Monday, May 30, 2011

Parent-Teacher-Student Relationship: The Blame Game Edition

Through out my first year teaching, I will frequently comment and ask questions about a concept in education that is consistently in heavy rotation: The Parent-Teacher-Student Relationship (henceforth called the PTSR).

Maureen Downey, moderator/writer of the always interesting Get Schooled Blog on, published a letter  written by an elementary school administrator, Mr. Dorce. He writes about the tale of a young man he mentored. After attending the young man's graduation and asking about his future, Mr. Dorce realized that all was not as it seemed. Long story short, Mr. Dorce ends with the line, "...I was supposed to help." Please take the time to read the post.

After reading the post and then the comments, the message that I received from the (non-hatred spewing) majority was that the blame for the young man's fate was the parent(s), the young man himself, or both. Many of these comments came from teachers. However, two statements stuck out to me from Mr. Dorce's letter concerning blame for the young man's situation:

"I do not blame anyone in particular for many adults failed Robert, including me."

"Robert is not guiltless. There was plenty that was his responsibility. He could have and should have gotten help for his reading struggles. Lots of people throughout our schools are willing, able and eager to help. He was a child, however, when he started to push back and mask his reading deficiencies." 

As you see, Mr. Dorce does not point out anyone group of people or specific person for Robert's plight, including Robert himself. He does acknowledge that there were several actions Robert could have taken to give himself a better shot at earning his diploma. (He does not discuss the obvious precautionary measures Robert could have taken to avoid fathering children, but I digress.) With all this considered, here's my question. 

Because the blame goes wide and deep, what does assigning blame accomplish, especially when it is assigned to parents and/or students?

To examine this question, let's go back to the PTSR and look at it from the teacher's perspective. I'm well aware of the teacher role, as I'm the teacher! I have direct control over this part, so no problems. The student role is a little trickier; I know what the student should be doing. In reality, this does not always happen. I'll venture a guess and say that students often push back against their role...which is where the teacher role becomes important. As the teacher, I have an element of control here. What I do in my classroom and with my students can have a direct effect on the students.  

To keep score, the teachers have control in two roles in the PTSR: the teacher role and the student role. Granted, the teacher's control of the student role is not 100%, but there are ways of highly stacking the odds in our favor. Continuing on...

The last role is that of the parent. I have a prototype in mind for the parent role, but it's just that, a prototype. It's not real. Different parents have different ideas of the parent role in PTSR. That's not to say there aren't fantastic parents. I have a plethora of examples of fantastic parenting (my parents, for one). Sometimes, though, we have parents of students that are severely lacking. I can meet with them and communicate with them as often as possible and still they won't budge. Needless to say, teachers do not have much control, if any, of the parent role. 

In conclusion:

- Blaming students accomplishes nothing, because the teacher has an element of control over the student role. The amount of control of the student role depends on the individual teacher. We can do something here!

- Blaming parents accomplishes nothing, because there is nothing to little that can be done to control parents. Sorry, it's fact. The overly involved parents will almost always continue to be overly involved. The minimally involved parents will almost always continue to be minimally involved. 

The PTSR is important, and I know that I will be discussing it more when I start teaching. When discussing our children's education, instead of being problem-oriented, we should be solutions-oriented. Currently when there's a problem, we try to diagnose to assign blame, not to solve the problem. In keeping with my philosophy, I'm not going to assign blame for the PTSR blame game when failures in our system happen. However, I will offer my first solution of this whole enterprise:

Eliminate the blame game from education all together. In lieu, use the PTSR and the school community to find workable solutions to problems that arise. 

This includes blaming ourselves, because there is nothing to gain by doing so. (Someone will probably need to remind of this in the coming months.) Reflect and problem-solve. Repeat, if necessary. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Yearbook signatures and other ruminations from the last day of school

Pretty much all the school systems are out by this time, and everyone is gearing up for a three-day weekend. However, before I close the book on the 2010-11 year, let me ruminate and reflect for a bit on a few things. 

Not a giraffe. Not a zebra. 

