What I Really Want to Tell Parents and Teachers

I have read two articles recently that have both stirred some strong feelings in me as a parent and as an educator. The first was an article titled “What Teachers Really Want to Tell Parents” by Ron Clark. In this article Clark goes on to list a handful of things teachers should be telling parents or at least wish they could. Some of the things on this list offended me as a parent and yet some I found myself nodding my head with as a teacher. The second article was titled “What Parents Really Want to Tell Teacher: What You Do Hurts Our Children” by Laurie A. Couture. Her article is in direct response to the Clark article and goes through a list of things parents want to tell teachers. She lists ten items that outline how teachers are failing kids and essentially blames teachers for a long list of offenses towards children. As a teacher, I was sick to my stomach reading many of her claims about teachers.

Both of these articles are more destructive than positive. They make broad generalizations with little actual substance. Guess what? There are horrible parents out there. For some kids, the best part of their day is being with loving and supporting teachers at schools. There are also parents out there that due to working conditions are simply not home when kids are home. It is the teachers at school that Couture claims are “hurting” our children that are there to pick up the pieces and help a kid learn and grow as a person and a student. Regardless of what systems are in place, it is still individuals that make the difference.  

Yet, there are great parents out there…lots of them. They support teachers and help in any way they can. Many of them are members of PTOs and volunteer as schools. When their kids get home from school, they are there to help them with homework and be loving and caring parents.

On the other side of things, yes there are bad teachers out there. Some are mean to kids and some are “hurting” kids. I am not now nor will I ever defend these teachers. They should be removed from classrooms immediately. However, to assume that due to a few bad apples we have to condemn a profession is ridiculous. There are also bad mechanics out there but I still take my car to get fixed by one. In addition, there are bad barbers out there, but I am not swearing of haircuts and growing out my hair. I work with amazing human beings that choose to dedicate their lives to helping kids learn and grow on a daily basis. This is something that should never be condemned no matter what systems might be in place.

There are also amazing teachers out there. I should know because I teach with many of them every single day. The give selflessly of themselves to ensure every kid is loved, nurtured and inspired in the short time they are together. I see them working tirelessly to help kids regardless of what the parental support is at home. They do this even within the system that many claim is broken and not working.

For every bad parent out there, there are millions of good ones. For every bad teacher out there, there are millions of good ones. In my classroom I teach my students that we don’t make judgments or assumptions about people. Both Clark and Couture make judgments about groups of people possibly based on their prior experiences. I choose to treat people as individuals and teach my students the same. One of my students got picked on by an 8th grade student. Did I tell him that all 8th grade students are bad and should be avoided? Nope, because that would have been wrong.

What I want to tell teachers is that not all parents are bad. Parents are a key part to the success and failure of a child. I want to tell parents that not all teachers are bad either. Teachers are a key part to the success and failure of your child. We can’t judge groups of people because we are individuals and should be treated as such. 

32 comments:

Dave Meister said...

Josh,

I also read both of those "tell" pieces and felt very uneasy about both of them. I am a parent of children that are 15 and 13 years old. So far, they have received a great education from the very same flawed system I talk about changing. Good parents and good teachers will make for a great learning experience but it takes both working together. I am not sure why everything in our culture has to be polarized these days. We cannot make our schools better by fighting about what is wrong. We have to find common ground, procure the necessary resources and build what has not existed before. Thanks for the great post!

Anonymous said...

Josh,

I also read both pieces and had the same reaction as you and Dave.

It is just so easy to take shots at teachers and schools. I mean, how do you refute the statement, "Schools are failing our kids!" It's an easy claim that requires very little evidence - why let the truth get in the way of a good headline! You can't NOT educate a group of kids (i.e. a control group) and compare the results after 12 years. My two kids - 11 & 14 - have received a great PUBLIC education from some of the most amazing teachers. Mediocrity exists in every profession, but the vast majority of teachers - and administrators I might add - love what they do and the kids they work with! Thanks!

Tony Baldasaro said...

