Surviving back-to-school night
Here's an updated version of the first piece I published on The Answer Sheet exactly a year ago today. This first anniversary finds me on vacation, but I'll keep posting new pieces each day until I return to full-time blogging next week.
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 back- to-school night, but it points to two problems that can mar the evening when parents and teachers meet at the start of the new 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 and ask questions, but only general ones and none that are specific to their child.
Each teacher makes a short presentation--sometimes zooming through, or never addressing, 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, doing exactly what they've been asked not to do.
“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 tries to answer it anyway.
A second kind of annoying parent is then sometimes heard. I have been this parent, the one who asks somewhat belligerent questions as if they know more about the curriculum than the teacher.
When my daughter’s 8th grade teacher said that the class would read “Catcher in the Rye,” I, indignant that a book I thought better suited for high schoolers was being introduced so young, asked, “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 eldest daughter’s favorite book since she read it in 8th grade. But I digress.
Back in the classrooms, some 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. Some keep up with their correspondence on their Blackberries. Others, the ones who don't shut off their cell phones, fumble around looking for it when it rings or buzzes or hums and disturbs everyone else.
Here’s what might work better:
Each teacher should have key information for parents on paper:
*Overview of the curriculum.
*Homework: How much kids should do; if and how much the parents should get involved and when.
*If and when the teacher is available to help a child out of class.
*The disciplinary regime.
When a parent asks something specific to their child, teachers shouldn’t answer. Certainly it can take a strong personality to face some parents, especially in areas (such as the greater Washington D.C. region) where many parents are more highly educated than their kids’ teachers. But if teachers can stare down a classroom full of kids, they should be able to handle the parents.
As for the parents, here's something to consider: Even if you have a boatload of fancy degrees, still assume the teacher knows more than you do about the the class he or she is going to teach. If the teacher proves you wrong later in the year, you can be annoying then.
Don’t ask personal or smug questions.
Stop staring at your Blackberry.
Don’t play with your iPhone.
Quit whispering to your friends.
And shut off your cellphones! (I said last year I would, but I didn’t. This time I’ll leave it at home so I won’t be tempted.)
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| August 31, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories: Parents, Teachers | Tags: back to school night
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