Friday, September 9, 2011

Reprint: "What teachers really want to tell parents"

Many of you may have already stumbled on this editorial by Ron Clark. For those they haven't, it is below. Thanks to my Ashford Park neighbor, Lisa, for sharing!

Taken from CNN at: What teachers really want to tell parents

  • Ron Clark is an award-winning teacher who started his own academy in Atlanta
  • He wants parents to trust teachers and their advice about their students
  • Clark says some teachers hand out A grades so parents won't bother them
  • It's OK for kids to get in trouble sometimes; it teaches life lessons, Clark says
Editor's note: Ron Clark, author of "The End of Molasses Classes: Getting Our Kids Unstuck -- 101 Extraordinary Solutions for Parents and Teachers," has been named "American Teacher of the Year" by Disney and was Oprah Winfrey's pick as her "Phenomenal Man." He founded The Ron Clark Academy, which educators from around the world have visited to learn.

(CNN) -- This summer, I met a principal who was recently named as the administrator of the year in her state. She was loved and adored by all, but she told me she was leaving the profession.

I screamed, "You can't leave us," and she quite bluntly replied, "Look, if I get an offer to lead a school system of orphans, I will be all over it, but I just can't deal with parents anymore; they are killing us."

Unfortunately, this sentiment seems to be becoming more and more prevalent. Today, new teachers remain in our profession an average of just 4.5 years, and many of them list "issues with parents" as one of their reasons for throwing in the towel. Word is spreading, and the more negativity teachers receive from parents, the harder it becomes to recruit the best and the brightest out of colleges.

So, what can we do to stem the tide? What do teachers really need parents to understand?

For starters, we are educators, not nannies. We are educated professionals who work with kids every day and often see your child in a different light than you do. If we give you advice, don't fight it. Take it, and digest it in the same way you would consider advice from a doctor or lawyer. I have become used to some parents who just don't want to hear anything negative about their child, but sometimes if you're willing to take early warning advice to heart, it can help you head off an issue that could become much greater in the future.

Trust us. At times when I tell parents that their child has been a behavior problem, I can almost see the hairs rise on their backs. They are ready to fight and defend their child, and it is exhausting. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I tell a mom something her son did and she turns, looks at him and asks, "Is that true?" Well, of course it's true. I just told you. And please don't ask whether a classmate can confirm what happened or whether another teacher might have been present. It only demeans teachers and weakens the partnership between teacher and parent.

Please quit with all the excuses
The truth is, a lot of times it's the bad teachers who give the easiest grades, because they know by giving good grades everyone will leave them alone.

And if you really want to help your children be successful, stop making excuses for them. I was talking with a parent and her son about his summer reading assignments. He told me he hadn't started, and I let him know I was extremely disappointed because school starts in two weeks.

His mother chimed in and told me that it had been a horrible summer for them because of family issues they'd been through in July. I said I was so sorry, but I couldn't help but point out that the assignments were given in May. She quickly added that she was allowing her child some "fun time" during the summer before getting back to work in July and that it wasn't his fault the work wasn't complete.

Can you feel my pain?

Some parents will make excuses regardless of the situation, and they are raising children who will grow into adults who turn toward excuses and do not create a strong work ethic. If you don't want your child to end up 25 and jobless, sitting on your couch eating potato chips, then stop making excuses for why they aren't succeeding. Instead, focus on finding solutions.

Parents, be a partner instead of a prosecutor
And parents, you know, it's OK for your child to get in trouble sometimes. It builds character and teaches life lessons. As teachers, we are vexed by those parents who stand in the way of those lessons; we call them helicopter parents because they want to swoop in and save their child every time something goes wrong. If we give a child a 79 on a project, then that is what the child deserves. Don't set up a time to meet with me to negotiate extra credit for an 80. It's a 79, regardless of whether you think it should be a B+.

This one may be hard to accept, but you shouldn't assume that because your child makes straight A's that he/she is getting a good education. The truth is, a lot of times it's the bad teachers who give the easiest grades, because they know by giving good grades everyone will leave them alone. Parents will say, "My child has a great teacher! He made all A's this year!"

