The Elephant in the Classroom

Things are not always dire or bleak, but looking for a positive after yesterday’s Parent Teacher conferences is fairly challenging. I have 22 students. Ten parents made appointments for a conference period yesterday; the conferences were held between 3 and 5 pm as an alternative to the 6 to 8 pm conferences held in the Fall.

Of those 10 parents, one canceled her appointment the day before. Of the other nine, 4 kept the appointment and 5 choose not to attend without the courtesy of a cancellation message. One parent was confused by the sign up method and came without an appointment — which as it turns out, was not a problem. Another parent was having day surgery during the day — we conferenced on the telephone Sunday afternoon.

I know that times have changed. People are busy. But common courtesy has not taken a header has it? I cannot imagine myself just not showing up when I had a conference appointment with my own child’s teacher. Both my husband and I have had recent reminiscences about our own elementary days — and our parents who would together attend conferences. Different times for certain. Since when do people just not show up to keep an appointment they made with a teaching professional? Notices on bright-colored paper, reminders in class, phone calls. Wouldn’t that have triggered something?

The parents I did see — the ones who made appointments and kept them — they are the positives in all of this. They are the ones who take a sincere interest in what their student is learning, how they can help. They came with questions, with requests, and I am gladly finding answers and responding to them.

But for those who just blew me off I want to ask, what was that about? Clearly, parents are disconnected here. So what can be done to engage them? It is a conversation that needs to take place – now.

Harlem Children’s Zone’s Promise Academy touts their success as a charter school amid the turmoil and needs of an inner city school system. I’ve read that their success is certainly influenced by the involvement of these students’ parents in the educational process. So how do they get parents to the table?  How do they get parents to participate in the monthly workshops, the parent nights? How do they deal with the elephant that is in our classrooms? Is it the extraordinary funding that the school uses to provide incentives? Or is there some other school culture that is engaging parents?

I would dearly love to know the answer.

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