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Parents: Are we what bothers teachers most of all?

In yesterday's Oregonian, opinion columnist Susan Nielsen reported out what she heard from the community about today's stressful classrooms.  In a piece titled What tired Oregon teachers are saying (when parents aren't listening), Nielsen opens like this: "Oregon teachers would like parents to set down their cell phones for five minutes and pay attention to their kids." Sure caught my parental attention.  

While she asked any readers to email her on the topic in a previous column, mostly teachers did (makes sense, I think).  And while Nielsen and others allow that there are causes aplenty for classroom craziness (economy, class size, lack of back-up, the occasional bad teacher, pressure to get high school ratings, etc...), she emphasizes this one - and I quote:

Layered on top of everything else is a phenomenon that seems to bother teachers most of all. They say a growing number of parents undermine their children's academic success and personal growth, undercutting teachers in the process.

Of course my ready-to-take-it-personally neck hairs perked up at this - so I read attentively on:
This bad behavior crosses the socioeconomic spectrum, teachers say: Low-income parents who let their kids skip school. Middle-class parents who drop off their kids late every day. Wealthy parents who take lots of vacations during the school year and demand tailored lesson plans.
Then there are the parents who do their kids' homework, insist that the teacher accept late work, berate the teacher in front of their child, send nasty notes using the child as a messenger, skip parent-teacher conferences, spam the teacher with e-mails, fail to return repeated phone calls, or lavish their kids with video games and cell phones rather than books or attention.
The majority of parents are not like this, teachers say. But even a half-dozen challenging parents in a classroom of 35 children can change the whole dynamic of the school year.

"Early in my career, parents and teachers were partners," said John Harrington, a recently retired teacher from Newport. "... Now it seems many parents side with their children against teachers and administrators."

After a few hours have passed (always good to cool down...), I am ready to ask: What do these teachers want from me, the parent?  What does it take to be their partner?  And perhaps most important of all, if this is - as suggested in the piece - what bothers them most of all, is it more important to fixing what ails our public schools than insufficient state funding?  than class size?  than trained teaching assistants?  any teaching assistants, for that matter!?

Nielsen's article catalogs the many problems our schools face - including the age-old reality of a bunch of very different kids in one room all day.  Why is this anti-parent part so prominent, I wonder?  Did you read it, too?  What do you think - am I being over-sensitive (always possible), or are we parents really that bad? 


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Very interesting questions you ask! Hmm... I don't know if it's "anti-parent" per se, because a lot of parents ARE that bad...or, not partnering with teachers like they used to. I think maybe the consequences of technology, and the economy (or lifestyles) forcing more parents to work is a separate issue than funding. If we have money, assistants and small class sizes and parents aren't teaching good character to their kids, there's still going to be a problem in the classroom, and that shouldn't be solely the teacher's problem to fix.

I agree that I did not find it anti-parent and was actually relieved to find something even remotely pro-teacher in the Oregonian. I do what I can for my child's teacher because my daughter has an IEP and is in general education and needs more support than some of the other kids. Even with all the hours I put in I could still see some of my bad habits in that article and know I could do more to support my school. I will get thrown under the bus any day for a teacher. It has been bringing me to tears lately to see the hateful things people write about teachers that are false and/or due to a staggering lack of support. People that don't have kids are the worst offenders and I want to say to them, "Someone paid for YOUR education if you went to public school"

It depens on the teacher. Some schools, the teachers would prefer that we drop off money and make copies and keep our mouths shut.

I have had teachers that I really didn't care for, but I still tried to make things work.

I email, return phone calls, buy treats for the teachers (even when I don't like them that much) and give them every way to reach me because I know my empowered kid (like her mama) can be a pain.

All I want is a teacher who isn't phoning it in and believes that every kid can do well in their own way. I've got that and it is AMAZING! Shout out to DLSNC teachers. And Ockley. And Miss Boys at Holy Redeemer. And Teacher Carol at Beach. And the wonderful teacher that started it all Miss Strom at Miller Elementary in Alameda, CA.

Those awesome teachers listed above kept it going before and after teachers who honestly weren't that awesome and could've sent my kid on the drop out track.

Those teachers listed aboe always made me feel like we were on the same team. They didn't talk down to me based on socio-economic status. They were willing to work together to present a united front to the mini-Empress.

So it goes both ways. As the big sister of a teacher who's worked with all kinds of kids, I know that parents can be, uh, challenging in different ways.

I, too, agree with the responses above and felt that the article shed some true and necessary light on just a few of the challenges teachers face (there are many). It's a different world than when we were kids and education has, of course, been impacted by this. Teachers have a HUGE job to do and sometimes it's hard for us as parents to understand the depth of this, until we step back and really think about it.

Well, yup, I think you're being too sensitive.

Getting a college degree is often about getting a college degree... it's about surviving in the system, about being a number sometimes, and about conforming when no one cares you're actually a special flower. All of us accept that - or don't get higher ed.