Wow. Come on now. In all honesty, it's usually the best teachers who are giving the lowest grades, because they are raising expectations. Yet, when your children receive low scores you want to complain and head to the principal's office.

Please, take a step back and get a good look at the landscape. Before you challenge those low grades you feel the teacher has "given" your child, you might need to realize your child "earned" those grades and that the teacher you are complaining about is actually the one that is providing the best education.
And please, be a partner instead of a prosecutor. I had a child cheat on a test, and his parents threatened to call a lawyer because I was labeling him a criminal. I know that sounds crazy, but principals all across the country are telling me that more and more lawyers are accompanying parents for school meetings dealing with their children.

Teachers walking on eggshells
I feel so sorry for administrators and teachers these days whose hands are completely tied. In many ways, we live in fear of what will happen next. We walk on eggshells in a watered-down education system where teachers lack the courage to be honest and speak their minds. If they make a slight mistake, it can become a major disaster.

My mom just told me a child at a local school wrote on his face with a permanent marker. The teacher tried to get it off with a wash cloth, and it left a red mark on the side of his face. The parent called the media, and the teacher lost her job. My mom, my very own mother, said, "Can you believe that woman did that?"

I felt hit in the gut. I honestly would have probably tried to get the mark off as well. To think that we might lose our jobs over something so minor is scary. Why would anyone want to enter our profession? If our teachers continue to feel threatened and scared, you will rob our schools of our best and handcuff our efforts to recruit tomorrow's outstanding educators.

Finally, deal with negative situations in a professional manner.

If your child said something happened in the classroom that concerns you, ask to meet with the teacher and approach the situation by saying, "I wanted to let you know something my child said took place in your class, because I know that children can exaggerate and that there are always two sides to every story. I was hoping you could shed some light for me." If you aren't happy with the result, then take your concerns to the principal, but above all else, never talk negatively about a teacher in front of your child. If he knows you don't respect her, he won't either, and that will lead to a whole host of new problems.

We know you love your children. We love them, too. We just ask -- and beg of you -- to trust us, support us and work with the system, not against it. We need you to have our backs, and we need you to give us the respect we deserve. Lift us up and make us feel appreciated, and we will work even harder to give your child the best education possible.

That's a teacher's promise, from me to you."


Anonymous said...

i'll give that a +1...

Anonymous said...

I get tired of hearing from and about Ron Clark. Teachers in public schools would be able to do a better job and be this enthusiastic if their paychecks weren't constantly going down, if they had all of the materials that they needed at their finger tips and weren't required to purchase their own office supplies and other materials for their classrooms, and had the support of their administration from the principal in their building to the superintendent and school board at the top.

Ron Clark's academy is a private school, and as such does not have to worry about CRCT scores, making AYP, and keeping government funding, as it receives none.

I agree that involved parents are an important part of a child's education, however, I also believe that parents should do more questioning of teachers and administrators, along with research of their own. Taking anyone's word as the gospel without doing your own homework and fact checking is simply being stupid in today's age of Google.

As a teacher, I honestly loved my students, however as a parent now, I also can honestly say that I love my own child much more than any of the students who walked through my doors and care more about the education that he receives than the education that I was not able to give the students in my classroom, and I was not the quiet teacher who never spoke out.

Parents need to stick up for their children, realize that their children aren't angels and demand better than what their children are currently receiving at public schools-yes even the "good" ones.

Ella Smith said...

I agree that there is a disconnect in so many cases today and parents are not working with teachers and administrators like they used to.

Many parents believe their child over the teacher and this is a real problem in most cases because we are living in a society where most students lie. My own young ones will lie to get out of trouble. I do not approve and it makes me sick, but it must be a society thing with the young because I have seen the best of children lie right and left. This is real hard for some parents to understand as they always want to believe their children. However, I can assure you I will believe the adult discussing the behavior issue over my child everytime because I know kids today have a problem with not telling the truth to get out of trouble. I know this because I am a teacher of high school students.

Cerebration said...

