I have a little secret research study I have been doing for about five years now. I stalk people with children in the grocery store and listen to their conversations. Basically the conversations fall into two categories, which I think of as Teaching and Berating.
The people in the Teaching group have conversations which sound like, "Oh sweetie, look at those apples. Can you tell Mama what color that apple is? How many apples does Mama have in the bag?" The conversation goes on throughout the store. I like to compliment the child and the parent will usually respond with something like, "Oh, she is a sweet one!"
Then there those in the Berating group. Their conversations sound like "Get your hands off that!" "If you don't stop touching that I am going to beat the daylights out of you." "Shut up!" When I smile at the mom, she says something like, "These kids are driving me crazy. They are so bad!" In all honesty, the kids are usually doing about the same types of things, but the parents are parenting differently. Every conversation is about how terrible the child is and the majority of the words from the parents, grandparents, and caregivers are words of correction, condemnation, and rebuke.
A child from the first group is learning to question his/her world, to verbalize questions, to make mistakes, and to learn. A child in the second group is learning that everything he/she touches or asks about will result in condemnation. The interesting part is I really believe the majority of both types of parents love their children. The sad part is many do not know how to help their children become learners and our system is not set up to help them, only reinforce the issues.
This past week a teenager in my sister's high school science class asked her about all of the legislation happening in Louisiana. He asked, "You know if I miss 15 days of school, I don't see how anyone can fault my teacher. That is my parents' problem and they should be held accountable." My sister shared the conversation with me and I began to ponder this revelation. Anyone who knows me, knows I have long disliked the idea of blanket tenure, given simply for surviving three years. I also believe in strong accountability for teachers, schools, and systems. As a tax payer, I want the money I pay in taxes to be used to educate and propel our democracy forward. The point of education is to create citizens who are prepared for the future. However in the midst of all of the chatter about reform, there are critical pieces of the process being ignored. The home life of the child is one piece of the puzzle, which needs to be discussed.
Can we hold parents responsible for truancy? Should parents be held responsible for children who come to school not ready for kindergarten? Should parents be held accountable for children who fail state tests? Should parents be held accountable for children who are hungry? Should parents be held accountable for children who come to school high or drunk? Should parents be held accountable for children who have no supplies? Should parents be held accountable for children who hurt other children? Should parents be held accountable for children who curse or threaten the teacher? These are just a few questions to be asked.
If it really takes a village, then should all villagers, especially the ones choosing to add children to the village, be held accountable?
I ponder this and I can think of instances where my answer may be no. I have taught or worked with around 2,500 kids in twenty years and there are always the anomalies. For example, the child who had been abused and then adopted by a really nice couple. The child had serious emotional issues and these parents were doing the very best they could. Her behavior was out of their control. For the most part, this child was precious and I loved teaching her for two years. There were times when all the love and kind words I could give her, bounced off and it was unsafe for her to be with other children. These parents really could not be held accountable.
Then there are situations where I would completely support the parents being held accountable like the child who vandalized a school and the parents' tried to explain it by saying he was acting out because he was mad at them for not buying him the latest gadget. Then there was the parent who gave the child the drugs to sell at school or the parent who sold her daughter for drug money. There are some serious issues in the lives of children and 8 hours a day does not even come close to being enough time to help them. My heart breaks for these children and no matter how "terrible" they seem, often their home life is so unbelievable that I can look past their issues and just love them. I am not sure the very best teaching will help them overcome their issues.
As an educator, I am a little nervous about the speed in which things are passing through the legislature. I agree we have real issues in our state and many can be solved with a solid education system. I also agree we have teachers who really have no business working with children. We have people running schools for their own profit and we have people running schools who truly sacrifice for children. We have a teacher training system with extremely low standards compared to countries at the top of the charts. I also believe truly learning to be an effective teacher is a difficult process and not just anyone with a degree can teach. We have to do something and I believe after all of the dust settles from the current battleground, great educators will rise up to build a powerful system.
Yet, no system will work if we are not willing to acknowledge all the factors impacting a child and to discussion accountability for all participants.
My daddy often tells me you can get a person's attention if you hit them in their hip pocket. Money speaks.
Here are a few ideas for possible legislation to hold parents and caregivers accountable:
If a child is absent from school for more than five unexcused days in a semester, the parents are fined for every additional day absent. If the parent receives any type of government assistance, there is a mandatory deduction made from the welfare check. The money from both sources is transferred directly to the schools to pay for teachers to tutor and catch the child up. Wages can be garnished if parents refuse the fine.
Behavior issues are not only the child's issue, but also the parent's issue. For example, if the child earns an in-school suspension, the parent may be required to attend detention also or pay a fine to the school. A second offense includes a heavier fine and so forth. An expulsion includes a sever fine and mandatory community service by the parent and child. If the parents receive government financial assistance, the fine is deducted from the assistance or the parent can complete community service until the fine is paid off. Schools have such a need for things to be painted, weeded, planted, mowed, cleaned, etc...
Any child scoring below proficient on state testing will be required to attend additional school at the parents' expense. Parents unable to pay the expenses will be required to complete community service until the fees are met. Parents will also be required to attend classes in order to be able to assist the child in the child's homework. government financial assistance will be linked to children succeeding in school.
In order to ensure transparency and accountability parents unable to raise children effectively will have their names listed in the newspaper along with their child's education and behavior record. Schools may then choose other parents for the children and move the children to these new homes for a period of three to five years or find the children a private home with parents who are productive. Maybe this last idea is a bit over the top, but if teachers and schools can be held completely accountable for a child's achievement, then shouldn't the teachers and the schools have a say in how the child is fed, clothed, raised, medicated, and entertained? As taxpayers, we are all involved in the lives of these children, right?
Does any of these suggestions sound even remotely feasible? Can you imagine how crazy this would be?
The majority of parents I have met really love their children. Many do not know how to help them or how to do a better job of raising them. We have serious societal issues, especially in our inner-cities. I fail as a parent more than I succeed. Most teachers really love their students and want to do a good job, but teachers are thrown into situations they are not prepared to handle. Why do we place precious new teachers in our most difficult schools? The answer is experienced teachers won't go. With the new accountability system, fewer will be willing to risk their careers on struggling students. A poor observation could equal the end of your career. I can admit, I have had some really, really poor lessons in my career. If it just takes one to loose our jobs, then I am not sure who can make it.
Maybe we all need to step back and listen in the grocery stores, churches, gyms, and on the sidewalks. Maybe the people making the rules should come to the neighborhood where I work and teach these beautiful children who sleep through bullets blazing. Maybe some teachers who refuse to even consider reform would be willing to have their personal children educated by the weakest 10% of our profession in a failing school for the next 13 years. Maybe we all need to stop throwing mud, carrying coffins, threatening careers and retirement, and hold professional conversations. We are professionals.
There are so many factors involved in reforming education, but most of these are really about reforming our society. Teachers are just one part of the puzzle, the easiest part to blame and intimidate. Parents are another. Government, churches, communities, businesses, the media, and the entertainment crowd are other parts just to name a few. We keep looking for this one problem, but there are multiple problems. Just stop and talk to the beautiful faces of the children I work with every day. How brilliant these kids are about their world. They need us.
Can we come together and do what is best for our future? Or will we continue to slap at each other, punish those who ask questions, challenge the rules, and profit from power. For the sake of children, teachers, parents, and our country, I hope we will choose to love, to believe, to trust, to teach, to seek, to find, to support, to pursue, to yield, to be merciful, to laugh, to learn, to listen, to care, to understand, to .......
I am a teacher, which in a single word, sums up my passions and my belief in the future.