Parents in a Student’s Life

A couple years ago, I asked Sonia Wang, a teacher and friend to write about the importance of parental involvement.  I’m sure you’ll enjoy her post again for its continued relevance.

Advocacy. This word is often seen as a job of someone else. But I think we forget that advocacy is merely being “in the know” so that we can speak up and respond appropriately as needed. One thing that our students, especially in urban environments, are lacking is having an ample group of advocates.

Where does this absence of advocates stem from? Often it starts with the students’ parents. It is argued that students spend the majority of their day in school, however, the more important truth is that students need consistency in their lives.

Consistency must be obtained in two ways—from home to school and from school to home. When a student is told in school that they need to read at least 30 minutes at home, but they are expected to cook dinner, watch their younger siblings, and then manage their work without a space to do work, there is a mixed message sent to the student. At the same time, when students are told at home that helping out with the family day care program holds priority in their lives and that message is overturned at school, students are flooded with mixed messages.

How do we as adults integrate into the lives of our students to best support them? As a classroom teacher, I strongly believe that there are two main sources for support—parents and mentors, which include teachers.

The role of parents in a student’s life is invaluable. A teacher can only impart so much when it comes to skills, content, and values, but if that is not reinforced by what happens at home, it becomes obsolete to the child. From my years of teaching, I cannot count how many times a student has referred to their parent’s indifference or absence in their academic achievement as a reason for their own indifference or absence of care for their academic progress or goals. The attitude and tone a parent holds for their child sets the baseline for the child’s personal expectations and hopes.

When a student knows that his/her parent knows what’s going on in their lives, especially in their school life, it not only sets a new tone to the importance of this thing known as “school” but it also redefines the student’s approach to school. Suddenly their work in school matters because what they do in class matters to people who matter to them. Reading a chapter and jotting personal thoughts on what was read isn’t just homework but it is an opportunity to show the parent what’s happening in class, what is being learned, and what thinking is happening.

Furthermore, let’s consider an example situation:

If a student is reading a novel that is perceived to be at a lower level than the student’s ability, his/her parent is now able to advocate for their student. This can lead to multiple outcomes:

1.)If the book is in fact easy, the teacher is now held accountable to meet the learning needs of the student in order for the student to GROW!! and

2.) If the book is actually at the student’s reading level because he/she is struggling, then there can be an honest conversation about where the student is at in their reading progress, what supports are in place in the classroom to monitor and assure growth, and what strategies can be implemented at home to support the student’s growth.

Regardless of what the outcome might be, the more important fact here is that the student has multiple advocates in his/her life; no longer is their education a passive one but one that is active and purposeful.

Parents must be involved in their student’s educational journey. Involvement does not mean teaching algebra in fourth grade or having the student comprehend Beowulf in middle school. I would actually discourage this type of involvement.

Instead, knowing your child’s syllabus, asking what he/she is learning, and checking in about their academic strengths and weaknesses are ways to be involved in his/her life. By doing so, our young people know they have advocates, people who will not allow them to be invisible in our current education system where too often our students are reduced to an ID number or a test score.

With advocates, our young people begin to see the importance of knowledge and voice. And in turn, they become our community’s most effective advocates.  

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