Thanks for sharing this post, Kim. I think it's critical that parents support teachers. We have definitely moved away from a parent/teacher partnership to an almost adversarial role in many cases. I have heard stories from teachers that made the hair stand up on my arms. I have spoken with teachers who are afraid to hold parent conferences in the trailers as they do not feel safe so far from the security of the building. More than one teacher has told me about personal threats made by parents if they failed their child. And teachers do not feel that they have a principal who will defend them. Principals tend to throw the teachers under the bus in order to save their own skin these days. This is the biggest change from 20 years ago, when most principals were a teacher's best advocate. Ron Clark himself is a terrific example of PRINCIPAL leadership that should be emulated.

Cerebration said...

I hope Dr. Atkinson follows through on her promise of supporting teachers and the classroom. I hope someone will share the story (below) about Frankie Callaway pressuring an administrator to change grades for a student. The administrator complied, and while the teacher was away on medical leave, had the sub change the grades. Upon her return, this GA Tech-educated teacher noticed the change (from her own original hand-written grade book) and insisted on correcting it. That didn't happen. Callaway got her way -- and the TEACHER lost her job!

This kind of top-down intimidation must end! Please encourage Dr. Atkinson to find the strength to support teachers.

Did Frankie Callaway encourage cheating and then hurriedly retire?

Anonymous said...

I keep hearing:
teachers are underpaid
more materials are needed
class sizes are too large

Getting specific to DCSS

Teachers : What is the quality of DCSS teachers? I have read the one letter from the Harvard grad, and I was impressed. Is he the median, top end or an exception? Is the average DCSS teacher subject qualified or has been taught mostly so-called teaching skills. Are they graduates of a less than a rated college that has reasonable required SAT entrance scores, on-line degree, or what? How do DCSS teacher qualifications compare to neighboring counties such as Gwinnett and Cobb?

Materials: Tell the BOE to come up with money to meet reasonable requests. Glitz is not always the answer. Sometimes it is #2 pencils and lined paper.

Class size: DCSS has 98,000 students and 6300 teachers.
6,300 ÷

Why am I being told that there are 30 students in a class?

If my number of teachers is incorrect, please re-do the math.

Cerebration said...

Dun - a lot of those teachers are special education teachers, who have extremely low teacher-student rations. Then, we also have "boutique" schools like DSA and Kittredge with very low teacher-student ratios. Many other teachers teach specialty areas like art and music and PE, leaving a relatively small number of core content teachers in regular schools. These are the teachers and classrooms that have been squeezed.

Anonymous said...

Gov. Deal wants to invest in reading instruction for the early grades. Superb! So why do we have 24 students in each KDG class without a para and 25 in each 1st grade class? Our 1st grade class size can go up to 27 with a waiver from the state.

DeKalb Mom said...

My experience has been the opposite. I sent my kids to public school with the stance that the teacher is right, the teacher is to be respected at all times, if a teacher says the child did something- they did, if the child gets in trouble at school, they get in trouble at home. This was the way I was raised. However, when my kids went to school, it was quite a different experience. I saw teachers who hated their jobs and took it out on the kids, I saw teachers who wanted kids to be robots, I saw notes and disciplinary punishments handed out for the smallest of offenses, and I experienced teachers lying about what had happened. And this wasn't just one teacher. This was multiple teachers, multiple incidents. Eventually I had to break all of my own rules about teachers, and my kids are learning things about teachers I never had to.

Cerebration said...

True. I've had some truly bad experiences with a few teachers in DeKalb as well. We should clarify - this level of respect should run both ways.

Gayle said...

@ dundevil

Here is repost explaining how DCSS has such high class sizes compared to Marietta City Schools, a school system with almost identical student demographics as DeKalb, but with absolutely excellent progress.

Look at their class sizes versus DCSS. Since class size matters MOST to low income students, compare the average class size for CONTENT area (math, science, language arts, social studies) classes for DCSS and Marietta City. Marietta has purposely outsourced, cut and consolidated - whatever they needed to do to protect their teacher to student ratio.

" @ Fred...
Ms. Tyson has stated DCSS has around 6,400 teachers, but I'm going to go with your 6,500 figure. Let's use 97,000 for student numbers (that's the figure on all of the DOE sites).

