Of all the educators I've run across, Ira Socol is the most supportive of parents, especially us Special Ed folks. And yet, in his 16 October 2011 blog post, Ordinary People He mentions all the heroes of education, "teachers, principals, librarians, aides, et al who do the work", but unless et al is code for "parents" we are once again left off yet another list of people who make a difference in our kids' lives. And if I have misinterpreted this then I do apologize. It may be that my experiences have colored how I perceive this part of his post.
Ira and others explain to me or defend the omission, if you will, by once again bringing up "those parents." You know the kind. They have a sense of entitlement. They have money. They throw their considerable weight around. They make impossible demands often and quite loudly. They give those of us who genuinely care about our children a black eye.
When an educator earnestly asks me how educators can invite parents because they really want our input, I am left at a loss. I've been invited before, and it's left a bad taste in my mouth.
My initial thought is that, if they are wary like me, educators will have to invite parents repeatedly before they believe that they are really wanted and that their input is really valued.
What teachers and administrators refuse to get is that school is their turf. Even more so when we're the parents of Special Ed kids. We parents who are genuinely advocating for our kids are education's ugly step sister. Whether it's intentional or not, parents are often told go play on the freeway.
Teachers assert themselves as the experts and sometimes to a child's detriment, and we pesky parents, instead of being allowed in as full partners in our children's education, are told, implicitly, that there is no room in school for us. We ought to be exalted as the protectors of teachers and public education, be we are not. All too often we are invited for some purpose or other and then discarded.
There is an institutionalized sexism still practiced by male and female teachers alike. Most of the parents who come to school are more likely than not to be the female parent -- the mom. I have been personally bullied by women professionals,be they physical therapists working with Kid O, teachers who assert their educational authority, or principals or case managers.
We get a lot of lip service to "you know your child best," but then we are pretty aggressively shoved away. I've read tweets by both men and women educators on Twitter asserting themselves as the experts an parents, really meaning mainly moms, should keep their hands off the students This is antithetical to partnership. This is bullying of the tallest order. The message, meta and otherwise, is you're just a woman and you do not have an education degree, so back off.
Teachers and administrators need to examine how they treat parents, predominantly women, and ask yourselves the hard questions. Do you speak to women the way you to speak to men? Chances are good that educators speak to dads much more deferentially than they speak to moms, but, as my husband points out, while the communication is different, the message is still really the same. He also reminds me of a consultant who has this definition of expert: one who is a drip under pressure. (An ex spurt.)
And who sets up that pressure? It doesn't come from the middle class, working class or the poor. That pressure comes from the government and those who can buy and sell the government. It's understandable, especially in light of the current class struggle, who pushes back and why. Teachers are scrambling to hold onto whatever power and authority they've still got. Based on my experience they try to intimidate those of us who want a better education for our kids.
Before you invite parents into your classroom or some schoolwide event, do you respect them? When we were kids, we were told mind our teachers. That is not the same thing as either respecting them or agreeing with them. What we need to strive for is mutual respect and mutual support. In that regard, I am heartened by these two posts written by Josh Stumpenhorst aka stumpteacher on Twitter. He invited parents to his classroom, and, by his own admission, before he became a parent, "... I honestly viewed them simply as people I had to talk to 2-3 times a year at parent night and our two conference nights."
There are a lot of reasons why parents might not want to come to a classroom or otherwise participate in a discussion about school. First you need to make parents feel welcome. You have to show them you respect them. You have to mean it. We parents have our own crap detectors. We know whether someone is being sincere.
The sad irony is that if teachers were to give up some control, they'd find allies in people like me. When I see teachers who step up and who stick to their principles, I am the first one to support them. I am asking teachers, I've got your back, do you have mine? I'm not one of "those parents." I'm you.
Only thing I'm asking educators to do right now is Think