I have a colleague that says working with parents usually complicates her job and she’d rather just focus on the students. What would you say to that?
I recently brought this up at a networking meeting hosted by Family Friendly Schools. It's worth thinking about WHY teachers are reluctant to dive into family engagement first. This will help you think about what reasons might resonate with them.
So what are some common reasons teachers are reluctant to engage families?
1. Teachers develop tunnel vision. Teachers are pulled in a million different directions. To cope with the ever-expanding "to-do list", teachers develop a rigid commitment to a few (usually legally mandated) things. Reaching out to parents is not legally mandated and it takes time and energy.
No on is arguing this. What we, who believe in family engagement, are arguing is that reaching out to parents is the most effective thing you can do for your students and your own sanity. A classroom where relationships are the focus is a classroom where students AND teachers thrive.
I guess your friend would just have to try this idea on before she can buy it. I hope she does give it a shot.
2. Teachers are very different than the parents of their students. The majority of teachers are white, middle-class, college-educated woman. They often work in places where the majority of their students come from non-white, working class, non-college educated homes. With this diverse mix of race and culture, you’ve got a recipe for misunderstanding and mistrust, on all sides.
These differences affect even a very well-meaning of teachers. Instead of ignoring this (and thinking it’s better to not wade into that “complication”), teachers must work harder to understand and empathize with their students and their families. Like, actively work at it. "Family engagement" is actively working on bridging the divide. It's better than refusing to confront and push past this reality of the classroom.
3. Teachers feel they have a calling to lift children. When I completed my student teaching, my mentor teacher gave me card where she wrote, “Teaching is a calling and you should always feel lucky that you have been chosen to do this work.”
This is a beautiful sentiment, isn't it? And from the number of Pinterest and Instagram images that basically say the same thing, this resonates deeply with all of us educators. Thinking that you’ve found a “calling” in teaching and that you can be that “Miss Honey” inspires and invigorates us, but it can also create a false sense of pride.
The truth is, teachers are one year the life of a child. Their parents are a lifetime. Teachers care deeply about their students. Their parents--love them. A teacher will give her students the gift of learning. Their parents—the gift of life.
So if your friend really feels called to “focus on the kids” and to make a difference in the life of a child, she should get off her high horse (a little) and stop overlooking the role of a family.
4. Teachers don’t feel respected by parents. Public school teacher can feel like they are working in fish tank. From politicians to pundits to policy makes to parents—everyone has an opinion about what kind of job you’re doing. This makes it VERY difficult for teachers to open themselves and their classrooms to parents.
Ironically, of course, a willingness to be vulnerable is the very thing that separates truly transformative teachers from pretty good ones.
5. Teachers aren’t trained. Like any other skill, engaging families can be intimidating if you have no training or experience. Your friend, like the majority of educators, probably doesn’t have the tools she needs. Of course, the good news is there are tons of resources (like me!) out there. And, like all other skills, you can stumble forward, until you get better at it.
Did you know I love to work directly with teachers, families, administrators, librarians, dads, students, abuelas, community members, program directors, teachers-in-training and literally everyone else? Talk to me.