This blog comes to us courtesy of preservice teacher Jentry McDaniel
Often, I think we underestimate parental and community interest in education. Because parents don’t show up to conferences or answer emails and phone calls, it is automatically assumed that they don’t want to be involved; we assume that they don’t want any responsibility over their children’s academic progress. During my years as a para at a middle school, I was exposed to home visits and their impact on student education. For example, I worked with a student my first year who really struggled academically and socially. Their teachers were frustrated because the student showed up to school late every morning, slept during class, and didn’t always have their homework completed. As direct support for the student, I was unbelievably frazzled as well because I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere with the student (and in hindsight focused way too much on how the student wasn’t serving ME instead of focusing on how I could be better serving THEM). Eventually the principal suggested that a couple of the student’s teachers attempt a home visit. During the home visit, the teachers learned that the student was living with almost a dozen other family members, so they didn’t have their own room and it made it difficult for them to sleep restfully. Also, the student’s mom didn’t have reliable transportation, so they had to walk a distance to get to school if no one was able to pick them up, which was often. Mom was deeply troubled by her inability to provide a peaceful environment or transportation for her children and didn’t know how to reach out. Fortunately, as a result of the home visit, Mom felt like (rightfully) the school was on her side as we were more accommodating of her sleepy child and did our best to facilitate her child’s timely arrival to school, which had a positive impact on their grades. In the time following, the mother also felt comfortable being more actively involved in what her child was doing, getting to know the teachers, what they were teaching, and their expectations better.
My experience proved that it’s not that parents don’t want to be involved in their children’s school lives; parents can easily feel excluded because schools and educators could do a little more work to ensure all types of families feel welcome in that space, especially English language learners. In their research, Samway and McKeon mention that for English language learners in particular, schools have implemented interactive parent-teacher conferences with mini-workshops for parents to participate in with their children, which provide demonstrations of the types of things their children are doing in class (167). Similar to our daily lives outside of school, as educators, it seems so easy to get into a pattern of frustration and complaining about things that aren’t working rather than trying to find solutions to those problems. Sure, it can be difficult to feel a lack of parental or community engagement, especially when we desperately want that participation and feel like resources aren’t readily available to make what we dream a reality. I guess what I have to remind myself is that I have to make do with what I do have. If there aren’t translators available to help me communicate with a parent, could I have the child or another family member serve as an intermediary? What about learning some conversational Spanish in order to bridge the gap myself?
Samway, Katharine Davies and Denise McKeon. Myths and Realities: Best Practices for English Language Learners. 2nd ed. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2007.
see original at http://msmcdanielsmusings.blogspot.com/2017/01/serving-parents-to-foster-community.html