But suddenly, in elementary, middle and high school, this rule doesn't apply. Everyone is a unique snowflake and teachers get the raw end of the deal. I'm not a teacher and have never been one, but I often see my peers - the parents - talking badly about the authority figures in our childrens' lives. There will always be a bad boss, a lazy coworker, someone ya plain don't like... and if one year it's just an average-to-ok teacher, we no longer live with that, make up the slack at home. We take it out on all teachers, and I, for one, am tired of it.

Being a teacher, especially at this time in our lives, is stressful. I know that it is easy to get burnt out and I try to help out as much as a working mama can. Might not be day to day in the classroom but I volunteer in other ways.

However there was one quote that I took offense to:
"Most teachers accept the fact that yes, we are raising these children, and other people are raising ours," says Laura Shingleton, a middle school teacher in Salem. These kids need order and support, she says, more than their preoccupied parents and overwhelmed educators may realize.

Otherwise I agreed with a lot of what the article said.

My daughter is too young to go to school yet, but I am a daughter of a teacher. I also attended pretty mediocre schools most of my life.
I think it speaks to a larger point. That there is only so much teachers can do to help a student succeed. Parents play a much, much, much bigger role in a child's success in school and if they aren't on board, it's a very uphill battle to get that child in a place where he or she is able to be engaged in school.
I credit my parents for most of my success in school -- I'm not talking about getting all A's on my report cards. But my siblings and I all were eager learners and grew up understanding that learning -- not necessarily academic success -- was very, very important.

Blame-the-parent comments by teachers are part of a campaign by teachers' unions to deflect criticism of teachers. They've blamed kids, lack of funding, standardized tests, lawmakers, school boards, Bill Sizemore, and George Bush - so is it really surprising that the next target is parents?

The problems of oversized classrooms, insufficient funds, etc. could be greatly minimized with parental involvement. When I was in school many parents volunteered their time in and out of the classroom. Teachers should actively recruit parents to volunteer their time. As a former high school teacher, I don't think I knew any of my students' parents. Accountability for teachers and parents would make a huge difference in the outcomes of many students.

Conversely smaller classes, better funding etc. could go a long way to mitigating lack of parent involvement. We don't expect other government agencies to get by with volunteer help. Why do we expect that of our schools?

Seen any volunteers at the DMV lately?

Dear "used to teach"...wondering if you are serious? Teachers need all the support they can get for an incredibly difficult job, not negative comments like yours above. That is the very thing part of the article reflects upon. It may be hard to hear, but, yes, sometimes we as parents can be a challenging aspect of things. We don't always realize the incredible demands & issues educators face in today's world. Teachers and families need to find ways to work together to establish more POSITIVE connections. Hopefully everyone involved wants the best for our children and communities, but school/teachers can't do it all.

I had the exact same response to the headline and the first paragraph of the story; I was really put off. not because I think parents are perfect and teachers are terrible, but because I thought it presented an article that was really about how teachers are challenged, too, as a whine-fest about bad parents. somewhere in the article it said that only a small minority of parents are the on-the-cellphones type. yes, this isn't great: but really, are you going to paint the whole parent population with an invective against the worst offenders? that's polarizing and unnecessary.

in fact, that paragraph about how bad parents cut across social classes was particularly offensive to me -- Lisa, I don't think you're being sensitive at all. it was generalizing about our failings based on our income levels. how can that NOT be offensive?

heck, I've muttered under my breath to myself when I saw other parents who seemed disconnected from their kids. I've never written a headline in the Sunday Oregonian about it, though, and usually I've gone back home and felt guilty about having judged them by their covers. and honestly: in the schools where my kids are, the main failings of parents are their own emotional struggles and stress and poverty and cultural cluelessness (we have a huge Somali refugee population at Grout). nothing I'd blame anyone for and in fact empathize with entirely.

I know I've been the bad parent who dropped her son off late to preschool. I've been the one on a conference call when I was picking up my kid (one reason why I quit my job). but I doubt I'm the population Nielsen's teachers are complaining about; and really, are the parents of today any worse than any parents, ever? I read a lot of memoir and it seems that one half of the entire modern narrative is about children whose parents divorced when they were little and who spent dozens of lonely hours each week in a substance-ridden, empty home, or whose mom was an alcoholic who never went to bake sales and took in deadbeats who grew marijuana in the basement and abused their kids. (I know that last bit is sensational but, sadly, it's a family I know.) seems equally awful as helicopter parents and technology addicts.

it's just that today, ALL parents pick their kids up from school -- hardly anyone's walking home, so the teachers get to see and judge them. (I know it's not all teachers -- just the ones angry enough to write to Susan about it.) perhaps one of the reasons I reacted badly was because I felt judged by association. and that's never a good feeling.

ok, and finally: the parents who ARE the ones targeted by this article, if they're self-aware enough to identify that, will not necessarily be encouraged to get off the phone by this article; instead they'll feel targeted and more sure than ever that teachers are headed back to the lounge after class to talk about how much they suck.

yes: instead of detailing one anothers' failings, we should be telling inspiring stories of parent-teacher relationships that WORK.

"ALL" kids are picked up at school? Hardly. I do still see those big yellow buses around.

Also, sarah g. says she feels "judged by association" but association with who?

I don't think this article was anti-parent at all. Another uM over-reaction.

