Yesterday, I focused on a post by Ron Clark, nationally recognized educational author and founder of the Ron Clark Academy, entitled: “What Teachers Really Want to Tell Parents” (6 September, 2011). Although his comments were directed at K12 parents, I augmented his comments by explaining how his points apply to parents of college students as well.
Today’s post will add five more thoughts to the discussion on what professors really would like to say to parents.
When you call professors or show up at their office door demanding they speak with you about your child, please be aware that without a release form on file with the school granting you permission, educators can not speak to you. This is not because professors are arrogant or hiding something; it is because they are complying with federal law meant to protect your child.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) sets clear guidelines for what may or may not be revealed about students without their having granted permission once the students reach the age of 18 or begin postsecondary education. Although the law provides in-depth guidelines that should be reviewed by students and parents, the bottom line for parents is that you can no longer go into your child’s school and obtain grades, progress reports, and other such information once students reach the age of majority or begin at the postsecondary level. This is true even if you are paying all of the student’s college expenses.
The solution is to have an open discussion with your college-age children to see if they want you to have access. If so, then your son or daughter should complete a release form and place it on file with the university. Even if your child agrees to this, I would suggest thinking carefully about exercising this option because continued parental involvement may hinder a child’s growth and development into an independent adult.
Only Half the Story
One lesson most parents have to learn is that our children do not always tell us the complete story. Did you tell your own parents everything? This is not to call college students liars or imply anything malicious; however, it is human nature to put a more positive spin on problems or issues that are unpleasant. Also, your college-age son or daughter may simply not know all the facts or all that may come into play in an issue. Do they know about FERPA, for example?
Therefore, it is vital that students and parents educate themselves as much as possible on issues related to getting a postsecondary education. Perhaps the largest example comes from misconceptions about college debt. There is a large assumption that college is going to be unreasonably expensive, so some parents send their children off to school and help them amass a large amount of debt. There are ways to save money, however (See my post: “5 Ways to Jumpstart Your College Degree and Save Money!” (16 February, 2012). There are no federal laws keeping parents from helping their children make wise decisions in regard to financing a college education.
Whatever the concern with your college-age child may be, make sure you have a complete understanding before taking action or making any assumptions about educators.
Dedicated and Self-Motivated
In today’s socio-political climate that has declared war on teachers, it’s important to understand that much of this is political rhetoric designed to help politicians get elected and media outlets to make money. The reality is that teaching pays less than other professions, is hard work, and is largely considered a thankless occupation, especially at the postsecondary level.
So why would anyone become a teacher? People who are altruistic, who want to dedicate their lives to helping others improve their futures become teachers. Individuals who are self-motivated to work hard each and every day at bettering the lives of theirs students become educators. For them, it’s not about the money. Although like every profession, a small percentage of these people become discouraged or some bad seeds get into the mix, it’s vital for parents to understand that the vast majority of teachers are there in that classroom with your children because they love what they do and because they want to see your child succeed. This is even truer at the postsecondary level where professors dedicate their lives to their chosen field of study: researching, discovering, and sharing not only with the community at-large, but also specifically, one-on-one with your son or daughter. (See my post, “Educators Pay It Forward,” 31 January, 2012 for a few examples.)
Personally, as a parent, I am thrilled that dedicated, self-motivated instructors are a part of my children’s lives.
Knowing Your Kids
Frequently, even at the postsecondary level, I have heard parents quip: “I know my kids!” I always want to respond, “When it comes to education, so do I!” As parents, we want to believe that our children are special. As educators, we also believe your children as our students are special. However, parents must trust that in the same way the family physician may inquire about symptoms to provide a good assessment of your child’s health, so too do educators analyze what they see in your son or daughter to help them progress academically and to prepare them for working in their chosen field of study after they achieve their postsecondary goal. Parents must trust that professors, especially as they gain more experience in the profession, know how to guide your adult children through the academic requirements and to needed resources. We are keenly aware of how to meet the needs of various types of students (e.g., millennials, non-traditionals, and digital natives), but also how to tailor our approach to the individuality of your son or daughter.
Knowing My Job
Related to the above, you do not know how to do my job as a teacher better than I do. Granted, you have been raising your child for at least 16-18 years prior to their arrival in my college classroom, you probably have some idea of how much stress they can take when it comes to homework, and how they need to approach learning. However, you are not an expert at learning styles because you read a bit about them on a website nor do you know more about the field of specialization at the level of a college professor. This is not to sound arrogant; rather, it’s to clarify. Would you presume to tell your doctor how to remove your child’s tonsils? Therefore, respect the expertise of professors who have earned credentials in their field of specialization and who keep up with the latest pedagogy and discoveries. Be glad that your son or daughter will be benefitting from that shared knowledge.
By keeping the above points in mind, parents can avoid detrimentally interfering in their children’s college education even with good intentions. Rather than participate negatively, there are positive ways parents can be involved. Dads and moms can provide the advice, guidance, and safety net that will help students succeed on their own as they enter the adult world perhaps for the first time.
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