Not a week goes by without a national news story proclaiming the latest sins of a public school teacher. People love to like, share, and comment on any story that exposes even the smallest wrongdoing on the part of an educator.
I get it, I do. “Teacher Gives Own Time and Money to Buy Supplies for Students” lacks the sensationalism that most media outlets prefer.
“Teacher Spends Hours Each Evening Planning Lessons and Grading Papers” wouldn’t garner many readers.
“Teacher Voluntarily Supports Students at Sporting Events” would be downright laughable.
With so much negativity out there- including all the comments of “we need more teachers like this” on any story that manages to show educators in a positive light- there are a few things parents should know about the people who spend so much time with their children.
1. I believe in what I teach. School is not, despite what you may have heard, an endless parade of textbooks and worksheets and lectures. We prepare these kids for life, as best we can at least, considering our somewhat reluctant audience. And I can promise you that I know my curriculum, inside out and backwards, and I’m passionate about its ability to make your child a better adult.
2. I understand the system is broken. I know that public schools, as a rule, are overcrowded and underfunded. Student to teacher ratios are rising at an embarrassing rate, as are drop-out numbers. If your child is gifted, he’s likely doing fine, but the same probably can’t be said if he has unique learning needs.
If that’s the case, chances are you and your student both feel forgotten and unimportant. I’m just as frustrated as you are, maybe even more so, because I see your concerns magnified across an entire student body. I see all of these flaws, and more, and I wish I could fix them. I even have a few ideas about that, not that anyone is asking.
3. I love this job. The days can be long. The students can be moody and argumentative. The administration can be inconsistent and short-sighted. There are dark moments, moments when I wonder if I’m doing my job well, if my passion for the curriculum is evident.
Sometimes I run out of patience and snap at a student. Sometimes my personal life gets in the way and I don’t start the school day as prepared as I could be. Sometimes I’m rooting for that snow day just as much as your child is.
Even on days when I question my ability to teach effectively, when all I can do is close my eyes, breathe deep, and pray for patience, I can’t imagine doing anything else, being anywhere else.
4. I love your child. Yes, even yours. The one who never remembers to raise his hand in class. The one who spends more time visiting with her classmates than participating in discussions. The one who roles his eyes at every other word I speak.
I love them all. Sometimes I lay awake at night, worrying about the girl with a history of self-harming. Wondering if that activity we did in class had an impact on the quiet one in the back. Hoping that boy’s failed test was a one-off and not a sign of bigger issues.
I want every single one of my students to succeed, because I see huge potential in all of them.
5. I need your help. I think you need mine, too. We both want your child to grow into a responsible adult, making his or her unique contribution to society. You know your child better than anyone, but can I share something I’ve learned from experience?
Coddling her isn’t what’s best for her. Making excuses, transferring blame, hand-holding. I know you do those things because you love her, and because the world is harsh and why not protect her from that for as long as possible?
But an inward-focused teenager will grow into an entitled adult. The kind of person to whom regular rules don’t apply. The kind of person who doesn’t get along with others, but it’s never her fault. The kind of person you wouldn’t want as a coworker or as a friend.
So, while I know it’s tempting to smooth her ruffled feathers, please consider a different tactic. Consider urging her to work even harder on that group project, even though the other members are mean to her. Consider encouraging her to work extra hard in that class, even though she doesn’t mesh with the teacher.
She might be angry, and it might be hard, but you’ll be raising a child who possesses the kind of qualities we educators just can’t teach.
6. I think the media has it wrong. If you take only one thing away from this post, let it be that. If they had it their way, news outlets would have you believe that public schools are full of harried burnouts who couldn’t cut it at a real job.
That’s simply not true.
Your public school has some of the brightest, most patient people you’ll ever meet, in education or elsewhere. It has employees who could be working somewhere else, making a lot more money and facing a lot less criticism, but who stay because they believe in what they do and in the students they teach.
I know this because I work in a school full of teachers like that. I know this because I wonder every day if I’m doing all I can to be one.
Obviously, this is a personal blog and these are my personal thoughts. I can’t actually presume to know what every public school teacher would like to say to students’ parents.
I’m so glad you wrote this post. I homeschool my kiddos, but I know personally many fine teachers who are a blessing to their students and the community. You’re right, that the press likes to dwell on the sensational and the negative. More stories like yours should be on the front pages.
Thank you! Scandal sells, but a little positivity goes a long way.
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and feelings on this. I think that the media really does portray public schools and teachers in a bad light a lot of times, and that’s just not fair. I have friends who put their hearts and souls into teaching at public schools and they would probably agree with everything you have here.