Sarah Gilbert's comments makes me think back to this post on UM a year ago - http://www.urbanmamas.com/urbanmamas/2008/09/ugh-i-dont-hear.html

Two wrongs don't make a right, but you have been pretty judgmental of teachers for a long time.

anon for your own protection: I want to point out that, neither did I write that post about not loving my son's teacher, nor did the headline refer to all teachers. it was calling out a specific example of a teacher one of the mothers here didn't love. this article's subhead is "when parents are listening." it doesn't say "when a few parents aren't listening."

and uM the love/hate: by association with parents (the specific reference was to those who are on the phone when they pick up their kids -- I've done that maybe once or twice, over two years). I am a parent and the headline called us all out.

sorry, when I said "all" kids I should have said "the great majority of grade school kids are picked up today." from the time I was in first grade, I walked to and from school without my parents; and I had stay-at-home parents. I knew plenty of kids here in Portland who walked to school and came home to empty houses. those yellow school buses are taking middle/high schoolers, out-of-district kids and those in some sort of intervention (or TAG) program to/from school.

I am not a k-12 teacher, but I work in higher education. I have a theory that the Oregonian article and the teacher sentiment expressed therein are a reaction to the current times. I'm not saying that educators have it any harder than anyone else in this economy, but times are pretty tough.

Most of us have given up some sort of compensation (benefits, pay, work days, or a combination of all three), we work in buildings that are literally falling apart, we don't have any resources, and yet we still face the same group of students, day after day, whom we love and want to do right by.

And, if the voters don't pass state tax measures in January, which is looks like they won't, it will only get worse.

It gets really tiring.

Just yesterday I was talking to two family members who are also in education. One said, "This is my 25th year, and work has never been as stressful as it has been lately."

So, I think we're all just tired -- teachers and parents.

I have to say I feel for teachers who are asked to do more and more things that are a family responsibility (feeding breakfast, giving flouride as just two examples) and are given grief every time they do something they think is right but it doesn't sit well with a parent or two (think back to the complaints about giving candy for a math project). Absolutely some of this is about economics and the fact that not everyone can afford to feed their own child breakfast, but it doesn't change the fact that it's not a school's responsiblity to have to do that and yet they're asked to. If I were a teacher, I may find myself getting a little resentful of all the time taken away from education to do those kinds of things and still have to deal with parents who can only find time to come to the school when it's to complain about a math activity I put together.

I also think there's just a pervasive sense of entitlement these days (everywhere, not limited to education) that we're passing on to our kids. Much as I want my little Johnny to be free to express his full potential, the fact is that part of school is learning how to walk in line, wait your turn, and do what you're told. Why isn't that as valued today as it used to be? I can guarantee my Johnny isn't going to make it in this world if he doesn't learn to "yes, sir/ma'am" when he needs to. Most of the parents I know are caught up in democratic parenting (of which I'm a huge fan!) to the point that any kind of authority is seen as bad. I don't think we're helping our kids by that, and I can certainly understand why teachers would find that unsupportive.

As to parents picking kids up from school, I can speak for the fact that that doesn't seem to be the case in my son's school. There are maybe 3 or 4 parents or consistent caregivers picking up from his class. The rest of the kids stay there for after school programs, turning their already long school day into an even longer one. I'm not trying to be judgmental saying that, just making the observation.

"those yellow school buses are taking middle/high schoolers, out-of-district kids and those in some sort of intervention (or TAG) program to/from school."

So, you are standing by your idea that no elementary school children ride the bus to school?

I teach because I love the families and kids that I serve. I do understand the perspective of the teachers in the article and I truly empathize with families. THESE ARE EXTREMELY TOUGH TIMES PEOPLE!!! I felt like emphasizing that as if we don't already know. As teachers must of us haven't had a COLA raise in two contract cycles, and in less than two years the recovery act funds are gone and budget cuts are on the horizon. But aside from that my heart is breaking for what my families are going through right now. I have families that have basic needs that aren't being met. Its hard for some families to focus on educational needs when they have stress around safety, food, and housing.
I love, love, love my job but this year is more stressful because at school we are trying to help as much as we can with what we have but it is not even close to enough.

Here is the problem-
As teacher we feel success when that light comes on and children grow and begin to make new connections. The ah-hah moments, and I got it's!
Teachers are feeling like it's harder to get kid's ready to learn, because children aren't ready to learn when there basic needs aren't being met.
Families are struggling to just get by and although not intentionally your children are affected. One thing we can do is try to sensor what we say in front of our children. Children shouldn't carry the same burdens that we carry as adults.

I certainly don't have any solutions to these problems but I think the frustrations stem from kid's not getting their need's met in order to be ready to learn.

For me I know it would be helpful if occasionally families would check in and see if they could help out. Please ask if you can help your teacher with anything maybe even forming a parent support group for your child's class the village clearly needs to be a little bigger these days.

uM the love/hate: I'm really sorry I said anything about buses. no, I'm not "standing by" "no elementary students ride the bus to school." my kid does, but his school is not a neighborhood school, and he will still if he "graduates" to a neighborhood school with a behavioral classroom. I just read in the newspaper that Marysville Elementary kids are riding to their new school (it's five miles away). it's my experience that neighborhood students don't ride the bus to elementary school in Portland. who knows, maybe I'm wrong, but why are we arguing about this? it really has nothing to do with my point. I guess I was exaggerating for effect about "all" kids being picked up.

