Tuesday, September 08, 2009

A Response to 'Letter to the Teachers of My Children'

Have gotten a lot of responses from folks on this blog and on Twitter as well as in person regarding my 'Letter to the Teachers of My Children' posted last week.

Today an anonymous comment rolled in and I think it's worth taking a good long look at it:
Glad to know you know so much more than your kids' teachers do about what tbey should learn and how they should learn it. Why don't you just save the whole lot of you a bunch of trouble and home school your kids?

Now I have no idea who wrote this, but I do care a lot about what they think. Because I think if one's immediate reaction to a letter from a parent is to fall into an 'us' versus 'them' mentality where we tell parents to go homeschool their kids, then we really aren't getting anywhere in education.

Secondly, I do know more about my boys than their 3rd grade teacher. I do know how one of them clams up when in conversation with strangers and I know how the other obsesses over every little thing. I know what books they've read and what books they've thought were fluff. I know that they hate 'childrens' music' and that they think Disney sucks. I know what they look like when they are happy and I know when they are faking it (and they are good at that).

Their third grade teacher will have known them for two days; I've known them for close to nine years.

Now I have no idea whether the writer of the comment was a teacher. Maybe, maybe not. Hope not. But maybe.

Let's for the sake of discussion say it was.

Well, in that case, rather than getting huffy about somebody stepping on the toes of your profession, you'd sure as heck be better off starting to try to build closer relations with families. Because kids don't learn just because they are in a classroom; and just because the kid isn't in the classroom doesn't mean he's not learning.

I cherish every meeting I've ever had with a parent (even the one where a mother threw books and papers at me); because insight into the world of a parent and insight into the ways a parent sees their child is insight into the world of the child. And it's that child that you as teacher have the honor of spending some time with everyday.

Each kid in your class is an honor.

So don't give me some anonymous junk about "You should just homeschool your kids". I'm a teacher myself, I'm a professional, and I don't have the audacity to pretend that the parents of my kids can't help me to better teach them.


  1. George Lakoff has written about the conflict you've described since the early 1990s. The difference is that he focuses on our national political life. He sees two worldviews facing off - the authoritarian and the nurturing parent. Each looks at the same thing but sees something completely different from the other. If you've read his work, you know that as a nurturer, he offers ways to approach those with the ability to go either way so as to encourage their nurturing possibilities. So, perhaps it can be done, but in practice I see the divide growing deeper and spreading well beyond politics. Your experience here seems to show it in education.

  2. While I wouldn't agree with the person who told you to homeschool your kids, I would have to agree that the tone of your letter was definitely not a friendly or positive way to start a school year. It certainly came off as adversarial as opposed to informational IMHO. I cringed when I realized that you did actually send it to the teachers. Some things are great for sparking discussion on blogs but don't play out so well when directed so specifically at someone like that.

  3. There are many teachers (on the MiddleTalk listserve, sponsored by NMSA) who have been asking parents for an activity called "In a Million Words or Fewer" where the parent is invited to write as much as they like about their child. I did it every year I taught 7th graders and their parents (mostly) loved doing it. We learn so much about how parents see their children, what they hope for them, sometimes what they see as challenges. It's amazing.

    Here is an online article about the assignment:

  4. @Mark,

    Well, I wouldn't ever be accused of sugarcoating it ; )

    But I do stand by everything in that letter and how it was presented: "Hi there, these are my kids, these are my thoughts about education and this is how I came to those conclusions, please talk straight with me because we're both professionals (as well as adults), and be fearless to try out fresh approaches because I'm not one of those parents who's gonna freak out if you try something new."

    No cringing.

    Would you rather a parent say "Have a great year" and then you never hear from them again? Because I've gotten a lot of that over the years.

    I'd say the beginning-of-the-year parent interaction I remember best was with a parent who said to me point-blank: "Don't you dare give up on my kid. I know he is challenging, but I also know him better than however he appears in class or on a test. Figure him out."

    That one didn't get by me. In fact, I did get to know the kid and I got to know the way he learned and I was able to assess him not by the 60s he continually got on quizzes but on the performance assessments that honed in on his people skills. That's where the kid's intelligence was; and if it hadn't been for that "pushy" parent, I likely would have never given the kid a chance.

    That happened in my second year of teaching and I've taken it to heart every September.

    BTW, the kid went on to success in college, and I (hopefully) have gone on to being a better teacher.

    I love pushy parents. And I'll take a parent who's an advocate for their kid and a bit tin-eared to a polite parent who wouldn't know what their kid was doing in school if they were sitting next to them in the classroom everyday.

    - Shelly

  5. Thank you for your post and for the reminder that education is a community endeavor, not a solitary one. Parents are our best resource in getting to know our students and setting up the most effective learning communities for every stakeholder.

  6. Any parent who is not a pro-active advocate for their kids is an idiot. Pussys that wont defend their comments have no authority, but it's scary that they might be talking to kids.

    Of course you know your kids better - and why should you HAVE to home-school. What a facile arguement, and Amway make great soap, sign me up.

    Do you're job.

    My kid is autistic, so we negotiate his curriculum with a wiki - and he has a BIG say in that too. So its a mediation channel with his teacher.

    He's 8 and runs 100 kid-guild for other 8 year olds in WoW. So has more 21C than the teaching body in his school probably. So I don't worry about him online - I worry about them in normal classrooms.

    Who are we kidding, there are some ego-moronic teachers out there, especially in high school. Seriously, do you really trust them? I don't, I prefer to collaborate with them.

    Why should we have to prepare our kids to deal with this potential enviornment?

    That reply shits me to tears - if you don't like the social committment, get a job elsewhere - it's not the kids fault.

    :) its not a public service - we pay for it. Do it right. Its your job.


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