I recently connected with a new friend via about.me. He’s the parent of a first grader and asked me some great questions regarding the parent’s role in education. I’m going to preface this with the fact that his son lives in an affluent area and attends school in that district, which gives us a bit of background. My friend writes, “Parents. I think we are all part of our children’s education. But how much is enough and how much is too much? When I see [my son] after school and ask him what he did, he always says “not much” or “I can’t remember”. He is just about to turn 7 and is entering 1st Grade. But then we start to read and he is reading everything with comprehension and speed. [We] love doing hard math problems together. So he/we are learning a lot together. But how much should I be involved with his school? His teacher, who I adore, sent a weekly update to the parents. It was helpful and very considerate of her. But all good parents would love to hear from you, a pro, about what we can do to not be jerk helicopter “he has to go to an Ivy” parents yet still be there, helping and encouraging.”
I strongly believe in the research that supports a direct correlation between parent involvement and student success in school. As a classroom teacher, I always encouraged parents to get involved in numerous ways: reading the weekly newsletter (I think that’s important, too), volunteering in the classroom, chaperoning field trips, working on homework with their child, reading together at home, attending special events at the school with their child, and communicating openly with me as the teacher. I always gave my home phone number, school number, and school email address. I often had parents email me throughout the day, and I appreciated their concern, questions, and/or reminders. All of this to say that I never had a parent who was too involved. I know they exist. I even had a colleague who creatively put that parent to work volunteering her time in the school library instead of in the classroom.
While it is every parent’s responsibility to be informed of what their child is learning, we know that isn’t the case in every household. Some parents just don’t care. These are the kids that teachers need to love on all the more. Then, as in my own case, there are kids who come from a house where both parents are working. And, of course, even more difficult are the situations where a child is being raised by a working, single parent. The latter two examples may have parents who care, and who try to stay informed, but just can’t get involved at a deeper level due to their own work responsibilities and those of running a house. The number one most important way for a parent to be involved in the child’s education is to talk to them, read with them, talk though math problems together. (My new friend is getting lots of bonus points, because he already does all of this). If the child knows you care, he/she will work that much harder. And, wow, if the parents and the teachers show the child that he/she is cared about there is no telling what they can accomplish.
In this age of teacher accountability, we need to make sure we don’t discount the parent’s role in the education of their child. Teachers have between 20-30 students in their classrooms (unfortunately, sometimes more), and almost that many different ability levels. They have to teach each child in a way that he learns best, make sure he shows significant growth over a nine-month period, make sure he masters the standards, and develops a love for learning all at the same time. Parents have their children in smaller settings, know their child’s strengths and weaknesses, and can support the learning at home in real world application.
Bottom line: it’s a partnership.