The February 13, 2005, Time cover story, “What Teachers Hate about Parents,” reports the growing frustrations that many teachers have with parents. From eager and pushy to protective and hovering, parents pose a challenge to teachers even greater than finding adequate funding, maintaining classroom discipline, and testing.
We interviewed three teachers from different school environments to determine what they perceive as a parent’s role in education and to allow them to communicate some of the challenges they face as teachers. What follow are the responses of Susan Caldwell, a fourth-grade teacher at Pine View School, a public school for the gifted in Sarasota County, Florida; Alissa Griffith, an eighth-grade teacher at Chewning Middle School, a public school in Durham, North Carolina; and Dennis Dobbyn, a middle school teacher at Moses Brown School, a private school in Providence, Rhode Island.
What are some day-to-day challenges you face as a teacher?
Caldwell: Making sure that each student is receiving instruction on his or her level, which can be difficult, because students’ needs change frequently. Helping students with anxiety and stress about schoolwork is another challenge. Gifted students can be overachievers and perfectionists, which sometimes inhibits their love of learning.
Griffith: Having technology that works consistently and obtaining adequate supplies are areas of concern. Like most teachers, however, I think that time limitations are a persistent issue—having enough time to plan effective, motivating lessons and to conference with students and parents are daily challenges.
Dobbyn: As a middle school history teacher, I am expected to teach, coach, and be an adviser. I act as disciplinarian, intermediary, advocate, and active listener for students. I communicate formally (i.e., in conferences) and informally (i.e., by e-mail and phone) with their parents. Simply put, my coaching and advising roles are time-consuming. The challenge is finding time to be properly prepared for class, to correct and return assignments in a timely manner, and to present lesson plans in several ways in order to meet the varied learning styles present in every class.
What role do you think parents should play in their children’s education?
Caldwell: They should guide their children but not do their work for them. Many parents, in their quest to help their children achieve, end up doing most of their homework assignments. This makes students dependent on their parents instead of building the study and critical thinking skills they need. Parents also need to be supportive of their children’s teachers. Undermining teachers causes children harm, because they may learn not to value their teachers.
Griffith: Parents who advocate for their children and see their role as supporting the student, the teacher, and the school do more for their children and teachers than those who are adversarial. Parents who attempt to drive the teacher and the curriculum render the teacher ineffective.
Dobbyn: Children succeed most often when parents and teachers work together. It’s critical that academic and behavioral expectations be consistent. Homework is important, because it is an opportunity for students to take ownership of their work. Parents should provide adequate time in their children’s day to allow them to complete their homework. Independence should be encouraged, and parents who give help should write the teacher a note to this effect. Communication between home and school sends a clear and powerful message that the important adults in the child’s life are working together.
What do you think is the biggest misconception parents have about what you do as a teacher?
Caldwell: The amount of time we spend preparing to meet the individual learning needs of each student. Some parents believe that one lesson is created for the entire class, when in fact the lesson is modified to fit each student’s needs. A large amount of time is spent on conducting research and attending classes about the latest strategies and technologies for increasing student achievement and motivation. Another common misconception is that teachers just teach. The many roles that teachers perform include instilling a love of learning, modeling appropriate behavior, and creating diverse activities and lessons that stimulate each student.
Griffith: I believe that the greatest misconception parents have is the “Gotcha” they seem to think teachers play with students. In fact, the teacher’s goal is setting students up for success, not failure. If parents trusted that the teacher’s motive is professional, the relationships between students, parents, and teachers would work more effectively. Sometimes I think that parents don’t understand the factors that drive a curriculum, either. But in my opinion, that is secondary to the trust issue.
Dobbyn: I think that many parents are unaware of how much time middle school teachers spend introducing and reinforcing academic skills such as essay writing, researching, note taking, and outlining. Content is important, but skill building is critical to the success of students. Also, at this age many students are trying on different behaviors as they emerge from their parents’ shadows and seek their own identities. Teachers help guide students through this awkward developmental stage between childhood and adulthood. This often requires ample doses of limit setting and support. The social-emotional arenas of a middle school student’s life, and the teachers’ contribution to this area of growth, are very important, yet many parents overlook this.