push before I irritate the teacher, which could potentially lead to him or her taking it out on my little one? Will word spread among the other teachers in the school “dooming” her in future grades as well? I hate that I even have to worry about these things.
As for the idea that things will get better in post-secondary, there are still many many lecture halls at most universities and this sign is hanging in at least one classroom at our institution.
Pam Lowe says
I’m not a parent, but as a concerned aunt, I once created a webpage for my niece with ideas for lessons, etc. The niece was thrilled with a page built for her and her grade level. She shared the page with her teacher. I contacted the teacher and built a relationship where we could collaborate on ideas and resources. Introducing it to my niece first and getting her excited and sharing it with the teacher was my “in” to trying to introduce new 21st century concepts.
Dean Shareski says
Just thinking out loud here, but what if as parents we take the same approach as many families with strong religious beliefs? I’ve taught Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses and others who have very respectfully made their beliefs clear to me and let me know what activities they felt were inappropriate for their children to participate in. Sometimes they’d keep their children home, other times, they suggested alternative activities.
Again, I’m not sure exactly how that might play out but perhaps Will, you might suggest you have a strong aversion to your son devoting so much time to writing in cursive and thus will provide an alternative that fits in with your beliefs as a family.
I realize it’s not exactly the same but wonder at what point parents begin to take ownership for their child’s education. Of course, we want this to be a partnership, not a divisive relationship. As I mentioned, I experienced many times where parents and I worked together to accomodate their requests.
Lisa Parisi says
Dean, you don’t have the right to deny a parent who uses religious beliefs as a reason to opt out of an activity. But you do have the right to deny a parent who uses “strong aversion” as a reason. Although I often have parents who want to opt out of internet use in the classroom because of fear. I work with them to understand the safety precautions and the academic uses. My daughter’s teachers haven’t been as willing to work with me to help me understand their views. Maybe because they really can’t explain them.
Gary Stager says
This is a very good point, Dean. I often wondered why it was OK to say, “I don’t want my kid in that class because it offends my religious beliefs,” but I could not say, “I don’t want my kid in health class because it’s moronic, time-wasting and taught by the PE teacher.”
That said, I would like to share a piece of advice we gained during parenting three kids through public school.
We sent a letter to teachers saying, “Homework is interfering with my kid’s quality of life, interrupting the family and preventing my child from playing outside, practicing her clarinet, reading, helping around the house, etc… So, when you send home a worksheet that includes countless problems, I will ask my daughter to demonstrate her understanding of the concept and once she has done so to my satisfaction, I will sign the homework to signify that she is done with her homework.
We do not expect that our decision regarding homework will affect our child’s grade in any way or that you will single her out based on our opposition to homework.”
IN EVERY SINGLE CASE that we did this or shared the advice with others, teachers responded with “OK,” and went along with it. Occasionally, they even expressed their agreement with us.
Your kids only get one chance at an education. Don’t let school practices ruin it. Parents MUST tell schools that they don’t love this stuff. They pretend that we do.
Will Richardson says
Wish we could take a survey and ask how many of the parents chiming in here have done that. My sense is there is a fear of singling out my child somehow.
Gary Stager says
Can we explore what “singling my child out” might look like since this is a very common fear?
Are we suggesting that teachers would punish or ridicule a child because of the actions of a parent?
That seems unconscionable to me.
Diane Main says
Even scarier is that in the private school where I work, parents are more likely to tell teachers they don’t give enough homework (and trust me, we do) because they want their children to be PUSHED to excellence. And they don’t get that overly repetitive practice (Heaven help the kids if they do it WRONG forty times in a row) isn’t the same as striving for excellence.
Erica R says
This is what could happen when you draw attention to you child:
Last year my son be gab high school. He was excited about all his Honors classes, since he never had to work that hard in elementary or middle school. After a week in Honors English, my son told me he hated his teacher. When I asked him shy, his criticm focused on her inflexibly on how their binders had to be set up, how their notes had to be set up, and how “stupid” the homework was. I explained to him that he was likely going to have more teachers he didn’t like, and the was lucky to get as far as 9th grade before encountering one. I told him he needed to do as she asked, play the game.
Flash forward 3 weeks to my 1st access to the online grading system. I see he is failing English, due to many missing assignments. I asked him about them and he said he forget about them, wanted to turn them in late, and she wouldn’t accept them. Apparently, late work is not accepted in her class.
So I log into the school website and look for the teacher’swebpage, hoping I can get a handle on what type of homework she is assigning. No webpage. I email the teacher, asking how I can help my son manage his homework completion. After 3 days, and his reminder to her that I sent an email,ifi ally get a response. “All my assignments for the week are written on the board. Your son should be copying down the assignments into his assignment notebook.” Great, but he’s not. Can you help me by reviewing his assignment notebook towards the end of class and initialing it so I can review it with him when he gets home. Her response? “Thats a middle school strategy, this is high school, and I won’t do it.” WHAT?
So I email the AP for Curriculum (who by the way was the principal at the Middle School where I did my student teaching 7 years ago) and I explain my concerns. We meet with the two of them, and she finally agrees to do a daily check out for him. His homework completion goes way up. His grades, however, were interesting. Anything that was subjectively graded he did poorly on. Anything that was objectively graded (like the scantron midterm and final for each semester) he did very well on. This leads me to believe that by standing up and asking for something my son needed to be successful, I jeopardized his relationship with this woman, and she continued to take out her feelings on him all year long. By the way, this is the woman who required he read 2 books and write 4 response journals the summer before class. The journals had to be handwritten, in a composition notebook, with no missing pages, and turned in at book buy in August. I should have know then it was going to be an interesting year!
Brian Crosby says
I agree – but old habits die hard. My wife tried for years to stop sending home spelling lists. She would explain at her “standing room only” back to school nights that research showed that memorizing spelling lists was virtually worthless. Parents would nod their head, seem to get it, a few would say great! Then over the course of the next week parent after parent would come in and say how much they agreed with what my wife said, but that they would just feel better if their kid was “challenged” by a really hard spelling list.
I also note how when I taught at high income schools, often parents that were upset their child wasn’t being “challenged” would be totally mollified by a “tough” spelling list. Now you were a great teacher because you challenged my child – and they’d spread the word how you were a great teacher … based on a spelling list. Yeesh!
Part of that is just conditioning to what we perceive as “great” teaching.
I think spelling is important, as is learning to memorize words, facts, figures, and formulae, but while lots of exposure is great, constant repetition of the process eventually gets stale – this is what causes the boredom and resistance to learning.
I’ve been reading a blog by a history teacher who explains his ideas about teaching “ergonomically.” Without using drill-and-kill, he consistently and constantly exposes his students to dates, facts, people, events, and the importance of them all, and tries to do so in a way that the kids don’t even notice he’s doing it. I’ve thought about ways to adapt this to my own practice, but without a classroom to use a lab at the moment, I can only make lists of idea, write up plans, theorize and hope for the best when/if I ever get back in the classroom.
Unfortunately, this effect can be lost on parents whose own education was based on lots of memorization, repetition, and who have an attitude of higher-and-harder-is-better – NTTAWWT. Repetition and memorization do have their place, just not in every instance or for every subject. But its hard for people to overcome this idea, because it is different from what they know, and difference is scary.
Carolyn Foote says
I remember finally calling a teacher after my son labored over mindless handwriting homework that was taking him all evening. And in surprise, she said, never let him spend more than 30 minutes-it’s just practice.
How I wish I had known that many weeks prior, at the time, as it would have saved countless amounts of teeth grinding.
But I was delighted that the teacher had no problem with that, and also agreed that spending the night doing tedious homework was not constructive for my child.
Gary Stager says
I can’t take all of the credit. Sylvia Martinez was the better parent 🙂
Penny Lindballe says
I really like this approach. While at this point in the academic career of my children the homework is very sparse, I know it is coming. I’ve often joked that if it get’s too heavy I’d send a note to school…
“Please have Ian play outside for at least an hour today since he didn’t get the chance yesterday due to schoolwork. When you have completed this activity please sign this logbook and I’ll award him with a sticker.”
