(I wanted to share something that made my day a little brighter…especially during such troubling times with the CPS teacher strike)
For those who don’t know, I research parent involvement, particularly in low income schools. I chose these schools not because they allegedly have lower incidents of parent involvement (they do not; they have different incidents of parent involvement that often occur at home away from teachers’ eyes), but because these are the parents who are ignored, overlooked, devalued, and misunderstood by schools. These are the parents who often lack the navigational capital to advocate for themselves. So I help them gain the information they need to feel empowered and able to help their children learn.
I also help teachers realize that all parents—regardless of age, SES, race, native tongue, geographic location, employment status—want their children to do well in school.
Last school year, I began working with a Title I alternative middle school to design and implement a parent involvement program. At our first meeting, the assistant principal said ‘these parents don’t care. They only show up to stuff if there is free food. If they can’t get anything for free, you won’t see them!’ I don’t know much about her professional career in education, but I do know that she irritated the heck out of me that day. In the span of 46 minutes, she repeated a version of that statement 3 times. What’s more, she said it twice in front of her faculty.
Fast forward a year to today. That particular administrator is no longer at the school, but all the teachers remained, as did the principal and administrative assistant with whom I correspond frequently. Today’s meeting was a completely different experience than last years. So much so that I had to check my field notes from last year to make sure I wasn’t remembering that meeting in a biased fashion. I wasn’t. The teachers this year were READY for me. Before the meeting even started, the math teacher was sharing ideas she had to get parents involved in the curriculum on a continuous basis. The English teacher described a weekly computer program students were to complete with parents’ help. They had ideas for dances, recruitment groups, career days, college days, and monthly student-parent lunches. They volunteered to spearhead an event each, knowing they would be responsible for recruiting parental assistance. They devised parent involvement activities for those parents whose schedules and life contexts preclude them from coming to the school. They were excited, willing, and optimistic.
They were everything many teachers working with low income students are not.
These teachers know the benefits of parent involvement not only for students, but also for overall school climate. They know it is their responsibility to invite parents’ participation in students’ learning. They know that a lot of parents are unaware of the school’s desire for their participation. Most of all, they know that their students’ parents are loving, caring, devoted people who work hard to provide their children with opportunities to better themselves. These teachers know the parents are assets to the school that should be celebrated, not mindless drones who need to be told what to do. These teachers—my colleagues—view parents as funds of knowledge that complement traditional curriculum, not undermine it.
It is those last points to which I’ve dedicated my scholarship. No matter how much I read it, discover it, speak it, or demonstrate it, I never feel like teachers—people—get it: All parents have something to offer; it is up to you to ask them for it.
I am so proud of those teachers. I am proud of them for going above and beyond their daily instructional duties. For volunteering to help one another in addition to helping their students. For knowing that it truly does take a village to raise a child. And for being willing to put that village and that child ahead of themselves.
Shout out to teachers everywhere who remember why they do it.