Parents of your students can be like a box of chocolate. You never know what you are going to get. First my apologies to Forrest Gump for using a similar metaphor, but some of the most normal kids will have the strangest parents. Or the strangest kids will have the most normal parents. We all have our list of top five weirdest parent/teacher conferences that have ever happened in our classroom. My number one was when a father challenged me to a fight outside when I said his son tended to act like a bully with the physically weaker kids. In any case, as kids enter into secondary education, their parents show up at school less and less.
Once a child enters school for the first time and becomes a preschooler or kindergartner, their parents hover around the school like helicopters waiting to swoop in at a moment’s notice. They linger around while dropping their child off at school in the morning or arrive earlier and earlier in the afternoon to pick them up while trying to blend in with the scenery in the classroom. The worrisome mom and dad stand just far enough away from their precious child to give the illusion that they are just hanging out, but close enough to where if there is trouble they can pick up the kid and hug and comfort them.
Parents, especially early on, aren’t positive they entirely trust the school or individual teachers with the safety of their child, let alone educating the little boy or girl. But as time goes by, and the child gets older and older, parents tend to hand over the reins to their child’s education and upbringing without even having to meet the teacher. Sometimes years go by and parents do not set foot in the school until it is time for graduation. How do we go from one extreme to the other in such a short amount of time?
Once a student enters into high school, parents seem to only visit their teacher if there is a behavior problem. Even that is happening less and less. Parents now send emails to teachers because it is much quicker to do rather than having to actually show up in the classroom and have a real life conversation. We, as educators, need a happy middle ground.
How do we receive more parental involvement in secondary education? And how can we make sure it is quality involvement? Asking parents to assist their child in doing their homework every night is like pulling teeth. More than a few parents think anything that has to do with education is strictly the school’s and the teacher’s responsibility. They will gladly sit down in their living room and watch movies with their kids, but to help educate them is out of the question. However, their backwards thinking is that it is still the teacher’s fault if their child is receiving poor grades.
One method that several educators have had success with is to have an open house in their classroom the third week of the school year. (More people will show if there is coffee and pastries offered.) This usually takes place for an hour or two a couple nights during that week. This allows the teacher to familiarize themselves a bit with the students before meeting the parents. If a few of the parents have some sort of career tied into the content area that you teach, it makes for an easy question to ask them to partake in a few special projects in the classroom.
This also helps to develop at least a small relationship with the parents where if there is a need to contact them, there is not a high degree of awkwardness. (Especially if they owe you because they drank your coffee and ate your pastries.) It is easier to mistrust a stranger, and parents and teachers should never be strangers. In closing, if parents know that their child’s teacher is open to involvement in a high school classroom and actively reaching out, there is more of a chance they will participate.