Sunday, August 25, 2013

Connections to Professional Life: Nine (or ten) Points to Parents from a Teacher

In a little over a week, I'll be getting a new batch of sixth graders, and along with them come their parents/guardians. Likewise, Misa and John-Pio's teachers will be getting a new set of students, and along with them come me and Brad.  We're pretty balanced, really.  As parents, I mean.  We're somewhat involved but somewhat hands-off, and we're available for certain events, but also realize our limitations so we just try really hard to stay in-touch by listening and asking the kids questions. 

Anyway, the point of all this is that as a parent, I'm learning and trying all kinds of ways to be a better teacher. I've been thinking more and more about how being a mama is reflected in my vocation and along the way, I've learned some things.  For now at least, I've whittled it down to these points  - they're points of reference I'd say to my students' parents if they were so inclined and wanted to know, and I've also thought about what those points mean for me as a teacher. 

It's an odd-numbered list with some holes but nevertheless important to me as everything education and student-centered is at the front of my brain these days.  So here they are - some thoughts for my incoming parents . . .

#1. I'm going to be making one assumption about you.  I'm going to assume that you want to know what your child is learning.

What does this mean for me as a teacher?  It means there will be some form of regular communication  either through our blog, a student planner, or maybe in a quick email/phone call.  I know your time is precious so I'll make it a point to be brief and upbeat. 

#2. I'm going to be positive about your child.  I know you'd want to know how your child is progressing and perhaps you want to be surprised by something that might be different, something that makes your kid stand out to the point that s/he is doing outstanding things. 

What does this mean for me as a teacher? It means that I'm going to get to know your child through a few different lenses. If your kid likes to fish, loves to read, knows baseball and football stats, learns quickly, plays piano, beatboxes, writes stories, is strong in math, has a pet, cares deeply about family - I'm genuinely going to observe and listen for those bits and pieces because they can help me understand your child from the inside.  I can determine your child's best learning styles and admire their uniqueness and then adjust or modify or enhance accordingly.  

#3. I'm not going to be a fake.  Lets face it. You've been a parent for at least 11-12 years, some of you for longer and I know you can read a teacher who's full of it.  I'm not one of those teachers who divvies out high-pitched praises or vague compliments.  I can't fake it cause I don't want to insult your child or you.

What does this mean for me as a teacher?  It means I'm going to be straight-up with you if your kid is checked out, cuttin' up, being a bully, or manipulative.  Before calling you though, I'm going to talk to your kid myself.  I might warn him or her that I'm on the verge of gettin' mean, and I might pull out big words and phrases like petulant, passive-aggressive, and insolent but I promise you I'll tell your child what those things look like and what they mean and I'll teach an alternative behavior or way of being. 

#4. I will only call your child by their name.  Contrary to what I do, my students report that they like terms of endearments from their teachers because it shows there's a good relationship and that the teacher cares about them.  But I'm sorry, I can't do it - it's just not me.  And you probably don't even care.  I promise you though, that there are several other teachers in my building who will call your kid "Honey," "Kiddo," "Buddy," and the like, so there's that. 

What does this mean for me as a teacher?  It means I'm going to save the endearments for you.  I'll find another name that's more fitting for me and your child.  It might be their first and middle name together, or maybe just their last name, or it might even be some name I completely make up but it'll be relevant and related.  And I'll ask if it's okay, and if they like it.  It also means that I'm going to teach a unit on the power of names and naming - that I'm going to encourage your kid to dig deep into his/her identity so much that they will find power in their own name(s). 

#5. I will only assign homework that I know your child can do independently.  Evening time is too valuable and besides that, I know some of you are working second and third shift and will be unable to sit with your kid during homework time.

What does this mean for me as a teacher?  It means homework will be connected to their classroom learning and the work I assign will help reinforce and practice skills.  It means that for everything I plan outside of school, I'm going to carefully judge what that might look like for all kids - kids who go to the youth resource center or kids who go straight home, or kids who want to stay in my classroom after school. 

#6.  I will help find solutions to challenges that your child might face as a student.  There are a hundred ways to say that adolescence is a period of storm and stress. Much of their stressors will be markedly social like broken friendships or no friendships or questionable friendships.  Chock one up for social and physical awkwardness too.  Your kid might get bullied, feel pressured, or isolated.  There will be tears over too much homework or work is too easy and inexplicable tantrums and irrational worrying.  There's the fact that your child has the capacity to be rational, but prefers to spend 90% of their time being irrational. And all of these things are normal even though it feels new almost every time and I guess it's cause the kids are new to it and experience these kinds of stressors differently.

What does this mean for me as a teacher?  It means I'll listen, refer, and find your child the right guide to help get through those periodic storms.

#7. There's a chance your kid might not like me.  Not everyone can be enthralled or captivated by a middle school teacher. Thankfully there are several other adults in the school that your child will like.

What does this mean for me as a teacher?  It means I won't take it personally.  It means that if your kid ever reports something about me - like I was mean or suspicious or impatient or unjust or confusing or that I yelled (because being stern and firm is yelling to some kids), please believe only 50% of your kid's words until you check it out with me.

#8. I will not undermine your child's intelligence and potential.  Your child is deep.  If there's one thing that bears conditioning and support, it's building confidence and self-reliance so that your child can grow intelligently and learn what s/he is capable of.  Your child is also at the perfect age for social activism and for creative problem solving, and if there's any time to really build on artistic expression, it's now.

What does this mean for me as a teacher?  It means I won't play down current issues of inequities,  media influences, environmental catastrophes, and other political/social problems.  It means that service-projects, narratives, stories, poetry, plays, speeches, music, and improvisation will be integral to learning because these are positive ways to create and build personal expression that's artistic and fun.

#9.  I cannot do this alone.  I've said it before and I know it's a cliche, but it really does take a village.

What does this mean for me as a teacher?  It means I will need you to step up your game. Even if you're already there, consider going the distance.  Collect cell phones and anything portable and electronic and stick to the routine bedtime.  I really don't want to call you to tell you your kid spent first hour drooling on their desk.  Make sleep a priority - 8-10 hours will help your kid recover in time to build new learning muscles.  Reconsider the ebb and flow of your child's involvement in activities - periodic months off from all the hustle of sports and extra-curricular classes seems detrimental to them and to you, but seriously - they're young and life is long.

And finally . . .

I won't number this one because it comes down to the heart.  A packet of sharpened pencils, a Subway or local coffee gift card goes some of the way, but do you know what really matters? What really, really matters? 


A note of thanks, appreciation, or a flower from your garden.  Something simple and free to let me know that you get it. You get that teaching and parenting are demanding, and that through all the disillusionment and super high expectations on both ends, that something dope and cool and magical can happen and that's that your child and my student grows into being this really kind, resilient and independent kid.


Stay tuned for part 2 (sometime in the future): More Points to Parents from a Teacher.

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