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Exhausted Brooklyn School Teacher Asks, ‘Where Are the Parents?’

Tanya Feb 27, 2012

Editor's Note: Advocates of corporate-inspired school reform insist that the key to improving student performance is to measure teacher “effectiveness” with standardized data and to remove inadequate teachers from the classroom. But what are the chances a student will excel if their parents are not engaged? In the blog post below, Tanya, a Brooklyn high school teacher, describes one recent experience she had reaching out to parents to make sure their children completed a reading assignment. She concludes by calling for a process to hold parents accountable for their child's school performance. But faced with a system of mayoral control that disempowers teachers, parents and students, what other alternatives could be pursued to transform public education.

Teachers are the whipping boys for Bloomberg…and also for parents. Just before President's Day vacation began I decided to call the homes of each of my students in hopes that whoever is there can remind them that they have a reading assignment to complete before returning to school. Over half of the parent/guardians did not pick up or the phone number was not working, a common experience for many teachers who need to touch base with someone at home who can help. A few parents were responsive and ensured that they would remind my student of their assignment, but most of the conversations were an agonizing reminder that a teacher is on her or his own when it comes to student success. Here is how one conversation went:

"Good afternoon, may I please speak with the parent of _______________, this is their English teacher Ms. _____________." After the usual salutations, I then said, "Is this a good time to speak with you about ______________."

The parent's response was "No."

No. They can't speak to me about their child. There was no further explanation though I should have demanded one, but in fear of a parent complaint, a powerful source to oust a teacher, I simply asked:

"When is a good time to call you?" The parent responded with, "I don't know. What date is it?"

That's when I registered anger. I was going to be on a much needed and deserved break for a week and was not going to call a parent on my time off. I was making the time to speak to the parent of a child:

"I'm sorry. I will be on vacation next week. All I wanted to say was that ____________ has a reading assignment to complete. If you could please remind them to get the work done that would be great. Thank you."

The parent then said, "No. It's not my business what they do."

I recorded this conversation in my anecdotal records in case that student ended up failing my class. This way, I could build evidence to demonstrate that I made efforts to support the child if my passing rate doesn't look good and I am questioned by the AP. Other conversations recorded in my logs that day included three parents who didn't know where their child was, a parent who hung up the phone upon introducing myself, and another parent who had a similar response to the "No" parent. Out of thirty-three kids on my roster, I only spoke to four parents who seemed willing and able to help.

Each child translates into data that will determine my "effectiveness". That numeral is expected to tell the story of my quality as a teacher but does not interpret what is really happening: the underlying sociological problems that are rooted in economic injustice. It is expected that when we return from vacation about 5-8 students will have completed the assignment. I will then have to "differentiate" for the others who failed to read. Differentiation is really a method to cope with parental ineptitude but is neatly packaged in professional development as a compassionate way to support needy students. This will come in the form of reading groups and accompanying work to explore the text, while those that read will continue on with the curriculum. Hopefully, they will all be on the same page at the end of the week, but more than likely I will have to juggle various lessons within a single period for the remainder of the marking period, leaving me stressed out planning several lessons all night and worrying whether or not I can pull this off. Chances are, I won't. I will be anxiety-ridden, forgetful, and inarticulate at times. I can only hope that my AP observes my class on a good day.

Bloomberg is not the only one who punishes teachers. UFT President Mulgrew is just as responsible for allowing the dialogue about "bad teachers" to continue without any attempt to redirect the national conversation towards other forces that govern whether or not a child is successful in school.

There is absolutely no accountability for parents and they seem fine with that.

Teachers have the knowledge of what is really happening to the children and yet we keep it among ourselves accepting the punishment and hoping that we can stave off a blow to the head for another week, another marking period, another school year. We share anecdotes of horrible experiences with uncaring and uniformed parents with fellow teachers daily.

It's time for an organized effort to expose the uncomfortable truth about parental laziness and to create proposals to hold parent's accountable for their child's academic performance. Though it's a controversial and explosive idea, this Jemmy can't take another beating.

For more, see hammeringoncoldiron.blogspot.com. For more education coverage in The Indypendent, click here. To listen to three Chicago school teachers talk about their frustrations with top-down corporate school reform and its impact on their students, see this exclusive report by Real News Network's Jaisal Noor.

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