Parents Asking Teachers The Right Questions

In the quarterly Education Review edition of tomorrow’s Post Magazine, Jay Mathews has an column about how parents should interact with their child’s teachers when things are not going well.

I don’t often agree with Mathews but in this article he gets things mostly right.

We dazed and confused parents are often treated like coyotes who have wandered into the educators’ back yard. The message is: You don’t belong here. We are usually not yelled at or sprayed with the water hose or shot, but the reception in the principal’s office can be chilly, and we rarely get the information or action we seek.

Most schools welcome parents as volunteers to support teachers or to raise money, but that’s as far as it usually goes. There aren’t many school districts (or even private schools) that get “outsiders” involved with any of the fundamentals: curriculum development, teacher hiring and professional development.

However, that’s a subject for another day. Mathews’ concerns here about dealing with teachers who parents believe are behaving unprofessionally in their instruction.

He received some good advice from some “experienced parents” who recommend that “Whatever the resistance, do your best to talk the problem out with the people at the school.”. And then add some suggestions of his own.

I think gross injustices, however, require a confrontation, if only to build a record against a bad teacher and show your kid that bullies must be resisted.

The only disappointing part of this story – and the part where I disagree with Mathews – is that he never spoke to his daughter’s teacher about the situation that was the trigger for this article.

Take, for instance, my daughter’s math teacher. I did nothing about him. My wife had written a letter to our son’s high school principal about a struggling Spanish teacher a few years before, and that had prompted no action. We figured that this case was also hopeless.

That’s too bad. If more parents paid attention to what was going on in the classroom, and at least asked questions about instructional decisions they don’t understand, it would go along way to improving schools.