There has always been what I call a ‘soft’ boundary between home and school. It’s the reason kids don’t see their teachers as working or why they don’t understand that taking an eraser from the supply closet without permission is, in reality, no different from taking an eraser from a store without paying for it.
Ideally, home and school should work in conjunction with one another.
On the surface, parents and educators are both working toward the same goal: raising functional, respectful human beings that can multiply and know when the Magna Carta was signed. When parenting and education go hand in hand, reinforcing the messages that are integral to both, it is overwhelmingly positive. But in order for that to work as it should, there need to be clear boundaries.
A spate of recent articles, reminders, and conversations with other parents has lately got me to thinking. Are schools taking on roles that should fall squarely on the side of home? Are parents responsible for influencing educational policies that should solely be the role of schools?
I don’t think there is a cabal of evil teachers sitting around trying to usurp the role of parents. Nor do I think a group of masked parents meet in the dark of night plotting a malicious coup to seize control of the classroom. What I do think, for the most part, is that parents and schools have the best interests of children at heart.
Yet I also strongly believe there needs to be a firm separation of home and school. There need to be clear lines drawn in the sand of childhood. And those lines are getting smudged.
Take for instance, what one article refers to as Lunch Box Policing.
Should a school be able to dictate what someone else’s child has for lunch or snack? Telling a parent that they can’t pack X or that a child must have Y as part of their food intake is not the business of the school, that is the responsibility of the parent. While the intentions may understandable and good, the outcome is often not. Should physical activity and outdoor free play be a priority in gym class and recess? Absolutely. Should schools ban selling soda and chips and chocolate bars? Yes. Should a school integrate a lesson about making healthy choices? Maybe, although even that gets a bit dicey in the wording.
Within bounds: “In an effort to combat childhood obesity, we’ve decided to stop selling soda on campus.”
Out of bounds: “Your child must have a banana and an apple for snack.”
The same is true in reverse. The majority of us did not go to school and study education. The majority of us are not keeping up with the latest research on how kids learn or what the latest recommendations are. Therefore, we really have no business demanding that a school does or does not do something with regard to learning. A prime example? Homework.
Within bounds: “Mrs. Z, I’ve noticed that Zander has upwards of three hours of homework a night. It’s affecting all the other aspects of his life; his friends and sports, even time with his family. Is there a time we could meet to discuss?”
Out of bounds : “I don’t care that the latest research says homework has no benefit. I think my child should have homework. I’m going straight to the board about this.”
Should a school integrate lessons about inclusion? Yes, absolutely. Should they work with children about respecting the feelings of others? For sure. Ideally, school should reinforce what is being taught at home, the same way that homework, if given, is reinforcing what a child learned at school. Should those lessons in inclusion include a policy regarding birthday parties and who a child can or cannot invite? Nope. That is overstepping the role of school, in my opinion, regardless of intention.
Parents can be wonderful resources, and a smart school knows how to tap into those resources. But it’s easy for parents to overstep that boundary, and if that happens, things can get ugly. Parents have no place dictating what does or does not go on in the classroom. I’m not addressing those times when you must advocate for your own child, but normal circumstances. A parent should never be in the classroom to the point when it is interfering with a lesson, and never ever uninvited. That would be like having the nosy intern spend the day sitting on the corner of your desk while you’re trying to work.
Can a teacher, who spends six or seven hours a day, five days a week with my child tell me things about him or her that perhaps I’ve missed? Most probably. Can that same teacher tell if I don’t love my child enough or don’t give him enough attention? How could they possibly? And yet just this week two friends have been on the receiving end of such instructions from teachers.
Within bounds: “Hey, Mrs. Jones, I’ve noticed that little Jemina has been pulling her friend’s hair a lot this week. Has she been acting out at home or mentioned anything happening at school?”
Out of bounds: “I think you should spend more time with Jemima, just the two of you. This hair pulling seems like a cry for more attention from you.”
Within bounds: “Xavier’s behavior in class has been disruptive lately. How can we work together to help him get along with his classmates better?”
Out of bounds: “You should focus more on your children and less on conversations with other adults when you’re picking your kids up from school.”
Them there are fighting words. They’re also way overstepping the boundaries of school and home, not to mention making that parent feel like shit, even if the intention is a good one. It would be like going into the classroom and saying, “You know, Jimmy cries everyday when I drop him off at school. Do you think it could be because you seem to have clear favorites?”
The cross-over between school and home has become less definable in recent years. We’ve become less involved while becoming more involved, often assuming that one or the other will pick up the slack while simultaneously not trusting the other to do the right thing. The lines have become blurred.
And if you’re going to cross a line, I highly recommend seeing it, lest you trip and fall.
14 Comments Add yours
Well said. The wife teaches and the two biggest issues I see are access parents have to teachers. Texting, Facebook…. any boundary is gone. And these standardized tests that determine if a teacher is teaching well. Really? The teachers teach to test out of fear.