Josh,
As an administrator I would also suggest there are some great admins, poor admins, amazing admins and amazingly poor admins out there too. We are not exempt from the discussion.

However, I think we need to be careful not to point out individual stakeholders and either point blame or award credit. Learning is an inherently social activity, thus its important for us to remember that it is the learning community as a whole that succeeds or fails.

AmyLynn6981 said...

I also felt ill after reading "What Parents Really Want To Tell Teachers" and I agree that making blanket statements is not the way to go. Thank you for sharing your opinion!

John T. Spencer said...

I enjoyed our DM conversation on that topic yesterday. Both pieces made me uneasy and lacked the nuance, empathy and optimism I would have hoped for. Your response to this is awesome!

MrC said...

The school paradigm has failed. It is not suited to the world we live in. Let us own up to that and get on with figuring out what to do.

The Innovative Educator said...

Josh, thank you for responding to this issue. I appreciate the "Can't we just all get along" sentiment, but it doesn't work.

I think the most important part of Laurie's piece is that even "good" teachers are being forced by the system to hurt children. Recess is becoming extinct. What used to be family and play time is being overrun with homework, tutors, and prep for high stakes tests. Children are forced to sit down nearly all day long. In most districts students are banned and blocked from using technology and communication that allows them to think, connect, and create. etc. etc. etc.

Yes, you, me, and others are good teachers and good people but we are a part of a system that in many, many ways is indeed hurting children.

Defending it and ourselves IS NOT THE ANSWER. Convincing ourselves it's okay because we can engage in the subversive activities that are best for children despite the system, also is not the answer. The answer is to start standing up, speaking up and not allowing this to happen to ourselves or our children any longer.

Laurie brings up a conversation that although it is hard and ugly to engage in, is crucially important to confront...even if it makes us uneasy.

Brian Bennett said...

Josh,
Thanks for writing this. I read both Ron and Laurie's posts as well, and it continues to play into the idea that it is teachers/schools versus parents and children.

While I see truths in both posts, I agree with other commenters that pointing fingers and saying "you're hurting children" isn't going to fix anything because NONE of us are perfect and there never will be a perfect system.

What we should be doing is opening doors to parents and working together to compromise and collaborate to improve our schools. It isn't the responsibility of the one "rogue" teacher to change a school culture. It is the responsibility of the community...amdins, teachers, learners, parents, etc, to make that change.

How do we foster that kind of interaction? I don't know...but I think we should be asking that question rather than writing open letters back and forth to one another.

Chris Francik said...

Josh,
I was disturbed by both points of view. In both articles, there seemed to be a great deal of harsh criticism based on many generalities.
To the Innovative Educator, I agree that withdrawing recess and blocking many forms of technology is nonsensical. But your guest poster's, Laurie, harsh, negative tone does not, in my opinion, does not advance the argument in a helpful way. I agree with several of her points, but style and tone in writing are just as important as substance. I do hope that we, as educators, can change a system far too focused on conformity and testing to be useful. I'm just not sure that harsh criticism will elicit the desired response.

Josh Stumpenhorst said...

Lisa,

I respect Laurie's opinion as well as your own, but can't seem to see how disrespecting people solves the issue or even helps it. Many of the claims that Laurie makes in her article are out of left field and things I have never seen in any school I have been in. You say that defending ourselves is not the answer...well I am sorry if I defend dedicated and loving people that give freely of themselves on a daily basis to make lives of children better.

Laurie and to an extent Mr. Clark create more damage than actually promoting positive change. Generalizing and making assumptions does not help anything. How are parents and teachers supposed to sit at a table together and work collaboratively to help kids when articles such as these damage those relationships by casting stones?

In addition, you claim that Laurie brings up a conversation...where is the conversation? It comes across as a rant of an upset parent. While she makes some valid points, I can tell you for sure that none of these things she speaks of exists in my classroom nor in my school. My kids still have recess in junior high. I rarely have kids sit at a desk for even one whole class period. I do not assign homework. I use technology every single day as do my students. My students think, create and connect every single day. I feel bad that she has experienced such negative things in a school system, but please don't lump us all together.

