Aug 18, 2013
I was guilty of a lot of things in the late 80s & early 90s. Shoulder pads, puffy-painted shirts, homemade scrunchies, jelly shoes, and an impressive collection of New Kids on the Block memorabilia, to name a few. But perhaps one of my and my brother’s biggest offenses of the early 90s was running home from the bus stop (up hill, both ways) to erase any teacher messages from our answering machine or snatch any progress report or report card out of the mailbox before our parents got home. Why this mad dash, might 21st century parents ask? Because WE. WERE. SCARED. TO. DEATH. Getting in trouble at school meant getting in trouble at home.
Fast-forward 20 years, and I am a (more stylish) elementary school teacher. I’m the one disciplining students, calling (cell) phones, and writing the report card comments. And now, parents are running up hills back to the schools to get the TEACHERS in trouble. I was even accused of BULLYING a student this year, because I didn’t call on him while his hand was up through the entirety of someone’s presentation. What gives? Why does it feel as though parents & teachers are no longer playing for the same team?
Initially, I had come up with a few theories on this; then, quickly realized that I’m really only one piece of the equation—teacher—and that I best reserve some of my opinions until I’ve actually experienced being a parent. Here’s some things that I DO know:
Family-School Partnerships are an integral part of a child’s success as a student. An article published by the National Association of School Psychologists states that a “strong family-school partnership will improve both academic and behavioral outcomes for children… Furthermore, these children complete more homework, and are more likely to enroll in post-secondary education…other benefits include higher attendance rates, and self-esteem…” Regardless of personal experiences with specific teachers, I believe this is the one point on which both parents and teachers can agree.
The role of teachers has changed over the years. As I was researching, I came across this PBS website which has a nice “teacher timeline” which summarizes this exact point. From Common Schools, to the Feminization Era, to segregation, to unions, and now to standardized testing, teacher’s are pulled in more directions than ever before. The modern-day fix? Technology—it’s quick, it’s easy. The modern-day drawback? It’s impersonal. As a result, the parent-teacher relationship can become fragile.
21st century families look and feel different. (Even in comparison to my school days of the 80s and 90s) Couples are satisfied not marrying; Couples are waiting until they’re older to get married and start families; there’s an increase in same-sex couples with children; there’s an undeniable increase in the workforce participation rates amongst families with school-aged children. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics has tons of data on this. In its April 26th release, “Employment Characteristics of Families-2012,” it’s stated that “among the 34.6 million families with children (under the age 18) 87.8 had at least one parent working. 67.1% of single mothers work, and 81.6 % of single fathers are working. Are we, as American’s trying to “do it all?” Perhaps, “have our cake, and eat it to?” Is this taking away from the parent-child relationship? In turn, setting a different precedent for the student-teacher relationship?
And lastly, the invention of social media. Social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, have given traditional media outlets a ton of “teacher prey.” What used to be private is now very, very public. And, unfortunately the media loves the negative stuff. Please check out the article “Social Media Nightmares—CyberSpeak no Evil” on the National Education Association’s Website. One could go on and on about how damaging Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts could be to any professional’s career, but this illustrates how teachers are held to a different standard. My favorite section of the article is entitled ‘First Amendment 101,’ where it’s quite clear that “teacher free speech rights are fairly limited: their speech is protected only if they speak out as citizens on “matters of public concern” and their speech doesn’t disrupt the school.” Could diminishing private lives, and increased media predation be to blame for strained parent-teacher relationships? This is a very real 21st century concern.
I’ve struggled to find an insightful way to conclude this post, but maybe there isn’t one. Or, maybe I would have one if I had a child of my own. The fact remains, that right now both parents and teachers seem to be navigating the unchartered waters of the 21st century in their own ways. So I ask you, parents, teachers, students, caregivers, principals, and guidance counselors—what gives? How can we get parents and teachers on the same team again?