As a parent I am very interested (and engaged) with the education of my children .. it’s their schooling that I’m not so sure about.
Gary Stager says
You also give the teacher permission to behave in a way she might actually agree with.
Teresa Hughes says
As the parent of four children, my oldest being a 7th grader, I feel the exact same way as you and many others who would really love to suggest better teaching practices to their teachers. I teach in the same district where my children attend school and know which teachers are actually trying to do what’s best for kids! I have no trouble voicing my opinions, especially when it comes to my children’s education. But just as in your situations, I hold my tongue to protect my children from suffering the consequences, (especially since we have hit middle school)! I chuckled out loud when I read your letter to their teachers. What a brilliant idea!
Jabiz Raisdana says
Great post. Even better comments. I am lucky in a sense because my daughter is only four and just started her â€œschoolingâ€ experience. Furthermore, she goes to an international school that is rich in tech and committed to Reggio Emilia, but I am not naÃ¯ve enough to think that this will last forever.
I think that if we spend so much time and energy on changing schools and enlightening teachers of other peopleâ€™s children, we owe it to our own children and our own sanity to work with the teachers who work with our kids on a daily basis. I love your idea of our emailing the teacher and cc the principal and headmaster our expectations.
I think it is imperative that we take off our teacher/Ed reform hats and start to work on the problem as parents. Because as every teacher knows when a parent says jump the school says how high.
Not only should we work with our kidsâ€™ teachers to make sure they know what we want and expect from our childrenâ€™s education, but we should also work with other parents in the class to see if they feel the same way.
Maybe I am living in never-never land and ignoring the fact that most parents, teachers, and even students are so tired and stressed out that they sleep walk though most of their education, but if we want the best for our kids we have to make the commitment for change at every place we can.
Jeff Yearout says
I think a huge reason why things don’t change fast (if at all) is due to the same reason we have such a hard time making changes in how health care is handled in this country. I think most people would agree that education, like health care costs, have significant issues that need to be addressed. The problem I see is that grand, sweeping, and possibly radical change moves people so far out of what they are familiar with that they fear change itself, and stick with the “better the devil you know” mentality.
When “schooling” deviates too far from what parents and board members recognize from their youth, there is a tendency to get uncertainty at best and outright fear at worst. Add in to that the high stakes testing culture we now have, and you get an educational system that is so risk averse that truly innovative approaches become even more difficult to promote on a large scale.
We need a push, like Sputnik gave us back in the late 50s and 60s. We actually do have one, but it gets lost in the white noise of all the other issues going on, that being sustainable energy. I tell my Pre-Engineering/GTT students that the country that figures out how to get free of the shackles of fossil fuels by moving to sustainable energies could very well be THE economic superpower of the 21st century. I then ask them if that will be us or not!
Sue K says
Ah – this is the comment I missed that I was looking for before posting my comment! AMEN!!! So – what will be the push???? And how can the current situations in our country – economic, political, social, environmental – not be getting us really, really close?
Will Richardson says
It’s a great point, Jeff, and I have to tell you, I think the challenges we face today are a lot more pressing than what we faced with the Sputnik thing. Problem is, they don’t fit in such a neat box with a ribbon around it screaming danger in a way we can all understand it. And to be honest, it is our weakness as a society to be willing to grapple with complexity and, as Dan Meyer says, be patient problem solvers that makes this all even more scary. My feeling? We reap what we sow. This education system which is so focused on the made up problem with the one answer because it’s just so damned easy to test is at the root of much of this. We don’t like to go deep; we don’t like the struggle. I see it in my own kids, and while I own some of that as their parent, it’s not something that’s valued in their schools.
Imagine if we just woke up one day and said, you know, our current way of life is unsustainable. (Fat chance, I know.) We’re going to redesign every curriculum to help our students have the context and the problem solving ability to make better choices in the way they live their lives on this planet. And in the process, we’re going to make America a leader in every way once again.
What a concept.
Ryan Collins says
My daughter is starting 1st grade this year, and my wife and I are having these same discussions. It’s a political minefield for us since she teaches 1st grade in the same building as our daughter and I’m an administrator in the district. Right now we’re just trying to supplement, but I’ve already started to notice changes in what and how our daughter learns and wants to learn. And as she goes through the school system there are teachers we most definitely want her to have and teachers we most definitely don’t want her to have.
I like the web site creation idea… I may have to look into that! Especially if she can use her iPhone Touch (her iPhone without cell service)
Will Richardson says
So I’m wondering why this is such a minefield and what we can do about it. What conversations can we start and with whom? Parents? Administrators? Other teachers?
A great post and discussion. An issue that is truly causing me great concern. My own two kids attend a school within the same district as I teach and their teachers belong to the same union as I. What this means for me, is that I am very careful about how I approach my concerns.
I teach (or did teach) at a public school with a IWB in each room, speaker systems and mics for teachers and students, 1:4 or more ratio of computers to children, Podcasting systems, a blogging platform, access to video cameras, robotics and licenses to online programs like Discovery Ed and Learning.com. Most importantly, the administrator made the universally designed infrastructure and teaching a priority and supported this vision everyday by allowing staff and teachers to take risks, watch each other teach, and open the school doors to others.
My own two children have one computer in their classroom and attend a 50 minute computer class once per week (which they often complain about since they are tired of Kidpix). These are kids (8&10) that (at home) play Warcraft, make their own games using Scratch, use twitter to send and read messages, they text, and they can surf the internet for almost any piece of information, at any time. They love skype, and google tools and can find anthing on itunes to download to their ipad. These children of my are both very shy and extreme introverts (one has been labeled ‘selective mute’). The online network gives them a sense of safety and confidence. However, at school – they shut off.
Thankfully, both my husband and I have made it a priority to teach our kids networking skills and we hope that someday soon, their school will begin to actively pay attention to what is happening in education today.
Jason Green says
I share Jon Becker’s frustration, in that I can’t shake the sense that quality schooling (or at least progressive education) is in reality only available to the wealthy.
Kevin Geary says
Why do you think private schooling is so expensive?
Will Richardson says
Let me just jump in here quickly and say that it all depends on what you mean by “quality schooling.” Don’t get me wrong, in the traditional sense, my daughter’s private school is great. But by my definition of “quality” it suffers from the same lack of shift that my son’s public school does. Private does not equal progressive, not by a long shot.
Jason Green says
Let me clarify. I was concerned that as I had originally stated things, I was implying that private=high quality and public=low quality, which I don’t believe. Although I can think of public schools I would describe as high quality, I can’t think of any public schools I’d describe as progressive (hence the parenthetical)
Kevin Geary says
Private doens’t mean high quality, but private does typically mean HIGHER quality when compared to a public service.
The reason being is that the private sector generally offers dozens of solutions while the public sector offers one. It’s obvious that out of 12 different solutions you’ll probably find a better one than the one public option.
Which is why, if there was no massive public education option, we’d have far better, cheaper, and progressive private schools (if that’s what the market wants).
Carolyn Foote says
I agree with you completely Will. Private schools often focus on “rigor” at the expense of creativity, sometimes even moreso than public schools.
I never have believed that intellectual rigor, creativity and informed assessment are mutually exclusive.
I think invoking “the test” as a reason for what is taught is so often just an excuse for not being willing to test the limits of our boxes.
Baynard Bailey says
I appreciate this experience being posted. My daughter is also starting first grade. After the first day she commented, “It’s less fun than I thought. It’s going to be a lot of work.” I’m trying to remain optimistic but I fear that school might destroy her love of learning through obsolete approaches focused on assessment.