Is the system perfect everywhere? Nope. But I along with millions of other great educators will stay and ensure kids have positive educational experiences rather than run away from it and complain about it from the outside.

paul bogush said...

As a teacher, and a parent, I see Laurie's comments are nearly perfect. It is what I experienced as a child, a teacher, and a parent. Frankly I am tired of balanced pieces that try to make both "sides" feel good about themselves. This year my comments at the board of ed meetings will not be balanced or try to "bring both sides together." It does not work. Every change I have seen in my school, kid's school, my school as a kid was caused not by a "nice" parent, but one who came in and told it like it was and frankly was angry and aggressive. The "nice" parents are ignored, the ones who come in peace are pacified for a few months until they give up.

In my kid's school, dialogue does not work. Admin has too many tools at their disposal to make you look stupid. I really challenge anyone to attempt to even change a small thing at their kids school. It is amazingly impossible. It takes soooo long. A totally destructive policy can take years to change, and by that time, the parent gives up because their kid is going to be out of the school.

John T. Spencer said...

The reason the conversation is hard is because the tone militant. There is no chance for a conciliatory conversation. There is no opportunity for paradox or nuance.

Yes, the system is flawed. However, the nuclear family is flawed. More parents abuse children than teachers, but I don't advocate getting rid of the family unit altogether.

True, I can't change recess. However, I can allow students to roam my classroom freely and let them choose their own projects. I wasn't able to ditch tests, but I avoided all the common assessment and test prep and managed to get rid of letter grades entirely.

I might say that what I did was, dare I call it, innnovative. Perhaps I was an innovative educator? No, apparently I was a slave driver, thief, child abuser and prison warden.

If I had just run from injustice instead of working to fight against it, then I would have been truly innovative.

John T. Spencer said...

It's a bit like saying, "Look, there's abuse going on. The only solution to this is to advocate neglect."

Josh Stumpenhorst said...

Paul,

That is unfortunate that you had an experience like that. I will agree that parents staying quiet does not solve problems that may be present. I encourage parents to voice concerns and be advocates for their kids. However, as with any relationship in life we have to meet in the middle. If we don't, one group will always resent another and true change will never happen. Yelling and pointing fingers at parents or teachers just widens a gap that leaves kids in the middle and hurt in the long run. I will always choose to work with, rather than against.

John T. Spencer said...

Paul, there is a difference between being nice and being respectful. Asking for dialogue, hoping for conversation - that's how authentic change occurs. Using crazy metaphors (teachers are child abusers, slave-drivers, prison wardens and thieves) prevents us from seeing the perspective of the opposite side.

Josh Stumpenhorst said...

Brian,

Thanks for your comment and I couldn't agree more. Until we all can sit and work together in a collaborative and reflective manner, the stone throwing will continue and nothing will change.

Cathy said...

I agree with everyone who said that both articles made sweeping generalizations and that both articles were disrespectful in tone.

However, the simple truth is that, with the compulsory education laws in place, public schools really *are* a prison of sorts for children. Most kids have to go them, by law, and while there their movement, communication, bodily functions, and desires are generally controlled or curtailed. With all the standardized tests and homework, with all the carrots and sticks, awards and rewards and grades and punishments -- school manages to insert itself into more and more hours of students' lives, and therefore their families' lives as well.

All that caring-about-students that teachers do (I was a teacher who cared, and my husband was one, so I "get" that caring teachers really exist and are the best part of some students' days!) would be so much more of a positive force in a non-coercive school setting.

Yet probably most of you are shaking your heads, thinking that we have to have compulsory ed. laws, or kids wouldn't go to school and parents wouldn't send them.

My reply would be that many parents still need caregivers, and kids and their parents still care about their futures, and if a school is a great no-cost environment with lots of resources, people WILL come!