This is what the actual numbers show:
Regular Education teachers in DCSS have around a 28 to 1 ratio of students to teacher while Marietta City Schools have around a 19 to 1 ratio of students to teacher. Regular Education teachers are the teachers who teach students math, science, social studies and language arts.

For Parents interested in how their child can sit in a class of 30+ in DCSS, read on.

97,000 students divided by 6,500 teachers = 15 to 1 students to teacher ratio.

Of course Fred was correct that we have quite a few Special Ed teachers (around 1300+) and Media Specialists (160), Gifted, Coaches, etc. They add up to around 3,000. When you take out the almost 3,000 teachers that are NOT grade level and content area teachers, you are left with around 3,500 grade level and content area teachers (also called Regular Education Teachers).

97,000 divided by 3,500 Regular Education teachers (the ones that teach math, science, social studies, and language arts to every child) = 28 to 1 student to teacher ratio.

Let's remember that the Primary teachers cannot have 28 in a classroom and the thousands of magnet students cannot either. So now the teachers in grades 4 - 12 in the Regular Education classes have to take on extra students. That's how we see 34 and 35 and even higher in high school classes.

Marietta City Schools:
Marietta City Schools has 653 teachers and 7,800 students per the state DOE and state salary and travel report.

7,800 students divided by 653 teachers = 12 to 1 students to teacher ratio.

418 out of 653 Marietta City Schools teachers (are grade level or content area teachers (Regular Education teachers).

7,800 students divided by 418 Regular Education teachers (the ones that teach math, science, social studies, and language arts to every child) = 19 to 1 students to teacher ratio.

Interestingly enough, I didn't see any Pre-K teachers in the Marietta system so perhaps the Pre-K is being done by the private day care."

Anonymous said...


Please correct me if I am wrong, but I have never heard of any DeKalb teacher with a Harvard or similar degree. There may be a handful of quality teachers, but a huge problem in the high schools is the generally low educational level that so many of the teachers have. It is even worse among the administrators.

Anonymous said...

Agreed Anon 9:37. I would say the same for elementary schools. There are too many kindergarten and first grade teachers who have no clue on how to teach reading and are passing kids along without knowing how to read or understanding how to help them. I know of one child who received A's in first grade, but can't read anything. The high grades were given to make mom and dad happy and so that no questions would be asked of the teacher. Even though mom and dad would question their daughters ability, seeing the A's on the report card, lessened their fears, and stopped the questions.

I left DCSS in May 2010, when I realized that I couldn't have my son attend the "good" school that I was working in because the teachers available were not knowledgeable on how to actually teach and weren't questioning the policies of the administration, but going along with the ridiculousness of no zeros, and giving out grades.

Cerebration said...

He was referring to William Blackwood, who holds a B.A. from Georgetown and a Ph.D. from Yale. He wrote an op-ed piece in the AJC after becoming frustrated at the way his hands were tied in his teaching. He was told to make 'word walls' and felt that the curriculum did not challenge students to think. The administration put him on some kind of warning. He is a fabulous teacher, who believes in his students and challenges them to think deeply, but in public schools today, that is not the real goal. The real goal is to pass a multiple choice basic skills test.

Read his essay here:

Raze DeKalb’s education ghetto

My son had a fantastic English teacher from Yale and my daughter had a wonderful interrelated teacher from Vanderlyn. We do have some great teachers in DeKalb - we need to treasure them, lift them up as examples and mentors and support their efforts in every way. That actually includes culling the teachers who don't measure up.

Anonymous said...

DCSS has an elementary principal whose degree is from Harvard. He grew up in DeKalb and was in the M to M program. He has been at a couple schools. A few years ago he was at Fernbank. Not sure if he is still there.

Anonymous said...

The current DeKalb teacher of the year graduated from Harvard.

In my kids' high school there are 4 teachers with PhDs (in astrophysics and atmospheric sciences, pharmacy, biology, philosophy and literature).

Among the colleges represented are Simmons, Smith < U of Colorado, Penn, Spelman, Northwestern, Emory, Chapel Hill, Amherst Agnes Scott, Ga Tech and Denison. There are also 2 Fulbright Scholars.

Anonymous said...

Bet you don't find teachers like that on the south end.

Cerebration said...