I see a lot of parents and caregivers at Grout at 2:15 every day. I see a lot of kids going to after school programs. but I see very few young children walking home alone.

my big problem with the article was that it was coloring a nuanced picture of parenting/teacher relationships with a big, giant, monochrome headline that said we all weren't listening. I think the many comments to this post and the fact it was written to begin with says that many of us are hugely passionate about our children's education, and not in a "Johnny is entitled to the best" way, but in a village way, and we aren't on cell phones when our kids or their teachers are trying to interact with us unless we are temporarily, rarely swept up in something that seems important at the time.

if we are discussing issues here that perhaps might seem nitpicky, I think it's us working out a problem that's bothering us in this forum -- where we're not calling teachers or schools out by name -- to see if it's a pervasive problem, or maybe it's something we shouldn't worry about in the whole scheme of things and we just need that feedback from you all.

what I don't want is a blame-fest that paints either side with the one broad brush. I love two of my son's teachers (present and past), can't stand another, adore a fourth, think a fifth was in badly over her head. one principle is solicitous but authoritative (in a bad way); another is gentle and understanding and under an incredible amount of stress and flawed in a way only a few of the kids get. I forgive him.

what I realize now that I'm a parent and have seen a lot of teachers is that most of us have some major flaws, and most of us really really care, that most of us are trying as hard as we possibly can, when we have the slightest clue what to do. and lots of times we don't have the slightest clue. what I want in the Oregonian is more emphasis on the caring and the trying, less on the flaws and the cluelessness -- unless it's instructive and CONstructive.

This is exactly why I love uM. Since writing this post, I have pondered, read, changed my view, been empathetic, been mad, and am still pondering. And that's saying something since I work alone at home, right?

The question I think that is still hanging around for me is: what SHOULD all this look like? What does it look like at its best? and how can i foster that? not just for my own kids, but for the other kids, the teachers, the school. also, I've also been trying to remember back - almost to the point of calling my mom to see what she recalls about the 70s when I was in elem school. My oldest is in 1st grade, so the truth of it is: I really have no idea. I was offended by Susan's piece because, as Sarah G suggested above, I thought she overplayed the drama part, when it's actually not all drama but instead a bunch of different families and teachers doing what we all can to give our kids (mine, yours, whoever's) the best education we can - while fighting for more resources every chance I get.

I'm also not clear on how much parent volunteering is the right amount. I totally hear the person above who wondered where the DMV volunteers are? Yes, a bit tongue in cheek b/c of course our schools aren't exactly comparable to he DMV, but for me it's a real point.

Anyway, thanks all for sharing such different and interesting and all valid opinions. I, for one, am better for it, and have very different thoughts on the matter now than I did upon penning this post.

And now, off to write a grant for my son's school :-)

As a teacher and a parent, I feel that I empathize with all sides. I try to see that parents/families do all that they can, and often I extend empathy and love to them. It certainly will not serve the students in my class to be anything but warm to their family. I do appreciate parents who check in, who communicate, who are authentic, who try. I have had several families who have offered to do other things if they can not volunteer time, such as buying something small for the classroom. When I read both pieces, I think we are similar more than we are different. I think we all struggle, we are all over extended and under appreciated. I think a heartfelt 'thank you' and 'you are welcome' can bridge huge gaps. I think we are all wishing for more support, more community, more closeness. We can start here.

I think it's our habit to find a scapegoat when we're getting mediocre (or bad) outcomes. Too often those are teachers and/or parents. The reality is that the state of our education system in Oregon is not the fault of either.

We have an drastically underfunded system that leaves teachers and school administrators fighting over scraps of resources in classes that are far too large. Achievement on tests is overemphasized, and good teaching unsupported. Teachers are stressed, and rightfully so.

But parents are also stressed. It has become increasingly difficult to afford housing, health care, education, and other basic things on one income. Most households now have all available adults in the workforce. The majority have no option to take time off when their children are sick, much less to volunteer in their child's school. Wages, in terms of buying power, are decreasing. Parents don't have the flexibility at work that is needed to better balance work and family.

Our anger is misdirected, in my opinion. The education of our community's children needs to be a priority - and funding should follow. But, we should also prioritize those things that promote economic security and build social supports for families. Both things will result in better outcomes for our kids.

Sarah, you know that talking on the cell phone was not cool at pick-up (hence your comment about that's why you quit that job, plus your defensiveness about only having been on the phone once or twice in two years), and yet you are offended that teachers don't like parents talking on the phone (as an example).

It seems that you got called on some behavior that you're not proud of, but yet are turning it around by calling the article (and some teachers) anti-parent.

Accept the fact that, yeah, sometimes you can't hang up the phone (and if this is the only "problem" the teacher sees from you, I doubt you are being judged for your phone habits) and stop being so defensive.

