As an educator, I understand that importance of parental involvement in promoting academics.  However, sometimes I think political attempts to increase community support cross the line and end up backfiring, creating a distorted view of the school system and creating more feelings of discontentment from parents.

Take, for instance, the various attempts to force parents to be more aware and involved in their children’s lives, particularly in matters pertaining to attending school, getting good grades, and acting properly in class.

Now in Michigan, a prosecutor is calling for legislation to make attending parent-teacher conferences mandatory. Failure to comply results in 3 days jail time. (What many commentators are failing to note is that parents have many options in conducting these “conferences”–face to face is not the only option.  The objective appears to be getting parents INFORMED about their child’s performance.)

While it is common knowledge that the more involved parents are in their children’s education, the more likely the children are to do well, is it the place of the government to legislate the relationship between parents and the schools? Do legislators really believe that the threat of jail time is the proper course of action to inspire (or force) parents into action?

The proposal has a few holes that have yet to be answered:

  • Who is responsible for reporting parents/guardians? The school?
  • In a two parent household, do BOTH parents go to jail if neither is in contact with the school?
  • What about in split households with joint custody?
  • Where do the kids go while the parents are in jail?
  • Why is the focus only on kids who are failing? There are often issues that need to be discussed with parents that do not pertain directly to grades, but rather social skills, emotional concerns, and future opportunities/aspirations. Shouldn’t we be encouraging ALL parents to be involved, not just those with “problem” children?
  • That being said, why aren’t teachers contacting parents outside of parent-teacher conferences?  The emphasis on p-t conferences could be diminished if communication lines were open throughout the year rather than during set time frames.

Some parents, regardless of “inspiration”, have no desire to be involved with their children’s schooling. They hold firm to the belief that they send their children to school to learn from a teacher, whose job it is to help their child to succeed. I personally pity these children, for who do they have on their side? A high school educator often has over 150 individual students to influence in a single day. While they are highly knowledgeable in their subject area and well-equipped to utilize the latest teaching strategies in their classrooms, the skills necessary to succeed in the classroom (and really life in general) must come from much deeper within–determination, motivation, perseverance, and critical thinking. There isn’t enough time in the day to go back and try to instill in students the characteristics that should have been instilled in them since birth while still covering the subject matter.

But one phrase that keeps me sane in my adventures as an educator is not to discuss what SHOULD be, but simply to focus on what IS. The clarity that comes from this vantage point allows for the clearing of much simpler and less stressful journey to taking action.

I tried to place myself in the shoes of higher administration, trying to lower truancy rates and increase student achievement (none of which stem from the desire to acquire more school funding–good heavens, no! This is about each individual child being successful.) by focusing on the individuals that are within my circle of influence (the students themselves, NOT their parents). What are some possible solutions, or at least ways to improve the school system and promote the best opportunity for success to each student?

**please note that my solutions are addressing the problem of how to deal with a failing child whose parents are “not involved” enough to meet the expectations of the school system

For lower levels (K-8):

  • Assign each student with a personal aid, whose primary job would be to keep tabs on each student and discuss educational issues with them. Perhaps have 25 students/aide. The point is to focus attention directly on a student and convince them that at least one person cares about their academic success and future opportunities. (Does this sound eerily enough like the job of a teacher? Good—it is, except that this individual is working the H.R. aspects that often detract from the tasks of teaching the subject material.)
  • Implement mandatory tutoring for failing students. Before school, after school, during recess.  There is no excuse for failing this young.  None.  I’m not saying every student is a straight A student, but failing?

For high school (9-12):

  • Though this may seem extreme, please keep in mind that the US is one of the only countries that continues to offer free education to ALL of its citizens up to the completion of high school (or the age of 21). For students who are failing and making no attempt at learning the material, my question is “why are you wasting everyone’s time?”  Individuals cannot be forced to learn if they choose not to.  (I had a principal whose motto was “you can drag a horse to water, and if you have to, hold its head under the water.  It WILL drink.  I couldn’t help but think “unless it wants to drown” in my head each time.)  If they cannot pass (Above 60% in most schools, a mere 20% in some), they have no need to continue. At the age of 16 they can legally work and drive (though some may not have the resources to drive—thank them for supporting public transportation), and therefore can enter into the workforce and be productive. Or sit on a couch eating Doritos in their parents’ basement.

The point is, when resources are not being sucked out of school to save students who don’t want to be there and whose     circle of influence could apparently care less about their [lack of] academic progress, the focus can be shifted to students who will choose to accept and make the most of the wonderful opportunity that education.

In an ideal world, every child would come into this word with a set of expectant parents ready and capable of providing the love and nurturing necessary to shape strong and competent adults. Unfortunately, this utopia will never exist in the world. There will always be parents too busy with their own lives to “deal” with their children—too busy to soothe their tears as an infant, too busy to play in the make believe castle as a toddler, too busy to help them learn their multiplication tables in elementary school. By the time these kids hit high school, their parents don’t know where they are, or really WHO they are.

It is up to the educators to reach these children. But even the best educator knows that there will always be at least one child who is “unreachable.” By acknowledging this, we have not given up hope for them. Instead we are giving them hope by allowing them the opportunity to go out into the world and make something of themselves—telling them “we believe you are worth something and have something special to contribute to society. Now, get out there and pursue it. Don’t waste your time (or mine) sleeping in the classroom and arguing about missing assignments that we both know you are never going to complete.”

As difficult as it is to realize we cannot control everything and everyone in the world, by focusing on what we CAN do and who we CAN influence, we will ultimately be much more successful in making a positive impact on the world.

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