I received my first teaching job right out of college. I have been fortunate enough to have had teaching experiences with students who come from all different places on the socio-economic scale. I have had many interactions with the parents of my students, both positive and negative and when my daughter was born, I began thinking more heavily about education from the parental view, as well as the teacher side.
If you happen to be the parent of a child in the public school system, or even someone who doesn’t live under a rock, then you are aware of the current trend of attacks on teachers and teachers’ unions for being greedy, lazy and ineffective, how our schools are failing, and how everyone should put their kids in private or charter schools. There are, however, many aspects of the teacher side that are not told because of either fear of professional reprisal, or because parents simply don’t want to hear them.
Without further ado, I bring you some of the things that the teachers of your children will not tell you at the parent-teacher conferences:
1) Your child is one of 30 in my class, one of 180 on my roster
We care about your child. We want them to be the best that they can be. At the same time, your child is not more important than the other 179 students that we have. This fact is sad, but true. As a parent, I never want to hear this about my child. Of course my kid is more important. And they are! But I only have two children. Your son or daughter’s English teacher has 180.
Since I am a math teacher, I will break down the numbers for you. A typical class period has 45 minutes in it. In a class of 30 students, in order to be fair, I can only spend 1.5 minutes on each student. If your child is not completing their assignments, they are demonstrating that they don’t care about what’s happening in my class and I am more likely to spend my time on a student who does.
This doesn’t mean that they need spend hours studying and memorizing texts. What it does mean is that when a student comes into my class, I expect that they have completed, or at least put a serious attempt into, whatever I assignment I have given. I don’t give homework as punishment. I give it to reinforce the concepts covered in class. I expect my students to bring materials to class, including pencils and notebooks (this is a constant struggle this year).
If they have attempted their homework, they are prepared with useful questions, like “I’m confused on where we get the numbers for the formula” rather than “I don’t get it.” They are demonstrating that they take their education seriously. This tells me that any extra time I spend on their questions and concerns will be valuable to them.
2) Put your child in the hardest class they can handle
There is often the parental debate about whether or not to put the kid into the harder class. It usually goes like this: “I want them to get a good education, but I don’t want them to fail. If they do poorly in Math/English/Science, they will hate the subject and their confidence will be shattered.”
There is a valid argument to be made here, but the pros of being in the harder class outweigh the cons.
First, grades are not all that matter. Colleges would rather see that a student earned a C in an honors course than an A in a remedial course.
Second, in those harder classes, you child will be surrounded by students who may not be smarter than other students, but will have a higher work ethic and more motivation to do well. This will rub off! Conversely, students in the remedial classes may have been told that they are in those classes because they are lazy and dumb and, as a result, their work ethic reflects this. You will never hear a kid in the honors course say “I hate math.” You want your kid to be surrounded by kids who want to do well, for whatever reason.
Third, getting an “A” in a class for just showing up does damage to your kid. They grow to think that they do not have to work for what they get (cue post about how to ruin your kid by giving them everything they want). Working their butts off for an A or a B does wonders for their confidence and shows them that they can do something great if they set their minds to it. If you child is genuinely working hard and earning a “D”, then the class is actually too hard for them. Other than that, it’s not.
Fourth, they can do the work. Kids are incredible. They are smart and creative and wonderful. If you set high expectations for them, they will rise to the occasion and do amazing things.
3) School is not just for students
Education is a group effort, and school is not daycare. The most successful students in my educational experience are the ones whose parents are involved. I don’t mean that you should be a helicopter parent because that is too much in the other direction. Set aside time at home to work with your children on their schoolwork. Ask them about their days and impress on them the importance of trying their hardest, and the importance of school in general. If you see your child struggling with the homework, encourage them to ask for help. There is nothing wrong with needing a little bit of assistance. If you see your child struggling, contact the teacher. We are here to help them succeed and we want them to. If you haven’t heard from us, see point number 1. Teachers, like everyone else, have limited time. We call parents when there is a major problem because we simply don’t have the time to call everyone.
4) We are not trying to “get” your kid
We are trying to teach your child to do their best, to achieve their maximum potential. We are trying to prepare them for life after school. Putting them in the easiest class, allowing them to turn in an assignment 6 weeks late, or allowing them to roam the halls when they should be in class on time does them a disservice and shows them false realities of being in the workforce. Particularly in the high school, I try to impress upon my students the need to examine their behavior and actions from the view of prospective employers. I ask them to put themselves in the shoes of a future boss and ask them how they would react if an employee of theirs was late to, and unprepared for work. What would they do if an employee did not complete the tasks set before them?
Teenagers often have difficulty setting long term goals and a major role of teachers and parents is to not only help them do so, but also show them how to reach those goals.
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We don’t expect your child to be perfect because, above all, they are children. At some point, however, they will be adults and we are doing our level best to make sure that they are capable, smart and functional adults. We want them to be successful just as much as you do. I promise.