Tom Schimmer says that we can't run the experiment of NOT educating a group of kids as a control group. Well, depending on your definition of the word "education," the experiment has already taken place and continues to take place. My three kids and many thousands of other kids all over the U.S. have been entirely unschooled, and I would maintain that many other students who attend Sudbury-type free "schools" have also been unschooled. It's not just that these kids didn't attend public schools or traditional private schools -- its that no adult took responsibility for their learning, there was no curriculum to follow. Most of these kids never touched a textbook, and many never took a standardized test. And the results of the experiment? Most unchooled kids have grown up to be articulate, knowledgeable, skilled members of society. Educators everywhere should be paying attention to these very important "experimental results"!

Another thing that educators should be paying attention to is neuro- and cognitive research. Findings about learning and cognition, memory and creativity -- pretty much all of it -- shows that the traditional ways in which teachers teach, and classrooms are set up, and schools and curricula and education requirements and even school hours are arranged are almost diametrically opposite the conditions that would most promote learning.

Cathy said...

When a SYSTEM is ill-conceived and harmful, the system cannot merely be tinkered with. There must be sweeping changes. The reason why Laurie's slavery analogy is apt is not because there aren't many caring, giving, exceptional people in the role of teacher, but because, like slavery, the system is bad. Some slave owners were nice and caring, but they were doing their good deeds within a system that was founded on an entirely wrong idea: that people can own other people. The public system is similarly founded on an incorrect idea: that children can and must be made to learn XYZ at a certain age, for their own good. This idea and traditional schooling is so fundamentally flawed that it must be discarded.

I am not an angry parent of a child who has been hurt by school. My kids never went to school. But I am someone who has been reading and thinking about education from my early teen years, someone who saw that the public education system was harmful even when I was in it, forty years ago, and even when it was stamping me a "winner" with top grades and college scholarships. I am someone who has seen many reforms and reformers come and go, and I am someone who has seen all the "Why Johnny can't read" hand-wringing for decades. I am someone who has seen that, despite all the hand-wringing and "reform," the system is now EVEN worse.

And the school system is hurting kids.

Laurie A. Couture said...

It doesn't surprise me that a teacher is defending teachers. Expecting most teachers to see that the majority of the system is harmful to children is like asking fish to see the water. Most of the teachers who have reacted to my article are not acknowledging my points (collected from my own life experiences and from working with over 1,000 youth and families for over 15 years, inside and outside many public schools, plus the experiences of my son prior to me adopting him), only just scoffing at the message that the system is harmful to children. When a person is in the system perpetuating it, of course they are going to be unlikely to take an objective step away and observe it from the child's perspective or a human rights perspective. I find it curious that defensive teachers insinuate my post is "over generalized" or without evidence. What I wrote is standard public school and classroom practice. When a single teacher tells me their classroom "doesn't look like that", then that just tells me that their classroom doesn't (may not) look like that. It doesn't negate the fact that most classrooms do. Josh, your post about "millions" of good teachers shows that you have not truly read and reflected on my article. What you define as a "good" teacher is unclear, but if it is the same definition that politicians use, a "good" teacher is one who perpetuates most of my points. The fact that you mention that you "teach" children is evidence that you has missed the very point of my article- Teaching against a child's will- the fact that children are forced to BE THERE rather than live their own lives freely- is one of the reasons why the system is harmful to children.

John T. Spencer said...

Laurie, you fail to see that you attacked people rather than the system and then you are shocked (gasp!) that we would defend ourselves. I never defended the system. I defended myself. I defended the notion that there are those working within it to change it.

I never attacked you for having a vested interest in your own system as a consultant.

In my state, public education isn't compulsory. Parents can opt out and choose home schooling and unschooling. Those who choose to send their children to public schools are often loving parents. Good things happen in school. Bad things happen, too, but then again, that's true of all systems (including the family -- and I would never advocate doing away with parents because some are abusive).

I believe in real dialogue and real dialogue doesn't happen when you attack someone by association or when you label and over-generalize.

Frank Haba said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Desiree said...

What is missing is the acknowledgement from teachers that the entire system is
counterproductive to children, family, learning and even yes, teachers who want to help. Until that happens, the whole discussion is moot.

