Editors note: Centre County Teacher-Writers is a group of teachers who gather to write about life in the classroom and the issues that concern them as educators. The group includes pre-K-12 teachers and teacher educators from the Centre Region who support each other as writers. Columns by members of this group run on the Views page on a Wednesday each month.
Not long ago, a cynical cartoon about the relationship between teachers and parents appeared in my Facebook feed. In a panel labeled 1975 is an illustration of a teacher and a parent, both behind a desk, holding up a paper with a cowering student on the other side. The caption reads, What about these grades?
The second panel shows a parent and a student in front of a desk holding up a paper while a teacher cowers behind the desk. This caption also reads, What about these grades? The label is 2012.
This cartoon is not consistent with my experience. By and large, the parents I have partnered with in my seven years as an English teacher at the State College Area High School have been supportive and encouraging.
A notion in the cartoon is that parents are ever-present in the classroom; I actually dont have as much interaction with parents overall as I thought I would and would like.
When I look back on my years in preparation to become a teacher, one thing I learned has resonated above all else: Parental involvement is the No. 1 predictor of student success. I have also come to learn that all parents, no matter what their own education was like, want their children to succeed in school.
So year after year, when a befuddled parent tells me they dont know what to do with their struggling student, I suggest the same thing: Get involved.
Its much easier to be involved when our children are young, but things become murky as children begin to navigate the waters of secondary school. Classroom volunteering opportunities are few and far between, and without parent- teacher conferences, parents dont find as many organic opportunities to speak with teachers.
So, as we begin the school year, I would like to offer some ideas to secondary parents about how to help your child succeed.
Take advantage of online access to course materials and class calendars. Familiarize yourself with teachers web-sites and bookmark them there is invaluable, real-time information to be found there, such as class resources, up-to-date grades and homework assignments.
Talk to your children about what theyre studying. With access to the teachers calendars, youll know what topics are being covered in each class. Over dinner, in the car, when youre raking leaves ... ask them to explain math equations or tell them how much you loved (or didnt love!) the book theyre reading in English when you were in high school. Encouraging young people to talk through what they are learning can help them reinforce their understandings.
Help them make a plan to get their homework done. Learning how to schedule life to fit everything in doesnt just happen those are skills that need to be taught. Set aside time each night for them to work on their homework and make yourself accessible to troubleshoot problems that might arise. Help them create a calendar whether its on their phone, a day planner, or a whiteboard by the kitchen table that they get into the habit of accessing every day.
Attend back-to-school night, athletic or musical events and even school board meetings.
Becoming a vested member of the community where your children spends so much of their days will help them see how much you value their education.
Reach out to your childs teachers. Ask questions. If you have a concern, send an email asking to schedule a meeting over the phone or in person.
As a parent of two school-age children, I understand that the time investment to take this on can be prohibitive, but the payoff is huge. This is a critical time in the lives of our young people; the habits of work and the value for education we have the chance to instill during these years are critical to future success. Students, teachers and parents are a team.
That cartoon from my Facebook page has it all wrong. We need to work together, on the same side of the desk.
Jennifer Rand teaches 10th-grade English at State College Area High School.