I don’t usually get too controversial here, because I know once I send something down the interweb tubes, it’s out there forever and ever, but I have to comment on an article in today’s USA Today (a paper I do not read regularly, but the article  to which I will be referring was recommended by my mother who does).
Go ahead. I’ll go get a drink while you read it. It’s pretty short, so no need to hurry on my part. I’m going to add ice and maybe pet the dog in the interim as well.
Ok, so now that you’ve perused it, you can agree or disagree. I welcome your comments, but first I have to add mine.
Aside from the wonderful examples of students the author has taught in the past and their career paths, marriage choices, etc., I think the article makes some very valid points. The first, of course, is that our school boards, our government, and the so-called reformers will not admit that the issue of successful educational strides have very, very little to do with the classroom teacher.
Like Mr. Welsh, I would love to say I had so much power! Imagine the possibilities if all teachers could “reach” every student in every class every day of every year! Like Hillary Swank and Michelle Pfiefer rolled up in one steroid-dipped joint, man! We’d be on fire!
The truth is, I have very little influence in my students’ education. It’s true. I see them a few hours a week and compete with their other classes, their friends, their video games, their sports and after-school activities, and their ever-present cell phones. I am merely the tiniest blip on their radar screens. Elementary teachers have less competition, and probably a little more impact, but guaranteed they’re competing as well. It’s a losing battle for many of us, and we accept that. It’s a bruised ego we must endure when we go home at night sometimes thinking, I just don’t understand why they don’t take my class seriously or why can’t they just do the work? But, we grow to understand this competition is fixed. It was never fair.
That’s where the parents come in, ladies and gentlemen. They are either on our team or the enemy’s. The kids who have parents on our side will ensure their children have the basics they need to succeed in class, but they also provide the teachers with additional arsenal. They give their kids experiences outside their home, neighborhoods, and communities. They take their kids to museums and give them an outlet to express themselves creatively and actively. These parents also understand the importance of being active in their kids’ educational lives. They don’t sit passively by and watch as their kids struggle or succeed. They provide tutors when needed. They look for resources that will help their kids grow and get better.
Now, like Mr. Welsh stated, this type of parenting is not reserved for the privileged. It is not the wealthy or the college-educated parents who are the only ones able to play in this game. No! Any parent can be an advocate for his or her child’s education and show that child why it’s important to learn. They don’t even have to say, “It’s important to read, son.” or “An education is necessary, dear.” No. It’s by deed. Take your son or daughter to a game (little league or pro), to be exposed to sports and outlets for their energy; to an art museum, art show, or art fair (there are free shows/fairs/museums) so you can talk about why the artist chose that color or subject or to discuss which painting you like best and why; to a nature preserve to talk about insects and plants and the environment and biology; to the grocery store to show consumerism and advertising and nutrition; to a play to see something performed live instead of edited for television; on a road trip across the state to learn about history and culture outside their neighborhood. These activities (among so many others) help acculturate our youth. They give the school a fighting chance, too.
Besides giving children experiences, we need to teach them how to live in a civilized society. Working in a semi-suburban school (some of our kids are downright urban, aight?), teachers at my school see every day the effects of parents neglecting that seemingly simple task. It seems so brainless on our part, too. Like, why wouldn’t you teach your kid manners? But, we all too often try our best to teach students that it is NOT OK to talk when the teacher is instructing, that it is socially unacceptable to interrupt someone with your voice or your actions while they have the floor, that it is not fine to yell or cuss in the middle of class, that it is not alright to answer a cell phone any time they want no matter what’s going on around them. I’m sorry to say this, but it isn’t just our “urban” kids who are guilty of not knowing the rules of middle-class society. Many of our suburban kids do not understand these rules either. It’s not a matter of how much money mom or dad pull in, it’s a matter of what they’ve been taught at home through direct instruction or modeled behavior.
Parents of my generation, I’m sad to say, have not made a good show of it. Many of Gen-X’s leaders have befriended their kids instead of taking the tougher job of parenting them. They’ve taken their kids to get tattoos and piercings at the same time they’re getting them. I’m thinking now of a little gal I coached this year whose mother had a “tattoo party” at her house and encouraged her 15 year-old to get a giant butterfly on the back of her shoulder, even though she would have to cover it every time she wore her cheerleading uniform. Does this make the mother a bad parent? NO!!! Not at all. But through her actions, she has opened the floodgates for accepting and encouraging certain behaviors. What is wrong with limits when kids are young? No, daughter, I am getting a tattoo today, but because you’re young and not fully developed physically, emotionally, or psychologically, you need to wait until you’re a few years older to get one, too, because who knows? You might not want to be permanently marked when you’re a little older. What’s difficult about that? Oh! A whiny, pouty, “I hate you” response from a fifteen year-old? Darn.
I digress. Parents are the first teachers. We’ve heard that expression again and again. What we teach our own kids in word AND (especially) in deed has much more of an impact than any schoolteacher will have. If we teach them that education is important, they will more likely think so, too, even if they complain about their homework and snarl or slam the door when we make them turn off the electronic devices in order to (gasp!) study.
And let’s not kid ourselves, OK? If our teachers had that much influence on us, I’d be a mother of eight kids with the same initials (Mr. Bauer) who travels to Greece every break to see my stud of a boyfriend (Ms. Johnson), drinks heavily on and off the clock (protecting that teacher’s name), and wears crazy knee-high socks with every outfit (Mrs. Grant). I will say this, however, about my awesome teachers: their influences ARE present when I teach my own students. Their influences are felt every time I write (thank you Mr. Bauer, Mrs. Estes, Mrs. Camp, Ms. Johnson) and read (thank you, Mrs. Huntress, Mrs. Denney, Mrs. Davis). I think my teachers in all the schools I ever attended, in all three districts, were tops!
But the best educators I had, those that taught me to be somebody, to take my education seriously, to persevere when I wanted to give up, that school wasn’t social time but my job, were my parents and my older sister. Shout out! If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be able to sit through a graduation ceremony every single year or an in-service meeting every quarter, bored to tears, but still able to listen attentively to the speaker instead of reading a magazine, talking to my neighbors or texting. I wouldn’t work hard for my accomplishments rather than expect them to be handed to me. I wouldn’t enjoy reading the paper or watching the news. I wouldn’t be able to be curious about the world around me. Wouldn’t that be sad?
So, parents, it’s up to us, not to our kids’ teachers and their schools, to ensure our kids get a good “education” before they, too, become parents. Their teachers are facilitators for their learning. The foundations for that education are built at home. When we send our children to school, whether it’s to Mrs. Penny’s Preschool or the University of I’m Gonna Be Filthy Rich Someday, we have to ensure they are ready to learn, are able to learn, and are willing to learn. Hell, it might even be nice if we teach them to enjoy it, too (but that’s probably a little much, huh?).