I Wish the Parents of My Students Understood…

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We are getting close to the end of the semester. For me, that means kicking a lot of kids butts and contacting a lot of parents to warn them that their kids are failing a class that is required to graduate. It is one of my least favorite parts of this job. 

I set up my class so that students always have time in class to work on any assignments I give. I tell them at the beginning of the year that if they use the time in class I give them, they should never have homework. Most of the students take advantage of that.
I also tell them at the beginning of the year that as long as they complete their assignments and turn them in on time, then they will pass. If it’s poorly done they aren’t going to get an A, but they won’t fail the class. You’d be surprised at how many kids don’t grasp that concept. Just do the work during the time I give you in class and turn it in on time and you won’t fail. Easy, right?

For most of my kids, it is easy. Most of them grasp the concept. But for the few who don’t, this is one of the times during the year that makes me want to tear my hair out, because this is when I have to deal with those kids’ parents. I dread it. Talking to parents makes me nervous. I try to communicate through email or phone calls when I can. I am young, and I look even younger than I am, so parents have a tendency to write me off before I even open my mouth. I often get comments along the lines of “Excuse me young lady, do you know where Mrs. Cockrell is? Oh! You’re Mrs. Cockrell? I’m sorry, you look like a student!” or “Are you sure you’re old enough to be a teacher? HaHa!”

It gets old.

Last week, I had a conversation with a parent about her child’s failing grade. I’ve met this parent in person before, but this conversation was over email. We went back and forth a few times and talked about some of the things her child could do to help her grade – basically she just needed to turn in her missing work. After I had explained this to the mom, she responded by thanking me. She thanked me for letting her know, for being willing to help, and for everything I do for my kids. And I was shocked; floored, even. I was touched that this mom would say such nice things, especially after I had broken the news that her child was failing. It was one of the nicest things a parent has ever sent me. 

It was such a simple thing for her to say: “thank you.” She understood that I wasn’t out to get her child. She understood that I wanted her child to succeed in my class just as much as she did. She understood that my grading was fair, and that I couldn’t just raise her child’s grade – that it depended on her child turning in the work. That was so refreshing, and I realized how crazy it is that I would be so shocked by this; that this is something that is so rare

When I was training to become a teacher (yes, I have a degree, a teaching license, and everything – I am a professional who is qualified to do what I do), I was taught that parents and teachers are partners; that we should work together to ensure the education of the child. I naively thought that this was true and that my students’ parents and I would support each other in trying to help the students understand and complete the work required. Unfortunately, that is all too often not how the parent-teacher relationship works. In fact, more often that not, teachers are put on the chopping block by parents. We are immediately distrusted. It’s sad how such a kind and thoughtful email from a parent was so unusual for me. It’s sad that this isn’t the norm. 

I  wish the parents of my students understood, the way this one parent did, that I truly do want their child to succeed. I wish they understood how difficult it is to keep up with 150 teenagers; how they’re all doing, what assignments they’re missing, what their grades are, and how I can help each of them individually. And that doesn’t even cover the personal stuff. I wish the parents of my students understood that I am not – nor will I ever be “out to get” their child…ever. 

I wish the parents of my students understood that I do not “give” students their grades. Students earn them. If their child is not happy with the grade they have in my class, then that isn’t something I can just magically fix. I can help them understand concepts they are struggling with and I can allow them to turn in missing or late work for partial credit, but I can’t just raise their grade for nothing. Not only is that unethical, what kind of message does it send our students? You might read this and think that it’s crazy and that no one would ask a teacher to do that…you’d be wrong. 

I wish the parents of my students understood that I find absolutely no joy in their child’s failures. Quite the opposite, actually.

A simple “thank you” from this parent went such a long way. It shouldn’t be this shocking and it shouldn’t be this rare, although that did make me appreciate it all the more. 

Please try to remember that your children’s teachers are overworked and underpaid for a job that takes so much out of them. We wouldn’t do what we did if we didn’t genuinely care about your kids. When they have a failing grade, try to be open minded about the way you handle that discussion. Don’t assign us a guilty verdict before understanding the circumstances around the grade – especially if the guilt lies heavily on your child for not completing required work. We want to work with you.

Let’s make parent-teacher conferences a pleasant experience for all involved. It really is one of the best ways to help ensure that students succeed. 

That parent who sent me the nice email thanking me – her child has now completed enough of her missing work to bring her grade to well above passing.

Crazy how that works out…huh?

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Courtney Livingston

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