New Rules for Back- to-School Night
This really happened:
An administrator at a school in Montgomery County welcomed several hundred parents at back-to-school night by relating his extensive experience as an educator and as a soldier.
Then he said, “So you can see I am very qualified. So, do I know more than you do about the curriculum? Yes I do. Do I know more about [student] placement? Yes I do. Do I want your opinion? No I don’t.”
The crowd was effectively cowed.
This, admittedly, is not the best way to start off a back- to-school night--but it points to two problems that too often ruin the evening when parents and teachers get together at the start of the near year. The two problems: the parents and the teachers.
Let’s review the usual routine:
The principal welcomes the parents and takes too long recounting what he or she did over the summer. Parents are then sent off to hop from classroom to classroom to meet their child’s teachers but warned not to ask specific questions about their child on this night.
Each teacher makes a short presentation--often zooming through important information about homework, grading policy, discipline and other key topics--and then takes questions from parents. The most aggressive get right down to business, asking specific questions about their child:
“Why is my daughter in such a low math class?”
“What are you going to do to accommodate my child’s allergies this year?”
“How many and which AP classes can my son take and also be on the baseball and lacrosse and debate teams?”
The teacher, not wanting to slap down a parent so early in the school year, says there isn’t time to take personal questions but then proceeds to try to answer it anyway. The discussion goes off on a tangent. Parents check their watches to see if they are going to miss the premiere of the television show they thought they’d be home in time to see.
A second kind of annoying parent is then sometimes heard. I know this because, I confess, I have been this parent. This is the one who asks somewhat belligerent questions as if they know more than the teacher.
When my daughter’s 8th grade teacher said that the class would read “Catcher in the Rye” and I, indignant that a book I thought better suited for high schoolers was being introduced so young, asked something obnoxious, such as “Why do we have to push these kids to read things they aren’t ready for? That book is usually taught in 11th grade.” To which the teacher said the only thing she could: “Because we think it is appropriate.”
“Catcher,” by the way, has been my daughter’s favorite book since she read it in 8th grade. But I digress.
Throughout every back-to-school night, there is always some parent who is too important to shut off their cell phone, which invariably rings and disturbs everyone else.
Then, too soon, the end-of-class bell blares, the parents go to the next class, and the whole thing starts all over again.
Now for the new rules:
Each teacher should have key information about their class written out on paper that is given out to parents: Overview of the curriculum. Homework: How much kids should do; if and how much the parents should get involved and when. Discipline expectations. Contact information.
And when a parent asks something they shouldn’t, tell them nicely you won’t answer it and be done with it.
Certainly it takes a strong personality to face some of the parents, especially in areas (like the greater Washington D.C. region) where many parents are more highly educated than their kids’ teachers. But keep a stiff backbone anyway.
Parents, even if you have many more degrees than the teacher, assume they know more than you do that night about the the class they are going to teach. Don’t ask personal or smug questions.
And, please, shut off your cellphones!
(I’ll shut off mine.)
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