What Parental Involvement Really Means

We often hear that teachers lament the lack of parental involvement in their classrooms, and I know that is true, parents do too often leave it up to the professionals.

But there are reasons for this that are not about the failures of the parents, but about the failures of the system. My primary experience with public school, beyond the fact that I am a public school grad, is that our our oldest was in public school kindergarten many moons ago, and I have had a few conversations with the LIttle Boys’ teachers, who have been understandably frustrated by their mother’s lack of consistency with classroom activities. The HM and I both have also been the representative grandparents for the Little Boys sometimes for school functions.

I wanted to be very, very involved with my daughter’s class, but my experience was that the desire for parental involvement was not really a partnership of equals. The only involvement *really* desired was for parents to spend money on supplies for the classroom and to do what we were told by the teacher. I know I am not the only parent who has received this message from my kid’s teacher.

Quite often parental involvement goals result inteachers who treat parents like students in their own classes- actually ‘assigning’ homework to the parents, subjects for them to study. Not asking, mind you, not encouraging interest, not merely suggesting resources if parents are interested in pursuing a topic further- just sending home a letter assigning homework to the parents and directing the parents to complete it. This would put my back up, and I’m sure it does others, too.

When parents really get involved in their children’s education, acting like the adults they are who have more invested in their children’s lives than any teacher who only has them for nine months, then that’s interference, overbearing, and unacceptable. Otherwise, why all the complaints we hear from teachers about parents who actually want to have some influence on the materials their tax dollars purchase for their children to use in school?

Then there’s the issue that the parents today are the natural product of the schools they graduated from. Back when I was in school teachers actually told their students not to report back at home what was going on in the classroom- that it was not our parents’ business. We were told that our values were not our parents and should not be and we had the right to make our own values. Now those kids are grown up and parents, and some of them really learned that message- and the new crop of teachers are upset about it.

A generation further back- here in my town my mother tells me that when she was in school there was a command decision made by a principal in one town that a busload of farm kids in the county ought not to be going to his school- so he called the school in a nearby town, made arrangements for the kids to transfer and ordered the bus to take those kids to the other school- all in one morning. He never called the parents at all. The kids found out they’d been transferred when the bus went to the new school. The parents found out when their kids came home and told them. Nobody questioned the principal’s authority to do this, because everybody believed (after years of school indoctrination) that he had that authority.

About ten years ago a friend of mine got in trouble because her son’s school was teaching whole language and creative spelling. They told her son to spell rabbit however he wanted, for instance, and told his mother he’d learn it right later. She taught him phonics at home and taught him how to read and spell. Her son’s teacher did not appreciate this kind of parental involvement and told her, and I am quoting, that she had _no right to interfere._

I agree that parents need to be more involved (so involved that more of them homeschool ). But I think in some cases teachers are reaping what the educational establishment ahead of them sowed. And in most cases the desire for parental involvement is lip service- what they do not desire is parental involvement on an _equal_ basis-

they want parents to be involved at a menial, ‘you do what I want you to do to make my life easier’ basis, and they are not really interested in disagreement or being challenged in any way, or having the parents act like mature adult people with a huge stake in what happens to their children. I get that, I really do. I understand how frustrating it would be to have to deal with 20 different sets of parents (or more, with two parent households going by the wayside), each with different ideas, clamouring to be heard. It’s not efficient, and no human being could possibly meet all those demands. But then, we can’t really complain when parents aren’t interested in being dutiful little teacher’s helpers who don’t want to do homework, either.

Just one more brief comment: One other indication of exactly what footing the public school wishes this parental involvement to be on- the school now decides whether to approve or disapprove children’s absences, not the parents.
If a parent decides a child may legitimately miss a day of school for whatever reason, it doesn’t matter. The school will approve or disapprove the parent’s decision. That is clearly not a partnership of equals, and it is a circumstance indicating that the school has removed authority from the parents’ hands, but still wants to absolve itself of all responsibility for the outcome.

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  1. Elizabeth
    Posted August 26, 2013 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    When we live in NY, my daughter went to the NYC public school system. They limited family involvement and wouldn’t allow siblings in to the school (at least at my daughter’s school). Here in PA my daughter still goes to the public school. I’ve found that the teachers are much more open. I had an issue with an assignment. I questioned the teacher. She defended the assignment and the book it came from. She wasn’t really an observant woman though (she had it in her head that my daughter had reason glasses instead of glasses for distance). I went to the principal and they no longer use that book. As it turns out it was just that teacher using it. I feel involved in my child’s education. The school has a family event each month. Family involvement in things like the garden club was greatly appreciated. They understand time off for illness and even family trips during the year. I went and taught a few recipes and how to take care of cucumber beetles on their zucchini. I honestly think it depends on the school system. I do think that too many parents just leave educating to the teachers. They figure their parents weren’t involved with them and that’s what the teachers are there for. As parents take an interest, things will begin to change. I teach my children at home before they’re school age, we research things that interest them. We encourage question asnswering and not enough people do that.

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted August 26, 2013 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      That’s wonderful that your school is like that. Our child was only in the kindergarten of public school, and it was very, very clear that my involvement was not welcome at all, other than to buy stuff for the classroom, no matter how hard I tried.

      I also used to read a lot of teacher’s forums/newsgroups back in the day, and I found it very interesting that the two most common complaints were about parents- they were not involved or they were too interfering. I don’t think anybody but me noticed the irony of those two particular complaints.

  2. 6 arrows
    Posted August 26, 2013 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    My neighbor’s son last year had several absences due to illness. After a certain number of them (ten or eleven, I believe), the parents were told by the school that no more sick days would be allowed for him unless he had a note signed by his doctor. Well, they weren’t going to go the expense of taking him to the doctor just for a fever or something that he could get over on his own at home.

    They got frustrated enough with that policy that they have pulled their kids out of our local school district now for this year, and will be doing online public schooling, which apparently has a lot more flexibility regarding attendance.

  3. abba12
    Posted August 26, 2013 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    Part of the problem with the teachers saying that you are not to go home and report things that happen at school to your parents is that a teacher can then use that to stop you reporting an illegal incident, and because it’s what you’ve always been told and what’s been accepted, they can get away with it.

    Thankfully, I thought the rule of not telling my parents what happens at school was stupid, so they could actually do something about an incident that occurred involving me.

  4. Kat Menard
    Posted August 27, 2013 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    I taught school in varies forms for over a decade, and i can say (at least for me and many of my colleagues), guilty as charged. Yes, i wanted parents interested enough to make sure assignments were being completed, my discipline measures are reinforced, and any parties/events are catered–but please don’t make demands on my curriculum choices or classroom time. I spent a lot of time planning what I wanted to do, and what i wanted to teach those little skulls of mush and i didn’t like someone telling me they didn’t like this or that (and since i was a Christian, I believed my choices morally clear). Of course, my perspective changed dramatically when i had my OWN children. The idea then of giving them over to someone else’s ideas, philosophy, choices, etc.. scared the liver out of me! I realized that even though as a teacher i wasn’t half -bad and had made an indelible impression on many of my students–I made an INDELIBLE IMPRESSION ON MY STUDENTS. In some cases supplanting, for better or worse, their parents’ wishes/morals. Long story short, we now have 4 children and we home school.

    • Rebekah
      Posted August 27, 2013 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

      I really like this comment, and it is the exact conviction I wish I could get many other Christian parents to consider. They never seem to want to stop and think, who is teaching my child, and what does she want to teach that child, and is it even in line with what I think is most important or right. I just can’t see the sense in completely abdicating parental authority to (many nice) people we don’t even truly know.
      I wish they could hear this from former teachers, like you, more frequently.

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