Blackwood taught at SW DeKalb because he chose to! But they drove him out. He is now embraced and welcomed at Cross Keys. Their gain, for sure.

Paula Caldarella said...

Blackwood taught at SW DeKalb because he chose to! But they drove him out. He is now embraced and welcomed at Cross Keys. Their gain, for sure.

The next time Eugene, Sarah, Jay or Donna complain about the "north" having better teachers....this should be brought forth front and center to them. There WAS a great teacher in the "South" - they didn't want to hear his words.

Anonymous said...

Fernbank's principal was indeed a Harvard student...I graduated with him. And he's fantastic at his job.

But, and I think this is a crucial point, you don't need to be from Harvard to be a fabulous teacher, and having an Ivy League degree doesn't make you a great communicator with children.

Ella Smith said...

I would agree that graduating from Harvard does not make you a good teacher and many time the most knowledgeable individuals do not make good teachers because they do not understand why students do not get the information you give them the first time.

Degrees like this are great but they do not make good teachers necessarily.

We also have to remember that principals, assistant principals, and all the other administrative staff have to be paid for and this money comes out of the money used to have teachers. DeKalb has more than its share of additional staff which causes the numbers in classrooms to go up. At least special education students do get extra money due to their FTE weight.

The numbers in special education classes across the county have went way up this year also due to changes in regulations. The numbers in special education classes have increased by at least 20-30% this year. Things are not the same.

Anonymous said...

Teachers do face two problems with parents. Although parents who believe their child over the teacher are demoralizing, at least they are involved in education (albeit in the wrong ways). More disheartening is the child whose parents just don't care or even worse need them to miss school often to baby sit a younger sibling. Letting your student miss more than 6 days of school is child abuse. My experience with really involved parents is that if I can get them to listen to me it sometimes helps. However, not a year has gone by that I don't get the complaint that I am not giving their child the grade they deserve. I always say that if they would like to retake the test or turn in those many missed assignments that will raise their grade. Being old fashioned I think that when the test is over learning is not and it's the perfect opportunity to learn from your mistakes. Unfortunately, most often, after I tell the parent that their student can make up work I never hear another word and rarely is the work done. I have had more than one parent tell me that I was keeping their student from getting a college scholarship.
As if they would do well in college not turning in assignments. My favorite criticism is that just because I ask my students to write and to connect my subject to others, parents complain that it is high school not college.
By the way, I did not graduate from Harvard but two of my students got scholarships to Harvard this year.

Anonymous said...

A degree does not a teacher make; however, DCSS needs to rid itself of the Argosy, Sarasota, NOVA and other internet degree holders.

Kim Gokce said...

The subject of teacher quality is a tricky one. While I agree an Ivy League degree is no guarantee of teacher success, I think we can all agree that on average a teacher with a degree in subject area from a major university is preferable to one without such a degree.

On a personal note, I think while we can all point to extreme examples of stars and stinkers among teachers we've known, the implied message of Clark's editorial is that the "average" teacher is a good person, qualified to do the job of educating children, and is deserving of a presumption of respect.

I don't see that as controversial in the least!

Anonymous said...

I know the whole Blackwood thing well. The man is not the best listener, and I think he just plane ignores things that he feels are stupid. Some people might see this as arrogant action, as I did at first. But once I got to know the situation I realized that he is exactly the kind of teacher we need but that he is also a great threat to the system we now have. My husband pointed out to me that you don't want a doctor who follows bad advice and that police and military officers would not be expected to do orders that would cause harm.
Blackwood's ability to communicate intelligently with children is very unusual for teachers in south Dekalb. Discipline problems, as he made me realize, are really the result of administrators who are unable and unwilling to enforce real standards of behavior. I also agree with him that we have a predatory system that benefits adults and harms children.
The situation at SWD is truly awful and like the situation at so many of our schools. The school is run by people who have no business in those kinds of jobs and who got there only because of who they know. They tried to make Blackwood into a racist, but people knew how silly that was. Its not just the administrators, because some of the white teachers felt threatened by the fact that he was so much better.
Can Atkins change this mess? I pray that she can, but I am not that hopeful. Too many people will have to be fired to make a real difference.