Rethinking what we do is what teaching is all about. This series looks to bring up those practices and offer ideas that are more relevant in today’s classroom. I know parent/teacher conference time is coming up, and today we’re discussing how we talk about student’s families. Sometimes we act like parents don’t care about their children- that isn’t true.
We've All Heard It... Or Said It
Parents Don't Care
“I can’t believe they don’t even care about their child.”
“____’s mom couldn’t bother to show up for parent/teacher conferences again.”
“We waited for an hour, but ____’s dad never showed for the meeting.”
I know that I have said some of the things above, and I have heard other teachers saying them as well. It didn’t strike me as something I shouldn’t say and were said out of frustration until this parent/teacher conference story from long ago.
Parent: How many other parents actually showed up for conferences today? I heard from ____’s teacher that she only had four families show.
Me: I’ve had most families show up.
Parent: I mean, I just can’t believe that these parents don’t care. Showing up for parent/teacher conferences is the least they could do. If you have time to go and get your nails done, you have time to show up here. I’m a lawyer, and I even managed to clear my schedule today. So if I can do it, someone working at McDonald’s can do it. Have a great rest of your day!
WHAT? How many of us have heard this conversation with the belief that if they cared, they would show up.
What's the Problem?
All parents care about their children. I believe that parents are trying to do what’s best for their children. True, there is a small percentage (read: super, super small- teeny tiny) of parents that aren’t doing what’s best for their children, but that is not the majority of parents.
PARENTS DO CARE ABOUT THEIR CHILDREN.
Ok. let’s unpack this “If I could clear my schedule as a lawyer someone at McDonald’s could too.”
Uh, no, they can’t. Have you been to McDonald’s? They can’t just take a break whenever you like! There is a schedule to stick to. Your work schedules you for specific hours, and it’s expected you work those hours.
I like to think about my mom and my dad. My mom has always worked in retail, and my dad is a financial analyst and works in business. I don’t visit my mom at work, and I know that she is often only available to respond to my texts during her break. My dad is much more open. I can text him, and if he ever looked at his phone, he could answer it. I’ve popped into my dad’s office on a whim and taken him to lunch. My dad needs to notify his secretary that he will be back later, that’s all! My mom doesn’t have that luxury.
To say that parents who work at McDonald’s (or wherever) don’t care about their children because they don’t have the luxury of leaving work to come to school isn’t ok. They are showing they care for their children because they’re working to provide for them. They’re doing their best, and they don’t need hate. Maybe we need to rethink the structure of parent-teacher conferences to allow more parents the opportunity to attend.
Stop the Parent Shaming
We, as teachers, shame parents all the time, and we might not even know it. Usually, it happens out of frustration because we care deeply for each and every one of our students. The parents we work with also care deeply about their children. I’m not a parent, but I hear that the love you feel for your child is unreal and super deep. So, we could make a little argument that parents care about their children more than I can even imagine. We need to listen for the tone and messages that are sent by our words.
We’re doing the best we can as teachers and parents are doing the best they can as parents. Let’s work together! We each are concerned with the best interests of the child, and let’s focus on that. Sometimes I forget about meetings after school and only realize it as I see everyone on their way. Sometimes I forget to take attendance in the morning. We all mess up, and we’re all doing the best we can do. A bit of understanding and empathy might better serve our parent relationships better.
What I've Learned
If we care deeply about the children in our classroom, then we also care about their families. Families are doing the best they can. When people ask me questions that I know have negative connotations, I do my best to help rewrite this story we’ve written about those parents.
We’re all doing the best we can. We all support the student and their learning. That support looks different based on so many various factors. If parents don’t show up to parent-teacher conferences, it isn’t because they don’t care. Try reaching out in other ways. Connecting through Seesaw might be one way to show and communicate student progress. Whatever you do, don’t give in to the parent shaming!