Why on earth would I have any right to write this kind of article? Well…two reasons. One, I’m a parent of two children in public school. Two, I’m a former Special Education and Spanish teacher. I taught in public education for seven years before leaving to pursue my writing career and doctoral degree in Special Education full-time. So I know both sides. And I’ll be the first to tell you neither side is easy. But there are a few things parents need to understand about public education that you can’t really know unless you’ve been on the inside.
Many times, I have had friends seek my advice about what to do in three different situations. I’ll use “he” because I have two boys so I’m used to it. Situation #1: “My child is so smart that he is absolutely bored in class and behaves badly because of catching on so quickly. He is then bored waiting for other students to be done with assignments or instructions. He’s not getting the individualized attention he deserves.” Situation #2: “My child is doing well. But he is just that. He isn’t being challenged. He’s not getting the individualized attention he deserves.” Situation #3: “My child is struggling. Teachers are concerned about his progress and tell me he needs more help. He’s not getting the individualized attention he deserves.”
Have you found the pattern? No matter what your situation with your child, he is not getting the individualized attention he deserves. And you’re right, parents. With that, I will not argue. But there is another side and a definite reason…and you have to stop putting all the blame on the teachers.
Yes there are good teachers and there are bad teachers, just like any part of life. But I will tell you that I have never met a teacher who went into education for the money or the easy daily life. So let’s put this into perspective.
Think about 20 people you work with…any 20. Your task for the day is to teach these people HTML coding. Tomorrow, your students will have a quiz. I’m assuming you are already laughing. You likely have a few people in your mind who refuse to upgrade to a Smartphone because it’s too confusing. One, like my mother, just learned how to use Google without holding down buttons on the computer so hard that she ends up breaking the keyboard or screen. Then you have a couple of people who already understand HTML code, or perhaps could teach it to you better than you can teach it to everyone else. You also may have some in your group whom are willing to try. But wait…one of them is hearing impaired so you will have to come up with accommodations for her. Then the other has a vision impairment and needs all materials enlarged 300%. Oh but then there’s the other person who absolutely refuses to listen to a word you say and tells you, “You aren’t my boss and I don’t have to do that.” Did I mention that if any of your students score less than a 75% on this test tomorrow, you will be hauled in the office to be questioned and possibly put on probation for ineffective instruction? You also have absolutely no way of having another human being come in to help you teach this HTML code to so many different learning levels. So how is your day going? Are you relaxed?
I realize this may be harsh, but it is the reality of every teacher, every day. So I created this list to make life easier on everyone…especially students.
#1: Teachers and parents HAVE to be on the same side.
Not one child has ever benefited from a parent telling him that he is always perfect and the teacher is always wrong. Work together. You both want the same thing…what is best for the child. So find a common ground. As a parent, I get that hearing your kid is not perfect is a hard pill to swallow, but it’s also true. Kids have to learn respect or they will never be able to show it. They also have to learn how to stand up for themselves and be advocates. No, teachers are not always right either. So figure out a way to get along and do what is best for the kids.
#2: “Your child needs more help,” actually means, “I am trying my hardest every single day to help your child learn, but he needs more help than I can give. I have no other resources, so please help me help him.”
No, this does not mean you immediately have to jump in to testing for special education services. It means you have to do your part as a parent and find tutoring to help with specific areas of concern or find a doctor to help with other areas like possible eye or hearing difficulties or other medical aspects that make learning that much harder for kids.
#3: Inclusion in public education is the worst thing that ever happened to students.
Now before you have me arrested or stoned to death, hear me out. The idea behind inclusion is fabulous; all students, no matter what learning style or disability, are provided equal access to the same curriculum as every other student. But and this is a big but (no pun intended) there is a HUGE gap between research and practice. The way inclusion is supposed to be is hardly even a faint possibility because of the enormous pressures put on schools and teachers by government-run public education standards for performance. What has actually resulted from inclusion is this:
1) students with disabilities are thrown into classes that are too difficult without proper accommodations,
2) high ability learners are not challenged enough because teachers have limited resources and education about how to provide proper accommodations to the students with disabilities or higher learning needs; because of this, teachers have to spend much time adjusting curriculum to suit the higher needs of students and therefore have no time to challenge others,
3) students simply needing more time to process information or whom are average learners are overlooked and often fall through the cracks,
4) Social/emotional/behavioral needs become massive because the individualized needs of students are unable to be met due to an enormous amount of pressure and required additional school commitments, and
5) students whom are very interested in a certain job or possible career are not being trained to be amazing at something they love; rather, they are forced to take the exact same classes as every other student and told that they need to better fit a pre-defined mold of what “success” truly is.
(Side note…here’s my definition of success in future careers for my students. “Success is the feeling of being fulfilled, needed, respected, and happy in the career choices one makes for his or her future.”)
#4: Teacher decisions and actions are typically driven by nothing more than what they are told to do or not to do.
There is literally no freedom in teaching anymore. Curriculum is driven by tests. Time is driven by government-enforced school, administrator, and teacher commitments. Don’t like the new curriculum or how it’s being taught? You’re going to have to go a heck of a lot higher than teachers, principals, or even superintendents. That shiny new curriculum is in response to the latest research on education and is being handed down by shiny new state and federal regulations.
#5: If you want change, awesome. So do teachers. So work together.
Working for change in education doesn’t have to be “us” versus “them.” In fact, you want change? You need to learn how to work together to make it happen. You want what is best for kids. So do teachers. But you know what, there is only so much teachers can do or say without getting in trouble. So step up.
It’s time for parents and teachers to learn we are all on the same side.
Learn more about the author and purchase her first published work, “Never Alone: A Husband and Wife’s Journey with Depression and Faith” at www.jeremyandbailey.com. You can also follow her blog at www.jeremyandbailey.wordpress.com.