Monday, October 17, 2011

I'm Not One of Those Parents. I'm You

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


  1. Debbie--You cover a lot of ground in a short period of time. Like a dream that occurs between snooze bars. I find myself having the conversation with you as I read and hearing your voice along with me. As an educator, the one thing that I was sure would never change when I became a parent was my teaching--was I wrong! As a parent, I try to put myself on the other side of the (imagined) desk when parents talk to me.

    My assumption about "assertive" and "distant" teachers is that they are scared. That's my 'benefit-of-the-doubt' assumption. I would hate to think that they are arrogant jerks, but that might be the case, too.

    I laugh when I hear people mention things like power or control in educational settings--or as I call it "the illusion of power or control." There is none. The contract is one of care, not control. We should weep for the colleges of ed that turn out tyrants.

    Your steadfast pressure on systems and demand for quality, hope, and vision is appreciated. I light candles that your family is not negatively affected by that. If anyone's kids are going to be artists, writers, and thinkers it will be yours. Godspeed.


  2. Interesting, David.

    Did you read the posts I linked to by Josh Stumpenhorst? As you can see he felt similarly pre- and post parenthood.

    My experience with teachers has been all over the map. From care to indifference. From indifference to downright mindboggling stupidity.

    Given what I've experienced, I wish that colleges of ed should sit up and take notice. There are too many inconsistencies in how education is taught.

    You may be right about your perception of fear. Teachers do have a lot of pressure, and I think the push back I have felt has been part due to that.

    Even so it's imperative that principals foster an atmosphere of warmth and trust. They should encourage those who work for them to model that as well. Parents need to feel welcome, but when they hear a teacher tell them straight away that they are mandated reporters, that instills fear in the heart of a parent.

    What principals forget is that the school is there to serve the community and not serve as their little feifdom. Principals really can make or break a school, and it's natural for teachers to reflect that. We all need to create a safe environment for collaboration and do what is best for all children.

  3. Thanks for including my post and I think this conversation is one worth having. I wanted to comment on your note that "colleges of ed" need to sit up and take notice. I am actually speaking to a group of undergrads tomorrow and one of my talking points will be parent-teacher relationships.

    I can speak for myself that in no way during my undergrad or post grad work was there any discussion of how to interact with parents. Now, I think parents should be treated as any other human being we interact but for some teachers there is a fear factor involved as David alludes to. Why? I am not sure...

    Thanks for the post and don't stop advocating for parent's...or your children.

  4. Josh,

    i wish more would shift their thinking the way you so clearly have.

    I am certainly going to continue to advocate for my children. If you have read other blog posts, you will see just how much I've done in twelve years to help Kid O out.

    I talk and talk and talk on Twitter. And David has been one of my best supporters. He is always encouraging people to listen to me.

    Parents need a boost and need a break. And if any of those undergrads are going into Special Ed, they especially need to hear my message.

    In the future, feel free to call on me for skype or blog post. I have done both for Ira, for instance. This was really for Linda Clinton, although I left her name out because I wasn't sure it would be OK (I've since found out it would be).

    it's interesting to note just how little preparation teachers are given to interact with parents. We hear so much about "those parents" that game the system and throw weight around that I don't doubt that some teachers don't sit whiteknuckled wondering who is going to walk into their classroom and with what baggage. Given my experiences, I am so wary that I have a hard time believing that teachers really are going to be my allies. We need to find ways to alleviate all of that.

    One thing that adds to mutual fear is DCFS on one side and complaints to management on the other. We need ways of setting that all aside or the atmosphere of mutual mistrust will prevail.

  5. What I see as the biggest stumbling block is the human nature that often comes into play. That is to say that a teacher has a bad experience with one parent and they shut them all out. This is also true of parents who have a bad experience with one teacher...they condemn all of them. As a lesson in life, we should treat all as individuals and base our beliefs on that alone.

  6. Thanks for sharing these thoughts.

    I come at this from 2 angles:
    1) After years of coaching and teaching - I had developed a fear of parents. The ones you mentioned but they are in fact so few and so far in between. Often,I say that I spent a lot of time running from gremlins that never existed. This was especially bad as a coach - where helicopter dads tried to manage their childrens careers.

    Presently, I am effecting some better exchange with parents and inviting them to be a part of our process. I have been thrilled as my frosh and hs seniors get their parents involved.

    2) As a Dad with a bow in Kindergarten, I was dying to tell my son's teacher that, " I know". My boy is nothing but piss and vinegar and I am sure being his teacher can be tough. Back to school night etc did not give me the opportunity to express my desire to be this teachers ally.

    With these 2 experiences - I have tried to create opportunities for my students' parents to be my ally in moving their kids in a healthy positive direction but I am always hoping to learn better ways to do so....

    I HOPE this conversation continues!

  7. This is a great, honest conversation.

    It's not easy to admit to one's vulnerabilities.

    I've had to learn over and over and over again about catching flies with honey. Having been blindsided more than a few times has not helped. My husband has been good cop to my bad cop. He has kept me calm during IEPs in particular. Wouldn't be good form, for instance, to shout, "You lie," although this one time I badly wanted to. (And she did. Blatantly.)

    I can see why you'd have an aversion to helicopter dads. If Kid O could speak for herself, believe me, i would let her do it. i am momma bear. I've had to be. But I am learning to breathe a bit, jump to conclusions less and listen better.

    Of course it helps when I feel that the teacher is open to listening as well.

    Thank you.

  8. Debbie,

    Here's a test comment.


  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  10. Parents are almost silent where I work (low-SES, Latino) because of the stereotypes people apply to the parental population. Often, schools work against or away from rather than with parents.

  11. I apologize, John. I am still unaccustomed to comments that I don't look as often as I should.

    What you say is exactly what I feel up against. We see this too in our neighborhood. Low income/working class Latino. I suspect mainly either intimidated or fatalistic.