Thank you! I know I can’t speak for everyone, but I do think my opinions represent a lot of teachers.
Amen! I love what you have written and could not agree more. I’m a 5th grade Inclusion Teacher (the Sp. Ed. half) and I cannot express how much I need parents help. Although mine feels seemingly different. I teach in a really urban area, and while I understand the time constraints parents have working multiple jobs, I still need them to be present and available for their student.
Thank you! I can understand that parents are busy- aren’t we all?- but you’re right, when you have children, you have a responsibility to be available to them.
Justine Y says
I know that teaching is often a thankless job. I fully appreciate the time and energy (and personal finances!) that I know most teachers give. It’s true that the public school system isn’t perfect, but nothing is. 🙂 I hope that you do know that the majority of parents are grateful for what you do!
Thank you! You’re exactly right; there are bad teachers, because there are just bad people, regardless of what field you’re looking at. It’s just that there are so many more good ones.
Nicole Keener says
I don’t thinks it’s the teachers that are bad it’s the system!! For example in our county the kids get out of school an hour early every monday for teacher planning and conferences.But 2 weeks ago my daughter told me that they are now watching a movie every monday morning because the teachers have a meeting. I just don’t understand it.
You’re right, it’s a difficult situation. The single biggest problem is that the people making the policies and passing the laws are not the same people who are with the kids, in the classroom, day in and day out.
Pam Rote says
Having taught for 6 years before having my own children I can agree with your post -this is how I felt about my classes too—I really wish there would be more headlines about the great teachers out there! If there was uplifting stories about teacher going viral, that one bad apple will not infest the rest of the bushel–because I’m sure the majority of teacher feel just as you do.
Thanks for the comment, Pam! You’re right, more positive stories would go a long way. All the negative press can be pretty demoralizing.
Abby…this is a fantastic post! Excellent points, very well written! Thanks for sharing!!
Aww, thank you, Brandy! You’re too sweet!
Carolyn K. says
>>If your child is gifted, he’s likely doing fine, but the same probably can’t be said if he has unique learning needs.<<
I'm sorry you feel this way. I'm sorry you don't understand that gifted kids have unique learning needs, too. As a parent, I would love to volunteer in your class, collect funds to help you buy supplies, and tutor a group in your class so you have more time to work with the kids with unique learning needs. But I can't, as I bite my tongue and swallow my anger and sadness.
Gifted kids are just as unique as the kids at the other end of the curve. Gifted kids can be well-behaved straight-A students, or they can be bored and outspoken, completely distracted by their own thoughts at the expense of your teaching, or they can be twice exceptional, amazingly good at some things and frustratingly bad at others. They can be dyslexic, ADHD, autistic, and more. And still gifted. Sometimes even profoundly gifted and learning disabled, at the same time. Gifted kids are not all the same.
Gifted kids are not all the same, and they definitely are not going to "do just fine on their own." And hearing teachers and administrators who haven't had the benefit of gifted education in their pre-service or continuing education cite these well-worn wives tales is terribly frustrating for the parents of those gifted children.
ALL gifted kids have unique learning needs. Some are just plain bored, but able to sit still and quietly tolerate the boredom. But that doesn't mean they don't have learning needs. Others get in trouble by speaking too much, or getting up and walking around, or answering your questions in too much detail because, in addition to knowing the material you're trying to teach, they also know many years more content on the subject, and they're happy to share with you and the class. Or worse, they know more, and more current information than the textbooks you teach from, and they're anxious to correct the book, and therefore you.
No, Pluto is not currently considered a planet, though it depends which group you talk to. No, there are not only three states of matter: solid, liquid and gas. Not even four, any more. And no, Columbus did not discover America, no matter what the federal holiday would like you to celebrate. And they'd be glad to tell you all about these things they know!
Then there's the 2e kids, who having amazing memory and analytical skills but can barely read, or those who can read and analyze any writing, but can't memorize their math facts fast enough to pass a speed test. Or those who are just anxious enough that our high-stress, test-test-test classroom with all the warnings about how they must do well, is enough to push them into failure. Yes, they know the material, but to get it out on the test… just doesn't happen for them. There are lots of different 2e gifted kids, each with unique learning needs.
Now don't get me wrong. There are amazing teachers out there. My kids had some of the most excellent teachers I can imagine. The 4th-grade teacher who spent her own money to buy advanced math materials for my daughter to do after she passed every pre-test in 4th-grade high math! I felt so bad when she admitted to me that she didn't really succeed, that after giving all kids who passed the pre-tests the new materials, she learned that my daughter had a much more advanced understanding of Algebra, in spite of the fact that we never taught her any. And worse, the rest of the kids she used the materials with just didn't get it, couldn't do the materials as enrichment, and needed full instruction to begin to make sense of any of it.
