Last September, Ron Clark, nationally recognized educational author and founder of the Ron Clark Academy, posted a special CNN piece entitled: “What Teachers Really Want to Tell Parents” (6 September, 2011). As a former high school teacher who moved back up to postsecondary education, I read Clark’s post with a smile as I could not agree with his points more. However, I would add that many of his comments now apply to college students and their parents.
Therefore, parents, here is an overview of Clark’s five comments with some additional explanation on how his points apply to the postsecondary level, too.
Educators Not Nannies
Clark states first that “educators are not nannies”; rather they “are educated professionals who work with kids every day and often see your child in a different light than you do” (6 September, 2011). Faculty have specialized training in accordance with the level of education where we teach your child, and this includes working with incoming freshmen and non-traditional students at the college level. Therefore, we are working with your son or daughter at a level of professional knowledge in the same way a doctor does, and for you to ask another student or individual to verify what we’ve stated is insulting (Clark, R. 6 September, 2011). More importantly, it’s not conducive to your child’s learning. Would you turn to one of your child’s friends for a second opinion on a health treatment?
Stop Making Excuses
Clark mentions his frustration at parents making excuses for their children. His comments here reverberate through the halls of higher education and beyond into a lack of gainful employment. Clark states: “Some parents will make excuses regardless of the situation, and they are raising children who will grow into adults who turn toward excuses and do not create a strong work ethic. If you don’t want your child to end up 25 and jobless, sitting on your couch eating potato chips, then stop making excuses for why they aren’t succeeding. Instead, focus on finding solutions (6 September, 2011).
Mom and dad, many of us at the postsecondary level see these kids that Clark describes. After years of making excuses for your children, they constantly expect their excuses to be accepted at the postsecondary level and on the job. While some college students complete every assignment on time and to the best of their ability without complaint, your sons and daughters offer a relentless litany of excuses that if they knew how to redirect their words toward their school work within a strong work ethic, their assignments would be completed easily. These are the kids who tend to flunk out of college and return home. Additionally, as one who has had hiring responsibilities, I would add that these adult children are also a type of job applicant I reject quickly.
Our shared goal is to help your children become independent learners and functioning adults in the future. Help the process by dropping the excuses.
Be a Partner Instead of a Prosecutor
Here Clark describes the tendency some parents have to immediately threaten legal action if a child doesn’t earn a certain grade or if the child gets into some trouble at school (6 September, 2011). I agree with Clark that these mistakes made by children are not really failures; rather, they are opportunities to learn and to grow. To use Clark’s example, if your son or daughter earns a 79% and you want it raised to at least an 80%, don’t threaten to sue the school or teacher in order to get what you want for your child in some way (e.g., extra credit). In fact, schools are warning faculty about how acting as a nanny, accepting excuses, and giving in to students/parents by offering extra credit, etc. can actually increase lawsuits. For example, see Florida International University’s 2011-2012 Faculty Handbook (p. 7).
The problem of parents as prosecutors is so bad that 69% of principals say they’ve been threatened with lawsuits while 82% of K12 teachers and 77% of principals state this has changed education not necessarily for the better ( Education World, 1996-2011). Postsecondary institutions are also devoting a lot of time, energy, and money toward avoiding litigation, even situations like 1% difference in a grade. Is this really what parents want? Wouldn’t you rather the focus be on educating and preparing your sons and daughters for adulthood?
Walking on Eggshells
Clark quite accurately states that all of this leaves educators “walking on eggshells” in fear of causing some offense for teaching and caring for children and that “issues with parents” is one of the main reasons why new teachers leave the profession on average after 4.5 years (6 September, 2011). A similar trend is seen at the college level. In fact, this overwhelming pressure that is so contrary to providing a good teaching learning environment is seen by some researchers as the overall reason about one-half of teachers leave the profession and why a shocking 90% of new teacher hires are replacing educators who have left the profession (Boyer, A. & Hamil, B. “Problems Facing American Education,” 2008). Teacher attrition is costly in more ways than just money. I have seen quite a few wonderful teachers leave the profession—stop educating your sons and daughters—because working under such conditions became too difficult.
Deal with Negative Situations in a Professional Manner
Clark ends his piece with a plea for parents to approach teachers with respect (6 September, 2011). Educators want parents and students to feel comfortable asking questions about behavior and grades, but this needs to be done with the attitude of seeking input and advice from a professional rather than by bringing a lawyer to a meeting with a teacher under the duress of litigation. Clark suggests that when an issue of concern arises, parents set up a meeting with the teacher and begin by acknowledging there are “two sides to every story” (6 September, 2011).
Although I agree with Clark’s sentiment, my advice would be not to approach this with potential “us vs. them” diction, meaning setting up “two sides.” Rather, I would suggest parents and teachers approach the situation of raising and educating young people as the complex process it really is. With mom and dad shedding light from the home perspective and a professional educator illuminating what has gone on in the school environment, a proactive and positive solution can be quickly reached for all involved.
The same holds true at the postsecondary level with the added reminder that your children are now entering adulthood. It’s time to gracefully and lovingly bow out. Offer your children the opportunity to converse with you and to process their thoughts; guide them toward discovering solutions to issues with their college education. Provide love, but avoid direct involvement.
Overall, as your children move from preschool to college, parents should see educators as allies, as professionals helping their sons and daughters successfully become independent adults. Isn’t this what we all want?
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