The system is functioning as it is supposed to!!. It is actually a remarkable success! The assembly line system we have is running precisely as it is supposed to. And no "nice" tone in the world is gonna make it right. The people in it keep trying to turn it into something that it is not, was never meant to be and never will be; an enriching respectful and thoughtful environment for everyone involved. Not gonna happen. That is not pessimistic, it's realistic.

The problems within the compulsory education "system" are inherent in it the fact that it is.. a compulsory education system. We are adults here, let's look at the problem and stop trying to stroke each other and tell others about their "tone". There is no time for that. You either care and want to really revolutionize what learning could be in this country, or you want more of the same. So while the teachers keep getting their egos bruised, the assembly line model of education keeps functioning as it is intended to and hurting EVERYONE in the process.


Desiree

John T. Spencer said...

The issue is binary thinking and a lack of nuance or paradox. When you draw the line in the sand and make it either/or, we can't have a conversation. Which is really too bad, because I've had some great conversations with unschoolers who are much more able to engage in real conversation rather than building up and burning down straw men, making over-generalizations and accusing people of being child-abusers and slave-drivers.

Tone matters. Semantic matters. It's not an issue of being an adult. Adults know how to use language to reach out rather than using it as a weapon.

Desiree said...

John, even now... we are talking about "tone"???

Can you please address some of the other points I made. Some of the points that Cathy wrote in the comments here. Teachers want radical change? revolutionary change? Well then do it! Let's really talk about. But before we do understand this is NOT about YOU. As such, be prepared to understand that your interest might conflict with the interest of children. This is about kids and learning. So now that that has been established, let's talk about learning, children and what we as a society can do for them.

Desiree said...

See, this is what I mean.

Josh wrote in of of the comments in this thread,

"I respect Laurie's opinion as well as your own, but can't seem to see how disrespecting people solves the issue or even helps it. Many of the claims that Laurie makes in her article are out of left field and things I have never seen in any school I have been in."

Josh takes issue with Laurie being "disrespectful". The ENTIRE school system is disrespectful. It is forceful, it disregards the individual completely.

Teachers are so embedded, so indoctrinated in the process of schooling, in the entire system that you can't even think outside of it anymore. Yes teacher, telling a 7 year old that they must learn this and learn it now regardless of their personality, talent, maturity, interest, skill, etc... IS disrespectful. It IS counterproductive. Telling children who don't even belong in a classroom to sit still when they should be outside playing, IS disrespectful and wrong. But no, Teachers think the child is a problem, something that needs to be managed, he or she needs to learn this and the parent needs to help. Indeed that is what they are taught in schools, how to manage classrooms. Teachers, the system is rigged for failure. It's a factory system that needs to be brought down and in it's place, something new needs to be build and that should be led by teachers who care.

It's a paradigm shift that is needed, not a change in "tone".

Josh Stumpenhorst said...

Laurie, I am not naive nor have I ever claimed this system is perfect. There are bad policies and yes there are bad teachers. Yet again, that is present in every "system" including families. You do bring up valid points in your article and yet they are not universal.

1. I do address the physical and emotional needs of the students in my class before I even consider the content. I encourage you to read some of my other posts about that topic. I will always learn about the kid before I even think about helping the student learn. Relationships trump everything in my class.

2. Students in my class are free to use the restroom when needed, have healthy snacks in class, as well as carry a water bottle with them at all times.

3. I will agree that medicating a kid is a drastic measure that is taken far too often. Yes, some teachers do refer students to special education services rather than looking at their teaching practices as the potential root of the problem. I am not a fan of medicating a kid until the true root of a problem can be identified. Yes, some times teachers are that problem.

4. I would invite you into my classroom anytime to observe my students at "play". We are constantly moving and interacting in a physical way rather than sitting in chairs. Just the other day my students were interacting on a "map" in the gym that was a recreation of the fertile crescent. They got to walk on the map and choose where to settle rather than reading about it in their textbook.

5. I will nod my head and agree with you on this point 100%. This is why I do not assign homework. When I do, it is to play outside, or give a family member a hug...nothing more.

