Monday, July 20, 2009

I Wasn't Calling to Hang Out...

In graduate school, we learn that we must do whatever we can to engage our students. We must present our content area in ways that will captivate the minds, hearts, and very souls of our students. We must make them confident and comfortable. We must acknowledge that, even though one of them just ate the paste on my desk, each student is a unique individual with a distinct learning profile. We need to know what makes them smile and what makes them cry. We must use visuals- nay, become visuals; we must dance whenever possible. We must make learning dynamic and kinesthetic. We must translate the words they do not comprehend, and differentiate the content, process, and products of each and every lesson to be sure that they understand. We must make our students beg for more, and then stay after school until long after dark to make sure that they get it. We all do these things naturally because we’re good teachers, and we understand the value in doing these things. Most of us would do these things even if no one had ever asked us to.
I teach in the South Bronx. When I tell people that most of my students are good students, many don’t believe me. In fact, they’re more than good students, they’re great people- and I was stunned by how consistently they met and exceeded my expectations throughout the course. By all accounts, it was a successful year. Whenever administrators, colleagues, or family members asked, “What would you have changed?” the answer has consistently been, “My relationship with my students’ parents.” Though I tried to form solid relationships with parents, I was unsuccessful.
This really became a problem in October. In October, I was asked to form a mentoring situation with several of my students. I made several attempts to establish a relationship with one particular student’s mother, but I wasn’t having any luck. Though she didn’t speak perfect English, she was capable of having a conversation about her son’s schoolwork. This particular student came from a Dominican background and I was disappointed because I had been told to expect strong support from Dominican parents. This time, it just wasn’t the case. I researched Dominican culture and learned that not all Dominican parents are supportive of their children’s education. In the Dominican Republic, children are expected to defer to their parents and keep their feelings and opinions to themselves. In contrast, children in the New York City school system typically become more outspoken both at school and at home. A “New York Times” education article reported that Dominican parents often feel themselves “losing control of their children, who are shedding their cultural restrictions. They view New York City school children as arrogant and flamboyant, with no respect for their elders. Such contrasting expectations between children and parents cause stress at home” (2009). Additionally, many impoverished parents view their children’s education in our school system as a costly endeavor. “According to the World Bank, 13 percent of children ages 7-14 in the Dominican Republic work outside the home, rather than attend school. According to Unicef, 16 percent of children ages 10-17 are illiterate” (2006). Usually, one or both parents have little or no education and many parents would rather see their children work than go to school.
Though this research taught me about Dominican culture and has given me some insights, I never was able to figure out how to engage this student’s mother. And, unfortunately, she was merely the first in a long line of other indifferent parents. I was shocked by how little these parents wanted to get involved in their children’s education. My school doesn’t do a good job of organizing extracurricular activities, and the events that my school has organized had a very low parent turnout. I understand that involving parents in their children’s education is at the foundation of high school student achievement; moreover, I am certain that if more parents were involved, many of the problems (the high-absenteeism, high-cut rate, low-homework production) would go away. However, besides making telephone calls and begging parents to meet for conferences, how much can I do? How much should I do? I recognize that I must understand my students in thousands of ways, but do I really have to do that for parents as well? Do I really have to find ways to engage them in their child’s education? Or should they just take some responsibility and act like adults?


The New York Times. Ask about dominicans in new york. (March 16,2009).

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