Then there were the three middle-school gifted teachers. These teachers made middle-school tolerable for both of my kids, but at least one of them saved my younger daughter's life. My 2e child was struggling terribly in middle school, for reasons I won't detail here (but were a teacher's doing) and was losing faith in her own being. The gifted teachers helped my child realize that her life had value, and that she was an important human being, in spite of the messages she was getting from others in positions of power. And no, she wasn't lazy, or evil, or lying, as other teachers constantly accused her. She really couldn't do the creative writing she was asked to do, what with the expressive speech delay the middle school had dropped her IEP for, in order to keep her gifted status. Kids can be more than just one or the other!
My eldest had some of the greatest high school teachers, too. Not one, but two of the teachers tried to get exception to the "rules" for my child, who had straight A's in all her tests and quizzes, but didn't turn in all her homework. Why not? Because 1) she didn't need the practice to get A's, 2) she spent her free time grading homework for these teachers for her National Honor Society service, and 3) she was busy after school tutoring her classmates in the math and science she was acing in school, and helping them with SAT test prep in math; they were even paying her for SAT prep. At night she had karate and theater practice. Oh, and she was 13 and 14 during those, her junior and senior years of high school.
The Calculus and Chemistry teachers failed to get exceptions for her. They had to give her Bs. Because somewhere in the science and math departments, someone believed that she needed all that extra homework practice. No one could explain why.
I'll jump off my soapbox now, but hopefully you and other teachers reading your blog will realize that gifted kids won't just "do fine," and that they do have "unique learning needs." Every one of them. And we parents depend on wonderful teachers to care enough to know that, and to do something about it. We'll gladly help!
Thank you for taking the time to comment, Carolyn.
The only thing I regret since writing this post and having it go viral is the way I over-simplified the sentence you’re referring to. As a teacher, I do recognize that every single student has “unique” learning needs. I should have specified better that my reference was to children with IEPs and diagnosed special education needs. Again, I understand that there are students that are gifted- higher IQ, testing above grade level- who also have IEPs. I was addressing the majority of students who come through my classroom so, granted, it’s a limited sample size.
I do stand by my assessment that most gifted students will be “fine,” but I also understand that “fine” isn’t what our standard should be. We should aim for much better than fine for all our students. By fine, I simply meant they’re likely to pass their classes and graduate. That’s something that, sadly, can’t be said for far too many students with IEPs or, worse, undiagnosed learning differences. It’s also much easier to find enrichment for those gifted students than it is to find time and resources for remediation for the students who are behind.
As far as parents who are willing to volunteer time and money, I’ve yet to meet one of those parents. I know they’re present at the elementary level, but they’re nowhere to be found in the high school. We end up using our own money to buy supplies and spending hours outside of school to develop engaging content and activities that we feel will reach every type of learner. That’s not a complaint; I love my job and I knew what I was signing up for, but the idea that parents are supportive, or that they even know the names of their child’s teachers, is inaccurate. There are clearly exceptions, like you, but that’s the rule.
Again, thank you for your comment. I do recognize that every student learns in a unique way, but I stand behind my statement that, most of the time, gifted kids will earn a diploma.
Carolyn K. says
I’m sorry you don’t find the parents in your school interested or supportive. When we attended our kids’ high school back-to-school nights, the halls and classes were packed with parents. A few were frightening examples of helicopter parents but most were like us, interested and supportive parents who were stepping back as our kids moved towards college, but still willing to do what needed to be done.
And you could find many of us on Friday nights, manning the concession stand so the band, choir, and orchestra programs had a few dollars to spend on instruments, uniforms, and music, or selling donuts so our cheerleaders could travel along with the teams. While most non-music teachers didn’t share any needs we parents could help with beyond chaperoning trips and events, they did share their needs with our kids, and our kids often spent hours (well beyond those required for student organizations) helping their favorite teachers grade assignments for lower level classes, working on classroom prep, or selling candy bars to support the teachers with additional funds.
It’s likely true that moderately gifted kids will earn a diploma. Twice exceptional kids, not so much, unless they have strenuous parental support, to make up for the lack of educational support. And the profoundly gifted kids have been known to “give up” and either drop out or complete only what’s necessary to “escape,” wasting their future potential thanks to the lack of attention to their unique learning needs.
Not “fine” at all.