“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.