I’m not sure if “constructive engagement” ever really worked with China, but I think it is the right approach for our children’s schools and teachers. I’m going to walk my six year old to school this year. I’m also on the PTA and we’ve established a WordPress site (after a year of conversation) so that’s a step in the right direction. I’ve volunteered and joined the district wide “technology team” so we’ll see how that goes
All this activity reminds me of something my mother said about when I was younger and she had concerns about her kids attending school in a very tiny & rural school system. “I was active and in their faces. They knew who I was and they knew who my kids were.” “Constructive engagement” or “aggressively positive” are good terms to keep in mind. Our school systems won’t change unless people with good ideas get involved.
Will Richardson says
Thanks for this comment Baynard. One thing we are going to do more of this year is participate in the PTA type stuff, not to create more bake sales but to start some conversations.
Gary Stager says
GO TO SCHOOL BOARD MEETINGS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I learned an 18 year-old NJ citizen that if I brought ten people to a public board of education meeting, I could completely change policy. I turned a 9-0 vote to end school music on Monday night into a 0-9 vote in the other direction at Thursday night’s meeting.
Deborah Meier documents that we have an infinitesimal number of American serving on public school boards when compared to a century ago. Such lack of participation, consolidation and mayoral control is bad for democracy and YOUR CHILD.
I saw the signs early, too. A long time ago I used to blog about it
But stupidly, I did not heed the signs. My daughter is a senior in h.s. this year and could not possibly be more disaffected by school. The horrible quality of teaching we’ve encountered for the past 12 yrs is mind-blowing. I should have home-schooled her. Get out while you can! [And no, these are not teachers whose hands are tied by the system, who can’t get what they need, down by law, etc etc. These are incompetent individuals who have been retained and tenured.]
Talia Nochumson says
I just began working toward my doctoral degree in Instructional Technology. My interest is to teach future teachers (in schools of education) to create educational environments that focus on communication, interaction, and an emphasis on the global community (and to not rely on worksheets!) I am a technology specialist in a private school, and every year, I am encouraged to see that more and more of my colleagues are using Web 2.0 tools in their classes. However, there is still hesitation on the part of administrators to really push for changes.
My 2 year-old son’s online education has already begun at home. He knows about Skyping, Youtube, email and some games. I hope that when he enters school he will have teachers who will continue to inspire his love of learning and who also knows how to ready him for the “digital world.” If not, I would probably become a parent who “meddles.”
Meredith (@msstewart) says
As a teacher who is not a parent, I’m curious what kind of response you usually get to your emails, Will. I think as a teacher it’d be hard to not view that kind of email copied to a headmaster as confrontational, especially given that tone can be really difficult to judge in an email.
I really respect you and Alec, but I guess I’m a little uncomfortable with the degree of public “outing” that’s occurred. I totally support transparency and work to do as much of that as practical when it comes to my teaching, but I guess I feel like there’s a little lack of balance in the tweets, posts, and comments that I’ve read in the last 24 hours. As a teacher, I don’t think I would vent frustrations about particular parents publicly, so I’m wondering if the reverse should hold true.
Meredith (@msstewart) says
P.S. Will- I do appreciate the way you’ve included examples of ways you seek to connect with your children’s teachers in the post. Steers the conversation away from the direction of being a whine-fest (however warranted) of the quality of people’s children’s teachers.
Will Richardson says
Really appreciate you leaving this comment. I’m not sure in either case that I or we have “outed” a particular teacher. I try to be sensitive to that, but I guess I doubt anyone is going to take the time to research what teachers my kids have. Now if those teacher happen to read this post and feel “outed” I really do hope they’ll let me know.
Really hoping I’m not wrong about this…
Carolyn Foote says
I do agree that perhaps including pictures of the teacher’s classroom might be a little like “outing” as this teacher’s room probably doesn’t differ that much from thousands across the country.
If I were that teacher right now discovering this, I would feel pretty crushed.
So how do we talk honestly about classroom practices and our true agony as teacher-parents over watching our children suffer in some situations we know aren’t beneficial to them and talk honestly about our real philosophical and practical struggles without bringing in that real detail like the photo of the classroom?
I do have to say that my awareness of the presence of phone cameras has made me much more aware of signage in my own library and though I would hope teachers have become more aware that what happens in their classroom or school is really much more a part of the public forum than ever before, I doubt that too many have. Having that knowledge does help me occasionally observe my library through “outside” eyes (and perhaps student eyes) and makes me much more cognizant of what we are projecting in our physical space about our philosophy of education.
You’re asking so many good questions here.
I just know, that looking back(my son being in college now) I seriously regret not speaking up, getting him changed to a different teacher, advocating about teaching practices and generally engaging more with the way he was being taught. I think it would have made a difference, so no matter whether we are perceived as being “pains” I think it’s important to find some way to advocate for your child’s education to be the best it can.
That being said, my son had many wonderful teachers(including his first grade teacher) who inspired him, challenged him, and helped him find his talents. I hate to think that what we walk away with here is this idea that so many teachers are so uninteresting or uninspired, etc., because I know so many who do care deeply and really try to learn and grow. But one reason I encouraged Alec to speak up was because it was first grade-that does seem to set the tone so clearly for so many children.
So my question is–do we just also need to accept the mixed bag as part of life? How far are we willing to go with that acceptance when it’s our own children and we know better?
Bob Cotter says
I followed the @courosa twitter comments and felt similarly to the situation in which Alec found himself as I felt when you posted your observations and comments last year.
Reading the thoughts from Alec happened to be on the same day as my accompaniment of my granddaughter to her first year of kindergarten. A major difference, though, is that I know my little one will have a spectacular first year at school as I have observed the teacher over the years when she was on my staff as principal (not there anymore). I also know that there will be a crap shoot about future years, and that I will likely become somewhat involved as you have been, only from the perspective of an educated and opinionated grandfather, not parent.
My daughter had hoped, years ago, to homeschool, but situations arose to make that impossible. And, I had been hoping she would change her mind anyway and take advantage of what public schools do have to offer.
You wrote about some very good ways in which parents can approach the teacher. One was to write a bit about yourself, your child, interests and goals. This is one of the best, I think as it gives some context for future conversations.
Thanks for the good read…
Lee Kolbert says
My response is long and emotional and probably won’t be too popular but I blogged about it here: http://macmomma.blogspot.com/2010/09/im-not-who-you-think-i-am.html
Will Richardson says
Hey Lee…I think it’s required reading in this thread. Thanks for posting it.
Thanks Lee, for your response. I work in an Elementary school with excellent teachers who struggle to find time to learn and use technology. Most of them are not resistant, just overwhelmed with new programs for reading and math, new standards for science, new forms to fill out for RTI. Some of them do some terrific technology projects during the school year, but it is possible that a Web 2.0 parent might be horrified with what they hear at Back to School. Hopefully not….
Reading some of the comments about outmoded pedagogical tactics and room arrangements reminded me of something that happened once while I was subbing in-between jobs after relocating to the other side of my state.
I was subbing in a Kindergarten room for half the day while the teacher went to IEP meetings. The children were supposed to color in five speckled frogs to put on a construction paper log, in conjunction with having learned the rhyme.
One little boy, who told me liked to read books about bugs and reptiles, showed me his frogs. They were yellow and red and some were striped yellow and purple, just like the poisonous frogs he read about in his books at home. I thought they looked great and I told him so.
When the regular teacher returned, she saw the boys frogs and told him they were supposed to be GREEN frogs, not multi-colored, and she took his frogs and gave him new ones to color in the “right” way. Then, I was reprimanded for not redirecting the student to follow the proper directions for the activity.
I stopped subbing in that district that very day (my experiences in the HS or MS were equally depressing).
Sara Carter says
Also a former classroom teacher who actively promoted and used tech, now wearing the mom hat.
I’m a meddler. Now on my third child through this school, I’ve been meddling and forwarding resources; speaking up in PTA, meeting with principal(s), suggesting and even offering to donate equipment, services and time.
But it hasn’t done much good.
