Should Parents be Banned from Classrooms?

Jay Mathews, a columnist for the Washington Post, wrote an interesting piece recently about eliminating bans on parents observing their child in class.

A Virginia representative, Patrick A. Hope, initiated a bill that would require local school boards to allow parents to observe their child in class – with reasonable notice and minimal disruption.

This is a reasonable request. After all, it’s public education and parents have a right to know what their children are doing for six hours every day. On the other hand, having spent 12 years and hundreds of hours in preschool to grade five classrooms as a parent volunteer, I do see how a parent sitting in the back of a classroom observing (vs. volunteering and folding into the day’s routine) could be a distraction for many teachers — not to mention the kids.

Which brings me to my bigger issue: this bill makes the wrong request.

 There are many parents out there – in high performing districts to school systems that need improvement – who want to volunteer in their child’s classroom. Not just observe, but help out. Be an extra set of hands for already overburdened teachers. And there are many teachers who appreciate this time and effort. But some teachers tell classroom parents that they are not needed. Or that the calendar is full. Or that they haven’t organized the volunteer program yet.

These parents want to be a part of what the research clearly shows – over 70 studies in 30 years – that parent involvement makes children more successful. Involved parents are the backbone of high achieving kids. There’s no disputing that. And being a classroom volunteer is one of many ways to be involved. Most of these parents volunteer to stay connected to what their child is doing in school.

So why not write a bill that requires all districts to allow parents to volunteer in their child’s classroom? Isn’t it ironic that school rhetoric often encourages parent involvement yet some schools tolerate teachers keeping their doors closed to parents? Why wouldn’t teachers and/or schools want parent volunteers?

Certainly there are a few parents who ruin it for others by not keeping their observations of other children confidential. This is a real issue unless confidentiality is stressed and contracts are signed. So the administration and parents need to make this happen. If confidentiality is breeched, then the guilty parent should be identified and banned from volunteering – not the majority of parents.

Clearly, some teachers are not comfortable having parent volunteers in their classroom and feel parents are there to “spy” on them. Colleges who teach and train education students would be wise to  require more classes on what teachers can do to build relationships with families. More in class training and professional development will help too. Teachers need skills, strategies and language to become more comfortable around parents.

Teachers understandably protect their turf and their kids.  They work hard to reach each kid – every day. But that’s exactly the point. In trying to reach and teach our kids, they could have more success sooner if the parents were more connected to what their kids were doing in school and then supported this learning at home.

So I’d like to make a motion to amend that bill and require – not just strongly encourage – that all teachers allow parent volunteers in their classrooms, at least from kindergarten through grade five. But requiring this would mean changing teacher contracts. And that could take up to three years, much bargaining and potential dollars to make it happen. So goes the notion of even a small change in education.

But don’t despair. You can still help make this happen. If your teacher or school doesn’t embrace volunteering, use my P3 tips and share your concerns in a way that can be heard. Communicate and show that you genuinely want to build a school-family bridge. That you just want to connect to what your child is doing. That you’ll honor confidentiality.

Let’s hope that in the spirit of family school partnership and building bridges with each other, all teachers and parents can find a way to co-exist in the classroom. For the sake of our kids.

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