Parents blame teachers, teachers blame parents, some blame politicians, and any solutions are met with as much criticism as praise. When talking about education isn’t inspiring, it can be thoroughly depressing.
When my post on a bad interaction with a teacher went live on Huffington Post, it didn’t take long for some to crucify me. How dare I write about this? How dare I expect an answer to my email! Clearly, I’m the problem, not the teacher. Thankfully, not everyone saw it that way. And I know that no matter how I try to give as complete a picture as possible, it’s still through my prism. So I actually do appreciate the negative comments. It gives me another perspective.
In fact, had the teacher responded to my email, I might not have felt the need to write about it at all. I might have had a more complete picture by having the teacher’s point of view. The teacher chose not to respond, not to engage. Her choice, of course, but what it does is reinforce to me that this teacher is not willing to go the distance to engage my child, either. Is that fair? I don’t know. But it’s an easy conclusion to reach with no other evidence to the contrary.
We need to talk. We need to put ourselves out there, however we can.
Because of both my previous interaction with this teacher and because I’m a writer, I felt more comfortable sharing my thoughts via email rather than in person. That’s my choice. And I was still the only one of us at least attempting to engage.
I only see teachers at PTA meetings when they want something, or when they or a friend of theirs is being honored. That’s discouraging to us parents who are showing up. It’s discouraging that all that matters is we run the fundraisers, volunteer, and only engage on the teachers’ terms. (Of course, this doesn’t apply to all teachers or all parents, but it’s true often enough to reach that conclusion.)
As it turned out, that teacher recommended my daughter to participate in a Storytellers workshop. My daughter excels in math, and her troubles comes up with reading and writing. Storytellers is a non-profit organization that brings mentors in to help the students write a script, which is performed in their Big Show.
The experience was amazing for my daughter. She spoke excitedly about what she would learn each week in Storytellers, tossing out key terms like conflict and protagonist. Her script came from the heart. She discovered a joy in writing I’d never seen from her before.
While the teacher never did respond to my email, I was sure to write her another one to thank her for ensuring that my daughter got this experience. She did respond to that one, and agreed that it was a great opportunity for my daughter. She may not have felt comfortable dealing with me directly, but she did something about the problem. My daughter not only got a great learning experience, but her confidence grew from that. She’s also choosing to read more now.
I did the right thing by speaking out, even if the teacher or others may take issue with how I did it. I advocated for my daughter. My daughter got a better educational experience.
I’m not always going to get it right, neither in my assessment nor in how I present my point of view. Neither will a teacher. But we simply have to keep talking and trying for the sake of our students.
April McCaffery is a single mother to two daughters, in 5th and 8th grade.