I wonder if we should start a parents-for-future-advanced-tech, etc. group or official association. Maybe we could have a bigger impact if we had “official” credentials? Maybe more power in numbers?
I have read alot of interesting comments. One thing I haven’t heard is educating parents (as a teacher) about web 2.0 and what it actually consist of. The same can be said about parents with knowledge of the many technologies volunteering their time to come in and help inform the teacher. Just the other day I had a volunter come in an share some concepts and ideas for taking great photos. Using a professional from industry was way more beneficial to the student than listening to me.
To begin to fix the problem, you must first have communication with all those involved.I know for me (a teacher), blogging is new to me. I am more than willing to incorporate this technology in the classroom and see its importance to today’s generation. I am just not sure how I am going to do that yet!
My worst experience with small minded teachers was the untrained special ed teacher who had no idea what to do with my discalculia struggling daughter. I bought $100 worth of math manipulatives that I knew worked with her issues and my daughter told me she threw them in the garbage. I hired a tutor.
A few general thoughts I have about the post and comments:
It is difficult to not make judgments about a person upon a first impression. This is especially true when that person has a) power over some part of your life and/or b) is in the same field. It is still a pretty silly thing to do.
As a parent or as a teacher I need to assume the role that best fits my students’/children’s needs. If that means offering help as a teacher, do it. If that means complaining as a parent, do it. I have hidden behind my job too many times when I should have been a better parent.
Be careful about how and when you discuss the child’s teacher. I would never talk poorly about a teacher in front of my young children. I have no problem doing so in front of my older children. My two eldest have already expressed a desire to be teachers and I want them to see both the good and bad in the classes they attend. That learning is of much more value to their future careers than the content they are being taught in those classes.
Rules are not the problem. Seating charts are not the problem either. The problem occurs when the teacher does not respect the students. Are the rules there to benefit student learning? If not, is that rule truly necessary.
Be careful about throwing rocks when your house is made of glass. What are you doing in your classroom that needs to be re-examined? When you have someone raise a concern about what you are doing do you immediately defend your position or do you think about it first? Model the behavior you would like to see in others.
The fact that we have to have this conversation sucks!
Carolyn Foote says
Scott S. Floyd says
If the feds want to meddle in public ed, they should mandate an opt out clause for standardized testing in every state with the option being made public like every other policy so parents know it is an option. Wonder what the response would be for that?
Alec Couros says
Thanks for the post, Will. It was amazing to see the response from those in my network from just the few tweets and very little context I shared.
I think my observation/tweet that included the photo of the desks is important here ( http://twitter.com/courosa/status/23964781759 ). I am a former high-school and middle years teacher, a teacher-developer, and a professor of education. I have been in or worked in educational systems since the time I was 4 years old. I have never once left the education system. My new and most important reality, however, is parent – something I have much less experience with. Even from the little information that I posted, I think you have captured the essence of my struggle – how do experienced educators interact and contribute to school systems and with the key individuals (e.g., teachers, administrators) involved in non-threatening, engaging, and mutually beneficial ways? And, of course, underpinning this question, how do I make the right choices for my children regarding their education with all of the resources and options available to us?
Your post is very helpful to me as it has given me ideas of the types of things I can do to become a more active and critical advocate for my child’s education. Moreover, seeing the great response via tweets and through these blog posts demonstrates that to many individuals, this is an important problem – both as parents, and as teachers interacting with parents.
And, just to clarify (as I have seen comments that misconstrue) – it wasn’t about the formation of the desks, or the rules. It was a few of the things that were said afterward (most of which I’ve kept to myself) that I found to be very wrong in a sense that they totally conflicted with my emerging understanding and philosophy of education. Now I am used to hearing these things at almost every conference, event, and meeting I attend – but, when my child is involved, it *feels* different.
Maybe that’s the point. We should all *feel* this way, this passionate, about every choice and decision we make about the education of anyone’s child.
Michelle Baldwin says
I’m one of those people who wear both hats- educator who wants change and parent who wants change. As some have noted above, sometimes my hands are tied (as a teacher) to what I can do. District restrictions on tech and web tools don’t leave me a lot of choice in some cases. As a parent, I can go to the school board and the superintendent… but these people also sign my paycheck. I’m already known as a boat rocker, but I’m not seeing a lot of lifeguards hanging around to pull me back in when I fall out of the boat.
On the other side of the coin, there are times, as a teacher, when I do ask my students to follow rules. I only give them 2 rules, but they are pretty set in stone. We talk about what kind of classroom environment is best for all of us, and they agree that those two rules will cover it all. I teach K-5. My goal is to learn with my kids, help guide them to some discovery, and get away from standing in front of them as much as possible. Yes, we use technology, but when it enhances their learning… not just for the sake of using technology.
If I’m being honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever felt as conflicted about education as I do now… both as a teacher and a parent.
Gary Stager says
I weighed-in after TeachaKidd blogged at http://bit.ly/b7SxmQ
I think Alec is going to be perceived as a know-it-all and major pain in the ass. The letter that he cc’d to the principal puts everyone on notice that things better go according to his plan. The tone was rude, condescending, and will surely not endear him or his son to the teacher. If the principal had any balls, he would let Alec know that he should withhold judgement, and let the teacher do his job. That would show support for the licensed professional in the classroom. If things go south, then he could have a stronger voice. Ultimately, I don’t think Alec will be satisfied; he should homeschool his little genius.
Will Richardson says
Um, what letter of Alec’s are you talking about? And talk about rude, condescending and not endearing. Wow.
Alec Couros says
Huh? Letter I cc’d? And, my son? I think someone is a bit mixed up.
Diane Main says
If it’s your son’s Back to School Night, Alec, then YES, he IS a little genius. VERY little.
Went to our kids’ Open Houses tonight. The 3rd grade team is going paperless and requires the kids to post their reading reflections on a blog weekly. They must post by Friday and the teachers will comment on each child’s writing individually over the weekend. The teachers also keep blogs where they post questions each week and ask the students to respond. At least some parents are upset with this shift from paper-based homework, communications, etc.
While still not ideal in terms of technology use, I see it as a step in the right direction. My child will learn to write and edit his thoughts on a computer and will have an opportunity to use it in his learning – hopefully helping him shift from digital native to digital learner; a transition we all know does not happen naturally!!
Will Richardson says
Thanks for this comment. I just want to reiterate that going paperless and blogging and doing other cool stuff with technology doesn’t mean that I would be automatically amazed and appreciative. What I really want to know is does that teacher care for my child, first and foremost, and does he or she love learning. I’m looking for passion, for a real desire on the part of the teacher to explore new ideas and inspire my kids’ passions for learning. You don’t need to technology to do that.
Diane Main says
I had to explain to my son (first grader) today that being done with school, completing grad school classes, etc., does not mean I stop learning. It really made me stop and think about what messages I want HIM to internalize about education being a lifelong thing. This point you make about what you “really want to know” is vital. I am so relieved that I can say with all assurance that ALL the teachers at my son’s school (where I also work) really do care for my child. Most of them also love learning. They all at least like it. Some of them are tired of having to learn so much at their advanced age/stage of their careers. But they’ll do it, especially for the kids.
I have, however, most definitely worked in school where more than half of the teachers did not even LIKE learning a little bit, and a good number of them did not care for children. Not just their students, children in general. And those are the people who are making a bad name for educators across the board and damaging the psyches of children everywhere.
Diane Main says
That should say schoolS (plural). Sad to say, I’ve seen the teaching blight all over.
Jim Meredith says
This has been a fascinating thread and an interesting post. As a parent in the same system as my children’s school, I at times bite my tongue, but overall I am impressed by the direction and the philosophy I see at my children’s school. My excited sixth grader called me at work to tell me about her class wiki. She was pumped because she learned wikis at home. I was pumped because it made it to her classroom.
I understand Alec’s frustration but I would never be so bold as to Tweet it out.
