A Parent and an Educator; Do I Really Have to Choose?

December 12, 2011 at 11:25 am 3 comments

Dr. Hollee Freeman is a 1994 Bank Street graduate. Visit her  blog: http://www.bellabark.wordpress.com/

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.

Entry filed under: families, parenting, Uncategorized.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. uciwp  |  December 13, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    Articulating the finesse needed to navigate the worlds of motherhood and education, Dr. Freeman advocates for her daughter and inspires us to take action against racial inequality. Our actions, perceptions, and words can change the world. Her decision to act, speak up, and write just changed it for the better.

  • 2. Eleanor  |  December 14, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    Hi Dr. Freeman –

    Thank you for writing this post and for shedding light on where you (and, I’m sure, many many other parents) are navigating racism as someone looking with open eyes at your child’s education.

    Through your post, you shine a light on how important it is that we teachers and administrators open ourselves up to being allies when it comes to eliminating all forms of bias and inequality, racism especially.

    My hope and belief is that somewhere in the near future no one, including you or your daughter, will have to navigate racism in the pursuit of a quality education.

  • 3. Jackie  |  December 16, 2011 at 8:13 pm

    We teacher/parents often experience challenging situations in building rapport with our children’s teachers. As above, the issues may seem race-related, but often we are seeking equity all around, or at least an effort toward compassion.

    At her first school, my daughter’s classmate was being publicly humiliated by the teacher. Our daughter suffered emotionally in this environment. I asked the teacher about it, and she defended this approach to disciplining the child. The assistant principal later told me she often has to “turn a deaf ear” to the things she hears her teachers saying to students, implying that I was being too picky. After much effort to be understanding, patient, and tolerant, we changed schools.

    The second was an ideal, progressive school. Unfortunately, the ideal faded when a new principal was hired. This person had limited experience in progressive education and inadequate communication skills. Many people (parents and teaching staff) who loved the school felt the ideal was threatened and were pushed into leaving the school. Some time later, the principal left the school. Damage done.

    Dr. Freeman, thank you for this post, which illustrates well the struggle teacher/parents may face. The struggle seems to come down to: How do we work with a situation without making it seem like we want to take control?

    A teacher/parent must exercise his/her leadership skills in the most non-confronting way, in order to build an engaging and honest relationship with the child’s teacher. Simultaneously, we need to learn how to work with school leadership. As I have seen, the school/classroom is often only as good as the school leadership.

    We really can’t choose between being a parent or an educator. We can only be true to our own values and ideals.

    Thank you for the discussion.

  • 4. bellabarks  |  December 28, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    Thank you everyone for taking the time to respond to this important issue. I think you are all hitting the nail on the head by stating the importance of advocacy not only for our own children but for the other children-and even the school itself. Like you, I have some understanding of both the content of school and of issues of equity and access–what about the parents who don’t have this vantage point. I am often dissatisfied with my daughter’s education-with the pedagogical ineffectiveness and inefficiency that she experiences BUT I can “do school” with her in the evening–a basic do-over from the day. Other parents, for lots of reasons, cannot. This is troubling. We have to fix this problem from the inside.

    Thanks again for reading and responding.
    Hollee Freeman

  • 5. Vincent  |  December 31, 2011 at 7:58 am

    Thank you for posting this Dr. Freeman. My children’s teachers know that I’m a former classroom teacher and that I am “involved” in education (I’m Curriculum Director) so I have a keen interest in pedagogy and practice especially at the classroom level. BUT I have been hesitant to say something when I think something is wrong. I haven’t observed the teachers in action and don’t want to appear to be accusing anyone of anything — is there a way to observe a class without disrupting the flow?

  • 6. BSK  |  January 4, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    I recommend seeking out allies within the faculty. I’m a white teacher but am not a parent. I often see issues of race, diversity, and equity being handled poorly. I call attention to them as I may, but know that my voice is not only a small one in a big crowd, but is further marginalized because faculty are often low man on the totem pole. If a parent brought up such concerns (or, I should say, the *right* parent), they would get a different response. By partnering with teachers who can support and bolster your position, you can create a coalition that is much harder to ignore. It is a risky proposition for a teacher, since we often have to tread lightly and “toe the company line”, but if one is courageous enough and knows how to properly navigate the channels, they can likely help be a strong advocate.
    I’ve had many off-the-record conversations with parents where I told them to push on an issue and that I could jump in after-the-fact to support them. Is that a bit underhanded? Sure. But what is more underhanded is the way folks abuse their privilege to further marginalize kids and families.
    How you find those teachers will depend on your school community, but hopefully they have ways of making themselves known, even if subtly. As attentive as you seem to the issues, my hunch is you can identify the personnel to bring into your corner.

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