Yes, I imagine that must be a nightmare! I honestly have no idea what the answer is. I think, like I said, that all of it comes from wanting to do ‘good’ by our children, I just fear that a lot of the times, the ends don’t justify the means at all.
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Here’s some words to live by and I often say this to parents of the children I teach…
“I’ll believe half of what your children say about home, if you believe half of what they say about school.”
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Well…it is true that I spend my days shopping….for food, laundry detergent, etc. ;-). I whole heartedly agree that you must take everything with the grain of salt that comes with it–I just worry we’re getting, to quote the lingo of ten/fifteen years ago, all up in each other’s grill.
Love your article. I do a lot of volunteers work at my kids school. They go to an Int’l school that dictates what they need to bring for snack and no sharing policy.; which I have a hard time understanding…sometime the school goes over the edge.
BTW the school has a no soda and no nuts policy. On the other hand, the cafeteria sells juices with a high sugar content. Then, what? sending the wrong message.
I grew up with sodas, candies, chocolates, and more. I’m consider myself fit, exercise every day, few hair days quite normal. I believe in happy, respectful, compassionate healthy kids, with a balance and purpose in life.
It is really hard to know where the line should stop for sure. I’ve heard the same complaints from almost every parent–the kids aren’t allowed to have ‘treats’ (which are highly subjective, not only from one culture to the next, but from one family to the next), but then after school all bets are off. I grew up with soda on the table for dinner and free access to whatever crap was in the cupboard. Obviously countries (particularly western ones) are facing an obesity crisis. I think that schools getting involved, to a degree, is a given. I’m just not sure to what level that involvement should cease–but, if, as the article I linked to points out, kids start fearing food, then there’s a good chance that line was well and truly crosse.
These are great guidelines. As a teacher and parent, I see the education machine from both sides. One of my teacher friends says, “I had lots of parenting advice for parents before I had kids, but once I had kids of my own I found out it wasn’t so easy.”
I was interested to see what you had to say, Jon. It is hard. Another teacher friend referred to it as an arranged marriage. You have to allow some leeway for communication mistakes (which work in both directions) and allow for give and take, which of course I agree with. But I also had to wonder, when did parent/teacher involvement get so intimate that I didn’t even balk at the comparison to an arranged marriage?
Times certainly have changed with technology. Most schools now do online grade books, which is one of the biggest double edged swords in my career. I want kids to know where they stand academically, but what has evolved is a complete focus on grades and a loss of the concept of learning. Students skip assignments they don’t want to do (essays primarily in my class) and wait to see if it drops their grade significantly. I hate conversations that begin with, “My son has a B- in your class, how can he get an A?”
Rarely do I have discussions about learning any longer, a product of America’s focus on test scores to determine a student’s worth, and instead I end up frustrated with parents more focused on the immediate result as opposed to the longer view.
I told my wife last night, that I am less stressed this year (while my son has been undergoing chemotherapy) than I have been in years because I am away from the classroom so much. Now that’s crazy.
The question is, why are the parents asking what their child can do? I mean, I want my kids to succeed in school as much as the next person, but I’m not going to monitor their online grades on a daily basis. And if they don’t do the work, I’m certainly not going to go to bat for them to find out how they can ‘make it up.’ Again, there is too much cross-pollination going on here–no wonder why you’re less stressed. BTW, I hope Dylan is doing well (as well as one can expect/hope). Perhaps having to face this with him has made you realize that grade crazy parents are not worth stressing over? (I hope so). My husband and I have many conversations around the ‘learning for learnings sake’, especially when it comes to university level education. It used to be you had got a broad based university education which was a continuation of studies (excepting law/medicine and other specialized fields). Now you have to go and put yourself in 200K debt to get a watered down degree just to get a job. There’s no education, there’s no learning. There seems to be very little broadening of horizons, just lots of debt and churning out kids that still can’t write a properly punctuated sentence. Phew. Obviously I feel strongly about this. Yikes!
Yes, yes, and yes. I have done my best as a parent to guide my kids toward happiness as opposed to an ideal I hold for them. I have seen far too many parents decide what is best for their kids and then spend years trying to figure out why it all fell apart. The most successful parents seem to be more relaxed about the little things and more concerned about producing nice humans.
Our online grade book allows us to see how many times parents have logged in to check grades. I had someone login 450 times in 90 days, 5 times a day…wow. I thought they should take up knitting at least then they would end up with a sweater.
Oh, Dylan is doing well and will start round three in 7-10 days.
I hit the unsubscribe button when opening you blog on my iPad. I then had that panicked moment where I thought you might think I didn’t like this post. I liked it, really, it was just my fat fingers and lack of coffee.
Lol. I’ve done that. And panicked.