I think many teachers just don’t really have any idea of what to do, so they fall back on what others do – and you’ve got and endless cycle. They need some ideas on how to move from inspection to connection – how to make Meet the Teacher meaningful:
I have been a teacher for over 20+ years so I’ve done a lot of Meet the Teacher nights. And I teach high school, so I usually interact with at least 4 different groups of parents on each of these evenings (1 for each class I teach each semester). In other words, I have some experience with this.
Since over the years parents have told me how much they appreciate my approach, and given these recent rumblings in the ed-blogosphere, I thought it might be helpful to share some ideas for how to improve on this often dreaded meeting.
It’s not about you.
Teachers often get very self-conscious about these evenings feeling like they are being inspected and evaluated by the parents and all their adolescent insecurities resurface. So they prepare a pile of boring rules sheets and course outlines and handouts for the parents to fill the time, to feel that they are doing something that feels “official” and to hopefully take the parents’ eyes off of them and onto the papers.
Shifting out of this mindset into one of connecting with the parents over your mutual care for their children is essential. Move from your head into your heart and stop wasting all that paper.
Start with love.
You are a teacher because you love working with children, right? (If you don’t, I beg you to find another career immediately.) If you teach high school you may also be teaching a subject you love (but you should still love the students more than the subject).
This is the best place to start – share with the parents how much you love what you do, and how much you delight in their children. Deep down, they always want to know if they can trust you with their children, this will help them know that they can.
It’s about the students.
Once you have established your enthusiasm for working with their children, put it into action with this simple but powerful activity: Give each parent an index card, have them put their child’s name at the top and ask them to write down the things that make their child special that you wouldn’t know simply by looking at their file. Ask them to tell you anything about their child that could help you understand them better and give you some insight into making the school year great for them. Then collect these back from the parents. (These are great to pull out when you are feeling frustrated – they can help you get the shift you need to deal with the student from a place of caring instead of anger.)
Finally, allow the parents an opportunity to ask questions. Instead of you determining the agenda of the evening and boring them with the same old stuff they’ve heard before, let them take the floor. What are they curious about? What are they worried about? What are they excited about?
Keep the door open.
End the evening by inviting the parents to come by the classroom anytime. I’ve actually had some parents come sit in on my psychology classes because of this invitation – and it has always been a super positive experience.
that is very good advice.
Will Richardson says
Thanks for sharing this, Lianne. That open door invitation would resonate with me deeply.
Carolyn Foote says
I wish you’d make this a blog post. Excellent advice from the heart. Hear hear!
Diane Main says
Lianne, I think your points are absolutely right on. However, I think it’s fair to say that there are often times when, in the parents’ minds, it really IS “all about” the teacher. Some parents act like getting the “right” teacher is the ultimate key to their child’s success and getting the “wrong” teacher is the kiss of death for their child’s future. Parents can be ruthless when discussing the teachers in their children’s schools. At times, the talk may be warranted and true. But much of the time, it’s junior high all over again: popularity contests and backstabbing. And I say this as a highly charming and popular teacher. ;0)
Susan Davis says
I’m thinking about our first ever Back-to-School Night at Chinquapin, with very different parents. How am I going to explain to my students’ parents, who may or may not be connected to the Internet, that their children are writing at least 4 blogs for their senior classes? How do I explain to non-native speakers who are mostly unfamiliar with web 2.0 that my students are creating a wiki to document their reading progress? I’m still pondering how to go about this…
Oops – I got my blogs mixed up and I meant to post this at GeekyMomma’s blog – sorry – doesn’t quite fit here.
Regarding what we can do about teachers like these – I would bring in the research in a friendly way. I wouldn’t let my doctor treat me with outmoded methods if I knew better.
In a friendly non-threatening way I would approach it from the angle of being very concerned about my kid, about the importance of family time and sharing the relevant research about the uselessness of homework, as one example. And if this didn’t change anything, if the classroom was encouraging and loving, I would be willing to ride out a year with a teacher who was still teaching cursive, or whatever, if I couldn’t home school.
If homeschooling is at all an option, though, that’s always going to be your best bet.
Diane Main says
In my case, homeschooling is not an option, but if it were, it would NOT be my best bet. My son (first grader) is very accustomed to dealing with adults. Kids his own age, not so much. There is a whole world of social skills he needs to learn from his peers. Now, I don’t want him misbehaving based on things he learns from them, but he can observe right and wrong choices and try to make some of his own decisions based on outcomes he witnesses firsthand. He needs to be more independent of me and my husband than he currently is. And there are quite a few things my son’s first grade teacher is WAY better at teaching him than my husband and I ever could.
I don’t disapprove of homeschooling. In fact, I highly recommend it for some families in circumstances that dictate it’s the best option. But to say it’s always the best option for every family isn’t really accurate or fair.
In my second year of teaching, the urban high school I worked at hired a dean to help with the many behaviour problems that were plaguing the school. Many staff members were disappointed, including myself, because he was a bit of a softie and wasn’t really what the school needed. He was a great guy but ended up leaving at the end of the year.
After his departure, I was chatted with a fellow staff member who happens to be a close friend and a brilliant teacher. The first thing that he said was that he was going to miss the dean. My friend had been giving disruptive students the option of going straight to the dean’s office at the start of class with work. They usually went. Sometimes they got the work done, sometimes they just chatted with the dean. Either way, the full class went smoother and got more done.
As a teacher, I have found that students, friends, peers, and life are constantly teaching me. That day I realized that I may not always get what I want, how I want, but, if I’m smart, I’ll take advantage of everything I have to help me help my students the best I can.
My point, I saw nothing that actually truly said this was not an effective teacher. There is actually no one way to teach that is correct. Remember, you are here, reading and writing, and you probably had a work sheet filled classroom.
As a matter of fact, it took me a long time to realize that all my project based learning, artistic projects, group work, etc, wasn’t always as effective as worksheets. I have also found that one of the weaknesses in my students in high school is that they have absolutely no clue how to memorize things. And, yes, it is important. And, no, you cannot learn 500-700 new science vocabulary words in 10 months from all hands on.
Just because they aren’t teaching the way you think they should, it doesn’t mean the kids aren’t going to learn. Let’s get off our soapboxes long enough to let the teacher do their job. Your child may learn something from that “imperfect” classroom that they will need to deal with as an adult, something they would never learn from you.
good advice as well.
Cory Plough says
I have one son, he just turned 3 and entered full day kindergarten at a Lutheran school, I’m not religious, I compromised with his mother.
I sat at the meet-the-teacher session the other day with a nice teacher, her assistant and about 10 parents sitting in neat little rows of fold up chairs where the kids usually do circle reading. I wished we could of sat on the floor instead, just like the kids.
I could hear her voice shaking as she read off of her 5×7 note cards. She was clearly uncomfortable speaking to parents, I know it can be tough because she knows they are judging her and evaluating her. If she knew she was sitting talking to teacher parents then she would of had even more difficult of a time I imagine.
I sat there trying to find something wrong. Not in a mean way, but I was trying to use all that I’ve learned over the last couple years in my education and my personal professional development. I couldn’t find a thing, she has been teaching 3 year olds for 14 years, I’ve never taught one except my own and I’m just figuring it out.
I know Alec had a difficult time, as I imagine I will when my son gets older. I promise to give the teacher some benefit of the doubt and not wear my teacher hat too tight, but we have to do what’s right for our kids and approaching another professional to tell them our opinion of their work, especially if negative and without construction can be very difficult but may have to be done. You are right, its hard.
