Friday, June 6, 2014

3 Things Parents Wish Teachers Knew: We Can Handle the Truth

After I wrote “5 Things Teachers Wish Parents Knew,” parents started filling my inbox with the things they wish teachers knew — and why not? The ideal parent-teacher conference is an opportunity to give and take, a time and place for both teachers and parents to share their observations. Here’s what the parents who got in touch wish their children’s teachers knew:

1. Tell us the truth. This suggestion was, by far, the most popular I received. One mother wrote in an email: “Teachers try to be kind and polite when speaking with parents, but while this may serve social convention, it is a disservice to our kids. Teachers have a unique vantage point on our kids, and they serve families best when they do not sugarcoat their message. Give me the good, bad and the ugly and then let me, as an adult and a parent, decide what to do with the information.”

As a teacher, I was surprised by the ubiquity of this plea. It goes against most teachers’ understanding of how to deliver bad news. I, and many other educators, have been trained to offer “criticism sandwiches,” a parent-teacher conference staple defined by a slice of meaty and important criticism layered between two fluffy – if heartfelt and true – compliments meant to blunt the sharp taste of the criticism. But if parents really do want teachers to deliver the meaty good, bad and ugly straight up, make that preference clear. Let them know you can take it. I think you will find that once you convince teachers that you can handle the truth, they will be relieved and appreciative that you asked for it.

2. Understand the real-life costs of homework. Teachers seem to forget that time spent on homework is not as simple as they may assume. If parents get home at 6 with their kids, and homework requires a half-hour of whining, hand-holding, cajoling and general disruption to the family peace, that seemingly quick and easy 20 minutes of homework in a third-grader’s folder or an hour in a seventh-grader’s backpack robs the entire family of time together, dinner in a relaxed setting and a calm bedtime.

One mother told me that the best evening her family had had together in the past year was the night sports practice ran late and schedules got tangled, and it became clear that the family would have to eat out and forgo homework that night. The mother explained that she had forgotten what it was like to just spent time talking with her children over dinner, and wished that the sort of homework-free peace they experienced that night could happen more often. Another mother explained: “Home is a valuable place/time for self-directed and unstructured learning. I believe that teachers and parents need to be partners in supporting unstructured, freewheeling, (screen-free!) discovery time.”

3. Keep the big picture in mind. Remember that your class is not the only class students are taking. When a mother asked me to include this point, I admitted that I had violated this rule often. I assigned homework that seemed perfectly reasonable for my English or Latin class, but I often neglected to tally up the accumulated math, science, French, history and other electives.

While a 2014 report from the Brookings Institution shows that only 5 percent to 13 percent of American students say they have more than two hours of homework a night, teacher coordination does not seem an unreasonable request. One parent’s message pleaded, “get together with ALL of my kid’s teachers to do the homework and sleep math, recognizing that my kid also needs to do chores, spend time with us as a family and simply unwind.”


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