Let me be clear: I don’t want to be a problem parent. I want to feel like my children’s teachers and I are partners in guiding my girls’ education. I’ve experienced that a few times, and it is marvelous. I have seen my children thrive when we all collaborate together with teachers who treat both me and my children with respect, who are passionate about teaching, and who are available to me and my kids beyond the school bell.
Let me further state that I have no doubt that any teacher got into the profession for any reason other than to make a difference. It is a tough, tough job with lots of red tape and many responsibilities well beyond their pay grade. When I first meet any teacher, I always want to believe that they’ll be amazing.
Unfortunately, I have been disappointed a few times along the way. For the first few years, I tried to be a model parent at all times, and always believed that there was nothing to question about how the teacher was running their classroom. I witness many time teens who dropped out from high school because of teachers, sure there are always GED programs in the NYC neighborhood but I don’t want my kids to follow this road.
When my oldest was in 2nd grade, we started to have homework battles. Every week, she had 10 vocabulary words, and each night, a different task to do with them. One night a week, the task was to write each word five times and use a different color for every letter. It was a time-consuming task, changing writing utensils for every letter, deciding on which color to use for each letter (no matter how often I would tell her it didn’t matter, just pick a color, my little 8-yr-old wanted to make patterns, and her version of perfect). We groaned each week when this assignment came up, and I would bargain with my daughter to get her to do it, but I never questioned that we had to do it.
Until Back to School Night, that is, and one parent stood up and talked about this very assignment and how difficult it was in their house. All the parents started nodding and murmuring in agreement. The teacher looked surprised because she had no idea what grief it was causing all of us at home, and came up with an alternative assignment instead.
It was then that I learned that speaking up, questioning the way things are can actually change the way things are for the better.
Since then, I’ve spoken up. I try to do so respectfully by explaining what’s not working for our family. Sometimes, teachers work with us and offer alternatives. But sometimes, not only do they not change the way things are, but they look at me differently. I can see in their eyes that I’ve become a problem parent.
I don’t want the teachers to assign me homework. I work full-time, I’m a single parent full-time, and I have my own ideas on how I want to spend my limited time with my growing girls. I don’t want to spend our evenings working on dioramas. My children are interested in art, and I love it when they pull out their own supplies and create what they want to create. Personally, I have no talent in the visual arts, and no desire to improve upon those lacking qualities. I prefer to spend our “family art” time listening or going to see Broadway musicals.
When my children don’t understand their Math assignment, I don’t want to spend the evening googling similar equations, trying to find a methodology that coincides with how they were taught. I want to send a note to the teacher that my child doesn’t know how to do this; please review. I think it’s quite possible that if my child doesn’t understand how to do it, then other children in the class might not either.
I don’t want my daughter’s teacher to tell her that book reports are boring, so create a Book in a Bag project instead. I want my daughter to know how to summarize a book, and state what she thought the book was about, and think about character development. Instead, my daughter focuses on finding the “right” objects to put in her bag instead of thinking about themes.
I am happy to serve on the PTA. I am happy to provide my children the time and space to do their homework, and encourage them and guide them when necessary. I am happy to buy an extra box of tissue for the classroom. I am happy to teach my children about organization, charity and other lessons not normally taught in a classroom. I am happy to support their after-school activities that enrich their whole being.
But sometimes, this parent has a problem. And I’ll continue to say so when I do.