Diane Main says
I, too, noticed that my son’s first grade teacher was very nervous talking to parents at Back to School Night. I think most teachers are nervous speaking to groups of parents. In our case (it’s a private school where I also work), our very existence depends on these parents being satisfied customers. And enrollment has suffered due to the economy in recent years. Most people have a very real fear of public speaking. Now speak to a group of people who are trusting you to shape their child and his/her future for the next ten months. No pressure, right? ;0)
Joseph Martineau says
aargh! My 4th grade daughter’s teacher found it more important to drill and practice than explore the many applicable uses of a calculator and the use of manipulatives because it took too much time away from actual learning. I teach Tech Tools and am trying vigorously to bring my staff into the 21st century learning process. But all I get, see and hear is, Is it more work? Does it take time? Where am I going to fit it in? and What is wrong with the way we learned? I cannot fathom what high school is going to be like because, they are further behind in their mindset than where I teach. The larger problem here though, is the students are complacent with their learning also. They are not pushing the staff into the logical step toward their future. I go home every night wondering, what I am doing wrong, how do I bring these people to see what they are missing?
Kay McNulty says
I wrote this blog post last year in response to my grandson’s perception of first grade. http://bit.ly/cMv7kH. As an educator AND grandmother, I was disheartened to hear this young very creative and inquisitive child feel that he has to muffle his ideas in school. He has started 2nd grade this week, haven’t seen him yet, but hoping he’s learning with his classmates and not already tired of the sound of the new teacher’s voice.
Thanks for this post Will…as educators it’s easy for us to blog and tweet about how things should be – but when the classroom is where your own child spends their time it certainly hits home.
Tracy R. says
This is an incredibly interesting conversation. I am going to play a little devil’s advocate here….I am a teacher, and try as I might to create an engaging and creative and challenging learning space for my students there are many things that I am up against that I do not have the power to change.
I use blogs, wikis, all kinds of the so called web 2.0 tools in my classroom, but I don’t have consistent internet access in my classroom, nor do my colleagues. There is often NO internet access in our school, for admin OR teachers, let alone students.
Seating charts? I am trying to find enough chairs and tables that would even allow all the students we have per class this year to even sit down in the room. Class size is up to 35, 36, 37……this is middle school.
Not much time to add project based learning to many of the classes when the time is taken with Regents prep and keeping up with the curriculum schedule. This comes from “above”, non negotiable.
As far as rules go, certainly teachers set many of their own, but we are also expected to follow the rules set by our bosses, who can walk into the classroom at any time and “call us out” in front of our students.
Then there is just the reality of teaching so many students each day. I see 300 students each week, I am sure that each of those parents has their own idea of what their child needs best to learn and be happy in school. But I would bet that they are not the same things. How do you define “fun” in a classroom? Being able to walk around and talk to your friends? Being challenged by hard work? Not having homework? Work that is easy and where you don’t have to read or write much? Doing interesting and engaging projects? Getting good grades without doing much work? Working in groups? Working independently? Using computers? Not using computers?
I struggle with keeping my students engaged and challenged and eager to get down to some “hard fun” when they enter my classroom. I am not too sure that I have the energy as a teacher to open that up to include parents too. Parents can be a great asset to a teacher, but you have to understand and appreciate what they might be up against themselves, and not assume they are poor teachers based on preliminary observations of their classroom.
Karen Libby says
Right on, Tracy R!
This isn’t about the teacher anymore. It is about the system. Most schools look, act and feel like they did for many years. THe classrooms should look like and act like innovative 21 Century rooms; interactive, social networking, inquiry based, facilitated…etc.
HOW do we get the masses to do school differently? Many don’t see this as a need? Some teachers are still playing school. Some parents see school as totally fine, it worked for meâ€¦it should work for you. It is a battle on many ends.
However, research shows kids are downshifting when they come to school. KIDS do love to learn…it is about capturing their modality and interest. Can one teacher do this for 30+ kids?
Some of the above comments are from what I view as incredibly innovative educators who want to do school differently, but canâ€™t due to resources, politics, organizational structure, numbers etc. However, the whole educational system has to be blown up to make true change happen. This is why I believe parents looking for alternative schooling options. They are looking for more innovative schooling systems. These options CAN and DO address numbers, rules, expectations, outcomes, curriculum, technology etc because they have written a NEW structure.
We all need rules and some Charter schools and even Homeschoolers may have STRONGER rules than traditional schools, they are finding huge successes. They can and do address numbers and ration of students to staff. Think about the boom of online schools.
Learning can happen ANYWHERE. I could rant on and onâ€¦it wonâ€™t help. Will schools become a place to ONLY learn interpersonal, emotional, social or soft skills? Why isnâ€™t THAT being done at home by ALL of our parents?
Joe posted…all I get, see and hear is, Is it more work? Does it take time? Where am I going to fit it in? and What is wrong with the way we learned? I cannot fathom what high school is going to be like because, they are further behind in their mindset than where I teach. The larger problem here though, is the students are complacent with their learning also. They are not pushing the staff into the logical step toward their future. I go home every night wondering, what I am doing wrong, how do I bring these people to see what they are missing?
When will GREAT teachers just say…I can’t do it ALL!
Floyd1976 posted…As a matter of fact, it took me a long time to realize that all my project based learning, artistic projects, group work, etc, wasnâ€™t always as effective as worksheets. I have also found that one of the weaknesses in my students in high school is that they have absolutely no clue how to memorize things. And, yes, it is important. And, no, you cannot learn 500-700 new science vocabulary words in 10 months from all hands on.
See…what are we to do?
And for what itâ€™s worth, hereâ€™s what weâ€™ll do to make the best of it once again this year.
1. We write an e-mail (or a letter) to each teacher introducing our kids and ourselves, letting them know what our hopes are, what weâ€™d love to see our kids doing, and what weâ€™ll do to support the classroom. We also introduce ourselves, and talk a little bit about what our worldview of education looks like. Finally, we offer to continue that conversation and help make it a reality in the classroom in whatever way we can. And we cc the principal and headmaster (since Tess is in private school.)
I have been following your blog for more than a year. Thus, I feel like I have some idea what would be included in this letter. Could you post (or send me) a copy of this letter? As a parent and an educator I am interested in its style and content.
Thanks in advance.
I apologise if this request has been made in an earlier comment but I did not see it after a quick read.
Oh dear G-d, I feel that all the time. My daughter came home from her first day of 5th grade with a reading log and a book report due in 3 weeks. WHile sitting with her post-its and the computer open to character traits, she said (and I tweeted that same night), “I can’t wait til I’m finished so I can read [Hatchet] for fun.” That same evening I saw a post about taking the fun and joy out of reading and debated with myself about forwarding the post to her teacher. In the past I have questioned my children’s teachers about their tech integration and how they were going to help prepare the children for life in an ever-changing digital world but unfortunately, mostly I get the response that they will have computer time 1x/week. I have also added them to my email list when I send out links to my teaching colleagues and most have reacted well. Still, being a teacher is difficult when your child’s teacher does not teach as you would teach yourself.
monika hardy says
throw into these comments a couple from students on how – while they love many of their teachers, how pointless they think some of their classes are, and how if only they could learn with a text, without a text, with a computer, without a computer, with lecture, hands on, faster, slower, at 8 in the morning at 11 at night, ……
throw in a couple from adults (from many sectors of society) on how – they canâ€™t wait for the weekend or vacation or how they long to be doing something different with their days….
and you have the push that launched me onto the web two years ago – where i connected with my first individual expert tutor. i was seeking – why – at the end of the day – are so many so stressed. iâ€™m finding out how the web unleashed on public ed can change that.
what strategies have been working for me/us?..
not that theyâ€™re incredible… or different from what many of you are about – as iâ€™ve learned a ton from most of you … but i do think weâ€™re onto something and we feel a responsibility to share more.
as a student:
i was perfect. i got school. i knew how to succeed in school.
i didnâ€™t learn how to learn.
iâ€™m just now learning how to make my life matter.
as a parent:
i have been in the classroom for 20 years – mostly hs math.. 4 of those i substitute taught at least 4 days a week at my kids elementary school so i could eat lunch with them every day. per their request. but also because i couldnâ€™t imagine missing out on 7 hours of their day… esp where i was thinking/hoping cool ahaâ€™s would occur.
every year if/when my kids would reveal to me a concern – we would address it for their class or school or district as a whole..
