A Parent and an Educator; Do I Really Have to Choose?
So…after much back and forth with teachers via email, I was able to make an appointment at my daughter’s school in order to get a better sense of what the curriculum is for my 6th grader. To my surprise, well-not really, the teachers on her team invited the assistant principal to the meeting. Maybe my emails were intimidating. I wrote and rewrote them in order to take out the sting that I was feeling in my gut. I am cognizant of the fact that I have to maneuver between being a parent who happens to know a lot about education and teaching and being a parent who is just interested.
The burden is heavy for us educators (and I dare say, even heavier for us progressive educators). Traditional, progressive or somewhere in between, all of us who are educators and parents have to think about when and how we will interact with teachers and in particular, the ways in which we ask questions; is there a slight lilt in the voice, eyebrows up, fingers on chin, smiling, etc. We have to be mindful of asking authentic questions but sometimes we just want to be parents and be blunt.
Personally, sometimes, I don’t want to think about questions like:
- How many parents should speak before I speak in a school meeting?
- How many hours, days, weeks should go by before I approach a teacher when I have a question about pedagogy or curriculum?
- How do I ask questions in ways that don’t sound judgmental?
- When do I involve the principal (this has happened a few times)?
- How much do I share about what I know about the very curriculum the teachers are using or teaching standards or benchmarks?
For me, being a parent and an educator is complex enough without the added issue of race. Perhaps this is just my issue because I am attuned to issues of race, equity and access. Somehow though, I have a sneaky suspicion that it’s not just my issue.
Issues of race, equity and access come up often and in these times, it’s much more difficult to choose between being a parent and an educator. You have to be both.
I remember vividly last year when one of Danielle’s teachers requested that she come in for remedial math support. When I asked the teacher to show me the data which suggested that Danielle needed this support, all she could do was admit that she was incorrect and in fact, Danielle was doing well in math. How does this happen? How does the teacher assume that the student of color in the class needs remedial help without first looking at her data? Why can’t the kid of color be assumed to be amazing in math first and not deficient? How does the teacher’s perception affect how she/he interacts with Danielle and with the other kids of color? Does the teacher ask the same open ended, higher order questions to Danielle that she does with Danielle’s white peers?
In another instance, I had to talk with to a principal about why only the white kids in the school received awards at an end-of-the-year celebration. Not one student of color received an academic award. Not one. Surely, there are students of color in the school who fulfilled the requirements of one of these awards. How does this oversight happen? Don’t teachers talk about students and issues of equity? We did at the Westside Community School and at the Muscota New School. This is when it becomes hard to choose between being a parent for one’s own child and being an educator.
All of this stuff is emotionally draining and yet, if unchecked-could mean the difference in your child’s education. Yet, your kid pays the price for this kind of involvement. It’s almost as if they have a target on their back. Danielle, I’m sure, worries about when and where I will unleash the educator parent on the teacher. I don’t want to be THAT parent but I have to advocate for my child because lord knows, it might not happen any other way.
Dr. Hollee Freeman taught elementary school for seven years in New York City schools before focusing her professional attention on training teachers in mathematics education and research across the U.S. She received her B.A. in psychology and elementary education from Columbia University, a M.S. in special education from Bank Street College, and has a Ph.D in Educational Administration from Boston College. Hollee is a nationally certified teacher through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Hollee has worked as a Field Director for the Boston Teacher Residency, Senior Research Associate at TERC, a not-for-profit education research and development organization based in Cambridge. She has authored several articles and book chapters on issues in education focused on both national and international issues. Dr. Freeman currently serves as a National Faculty Professor at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.