6. Again, I would encourage you to read some of my other posts about this subject. I strongly believe that all kids are different and unique and so should their learning experience. Kids in my room are free to choose how they learn best and demonstrate their knowledge in the manner they choose and see fit for themselves as individuals.

7. I am truly not sure how to react to this because I do not see this in my students. I regularly talk to parents and they are always welcome in my class as a visitor and participant. In just a couple weeks I will have parents coming in to read with their child as well as mummify a body (not a real one!) in my history classes.

8. This is another one that I to an extent agree with you on. Parents know their children better than teachers do in most cases. However, that is not the case every time. Some parents are overworked or disinterested. While that is not the norm, that is still a reality. I treat every child that walks into our classroom as a learning partner and they are treated with love, respect and compassion every single day. I treat them in the exact same manner as I would want someone to treat my own children.

9. I strive every day to encourage a child's passion and creativity. I don't like the one-dimensional tests as a parent or as a teacher.

10. You are right is saying that children deserve to play, feel happy, safe and good in their own skin. I believe that and it plays out in my classroom every single day.

Josh Stumpenhorst said...

I have not, nor will I ever defend a teacher that makes a child feel subordinate or unsafe or hurt. Those people should not be in education at any level. I also don't think parents that abuse and neglect their child should be parents. However, let's not get rid of the institution of parenting and teaching because of some bad apples. Let's instead call out individuals that are not doing good by children instead of lumping everyone in together.

Kids are what this is all about. As teachers and parents, we need to do what is best for kids. In my experience this only works if teachers respect the parents and the parents respect the teachers. If that does not happen, no good will ever come of this. Rather than shouting back and forth at each other we need to focus on how we can use our own collective experiences and knowledge to make whatever system we choose to have our children in be the best in can be. If your child is in public education then make sure it is the best it can be. As a parent or a teacher, stand up for what is right. If you are homeschooling/unschooling then do what is best for your child/student every day.

My goal was not to create an argument of us and them but to realize we are all fighting the same fight for better education for children...all the children. Some are choosing to be within the system and some without. Let's choose to help each other rather than finger pointing and assuming we can put all teachers or parents in the same box.

Mrs Ripp aka @pernilleripp said...

To call us "jailers' if public school systems are indeed jails are about as big of a slap in the face as you can give anyone. What Laurie fails to mention in her article is that education is mandatory for all children, so to then follow her line of thought then all education is a jail. So then even if you homeschool your child you are jailing your child.

We can fight to change the system but not by using disrespect. Thank you for providing a more nuanced view, Josh. Not one person can ever represent the voice of everyone but you do represent me.

Rebecca said...

Thank you for creating a response for both articles that is intelligent and thought provoking. We need more people like you around!

C Gota said...

Remember that Ron Clark, Disney Hero, Oprah Saint and Teacher of the Year threw the first "tone." Laurie's response is appropriate.

The discussion as well as "tone" in these blogs are GREAT! Shows minds working, & wheels are turning. I love it. Polarization is also great. It tells people that there is always another side to things. I'm glad the sparks are flying. It's our great U.S. democracy in action.

In closing, I would like to say... School Sucks! ;)

Laurie A. Couture said...

I wanted to share my 17 year old unschooling son's responses to Ron Clark's article. I posted one, "What Children Really Want to Tell Teachers" on my blog: http://www.laurieacouture.com/2011/10/what-children-really-want-to-tell-teachers/

and he wrote a prior response as well, both on his blog: http://brycenrrcouture.blogspot.com/2011/09/my-first-reaction-to-ron-clarks-article.html

Laurie A. Couture said...

Josh, I just read your comment to me dated September 17, 2011 1:25 PM You, truly, are what I called in my book, a Gem Teacher. If what you write is true, then if every child was guaranteed to have you for 13 years of forced schooling, their public school experiences would be vastly different than the majority of children who come out of the system. You must understand that you are unfortunately NOT the norm as far as teachers go, you are an exception. I had a small handful of Gems as a youth, but sadly all of them could be counted on one hand. The rest were either mediocre or abusive, the similar variable for all of the youth I've worked with over the years.