last year was the first year we all landed at the same hs.
listening to my students, my own kids and their friends has given me, i believe, a much better perspective of what school could be.
as a researcher:
the last 2-3 years iâ€™ve been specifically seeking out – how can we take a naturally curious kindergartner and over the next 13-20 years facilitate that curiosity in such a way that they become indispensable, not only in their community, but in society, and most of all in their soul. how can we facilitate that curiosity in such a way that our pre-conceived notions and assumptions about school blur into real life and we no longer label. (student, teacher, admin, resource, g/t, black, hispanic, white, rich, poor, seat time, grades, summer, weekend, hs, ms, college, career, math, science, english, rich, poor, ….) we are all learners.
cognitive surplus via Clay Shirky…
imaginary cosmopolitanism via Ethan Zuckerman…
leveling out of resources via Hans Rosling…
self-supervised access to the web via Sugata Mitra…
…have me thinking this is no longer ridiculous.
today we can make that blur happen – we can make school – life.
as a facilitator:
we (students and i) keep seeking permission to do things in our district. the latest – hosting a district innovation lab, an incubator for the above to hatch. it involves only .5% of our district students 70 in 14000, but itâ€™s part of what we see as a 4 year (ish) disruption in public ed. (once people see how Mitraâ€™s self-supervised access to the web works.. network city man.)
we started participatory action research with Jim Folkestad, csu prof, with a vision to remove roadblocks and scale.
we started community meetings for ongoing conversations.
a group of homeschoolers visited the lab and are showing great support.
we have our suggested book reads at our local b&n http://screencast.com/t/ZjUyYTQ3N2I who are extremely supportive in helping with community meetings.
the first few weeks of school community experts have been a part of face to face conversations and projects during the school day.
students are emailing and visiting and tweeting city officials and global experts in order to create authentic projects.
they are seeking out populations within our district and around the globe to immerse themselves in – in order to make this authentic social change.
iâ€™m on our strategic planning committee for the district.
i met for the first time yesterday with the local uniâ€™s digital media and learning team – working on uni level change – led by the uniâ€™s assoc vice provost for learning and teaching, Mike Palmquist.
iâ€™ve never liked anything political – but like my students.. iâ€™m immersing myself in places out of my element in order to understand and improve things i wish were different.
and on rules (http://screencast.com/t/OTI2MTcwNT) – we are working to replace the many each student/person sees through the course of a day, ie: aup, different class policies, dress code, etc. taken from Willâ€™s be safe, be ethical, be effective and blended with Dan Pinkâ€™s emotionally intelligent signage and hopefully in the future thefuntheory.com..
on keeping on…
my studentâ€™s hold me accountable daily.
Roger Martin leveled my perspective of validity oriented thinkers vs reliability oriented thinkers (who currently populate the us at least) so that i no longer buckle at a raised eyebrow.
Carol Dweck and Seth Godin have taught me to crave critique – see it as info – info i need.
James Bach is helping me detox and focus on process vs content, on passion vs duty.
Anya Kamenetz has shown me how to squelch fears of risks when you diy.
Steven Devijver taught me to ask, why are we here, and to believe everyone wants good.
Kosta Grammatis is helping me grasp equity – 3/4 of the planet without wifi – the connection for true nclb and the social change our world needs..
Jason Fried makes me question everything.
i have many people in my head these days. they are all teaching me a great strategy – offense. the energy we spend on defense could move mountains.
exposing my own children to this… iâ€™m thinking they will be fine wherever they are. their obstacles are nothing like those without any resources (Hans Rosling in my head just now.) and if i take them out of the mainstream… i wonder (my current wondering) if we would be less inclined to make change happen.
Will Richardson says
Wow, monika, thanks. A lot here to chew on, but I jumped at this line: “the energy we spend on defense could move mountains.”
In defense of the cursive requirement: I currently have a work/study student (19 or 20 years old) who literally can not read cursive writing. Isn’t that just another form of illiteracy?
Carolyn Foote says
Sue K says
I second the “No” response; we cannot continue to hang on to EVERYTHING needing to be “taught.” How much time do we have and how much can we ‘teach.’ How many people cannot read Roman Numerals? Does it really get in the way – other than not to be able to figure out when a movie was produced? If you really want to know, you would figure it out – on your own!
Gary Stager says
My friend Brian Harvey of UC Berkeley says, “The key to all school reform is throw out half of the curriculum. Any half!”
Fractions would be another good topic to abandon. Penmanship too.
David Gohrband says
You had me at “fractions” but lost me with “penmanship.” My middle school students often have such horrible handwriting I need them to translate it to me. I am not saying cursive, but good, basic penmanship still has much value. Take care.
Jeff Yearout says
I tried to post this up above in response to MB’s comment regarding “doing something” but it would nest there:
Your “doing something” line is one that resonates heavily with me. I think the zeal to be perceived as “doing something” on the part of administrators and district level curriculum coordinators can result in initiatives-du-jour. Too often in public schools, we seem to never allow enough time to see if something might work before we galavant off on another initiative. A new admin or superintendent coming can cause the same to happen.
Until the general public and pols realize that sometimes the positive effect happens slowly, not overnight, making the kinds of change we talk about in the edublog world may not be easy. We’re also caught in the challenge that the methods that can produce better short-term gains on standardized assessments may well not be the methods that create students with better long-term learning skills. I’m thankful I teach what I do, outside the “core classes”, so I do have some liberty to be a bit more creative. My students are currently working through the construction of various types of mechanical gears in fischertechnik parts. My bottom line is “make it work” and it is interesting how hard it is to break my kids of the “I must follow the plans exactly” mentality.
I graduated HS in 1986, undergrad in 1991, and finished grad work in 1994 and 2010. Through all of K-12 and most of my undergrad, I played the game of school well, and was a good student. I don’t think I became what I can honestly call a good learner until graduate school.
Thanks Jeff. I think that the desire to be on the cutting-edge of whatever is new in education can be detrimental to actual progress. You articulated perfectly why that is so in your post.
I would also concur that your experience and mine are similar – I did not become a good learner until after school. The list of things I’ve taught myself outside of any traditional classroom is very long and very diverse. I was not a good student in high school – I did not want to play the game for many reasons, but mostly because I felt like it was all pointless. It had nothing to do with intelligence. I thrived in college and graduate school because I was expected to THINK and use LOGIC in ways that I was never asked to in high school. I found it a challenge, and that is what drove me to do well.
This makes me think that we don’t look to the past enough when it comes to some skills people need to be good learners. There is nothing wrong with some memorization of facts or repetitive exposure to certain techniques or rules of math or grammar in order to get them instilled in the mind of a child. There is also a need to teach students from a very young age (5th or 6th grade) the skills of logic and reasoning, and how to question the information they are receiving and make arguments based on it. This is not too young an age to start with the fundamentals of logic, yet too often we relegate it to some esoteric subject fit only for advanced HS seniors or college philosophy majors.
By looking too much to the “future” we sometimes forget that there are roots of knowledge that are not dead.
Gary Stager says
Are you familiar with the research of Dr. Constance Kamii?
Her research has demonstrably proven that teaching kids to memorize arithmetic algorithms and facts does indeed harm their understanding of the very concepts you think you are teaching.
I would say that there is “something wrong” with that.
Oh, and how about the kid who is forever turned off to the domain because you decided to teach them in a specific fashion? Piaget teaches us that a child learns when she corrects herself from the inside, rather than being corrected from the outside. A teacher needs to create a context in which students correct their own thinking in a safe, supportive, challenging, meaningful environment.
Carolyn Foote says
I just want to say–I love threaded posts 🙂
I’ve written and then deleted only to rewrite my post about five times. It’s getting late, this is all I have time for.
Stop. Stop believing in some magically perfect teacher out there who is going to help your child become a genius. Additionally, stop believing that a teacher who’s trapped in the 20th century is going to ruin him or her.
