“Never forget that the students sitting before you are someone’s child. And each parent is placing an immense amount of trust in you to teach their child.”
In graduate school, the director of my program shared this insight with my cohort of teachers-in-training, which, for me, birthed a specific image: apprehensive young mother holding tightly to the hand of her precious baby on the first day of Kindergarten. I have no idea what it would feel like to leave my own child, so young and curious and impressionable, in the hands of another adult and trust that adult with nurturing a love of learning in my baby. What faith a parent must have to take this step, to let go of the hand, to send their little student off on a journey through a system that, let’s face it, fails many children.
My high school’s “back to school” night was last week, and I found myself thinking a lot about this advice as I spoke with the parents of my students. Though the kids I teach are much older than my image of that anxious kindergartener, much too old to have their parents escorting them to school on a daily basis, I am still struck by the faith these parents put in me, this high school, and the public education system. For the good of our collective future, I must succeed in guiding each student to be a more careful reader, a skillful writer, and a strong critical thinker.
And yet, I so often feel as if my influence is severely limited, especially if parental support is absent. On many days, I leave school feeling entirely spent, as if I’ve performed a seven-hour magic trick, desperately trying to render Old English epic poetry exciting and relevant. And if a student then goes home and has no one asking about his day or pressing him to do homework, how will the meager 45-minutes a day he spends with me make any difference at all?
Inevitably, “back to school” night is a stark reminder of how much parental involvement matters in terms of a student’s success in school. Overwhelmingly, the parents who show up to meet me are parents I don’t really need to see. Their kid is already invested, already keeps up with work, is engaged with learning, asks questions. The kid with his head down in the corner day after day? I’d love to meet that parent, to have an opportunity to strategize for that student’s success well before we find ourselves mid-way through third quarter with no hope of reversing a failing grade for the year. But this rarely happens.
Believe me, I know it’s difficult to juggle work and family, your own needs and the needs of others. For many parents, spending a night at their child’s school is simply not possible. Still, I can’t help but notice this strong correlation, between parental involvement and a student’s tendency to care about school, and wish that each of my students could have this advantage.