Or, you could realize that the article wasn't referring to otherwise involved parents who occasionally take a phone call at pick up, but rather to those parents who are ALWAYS on the phone at pick up (and don't volunteer, or show up to conferences, or help their children with homework, etc.). But again, you can probably stop being so defensive.

Let's remember the lovely bell curve... The majority of us are on the phone once in awhile when we pick up, help children with their homework most of the time, will need to take a vacation at an odd time or we don't get to go, etc., etc. The outliers, teachers and parents, are making extreme choices repeatedly or holding views that aren't realistic, etc. We have give each other the benefit of the doubt and keep it as productive and graceful as possible. I grew up with a very mediocre education and the university that I graduated was solid, but not prestigious. I was successful in my corporate career. You make of your life what you will make if it from the beginning to the end.
So, parents do need to prioritize education and pay attention. I think teachers need to take a deep breath with the knowledge that most parents support them and make good parenting decisions at home that support education. As a daughter of a retired teacher, the parents (outliers in my bell curve analogy) who don't think there children are ever wrong have always been there. You just have to focus on the student and do the best you can.
As an aside, as an og uMer, I can remember a time when we disagreed, but it didn't feel so laced with venom... We didn't nitpick over verbiage or get personal, calling people out while choosing to stay anonymous. The site was small enough that you may meet that person out, so you used manners and common courtesy. I hate how in general people on the Internet have soooo much courage from behind their computer monitor...

Stopping my ramble now.

"As teachers must of us haven't had a COLA raise in two contract cycles.."
But your salary still went up every year, didn't it? And you still get extra pay for getting professional development, don't you? And your work year is still 180 days, isn't it? And you still pay almost nothing for your outstanding health benefits and retirement plan, do you? And you don't have to worry that a better teacher will come along and take your job, do you?

Oh shoot, there it is again, cyber courage or audacity in this case. And behind the veil of anonymity.

Tired, you put forth such a short-sided and incomplete summary of what is mostly untrue and is certainly not the full picture. I come from a family of teachers and you don't know what you are talking about.

Ignorance is so disappointing.

Monica in Cali: I am also a long-time UM reader. I am the daughter of two teachers and agree with your general stance in supporting teachers. "Ignorance is so disappointing" feels pretty laced with venom.

Hi Joan, Yep, kinda angry... I am the daughter of two teachers (one retired), the sister-in-law of a teacher, daughter-in-law to two retired teachers and am studying for my teaching credential, currently.
When I said, ignorace is disappointing, I meant it because Tired's statements are ill-informed... ignorant. She/he doesn't know the full breadth of what she/he is talking about. Teaching an important and noble job. The importance of an educated, curious and critical-thinking society cannot be underestimated. When we stop asking questions and learning we get George Bush twice, we get wars and we don't maximize our potential. Teachers, students and their families are where the rubber meets the road and to have Tired write such garbage pissed me off and yes, disappointed me (to bring the rant back around).

Author, You are likely being oversensitive. If you are taking an active role and doing the best you can to partner with your child's educational professionals, then you are NOT who this article is describing.

Can't help but respond to the tired comments. We work without contracts, we don't always get pay raises, we pay for our own continued education costs which are required, we get 2 days a year to attend trainings and trust me it takes more than 2 days to earn continuing education credits to continue our licenses. Our insurance has gone one up just like everyone else’s; our retirements suffered just like everyone else's. If universal health care passes the senate our insurance rates will rise and estimated 12%. PPS teachers have been working without a contract for 16 months.
Does this job still sounds so appealing and glamorous, if so please join us. Being a teacher is not just 180 days a year it's a lifestyle. You don't stop planning or being a teacher just because you are on a break we care and think about our job and reflect on what we can do better all the time. I am a parent and a teacher and constantly battle trying to strike a balance. I constantly feel like I never give enough to my families at school or my own family at home. I think we are all struggling and feeling overwhelmed but it's important to keep trying and be hopeful that when we do what we can and a little more that it has to be better than giving up and feeling defeated.

when i was a kid, my parents were more likely to believe my teachers than me when it came to anything school related. i remember having a profound sense of them being a united front, that they all wanted the best for me and would accept nothing less. from a kid's perspective, this sucked, as i knew i couldn't get away with anything (not that i didn't try!). even when i had a truly horrid teacher in the 5th grade and i would cry about not wanting to go to school, my parents worked hard with that teacher and with me to make it through the year. now, as a parent, i can't imagine how hard that must have been for them, but they knew that it had to be done.

today, working in the schools, i see very little of this behavior from parents, and i think this is what the article speaks to. parents routinely come in, guns blazing, blaming teachers for ev-ry-thing and threatening all sorts of nasty if the school doesn't "fix it." it is terribly adversarial (especially in special ed, where i work) and sucks wonderful people out of the profession every year.

i'm not one to say that the "olden days" were better just by virtue of them being olden. but something happened in the last 30 years that brought about the aforementioned sense of entitlement among kids/parents and turned partners into enemies. i think that the truly whack PPS transfer/lottery circus feeds into this lunacy, too, but that's another topic for another day.

