Saturday, May 14, 2011

The parent is not always right

Yesterday a colleague told me he's been researching administrative techniques that revolve around the idea that parents are customers, that they're always right and that we (teachers and administrators) need to do everything we can to make them feel good and happy about all in the world. Okay, so maybe the last part might have included a bit of hyperbole, but seriously, this approach is, in one word: destructive.

I understand how important it is to do everything we can do to help set a student up for success, but my experience has been that this philosophy translates into an excuse to not address the true issues that parents bring to the table.  I am also a parent of a second grader and a soon-to-be kindergartner and let me tell you, I've been told "no" by the administration at  his school many times.

My son had a terrible kindergarten year, so bad in fact that I went in demanding he be moved out of that teacher's class because she had told my son that he made her not want to come to work everyday. Highly unprofessional, yes, but the principal explained she'd personally address the situation and keep an eye on things, that moving kids was the last resort because there are so many life lessons to be learned and running away from them hurts all involved that early in the game.

I was still upset, but I understood where she was coming from, and as an educator I appreciated the fact that she was supporting her teacher, and the parent while actively seeking out a solution.  What she was doing made sense and while my son had to be moved because the teacher's negative behaviors continued (and they were bad), we left knowing we did all we could. More importantly, though, a paper trail following that teacher was started because of her refusal to learn from her mistakes, (which ties into my last post).  Was I upset that we had such an emotional mess to clean up with my son? Oh my gosh, you have no idea!  But, did we all learn and grow from the situation? For sure.

The principal and I didn't always see eye to eye, but I truly respected and continue to respect her administrative style. Because of her, my son had an incredible first grade teacher and continues to excel in second grade. So that brings me back to looking at the parents as "clients" and the primary goal of "making them happy." None of what I just explained would have been as successful if I (the parent in this case) would have been allowed to call the shots, which is precisely why we have to deal with the issues the parents bring in (i.e. excessive absences, apathy, poverty, whatever) and be active with finding solutions that may be difficult, but necessary. Regardless of how hard the conversation might have to be, it has to be done.

Taking the easy way out by just "making them happy" will perpetuate an environment in which parents continue to have very little accountability because it's easier to just go with the flow, while teachers continue to bear the brunt of society's woes.  Parents are not the experts when it comes to education, we are. And because of that, we can help them in so many ways.  Keeping that information to ourselves just further cripples everyone involved and creates more helicopter parents who scream instead of communicate.

Do teachers make mistakes? Hell yeah!  Do parents have a hard time taking off their parenting hat and seeing the truth for what it really is, and do they make mistakes? You bettchya.  Do administrators need to value their teachers as much as the parents and do they make mistakes? Holy cow, do I even need to answer that?  So what does it all mean? If we are truly going to start turning this terrible educational environment around and rethink the educational system as it stands then we have to work as a team, listen to each other's voices and stop looking at schools as corporations, because our commodity is way too fragile and our purpose is not a capitalistic one.

As a parent and a teacher I have been forced to walk on both sides of the path and I only wish everyone could have the fortune (or misfortune) of living out both sides of this conundrum.  It's no longer a matter of No Child Left Behind as we know it; it's becoming a matter of No Common sense Left Behind.  Life is not about taking the easy path because it's often too narrow and too short-sighted, leading nowhere; it's about finding a path big enough for everyone to walk down that leads to change.

Tell me what you think!