Tuesday, July 2, 2013

We are family…teachers, students and parents are we!

Maybe I think too simplistically, but even after three plus decades in secondary classrooms, I still believe that teachers, parents and students compose a formidable familial force against the Anti-Education monster.  In cases where this Triple Threat Trio marries their separate but equal academic perspectives and goals, the school experience is one that blossoms with the joy of learning and the thrill of success.

Sister Sledge might have recorded We Are Family in 1979, but her lyrics are just as meaningful to all of us concerned with education thirty-five years later.

“Living life is fun and we've just begun
To get our share of the world's delights
(HIGH!) high hopes we have for the future
And our goal's in sight
(WE!) no we don't get depressed
Here's what we call our golden rule
Have faith in you and the things you do
You won't go wrong
This is our family Jewel"
~Sister Sledge We Are Family

As a perennial student, a retired teacher and an education-oriented parent (grandparent), here are ten thoughts the Triple Threat Trio can use to create a successful academic arena for every school-aged child.

1.       Call a moratorium on trash talk such as “She/he is just a teacher,” “Those that can do; those that can’t teach,” and “Teachers are just glorified baby-sitters” in hearing range of the impressionable minds of children.
A staunch advocate of the Freedom of Speech, I would never tell anyone what to say-orally or in writing.  I am asking, though, that we work together to foster an atmosphere of respect. After all, academic success is the goal we all desire for children.  

2.      Promote academic achievement by being involved in children's studies.
Most teachers have agendas they hand out to students at the beginning of a unit and they remind students to share their copies with their mothers and fathers.  Parents need to ask for a copy if they don’t, and keep it posted on the refrigerator or in another prominent place. Communicate with each other through voice mail, e-mail, texting and personal web pages.  When young people know their parents are actively involved in their education, they are more likely to develop a responsible attitude toward their studies.

3.      Hold children accountable for their in-class and homework assignments. 
Any parent quickly learns that asking, "Do you have any homework?" is likely to result in a mumbled, ''No," or "I've finished it." Productive dialogue exists when parents open a conversation with a comment like, "I understand you have an essay on The Metamorphosis due in a few days.  Do you really think the character turned into a dung beetle?" Young people will be more inclined to complete any assignments without excuses when they know that their parents not only care about their grades, but are interested in what they are studying. Teachers welcome the support for these assignments that are necessary to understand their students’ strengths and weaknesses.

4.      Reinforce the concept that any work is the young person’s responsibility. 
Teachers and parents must make it clear that they will be on hand to support, to explain or to discuss any problematic area, but the completion of an assignment is fully the students’ responsibility.

5.      Always be aware of academic progress. 
An A or an F or any grade in-between should never, ever be a surprise to parents, teachers or students. Neither parents nor teachers should wait that long if they believe that a child is struggling. Likewise, students need to talk with their parents and teachers when they still have time to bolster their grades.  If parents question a child's grade, they should contact the teacher for clarification.

6.      Be Proactive-not Reactive.
Excuses are unacceptable. Sometimes situations occur beyond the student's control that may negatively affect a student’s grade.  A death in the family, an accident, or an act of God cannot be foreseen, but teachers will work with students to help them complete any missing work or assessments. A broken printer, a marathon phone session with a friend steeped in a romantic crisis or the sudden onset of the flu hours before a paper is due do not fall into this category. When parents are aware of upcoming assignments, they might restrict phone privileges the night before a due date, ask to see the rough draft or tell their children to check the printer a few days prior to the deadline to ward off any problems.

Young people need to understand that they will be held accountable for the choices they make-in school and in life beyond graduation. A perceptive parent will know an excuse for what it is and won't accept any as a valid reason not to be prepared for school.

The most beneficial situation occurs when parents state that they expect their child to be responsible and accountable, and that a last ditch effort won't be condoned or tolerated. Though they won't admit it, young people know that they need help managing their actions, as well as firm guidelines from the adults in their lives.

7.       Parents, teachers and students should show support for the school's policies. 
One of the most abused programs is the attendance policy.  All schools have very clear criteria that detail how many times a student can be tardy or absent before the grade is negatively affected.  Still, some students accrue an exorbitant number of excused absences. For example, in a 9-week quarter, 10 absences are excessive. Students need to understand that teachers will report absences and that their parents will uphold the school’s policies, ensuring the belief that academics will always come first.  

8.       School, not an outside job is the children's top priority.
Considering today’s economic realities, the extra money that many students earn is vitally necessary for their families to make ends meet.  This is an unfortunate situation, and not one that is not easily resolved. By working together, teachers, parents and the student can determine a viable solution so the young person's education is not impaired.
On the other hand, if the job is solely to support a snazzy new car or other material needs the parents should not encourage a paycheck before academics.  From ages 6-18, school must be deemed the top priority.

9.      Academics must take precedence over athletics or other extracurricular activities. 
This can be difficult considering the highly competitive process of college admissions.  Those students with a combination of good grades, decent SAT's and lengthy activity sheets are considered more likely to be accepted than those with the same grades and SAT scores but with fewer clubs and sports.

Athletics and certain activities such as sports, drama and band can easily take a toll on students’ study time and energy, as well as on teachers whose courses are performance-based. Still, academics should never take a back seat to anything. Parents and teachers should help young people learn time management skills as well as how to schedule study hours. All three groups must promote the scholar athlete, the scholar-thespian, or the scholar-drummer, not just the latter half of the equation.

10.  Promote open communication with school personnel.
One of the most difficult problems educators and administrators face occurs when parents retort with a, ''Not my kid," response when they are presented with a disciplinary, academic or legal issue.  Parents must be honest in regard to their children’s actions, be they academic, extracurricular or personal. If a problem arises, everyone can work together to solve it. Understandably, some information is not necessary for the whole staff. Possibly only the counselor or administrator needs the full story when dealing with a personal issue. In most cases, teachers need only to know if a problem exists, and what behaviors to look for.  Full disclosure isn't necessary.  Dishonesty or denial can only lead to misinterpretations and false assumptions that could very possibly be detrimental to the child's success.

Neither should parents or educators harshly berate a student publicly. Yelling at a child for laziness, a lack of motivation or low test scores in a public setting is detrimental for everyone.  Often openly chastised students will respond by cutting classes or by acting inappropriately until they have dealt with their embarrassment.

Educational environments thrive when teachers, parents and students present supportive and deferential attitudes for each other. Ultimately, all three hold the power to influence academic accomplishments. Successful students are strengthened by a responsible and respectful attitude for themselves, their family and their schooling. And the roots for this mindset are planted at home and nurtured at school.

We are family.

Until next week,

(Thanks, Sister Sledge, for your fitting lyrics from We Are Family)

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