Talking to Parents, Talking to Myself

Status of the states, 1861. States that secede...
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I’ve just finished two hours of parent-teacher meetings and I have another longer session this evening.

This afternoon I saw the parents or guardians of twenty students. That means that meetings lasted about six minutes each.

I like parent-teacher meetings.  I like them as a parent, but I like them more as a teacher.

As a parent, I like seeing my son’s teachers and hearing what they have to say about him and his work habits. It is not always pleasant news, but it is essential information that helps me help him.

As a teacher, I like meeting the parents because it often gives me more of an insight to their children, sometimes more by how they look and act than by what they say or don’t say.

But what I like most about meeting with parents is that having to articulate my thoughts about their children forces me to solidify and clarify my thinking. Sometimes, like today, it takes my thinking in new directions.

I teach social studies. Or I try to. The problem is that by the time they get to 7th or 8th grade a great many students have decided they don’t like social studies. They say that it is boring.

I tell students that social studies is just the study of people and society, but they’ve gone through years of social studies being about names and dates, not ideas and how they are expressed.

Today I heard some unexpected things coming out of my mouth.

I told parents of 7th grade students that it really doesn’t matter if their son or daughter can identify the differences between proprietary and royal colonies on North America in the 17th and 18th Centuries, and I told parents of 8th graders that it doesn’t matter if their child can identify the three proposals for dealing with the aftermath of the Civil War (or, if you are reading this in one of the former Confederate states, the War of Northern Aggression).

I told the parents that the content was exciting to me but that chances are their child’s life would not be significantly different if he or she did or didn’t understand the War of 1812.

Then I committed the heresy of heresies; I said that the content I teach isn’t important, but the skills are. “The content is just what we hang the skills onto so we can teach them.”

But that wasn’t what really surprised me.

What really got me was when I started telling parents that school is a weird place. I said that for some children the context of school is more damaging than beneficial. Even so, I said, it is something that one must go through to get to that point in life when that hyperactivity or singular focus their child has becomes a positive attribute instead of a negative one.

I said that school is a bizarre way to prepare children for adult life because in so many cases school tells children that they are mediocre at best, failures at worst.

Be patient, I said, and you’ll see many of what teachers call negatives turn into positives not because the child changes but because the context does.

I think in many cases parents come to these meetings already knowing what teachers are going to tell them about their child. They keep hoping that they’ll hear something different, that their boy is now staying in his seat and persevering, or that their social butterfly daughter has settled onto a branch and is drinking the sweet nectar of math or whatever, but that’s not what they get.

Usually they just get more of the same.

Not this year, at least not from me.

I saw hope where even I had not seen it before. I advocated patience I don’t always exhibit. I was telling parents these things, but I was also telling myself.

Keep expectations high, but relax.

There are more important qualities than being able to pass a test.
Heart, courage, leadership and emotional strength are there in their kids.
See that.

Celebrate that.

Relax.

The kids are all right.

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6 Responses to Talking to Parents, Talking to Myself

  1. Chris Vacek says:

    Awesome post, Deven. Kudos to you for courage under fire, for speaking the truth, and for being a champion of structure. Teach a child content, they will forget; teach a child to learn, and they can learn forever. Content comes and goes and changes; structure remains, endures, and enables. I imagine it was difficult to hear yourself say these things, but I also imagine the words came easily and naturally. I am humbled by your honesty and eloquence. Really great post.

    • Deven Black says:

      Thank you. As the evening wore on the difficulty of saying what I said lessened considerably once I realized how much sense I was making. THAT was a rare feeling.

  2. Liz says:

    I receive many educational blogs that I never have time to read, and often I wonder why I stay on their mailing lists. But every time I see a new post for your blog, I take the time to read it because I know as an educator that I will learn something! (and laugh!) Thank you for your post today – I always was so intrigued by my students’ parents and how they saw their kids. It is interesting (for me) as a teacher and a parent to have been seated on both sides of the desk. I loved your honest comments to the parents. So true that school success does not always equal life success! Thank you for your amazing posts! They teach me something new every time I read them!

  3. DrMarty says:

    How do we fill schools with this attitude/approach? I hope that doesn’t sound naive. This is the type of education I want for my four children.

  4. Thanks for directing me to your blog via Twitter. Great post! I am SO fortunate to teach in a school where our most valued tenet is teaching kids how to learn, and to love learning. It’s not perfect, but especially in the Age of the Standardized Test I feel so lucky.

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