and i just can't resist...
- "But your salary still went up every year, didn't it?" no, COLA is cost of living, and many teachers aren't getting it or their "steps" these days.
- "And you still get extra pay for getting professional development, don't you?" no, pro development is a requirement for maintaining a license, one which teachers must pay for out of pocket.
-"And your work year is still 180 days, isn't it?" yes, and teachers are paid accordingly. name another job that requires a master's degree and starts it's pay at about $20/hr
- "And you still pay almost nothing for your outstanding health benefits and retirement plan, do you?" no. this varies from district to district, but by in large the days of cadillac health care and huge PERS returns are gone.
- "And you don't have to worry that a better teacher will come along and take your job, do you?" this is true, although not universally. but think of the fear you would have of losing your job if you had people like you breathing down your neck all day.

you don't have to love teachers, but i do think it is the obligation of everyone on the planet to be civil to one another. these are people who have your children in their care for 8+ hours a day. trying to see things from their perspective might benefit everyone.

Tired of Teachers whining, how ignorant you are. Do you know what we teachers make for a living? My husband and I are both teachers, hold Masters Degrees from Columbia University and can barely pay the mortgage of our 900 sq foot house in a not so great neighborhood. We do this because we love teaching and understand what a necessary and important job it is and have your kids best interest at heart no matter what we do or say about parents. I hope I end up teaching one of your children so that I can help them understand the world a little better than you do.

There was a wonderful article in the Portland Tribune that touches on some of the challenges teachers face regarding parents.


“It wouldn’t make me very popular with the public, but the honest God’s truth, the changes are not so much in the students, but changes are within parenting,” Watt says. “I’ve seen a dramatic change in the manner in which parents view their role, what they expect out of the school, which I believe today in large part are social service agencies.

“We feed, clothe, medicate, provide dental, transportation, you name it. Cleveland is a microcosm. We have excellent parental support, but we also have parents who don’t care whether their kids come to school or not.

“I have kids who drop in here, and they just sit and talk and talk,” she adds. “Because there’s an adult willing to listen to them. It’s a dilemma, because what do you do? Where do you look at the line? To me, there is no more line. The expectation is the schools will take care of it.”

I wonder - of myself - if having had kids in a childcare setting before starting PPS, I bring a different notion of "school" with me - based on he childcare model? I don't know, but it stand to reason since that's all I knew pre PPS. Food for thought for me, the original poster.

Also, as a parent in a family of 2-working parents (each - formally, anyway - 30 hours), I know how frazzled I feel (and we both *have* jobs still, thankfully) and assume it affects the way I approach my kids' schooling: frazzled! I feel like by the time I cover the essentials: food, clothes, homework, double drop-off & near simultaneous double pick-up, minor out-of-school activities - I'm out of breath, let alone energized/able to take on more (reg volunteering, etc...). A shortcoming, perhaps, but one I'm unsure how to fix, since I must work at least 30 hours/week to get health care for my family, and am happy to get it at only 30 hours.

I can only assume that my frazzledness doesn't help this whole conundrum. I heart all my kids's teachers right now and feel very partner-y with all of them. But if teachers are thinking what Susan Nielsen says they're thinking, what to do to help? It's just so complex and multi-faceted and really a bit overwhelming to tackle at midnight when I can think!

I (think I) regret that I started a thread that has had its less than respectful moments, but if that's how people know how to be honest, are we better off for it or no? The jury's out for me. Thanks all for sharing such eye-opening opinions on an issue that clearly affects us all on a visceral level.

It may help to put these issues in perspective to remember a good many teachers are parents also -- dealing with the same parenting issues. It's really not a us and them issue.

Hi Urbanmamas --

This is Susan Nielsen here. I wrote the opinion essay that prompted this discussion. Here are several thoughts. First, it's great to read the discussion and hear people's points of view.

Second, I know that many parents -- and many urbanmamas -- do an incredible amount of unsung work on behalf of kids and schools. Some of that work feels like an uphill battle, especially in Oregon. Like many of you, I am deeply worried about the quality of public education in Oregon; about the demands we place on teachers in an environment of volatile budgets and average funding; about the kids who lose out while adults squabble or look away. As a mom, I also know it's darn hard to be an ideal parent, whatever one's particular situation may be.

Third, here's the background, to echo Lisa: I wrote a column on Nov. 8 asking readers -- especially people who work or spend time in schools -- whether the classroom seemed harder this year. If so, why? If not, why? I was truly startled by the volume, passion and consistency of the letters from teachers. While this was not a scientific sample by any means, it *was* a phone-book-sized stack of letters from teachers at every grade level, every corner of Oregon, every subject matter and every point in their career. And the vast majority mentioned parents.

The general sentiment from teachers, as I heard it, is that the parents who don't help, don't have time to help, can't help, inadvertently cause problems or actively sabotage the classroom are threatening to outnumber the parents who *can* help or *do* help. As I wrote in the follow-up, teachers did tend to say the majority of parents do their best. They also said that "even a half-dozen challenging parents in a classroom of 35 children can change the whole dynamic of the school year."

