Parental Accountability, Anyone?

“I ripped the Obama sticker off of my truck.  We worked hard for this man, we talked to our neighbors and our fellow teachers about why we should support him, and we’re having to dig the knife out of our back.” — Zeph Capo, Houston Federation of Teachers

Hearing about President Obama’s support of a Rhode Island schools district’s decision to fire all of its teachers and the Boston Public Schools’ plan to follow suit  infuriates me to no end. I’m not one to get angry, but the more I read about this debacle, the more I want to throw things across the room and kick over my neighbor’s trash cans.  As a teacher who has taught in two different urban middle schools in metro Boston, I am no stranger to the ins and outs of the increased pressure to meet standards and to perform well on standardized tests.  I once had to administer a standardized test to a boy who had literally just arrived from El Salvador the day before.  Since he was on the school’s roster, he had to take the test.  Otherwise, the school would have been penalized.  Not only did he not speak any English, he had no idea why I was watching him fill in bubbles with a number 2 pencil.  From my experiences and from what I’ve been hearing about in the news, the fact is everyone loves to hold the teachers accountable for the failings of public education .  While I do not deny there are poor quality teachers who should step away from the profession, I am wondering: WHAT ABOUT THE PARENTS?!  Why does the success of the student fall solely on the teacher? Why should teachers be held responsible for the shortcomings of students’ parents?

A teacher can promote high standards until she is blue in the face, but it means nothing if it is not reinforced at home. In my experiences, the highest achieving students were the ones whose parents were the most supportive and most involved in their lives.  These were the parents who showed up to parent/teacher conferences, who made phone calls, or sent e-mails when in doubt, and who volunteered to chaperone on field trips.

On the other hand,  many parents are unable to show up to conferences, meetings, make phone calls, and it’s not their fault. The playing field is not equal. Some parents work during conference times, are unable to volunteer at the school because of work, or are single parents who do not have the luxury of balancing their kid’s schedules with another adult. Other parents work three jobs to make ends meet so that their children can have better opportunities than they did, leaving little free time to spend with their children.  There are also parents who don’t always feel comfortable approaching the school or participating at school for cultural reasons.  The language barrier alone can be intimidating.

Still, I believe that the quality of parenting is directly correlated to a school’s achievement rate.  When kids are coming to school angry from something they witnessed at home, with poor hygiene, exhausted from lack of sleep, and hungry, learning is the last thing on their mind.  Stop blaming the teachers. Focus on where parents and families are struggling and figure out what can be done to help them grow stronger.  The school and outlying community need to come together as a whole and support struggling parents and families.  Low performing schools cannot be improved by simply firing all its teachers, they can be fixed if communities start to address the real issues behind low achievement.

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9 thoughts on “Parental Accountability, Anyone?”

  1. This is such a good point! I completely agree…it is so unfair to blame the teachers! You don’t blame the dentist for a kid’s cavities, do you? You wouldn’t blame the doctor for your child’s obesity. And you shouldn’t blame the teachers for underperforming schools. There’s a reason why Newton and Brookline schools are doing better than Boston’s …and it’s not the difference of quality in teachers. Thanks for writing this awesome article, Sonia!

  2. Thanks for reading, Nicolle! You are so right, we don’t blame the dentist for a kid’s cavity or a doctor of a kid’s obesity! So why is it any different for teachers?! Teachers are an easy target, but the wrong one. Time to examine the real issues here.

  3. I saw a news story on this the other night and was similarly shocked by the lack of attention paid to the role of parents in educating children. While it certainly makes sense to fire a teacher if he or she is truly underperforming, this kind of cleaning house seems more like scapegoating than problem solving. Good post!

  4. I agree, a teacher should be fired if he or she really is not truly performing, but unfortunately I think criteria used to evaluate teachers is unfair, i.e. looking just at test scores. Obama’s idea of giving teachers merit pay based on test scores is a terrible one and further encourages this unfair evaluation of teachers.

  5. THANK YOU so much for saying this. I have been ranting about this to friends and family for a while now. Teachers can’t take all the blame! Apart from the basics like hygiene and hunger and sleep deprivation that you mentioned, there’s also the basic attitude. too many kids come to school just to socialize. I just finished covering a very challenging maternity leave. Some of the kids, whose parents were involved, supportive, interested, etc. were great. They were teachable, curious, considerate. Other kids were bitter, cruel, and lazy. I’m not talking about the “smart kids” versus the “lower-achieving students”. There are traits that can only come from home, that make kids work in a classroom regardless of their abilities. I can’t teach that stuff. No one can. It has to be instilled from an early age. Early, as in, from infancy. I don’t expect all parents to be terrific, but that doesn’t mean that it’s all the teachers’ fault.

    The same thing goes for teachers and schools being held responsible for bullying. My favorite is the schools being held accountable for cyber-bullying, which (obviously) is happening at home. It’s illogical. Teachers are being scapegoated because you can’t fire parents! You can’t fine them when they are miserable at their jobs. So we blame the second-in-command.

    There are so many problems with the educational system and, while it is easy to blame the teachers, I don’t think they’re the main problem.

    Thanks for the post. It needs to be said (again and again!).

    PS. Before I have any crazy parents ranting back, let me just say that YES THERE ARE BAD TEACHERS, but it’s certainly not all of them. And I’d be so bold as to say it’s not even most.

  6. Thanks for reading, Laura! I think we all agree that yes, there are bad teachers out there that should not be teaching, but it’s not fair to scapegoat the good ones. In fact, it’s time to stop that nonsense and focus on WHY the educational system in our country is broken. I would also agree that most teachers are NOT bad. People who say that obviously have never set foot in a school. I think once a person attempts to teach h/she would realize just how challenging the profession is.

    I don’t understand why we can’t just abandon No Child Left Behind and focus on strengthen families and changing some of the negative attitudes.

    It’s interesting you brought up cyberbullying because that is another topic I find very interesting. I once had a student make up a fake screenname and pretended to be me. She then IMed other students asking them about my homework assignments. Although it happened at home, it had implications in the classroom. I felt uncomfortable about the situation, but since it happened outside the school, nothing could be done. Such a gray area.

  7. SJ,

    Nice to read someone that gets it. I’ve spent the last few days answering the judgmental so-called reformist that only have one answer…blame the teacher.

    Keep up the great work!

  8. Zeph, thank you so much for reading! I was inspired by your words in the New York Times article that I read. It simply boggles my mind how teachers are consistently blamed for things that are well beyond their control. What happened to trusting in our teachers?

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