The Transparency of Parenting

After reading through several of the comments on my Teacher Magazine piece about the parent/teacher relationship, I just had a bit of a revelation: Parenting is as transparent as teaching, isn’t it?

Think about it: One of the greatest challenges of teaching is that everyone seems to think that they "know" what it is that we do because they’ve sat in a classroom for the better part of their lives.

That experience somehow translates into overly confident—borderline arrogant—critics of our actions on a semi-regular basis. We give too much homework, we give too little homework, we are overly harsh when disciplining children, we aren’t stringent enough, we’re overpaid, we don’t need extra planning time—-you name it and the parents of my classroom probably have an opinion about it.

But aren’t teachers often just as critical of parents?

Don’t many of our peers automatically assume that students who struggle come from homes where moms and dads don’t care?   "If their parents would just make them do homework," we gripe. "If they’d teach discipline…If they’d send them with the proper supplies…If they’d model proper learning behaviors at home…If they’d come to parent conferences."

In the end, don’t we automatically assume that the parents of our students will have the skills and resources to support their children—and then hold a grudge against those who don’t rise to our own expectations for "responsible parenting?"

Do we both suffer from a false sense of transparency that leaves others questioning our decisions?  What actions would responsible educators take to avoid allowing assumptions to drive their thinking about the parents of their students?

5 comments

  1. Joh

    I think the way to effectively socialise students is by example and by having a good relationship. In my brief experience as a teacher, I have found the tools to be understanding, compassion and flexiblity, not drawing lines in the sand. There are extreme situations where it is not safe for all involved to be tolerant.

  2. Mike

    Dear Joh:
    As, in many ways, the front line in not only educating the young, but in socializing them, how can we accept less than adherence to the social contract?
    I agree that we must be flexible and creative, but there must be rules and lines that, when disobeyed or crossed, have swift and sure consequences–in line with the severity of the offense, of course, and never applied in anger.

  3. Joh

    I think it is irrelevant what we as teachers expect from parents. Often what is seen as expectation in the teaching community or the parenting community is just judgement.Sometimes ill-informed and sometimes accurate. I am a parent and a teacher. Neither roles are exact science from my perspective. Our expectations are sometimes not met. Getting frustrated about it only creates extra heat in the situation that requires handling. Sure I have high expectations, but equally can clearly see when they aren’t going to be met, and become flexible and creative as possible. Just my 10c.
    PS:Bill, I’m really enjoying your questions and your posts. Thanks

  4. Mike

    Well said, Paul C. I’m not sure your comparison is particularly apt, Bill. Indeed, teachers are often unjustly criticized because virtually everyone has sat in a classroom and thereby feels justified, but providing a professional service and conceiving and raising a human being whom others will not try to kill on sight are rather different matters.
    Teachers must engage in years of expensive education, onerous certification and recurring training merely to get a job and remain employed. Not so for parents. Their qualifications are…well, we all know what the minimum qualifications are for conception, etc.
    Teachers are regularly evalated and despite what some would say, can indeed be fired for bad performance. Absent very obvious (usually public), repeated, and flagrant criminal acts, parents suffer no such review of sanction for bad parenting.
    By these admittedly incomplete measures alone, who deserves more slack?
    I expect parents to be responsible for their children. They must, at minimum, teach and enforce manners, require good, decent behavior (you know, avoid felonies, drugs, etc.), require socially acceptable modes of speech and dress, require that children do what they should for their own good, particularly when the children are not capable of appreciating that necessity. I also expect parents, when I have sent them a letter, left multiple answering machine messages, multiple e-mails, etc. to do me the courtesy of a reply. I expect, that when Johnny has set the school bathroom on fire, that Johnny’s parents will at least speak with the school to determine all the facts before deciding that the fascist school authorities are trying to suppress Johnny’s God-given pyrotechnic abilities.
    In short, if you’re going to undertake–of your own free will–the responsibility of raising another human being, you’re responsible, you and no one else, and you owe it to everyone to raise that child to do the minimum necessary to uphold the social contract and to keep that child from becoming a drain on the rest of society. How can we possibly allow less? How can we make excuses for anything less?
    I know that parenting isn’t always easy. I know that life is hard. I know that some kids are just rotten human beings born into good families, but they are, thank God, he exception, not the rule.
    That’s what I expect of parents. Am I wrong?

  5. Paul C

    Bill,
    Your point is well-taken. But, as a parent and an educator, I see one clear difference. Most parents are reluctant to criticize other parents (maybe?) because they have been “down the road” themselves. In my experience, this often applies to the way teachers (who are themselves parents) give the benefit of the doubt to parents. We are rarely, it would seem, given the same courtesy.