Monday, February 12, 2018

“If Their Parents Really Cared...”

This is a sentence I have heard from many, many people with regards to my students.

“If their parents really cared, they’d come to parent-teacher conferences.”

“If their parents really cared, they wouldn’t let their kids join gangs.”

“If their parents really cared, they’d feed them better.”

I’ve heard this from very well-meaning people, including co-workers. We all want our students to have what they need, and to have the best chance possible in life. But this particular phrase makes me angry, and it has since the first time I heard it.

When I was a new teacher, I was in a collaboration meeting with the other third-grade teachers and one of my colleagues was talking. I had some excellent colleagues but this guy was not one of them. Actually, he was an excellent teacher to a certain group of students, but only those he chose to teach. He frequently tried to trade his Black students for my Asian students because he was “supposed to” be the teacher for the immigrant kids. I often let him because if he was that opposed to having Black kids in his class, I didn’t really want them to suffer.

This particular teacher was talking about parent-teacher conferences. He said, “If their parents really cared, they’d come to parent-teacher conferences, but they don’t.”  I’d come to find out that he frequently started sentences in this way.

I said, “Of course they care about their kids.” He just kept talking over me, ranting about how frustrated he was. I understood his frustration. We’d all have an easier time of it if the parents came to conferences. But there were many, many reasons for parents missing them, and none of them were because they didn’t care about their children.

Yesterday, I faced this comment again, and this time, I was ready for it. I was speaking at a church, and got many very thoughtful questions and comments. People were really ready to partner with public schools, which was very exciting.

One man, however, had this question, which was more of a statement or condemnation. He said that he knows it’s hard when parents are working multiple jobs like I had mentioned but that parents who care will always make time for their kids. So why hadn’t my school had a PTA? If the parents really cared, they’d find time to be a part of this.

I was so glad this question came up, since I know how many people think it.

“I will politely and strongly disagree with you,” I said.

I went on to explain: I had kids with parents who worked two — or even three —  full-time jobs. How many hours a week does three full-time jobs add up to? ONE HUNDRED TWENTY. You can’t do anything else. You don’t even get to sleep. You’re a zombie.

Even in a less dire case, if a parent is working two full-time jobs, they could be going to work from 6 am until midnight. Where can they fit a PTA meeting in? And would we do it? I wouldn’t, no matter how much I cared about my child. The human body can only do so much.

In addition, there are many other reasons a parent or guardian might not be able to participate in these events and activities.

Many of our parents didn’t speak English. If there wasn’t a translator (a luxury), they can’t understand what’ going on, and it would feel pointless to be there. Some undocumented parents were afraid to go to any activities, trying to keep a low profile.

Many of our parents were young parents and their school days were not far behind them. If they had had bad experiences in education — and many of them had — they may actually feel traumatized and not feel welcome at the school.

Some parents had drug and alcohol problems. This is true for any population but is often harder to hide when you have the added stress of poverty and violence nearby. If meetings were held at night, it might not feel safe to go out of their houses, and if they weren’t held at night, parents would likely be working.

In some cultures, volunteerism is just not as common as it is here. Many parents were from cultures where the family was one context, and then the parents handed the kids to the teacher (who was often highly respected and much better paid than in the United States) and the teacher and school would do their own thing. In many parts of the world, it is unheard of for parents to tell the teacher what to do, and that’s what a PTA would feel like. The school has to be very intentional and inviting, and cultural understanding is a slow process.

In addition, many of my students’ guardians were older: grandparents, great-aunts, or even great-grandparents. These guardians had already raised their own kids but for various reasons, were now raising younger kids in their family. They would tell me, "I'm tired. I thought I was done raising kids and I'm just so tired."

The man who asked the question was very quiet after that. I hope I had given him a lot to think about.

Addendum:  A friend pointed out something I am missing. It is incredibly dehumanizing to even consider the possibility that such a huge portion of the human race doesn't care about their children. OF COURSE THEY DO. It just might look different than we expect.

1 comment:

priscilla1971 said...

This is so true and people always say that, parents dont care when they dont come. You are right, dehumanizing because the majority of parents do care, thats why they work so hard.