Fourth, Lisa said she thought this column overplayed the drama part. While I understand and respect her concerns, I guess I'd say this column was far more restrained than it could have been -- and perhaps should have been. Teachers told me dozens upon dozens of vivid horror stories about the challenges they face. Many involved kids (say, the kid pooping repeatedly under a teacher's desk), and many involved parents behaving badly (scenarios involving a parent shouting obscenities at a teacher in front of kids came up a lot). I hadn't expected that.

I agree with those of you who said that readers need to see more positive stories about the classroom. However, most readers and taxpayers do not have school-age children and may not realize the cumulative stresses that teachers face, particularly in light of worsening money shortages and growing class sizes. So my hope is to raise reader awareness -- and maybe also to encourage some folks to think about how they can help make a difference.

I apologize for this much-too-long post. If anyone wants to talk to me personally, about this or any other topic of public interest, you can call me at (503) 221-8153. Cheers -- Susan

The following is a bit of a rambling incoherent rant which may be slightly to the side of the above thread (I have not read all of the posts and did not read the original article in the Oregonian).... that said, I've been very frustrated at Llewellyn. We took the Jewish holidays off and were scolded by the principal and our son's teacher. The principal specifically called me to discuss it, said we were missing too much school and that he did not approve of it- he compared it to families taking time off to go to Disney World in the off-season because it is cheaper then and they don't care that they miss a bunch of school. (And this is a relevant analogy - how?) I share this not to publicly berate the principal of Lewellyn (I called and reported his comments to the school district - I was told he would be spoken to and that I should be getting a formal apology - I never got the apology), but I share this because ever since this incident (at the beginning of the school year) my son's teacher has treated us like dirt as parents. We have four children and we do everything we can to get the kids to school on time (3 schools - 4 different start times), we try to do this car-light (using our one car for only some of the trips) and we wake up at 5:30 or 6:00 every morning to make this happen. It's very frustrating to have this teacher have such an attitude about it all, when her upset seemed to start with upset around our religion/ taking time off for the religious holidays. I'm looking forward to the conferences next week to see if she has other reasons for being so cranky in all of her interactions with us - perhaps she's making stuff up or making other interactions mean something they don't really mean (just like so many people do.) My husband and I do Landmark Education seminars - part of that work fosters a neutral perspective on people and their actions (helping one to understand not to take everything so personally) - I think it would be amazing if all of the Portland Public School teachers participated in Landmark - they might get a fresh perspective on life and appreciate more the challenges the parents face every day... (and not take it personally and make the parents wrong when people take off their religious holidays) I'm sorry they have so many students and are so overloaded - but I also think we have a sensitivity training issue here anyway (at least around religion) I was shocked again to see Christmas Trees at the "holiday" faire and am also very upset that both of my kids in PPS right now are participating in music programs that have Christmas music (there are 6 or 8 Christmas songs in the Lewellyn program!) -it's really inappropriate and insensitive - and just touches on the lack of attention the schools have on creating good relationships between teachers and parents. Beyond that - there is no handicap access at Lewellyn and it is incredibly difficult to get up and down the steps with a stroller - plus they do not allow younger siblings to come to classroom events where parents volunteer - so they are basically specifically discriminating against parents with younger children - making it difficult (or expensive) for us to volunteer and preventing us from being more integrated into the classroom "community" I will not be able to participate in classroom activities until my youngest is in Kindergarten and that is 4 years from now - ... and the teachers make me wrong for this - they think less of me because I do not volunteer in the classroom or chaperone field trips.... the teacher wonders why I did not get to the front door of her classroom to sign up for conferences earlier... I can't even get up the steps with the stroller! God - I feel for the families of students with disabilities that try to integrate into the school community and not feel discriminated against - (but that's another topic.)

There is another point of view here that might be of some use: this generation of parents are among those born in the 1980s and constitute to a large degree a generation of Information-Age adults, often raised by others in daycares, aftercare programs, and so on, while both of their parents needed to work just in order to purchase a home, eat, etc. This generation of parents in the 20s and 30s are not quite like the ones born in the 1960s (one more generation back, who had mothers who stayed home from work, went to the PTA and Garden Clubs, and who rarely interacted with the schools except for fundraisers or such.

I think that the parents of today's kids are also in need of attention, some want to be fully informed and involved in their child's education (having bought into the idea that the magic formula to happiness and success = early academic achievement), or they may reflect their own feelings towards schooling by allowing children to miss days or weeks, or come in late every day, or they just want to talk to someone about that child, as a co-parenting situation almost, or even, re-live their own childhood.

Parents are busy most of the time earning a living in an effort to provide with two or more incomes what one used to be able to pay for....it is a sad reality that these larger homes with so many possessions drives the economic demands of the modern family.

Most teachers, at least many of them, do recognize, I think, the fact that parents need attention, too, they may be abrupt but they may also feel like they have to push a little to get the teacher's attention for a few moments, etc.

