NEW YORK – Keeping the lines of communication open between parents and teachers can be a challenge, especially in this era of crowded classrooms and time-crunched families. So many questions and issues go unspoken or unanswered.
So what would teachers like to express if they had more time to talk with parents?
Some of the issues aren't easy to discuss — from institutional problems at schools, to tender subjects touching on children's family life and abilities.
Here's a sample:
ADJUSTING THE SAILS
Sandi Bishop in suburban Seattle was a classroom teacher for 30 years in elementary and middle grades in North Dakota and Iowa. Her students ranged from urban to rural, poor to well-off.
Parents, she said, don't realize how much teachers know about what goes on at home simply by interacting with kids.
"I'd like to remind parents that the environment at home comes to school," she said. "If there is chaos at home, your child will come to school not ready to focus and learn. A phrase I often state is, some children come to school to be loved; loved children come to school to learn. As a teacher, you begin behavioral profiling much like the FBI does with suspects."
Betsy Allison Tant in Knoxville, Tennessee, is a former teacher and mom of three.
As a teacher, she said, "I wanted parents to know that I'm teaching academics within the context of life. If I don't know what's going on with a child or family, I can't adjust the sails for those kids."
As a parent, on the other hand, "I want teachers to respect my input. When I say that there's something going on that is impacting my child in a way that can change their performance, please believe me and adjust the sails."
Carolyn Lee, a substitute teacher in Hawaii, agrees that parents and teachers need to work together.
"No teacher, no matter how dedicated, experienced and hard-working, can make up for the lack of parental involvement in a child's studies," said Lee, who has taught kindergartners, fourth graders, high schoolers and college students, some as a tutor. "A parent is still the most influential teacher in a child's life!"
BEHIND THE SCENES
Tim Cornillie in suburban Chicago taught high school English and other subjects both full and part time for seven years, through 2012. He wants parents to be aware of how far some schools stray from prioritizing academics.
"Schools put up a smoke screen of sports and extracurricular activities," he said, and advises: "Do a quick survey of principals' backgrounds, and you'll see how little academics and how much sports have played a role in their careers."
FALLING THROUGH THE CRACKS
Kimi Ordoubadian Abernathy, an independent educational consultant in Nashville, Tennessee, has four grown sons and a teenage daughter. She has worked in admissions or college counseling for 24 years. Teachers, she said, often disregard or misunderstand the challenges of kids with social and emotional deficits.
"The way teachers dismiss a kid who can be irritating makes that kid fair game for the rest of the class at lunch, PE, recess, etcetera," she said.
Among them are those kids mildly on the autism spectrum, who are falling through the cracks.
"If these kids did not have arms we would be all over them and prevent bullying. But often teachers say these kids 'bring it on themselves,'" she said. "They need social support just to get to the academics. They don't bring it on themselves. They have no clue what is going on. They 'look normal' so teachers often forget the degree to which they are handicapped."
Andrew Price has been teaching math at an alternative high school in Portland, Oregon, for a year and a half. Parents, he said, should work on supporting good attendance from the start.
"If students already have attendance issues by the time they reach high school then there is little hope," he said.
Price would like parents to recognize what he calls a paradigm shift in terms of teachers and trust: "It used to be that no matter what a kid said, parents would listen to an adult. That is, if your neighbor said your kid was being bad and the kid denied it, the parents would trust the adult neighbor. The same thing was true for teachers.
"But now it seems that has changed," he said. "Parents side with their students and don't believe the teachers."