  • How many yearbook signatures should a teacher have? As I was asked to sign yearbooks, "yearbooks" (you know what those are), and other random things (see the picture above), I found my creativity waning. There's so many times you can write mush like, "Keep on your path to greatness."

  • Students who complain about school the most are the ones who cry the hardest on the last day of school. I'm almost ready to call this a law of nature. Without fail, the ones who were bawling were the ones who I could count on for a "I hate this school. I glad I'm not coming back next year." every time I was there. You sure showed us how much you hate us! Speaking of which....

  • Students who hated me wanted to hug me on the last day. Mind you, I never take the student-hate personally; they're teenagers, so they hate everyone. Still, it was a little weird that the kid who called me out of my name ("B....") wanted to give me hug. Yet weirder, she said she would miss me. Oh-kay...

  • On a more serious note, though...

    I really am going to miss them all, especially the ones that gave me a hard time. I don't know why. Call it insanity. Call it Stockholm Syndrome. Whatever. My theory is that I watched them grow over the year. They came in as seventh graders, and they are leaving as high school freshman. That's a pretty significant jump to me. The ones that gave me a hard time were the ones who had the most growing to do, and they did it.

    Even though I was only at the school twice a week, I felt a connection to them and seemingly, they felt one toward me. I invested in them, more than they know, and I got it back in leaps and bounds. Watching them on their honors day on the last day of school made me feel prouder than my own college graduation in December. Crazy, huh?

    Days like the last day of school remind me why I chose to do what I do. I can't wait to do it again (by myself!) in the fall!

    Have a safe, fun Memorial Day!

    Tuesday, May 17, 2011

    Thoughts on Charter School Ruling

    For background and the ruling, visit the AJC Get Schooled Blog (click the link for the story).

    Though I'm not a lawyer, I think that this was probably the right decision, legally-speaking. Because I've been following the story for awhile, I've been waiting for this ruling to happen: Charter School Commission is unconstitutional. If I were running on pure logic, I would say that what happened today was good. It's done and over with. All parties involved can just move on. The problem is I'm not running on pure logic, here, which makes me uncomfortable. My day, since hearing the ruling, has been uncomfortable. Here's why.

    In my work as an intern, I've seen behind the curtains of one of these schools. I've seen the daily operations, I've worked with the teachers, and most importantly, I've worked with the students. Sure, it seems like a normal school. A visitor just dropping in to see what the fuss is about would complain that nothing seems out of the ordinary. She would ask what was so special about this place.

    On a normal day, my answer would be a quick, curt shrug as I run pass the visitor. However, catch me in a reflective mode, and... I still would not know how to respond properly. I really don't know what is so special about this school. I can't pinpoint it. However, ask me about my students and I'd tell you stories about conversations we have during rare free minutes. (My favorite: Their warning to me about becoming a teacher.) Or I might tell you about a day where they rocked the lesson. Or I might tell you about the assembly from last week, where I saw one of the best poets I've have ever had the pleasure of listening to and watching. And she was only in the seventh grade!

    As I typed that, I smiled as I remember all of the...awesomeness I've experienced over the past year in this internship. Make no mistake though, it was not easy experiencing all this. I've experienced many hardships in this job, and I'm just an intern. However, I would and will be doing it again and again just to see how far my students have gone in only a year. Not only that, I would (and will) do it again, so they can see how far they have gone. What is really awesome is that they want to keep going! I didn't start thinking about college seriously until high school. (Not to mention, that I recently figured out what I'm going to do with life!) To me, that's priceless.

    As a result, logic does not win today.I'm uncomfortable, because I'm truly saddened by today's news. I'm sad for my students and those at the other charters affected. I wouldn't necessarily consider myself a proponent of charters, though I don't consider myself an opponent. They all aren't magic pills that will cure all the evils in education. However, for the ones that are cure for the common school for the students and their parents that choose to send them, why not fund them so that they can exist? Perhaps school systems can collaborate with them instead of compete with them, so everyone can improve.

    Long-term, who knows what will happen to the charters affected and their students? I don't, but I know this. I support whatever works in favor of my kids. This ruling ruled against my kids. You do the logic.