Private schools, where I have spent many years teaching, are a different story in themselves, as the parents really do feel strongly about their child's education, are willing to pay for it, are motivated to participate in most cases, and also, of course, want a say in how things are going since they are (paying) for it. : )

It is part of the teachers' jobs to include parents and community in the circle of the educational institution, provide them with easily perceived entry points into the needs of the school, the fun parts of the season or festivals, share responsibility for fund raising, projects, and other goals. Parent education is worth its weight in gold and many adults are so eager to figure out how to help their child in school and at home, it is a wise investment on the part of the teacher.

When we set up polarities, i.e., me versus you, we enter into an adversarial relationship, and this is generally doomed from the start. For the sake of the children, parents and teachers should work together! And everyone should turn OFF their cell phones when they are WITH the children......insist on it. : )

Teacher-Parent since 1975....Mama since 1982 working out of spirit-imbued schools...

As a whole parents are really not all that bad. I think there has been an increase in the "my child can do no wrong" mentality over the past couple of year.
Just as Toots said, if you are doing your best then this article is definitely not describing you. The fact that you even care, who demonstrate that you aren't one of those parents.

I agree with Andrea when she talked about how the educational system is broken and not something that will be fixed by pointing fingers and blaming.

I'm not a teacher but I work in public K-12 education and every day I see teachers who are working hard every day for kids. I also see parents whose efforts and teamwork with school staff help make the school successful. These examples are not only in high-income areas, but also in areas where the free-and-reduced lunch rates are as high as 75 percent.

Do teachers need to be accountable for what students are learning? Yes. Do parents have the right to speak up and advocate for their child(ren)? Absolutely. But one thing to keep in mind is that for every hour that a principal/teacher/administrator is taking to soothe ruffled feathers, to talk parents down from the ledge about their child, to explain discipline - that is time that is not being used to focus on instruction. We are angry about what we perceive as waste or unnecessary positions in school administration, but at the end of the day, we want immediate answers and results. We have to be empathetic to one another and work together for our kids.

The best way to get to know education is to involve yourself in it. I'm a working mama, 40+ hours a week and I know how hard it will be to be active in my son's school. But everyone can find a place. For all of those social service programs that take teacher and staff time, there must be parents around who want to make an impact on the school who would be willing to help head those up. The annual school fundraiser, the school supply drive, the teacher appreciation days. Maybe even co-op activities for all those days that PPS has decided to take off. For those who want to look at big picture, educational advocates are always needed - to speak to the city council, the state legislature and the federal government on behalf of students.

Education absolutely has to be a team effort. It's incredibly complicated with unions, poor and disparate funding and the entire population funneling through the same system, but the only way to change it is to work together for everyone, not just our own special interest.

PDX Mama, I agree! Well said!

I've been thinking and thinking about this. I don't know how to solve the overarching policy and structure problems. They are too big for me. What I can do is be the boss that I wish I had. If you've ever had a boss who

- helped you with your work, made it easier to do,
- treated you with respect
- figured out your strengths and built on those, rather than harping on your weaknesses, and
- recognized specific efforts you made and thanked you for them,

you know how much harder you worked for that person - and how much harder it was for them to be that kind of boss.

On the other hand, we've probably all had jobs where the paycheck was our only motivator, and we refused to work one more minute than the clock said we had to.

Now I don't know, beside the principal, who the school bosses really are - the reality is probably some conglomeration of bureaucrats and contracts. But to some small extent, I'm the taxpaying, child producing, school consuming boss too, and I'm predicting that at the end of my child's educational road, I will probably have averaged the kind of employee performance I deserved.

One other thing - about the moms of the 60s who "stayed home from work, went to the PTA and Garden Clubs, and who rarely interacted with the schools except for fundraisers or such." That's not my experience. My experience is that the moms of that era were exceptional women who often worked both inside and outside their homes and also volunteered long hours in ways that built every institution in their communities. A lot of them had grown up with the scarcity of The Depression and World War II. I wish I had half the skills and drive that those women had in spades. I don't remember any 60s moms who acted like ladies of leisure, although I'm sure they existed somewhere.

Dear Tired of Teachers Whining,

I only wish it were so. Think about your job like this...Your hours are now part-time this year, since funding has been cut and there is not enough money to keep a full-time position. Your salary is only enough to cover your mortgage on a 2-bedroom house for a family of four. You do not get any health insurance benefits, unless you want to pay for them. If you covered your whole family, that would equal 90% of your pay. Your retirement contribution is a percentage of what you earn, so with a reduction in salary comes a reduction in contributions. What other job do you also need to but all of your own office supplies, such as, staplers, tape, paper, pens and pencils? You have workbooks to teach from (but you can't write in them), a chalkboard and an overhead projector (yeah technology!). You teach young adolescents, some who have never been to school before in their lives and you are expected to have them meet state benchmarks. Some who come to school only a few days a week. You spent a few hours getting everything ready for conferences this year, worked a 12 hour day (at no extra pay) on conference day and had 3 parents show up. Yes, your salary will go up a few hundred dollars next year. However, you need to now pay off your $23,000 student loan that you took out to pay for your Masters Degree. (required in order to keep your teaching certificate in the state of Oregon) Yes, you still owe that much even with the great added benefit of tuition reimbursement.
Doesn't that sound great! Well it is and I do this because I love it!

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