The Path Less Taken | A Blog for Principals and Teachers – School Matters

 
 

The Path Less Taken

 
 

 

 

iStock 000017971422XSmall2 200x300 The Path Less TakenThe more things change the more they stay the same. Over the last few weeks I have seen the truth of that simple phrase. My work as an educational consultant has taken me to three continents in the last three weeks, working with schools within very different cultures, any yet with amazingly similar challenges.

While the scope of those challenges reaches beyond my word allocation, one issue is too strikingly similar to ignore: parents. From Johannesburg to Jacksonville, principals and teachers alike all bemoan the fact that parents seem to be taking over our schools. Whether chairing school boards or organizing grass roots committees, they seem to be everywhere, voicing their opinions with conviction and unyielding determination.

Long gone are the days when the teacher was always right; it seems these days the teacher can do no right. “You’re the professional, you know better”, has been replaced by “I’m the parent, I know what’s best.” Parents focus solely on the needs of their child, completely oblivious to the fact that their child’s needs must be balanced with the needs of twenty five other children in the classroom. They leave little room for compromise and seem to want immediate results.

In many of the private schools in which I consult, the prospect of losing tuition dollars is a significant concern. Enrollment statistics can make or break a school, giving almost every parent the ability to threaten and to have those threats taken seriously. If good business practice lives by the motto, ‘the customer is always right’, where does that leave the classroom teacher or the school principal who valiantly tries to please, or at least placate, his or her ‘customers’.

Complicating matters is what I call the Goldylocks Syndrome which plagues many schools. Is the porridge too hot or too cold? Did the teacher give too much homework or too little? Were there too many words on the vocabulary list or too few? What customer A wants, customer B hates. (The funny part comes when the student’s mother is customer A and his father is customer B!) I don’t know of a more people-intensive environment than a school community, and balancing the competing needs of all the members of that community has become an educators nightmare.

What can be done? Obviously, there are no easy solutions. But, that said, I would like to offer two thoughts.

First, as difficult as it may be, we should try and empathize with parents whenever appropriate. By in large, parents are not bad people, out to cause anguish for their child’s teachers. In almost all cases they would love nothing better than to hear that all is fine in school so that they do not have to spend even a second dealing with teachers or administrators. Today’s economic realities demand more and more of their time, frequently resulting in both parents working long hours. When their child comes home unhappy and demands their attention, their stress level rises and they search for the easy solution, the path of least resistance; blame the school. While we the educators know the issue is with the child, not the school, that option is too painful (i.e. would demand too much of their time) for parents to comprehend. So, if possible, just bear with them.

Which leads to my second point. Many times, parents just want to be heard. Acknowledging the fact that there is a problem may be all that is needed. Sometimes saying, “I understand your concern and will see what can be done”, may suffice to cool a rising temper. A defensive stance may be justified, but many times will escalate the tension, when cooler heads must prevail. Parents know that change will not happen overnight, or possibly not even in the foreseeable future, but they also want to know that they are not being ignored and that someone feels their pain.

While the above does not relate to the truly difficult parent, I feel it does apply to many of the challenges mentioned above. Perhaps the path of least resistance might have some merit after all.

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4 Comments

  1. Abby Farber says:

    As both a parent with children in the public school system, and as someone who has worked in charter schools and has interacted with parents, I am troubled by the statements in this posting.

    For example: “By in large, parents are not bad people, out to cause anguish for their child’s teachers. In almost all cases they would love nothing better than to hear that all is fine in school so that they do not have to spend even a second dealing with teachers or administrators.”

    I feel this statement to be a condescending generalization of parents’ concerns for their children. Where do you have that data that supports this observation?

    I also find this statement troubling:
    “While we the educators know the issue is with the child, not the school, that option is too painful (i.e. would demand too much of their time) for parents to comprehend.”
    Rephrasing this, you seem to be saying that parents are unable to acknowledge that their children are “the problem”, and “we the educators know the issue is with the child.” Again, this sounds patronizing and dismisses the notion that parents might have legitimate concerns which need to be considered. Instead, you suggest “just bear with them .” Does that mean just nod your head “yes, yes”. pat us on the back and ignore us?

    I also take issue with this statement:
    “Whether chairing school boards or organizing grass roots committees, they seem to be everywhere, voicing their opinions with conviction and unyielding determination.”

    This is a problem? Parents should not be allowed on school boards? In at least two states (NY and CT) charter school law REQUIRES that a parent be a voting representative on a board. But more than that – what is wrong with parents voicing their opinions?

    I believe we (parents and schools) need to move away from the “we/they” paradigm and instead operate in an atmosphere of mutual respect, honesty and constructive feedback. This is the best way to truly serve our children.

    • Karmi Gross says:

      Thank you for your remarks. I certainly did not mean my tone to be condescending to any parent. My words meant to convey the notion (not held by many teachers) that parents seek the best for their children, even though that concern may, in many cases, be misplaced not appropriately communicated. Additionally, my intention was to relay to all educators that it is important to hear parents out, even if they feel the parent is wrong and do not plan on agreeing to the parent’s requests.

      I think it important to add that as a school principal I would always tell teachers that a complaining parent was not their enemy, rather what they should truly fear is an apathetic one. I have also had the opportunity to work with hundreds of parents who have been models of dedication and creative energy which have helped uplift our schools and made my job a true joy.

  2. Abe Feinbweg says:

    School Matters – The Path Less Taken

    The author of this article voiced an obvious perception with his/her comment that, “Parents seem to be taking over our schools—they seem to be everywhere—and with unyielding determination.” “Gone are the days when the teacher was always right—these days the teacher can do no right —. The “professional” teacher has been replaced by the parent who knows what’s best.” And according to the writer this “takeover” operates from coast to coast.

    If we think about it, doesn’t this comment hit the very crux of the problem faced in education today. The people hired to run our schools long ago abdicated their responsibility as educational leaders and many parents, groups, and others were drawn into the leadership vacuum it created.
    One has but to read the daily newspapers for never ending stories of parents and politicians, arguing about the solution to school size, pupil placement, reading programs, teacher evaluation, truancy, teacher replacement, etc. Where ever the school administrator has abdicated his responsibilities, where ever he has no plans and is incapable of making a decision, the public is stepping in to make it for him.

    Another main contribution to today’s school problems are most principals who should be excellent teachers before they are appointed to principalshipst seldom are. Most see themselves as pencil-pushers, ordering supplies and books, and keeping track of things in a secretarial way. Most offer little understanding that the most important part of their job is the continuing effort to help teachers improve.

    The principal is, or should be, the educational leader in the school. He must help his teachers strive for quality in their teaching. An effective principal should spend most of his time evaluating, helping, working with, and providing feedback on the classroom performance of his teachers. To achieve the best possible learning situations in all his classrooms, he should set up an evaluation plan that would assist him in helping teachers become more effective.

    I have taught in and have observed in many elementary schools, and have not seen the above practices yet. How many have you witnessed?

    Since administrators and principals , by and large, have abdicated their responsibilities, is it any wonder that frustrated parents, and everyone else without an education background, have taken over the schools and are making the decisions .

    Abe Feinberg
    jhfeinberg@juno.com

  3. Society at large and parents do not trust SCHOOLS because the society and parents are assessing the school by the behaviour of their kids , . . .parents do not know that Politicians are imposing too much pedagogical distractions in schools and in the medias to deviate their kids from the traditional formal learning spirit ,..,. schools are also making parasites of society …..
    join the groups on facebook “”Education Problems “”and the group “Teachers Problems”

    christian yow sang
    teacher since 1991
    Mauritius island indian ocean

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