Start. Start helping your child understand that they are the only person who truely has a stake in their learning. Teachers do their thing at school, and parents do their thing at home reinforcing and supplementing at home. Your child’s life is going to be full of less than ideal people and situations, and their education shouldn’t be any different.
Never. Never allow your child you opt-out of assignments and tests. Either knowingly or unknowingly you are reinforcing the idea that their teacher is stupid. Problem with the type of assignments or homework given? Talk to the teacher behind the scenes. If you undermind the teacher and their methods, why send your child there?
Remember. Remember that this is your child and not a science experiment. I keep hearing the urgency to “prepare your children for the world tomorrow”. While a great concept, it’s deeply flawed by the assumption that parents and educators have a full grasp on what the future holds. This is foolish and short-sighted. What you really want is for them to learn adaptation, responsibility, and how to learn on their own.
Blah blah blah … teach a man to fish…. Good discussion. Good night.
^ This ^
Sue K says
Wow . . . what a conversation! I have not a chance to fully digest it all, but here are my initial thoughts: I am an administrator in a public middle school. Several of my teachers and others in the district are working hard to challenge the traditional, 20th-century, or whatever you want to term it – model of education. We have to do this within the current structure of K – 12 public education with state and federally imposed ‘accountability’ measures and mandatory curricula standards. We do not use those as an excuse to not move forward.
However, I WISH we had parents coming in and demanding change; I WISH we had parents who understood and believed in a very different model of schooling and learning. Sadly, we have much more pressure from parents to maintain the STATUS QUO. Many of our parents want to see weekly spelling tests, book reports, multiple-choice, fill in the blank type teaching and testing. When we talk about real learning and developing life-long learners, student inquiry, self-reflective learners – we are often met with resistance and anger that is shared openly by the parents with their children and their neighbors.
Many of our involved, vocal parents are much more interested in GPAs and Honor Rolls than in exploring what their children are learning. Sadly, the only conversations I have had with disgruntled parents in the last several weeks have been about why their children did not get placed in the accelerated math class. The main gist of the conversations were that their children would do better being with “the more motivated and academically serious students” (and that is a direct quote). (NOTE: I would be perfectly fine with ANY child being in an ‘accelerated’ math class, with children choosing their math class, or with having NO leveled math classes – all of which would lead to my being run out of the district by teachers and parents alike at this point – not an option I have not been considering).
Although I realize those of us within public education have the power to make change and could probably do more, it is important to keep in mind that for as many of the “more enlightened” people who support changes in our K – 12 education system, there just as many – if not more – fighting just as hard to keep things just the way they are.
I agree with Gary Stager about vouchers not offering any solutions to this dilemma. My biggest personal and professional struggle is figuring out what will and how do we separate the issues of “quality education” for K – 12 students from the economic and social-political issues!
Sue K says
Another challenge we face to add to the current “realities” – we continue to get recommendations from doctors (psychiatrists and medical) who identify students with disabilities requiring accommodations. Always on the list: Eliminate essays or open-ended responses and replace with fill in the blank and short-answer, or true/false questions; eliminate projects requiring research; eliminate complex, mulit-step assessments. Although we need to do MUCH more to understand the strengths and challenges students with different abilities bring to school, the bulk of THESE kids are ones whose parents sought assistance because their child was not making straight A’s or were seeming to fall behind their peers in comparison. Our elementary school does not give students grades – something that drives many of our parents crazy!! They are thrilled to finally get to middle school so they can monitor and compare; they are often dismayed to find that our grading is also NOT what they were expecting, as we only assign “real” grades to more summative types of assessment and give marks that do not “count” so kids and parents can see how each child is progressing in their understanding of the content. They also are extremely disgruntled when they find that we do not ‘reward’ students who learn the fastest by giving them a higher grade.
Carolyn Foote says
I’m sure as an administrator it is a challenge “re-educating” parents, especially when they want things to be how they were when they were taught, and with the environment of “rigor” we find ourselves in.
I think the more we share with parents our philosophy and passion about schooling, the more they will “see”–sometimes we expect them to understand school, and they don’t at all. The more we communicate with parents about our expectations, how our school works, and share resources with them, the more they eel like partners and are undestanding.
I do also want to say that I believe, however, that for many students, those challenges you refer to are real ones, and each parent is trying to do what is best for their child. Some parents do game the system and that is unfortunate.
Carolyn Foote says
This blog post (a response to this whole discussion) provides some excellent guidance for what schools could do.
Sue K says
I do agree, Carolyn, wholeheartedly, that many children have real challenges and many parents are trying to do what is best for their own child. I also believe we must make the development of home-school partnerships and shared commitments a priority in our education system. There are many barriers to that right now for some schools – size, structure, community cultures, competing priorities – but I think the most significant challenge is the lack of a genuine, well-articulated, and widely accepted agreement regarding the purpose and mission of a school system that is used as the standard/touchstone for EVERY decision that is made.
Gary Stager says
Is this story related to the current discussion?
Brendan Murpy says
I’m late to the conversation as usual.
During registration my school mentioned that students were put in classes and recommendations wouldn’t be taken unless the parent had a good reason. So I wrote, “We prefer morning kindergarten because we get up early and if there is a teacher who is more constructivist than that is the teacher I would prefer.” Now I don’t know if she is the most constructivist teacher, but she is not too bad.
Allanah King says
I gave up on fill in the gaps homework years ago and now follow the approach outlined here.
Ian Lillico promotes the homework grid where children, teachers and parents negotiate a variety of tasks that supports a balanced approach with exercise, fun, schooly learning, helping around the home and relaxing all being part of the homework experience.
I now feel embarrassed that I ever set children ‘fill in the gaps’ worksheets for homework. I supposed we are all on a learning journey.
Katie Hellerman says
This blog post has inspired quite a conversation over the past few days between my husband and I. What follows is our collaborative response… titled: The Crowd Sourced Classroom:
David Gohrband says
1. When was the last time Dr. Alec Couros taught 1’st grade in a public school?
2. Did he ask why the desks were in rows? If not, he becomes part of the problem not the solution. Another upset parent who does not have all their information. I am now nervous about tomorrow night!!
Alec Couros says
1) Never. I was a middle years and highschool teacher. However, I have interns every year and spend a lot of time in Grade 1 classrooms. I had a Grade 1 intern last year who was one of the best teachers I have ever seen, of any grade-level. I am lucky, as a parent and as a professional, that I am exposed to the very best and worst of teaching practice. This certainly is not the same as teaching first grade, however it does provide some insight.
2) Yes, actually. Your point is well taken that parents should be proactive and ‘have all of the information’, and this is why I chose to act in a positive manner, to work with the teacher to become an advocate for my child. Ironically, your tone seems accusatory, and perhaps wouldn’t be had you inquired for more information yourself.
As for your nervousness, a post like this shouldn’t make you nervous. It is not like Will or I are the first parents to ever look with skepticism or critique at a child’s classroom. Be mindful and critical of your practice, be supportive of parents’ inquiries and concerns, and be open to discussion and adaptation – do these things and there is little reason to be concerned.
David Gohrband says
Thank you for responding to my questions and points. I should not have responded so quickly out of frustration or without asking you for clarification. However, I did not see any Twitter posts where you mentioned that you actually spoke with the teacher. I saw that you were planning on doing that but you chose to vent before speaking to her as I did to you. It is possible I missed your posts where you mentioned that and I am sorry if I did.
Honestly, I did not think you would respond but am glad you did. When you said “Be mindful and critical of your practice, be supportive of parentsâ€™ inquiries and concerns, and be open to discussion and adaptation – do these things and there is little reason to be concerned” we found common ground. I just wish more parents and educators would have more dialog about what and why things happen. This is my eleventh year and I may have had 5 good questions over the years at BTSN. I even encourage them to email questions or helpful links for my class. Again, I don’t get many responses. Anyway, thanks again for responding and I am sure we will speak again in the future. Take care.