The Joys (and Sorrows) of Being a Parent and an EducatorFebruary 29, 2012 | Hollee Freeman
The burden is heavy for educators who are parents -- and, I dare say, even heavier for those of us who consider ourselves progressive educators in this age of heavy standardized testing and tight curriculum calendars that leave little room for exploration of ideas. Traditional, progressive or somewhere between, all of us who are (simply) educators and parents of school-aged students have to think about when, how and for what reason we interact with teachers. In particular we must think about the ways in which we ask questions and respond when these questions are answered. I have learned to control my face, voice and body when having discussions about curriculum, assessment and... alas, learning. And through it all, I have often wanted to be just a parent or just an educator, but most of all, to be blunt and not have to worry about how my bluntness would directly or indirectly impact my child.
For me, being a parent and an educator is complex enough without the added issue of race as a subtext. Perhaps this is just my issue because I am acutely attuned to issues of race, equity, access and expectations (but somehow, I don't think so). Issues of race, equity, access and expectations come up often for me as the parent of a school-aged child living in a suburban area with few non-white students or teachers.
I see the equity issues which, to me, seem as obvious as a billboard. One such billboard popped up at the end-of-the-year school ceremony for fifth graders. Not one black or Latino student received an award (academic or social, mind you -- and there were a lot of awards given). Am I expected to believe that only White and Asian students do well academically and/or socially in this school? In this community? I don't believe that for a minute . . . and if, by chance, this is the case (which it is not), the school has a lot of work to do in addressing this dearth of experiences and expectations that use students' strengths and build their muscles in these and other ways.
As a parent and an educator, I have to wonder: how does this oversight happen? Don't teachers pay attention to this stuff? This is not to say they should give students accolades when they don't deserve it, but surely, surely there are some deserving students who were not recognized. Experiences are plentiful for the discerning.
Confronting the Assumptions
I remember vividly last year when one of my daughter's teachers requested that she come in for remedial math support. When I asked the teacher to show me the data which suggested that she did, in fact, need this support, all the teacher could do was to look at her papers and admit that she was incorrect and, in fact, my child was doing well in math. I hadn't yet told her that I have written math curricula and have traveled both nationally and abroad working on math curriculum projects. I tried to just be the parent.
I have to wonder: how does this happen? How does the teacher assume that the student of color in the class needs remedial help without first looking at her/his data? Why can't the kid of color be assumed academically amazing first and not deficient? How do teacher perceptions affect how they interact with students, particularly students that they assume to be deficient?
I ended up being a parent and telling the teacher why is it important to me and to her that she get to know my child's strengths as well as what she needs to work on. I also ended up being a teacher and asking her questions about how she assesses what students know. For example, does she ask higher order thinking questions of all the students? Where do the students sit? Does this matter? (Perhaps that was overstepping my boundary, but I was fed up.) I talked to the teacher about the challenges facing students of color, in particular, and how important it is for these students to have access to the same education as their white and Asian counterparts sitting right next to them. I also talked to her as an educator about Bloom's Taxonomy and student discourse in mathematics, agreeing to check in during the year (which I did).
All of this work as a parent and an educator is emotionally draining and yet, if assumptions like that teacher's go unchecked, it could mean a difference in the quality of education my child receives. I just think about the parents who cannot vacillate between these two roles and chose when to be one or the other or both. I just want to send my child to school and trust that she is getting the same education as the kid next to her. I don't want to be THAT parent who is always hypersensitive about educational opportunity but... if experience tells me anything, it's that I have to advocate for my child because it might not happen any other way. I'm grateful that I know something about how classrooms and schools work and have the wherewithal to use this information productively.