Sunday, June 03, 2018

Parents, Teachers and Communication

As this school year winds down, I see two articles from teachers about student behavior in the classroom and trying to talk to parents about those issues.
From Fox News in St. Louis:
Erin Axson is a middle school reading and writing teacher in Orangeburg, South Carolina. In her open letter posted to her Facebook page, Axson said she knows not all parents will agree with her, but said she felt the need to say something after finishing the school year feeling “exhausted.
"Lately, it seems that many parents have adopted a bizarrely lenient attitude toward disciplining children as well as bending over backwards to accommodate their children’s every demand. It’s unclear what’s causing these parents to believe that children should be subject to no limits, no discipline, and no stringent requirements at school. Whatever the cause, these parents are, in fact, doing a terrible disservice to today’s young people and to society as a whole. And, they are leaving their children’s teachers feeling frustrated, ill-supported, and utterly exhausted.

The rate at which good teachers are exiting the school system is sky rocketing, and if things continue at this pace, no one will be willing to go into teaching at all. The average new teacher these days is lasting a whopping 4 years before calling it quits. Those seasoned teachers that have witnessed this strange, cultural shift firsthand are dropping like flies, realizing they don’t have the energy to fight this uphill battle. But, perhaps the saddest thing is that these schools are turning out children who are ill-suited to being constructive, productive members of our society."
Meanwhile, NPR had yet another take on this:
Childhood — and parenting — have radically changed in the past few decades, to the point where far more children today struggle to manage their behavior.

That's the argument Katherine Reynolds Lewis makes in her new parenting book, The Good News About Bad Behavior. 

"We face a crisis of self-regulation," Lewis writes. And by "we," she means parents and teachers who struggle daily with difficult behavior from the children in their lives.

Three factors, she says, have contributed mightily to this crisis.
First: Where, how and how much kids are allowed to play has changed.
Second, their access to technology and social media has exploded.
Finally, Lewis suggests, children today are too "unemployed." She doesn't simply mean the occasional summer job for a high school teen. The term is a big tent, and she uses it to include household jobs that can help even toddlers build confidence and a sense of community.

"They're not asked to do anything to contribute to a neighborhood or family or community," Lewis tells NPR in a recent interview. "And that really erodes their sense of self-worth — just as it would with an adult being unemployed."
Suggestions from the author:
  • The four R's will keep a consequence from becoming a punishment. So it's important to avoid power struggles and to win the kid's cooperation. They are: Any consequence should be revealed in advance, respectful, related to the decision the child made, and reasonable in scope.
  • You even tell parents, in the heat of the moment, it's OK to just mumble and walk away. What do you mean?
    That's when you are looking at your child, they are not doing what you want, and you cannot think of what to do. Instead of jumping in with a bribe or a punishment or yelling, you give yourself some space. Pretend you had something on the stove you need to grab or that you hear something ringing in the other room and walk away. That gives you just a little space to gather your thoughts and maybe calm down a little bit so you can respond to their behavior from the best place in you — from your best intentions as a parent.
How have communications been with your child's teacher this year?  


Anonymous said...

I don't know what teachers expect from parents. There is no there there. Most households have either 1 single or 2 working parents. Everyone is working. No one is parenting. No one is home with children. Teachers are the only adults who are consistently with children. They have no ability to discipline children (lest everyone scream abuse). Well, I have news... it is the same with parents! AND parents are at the disadvantage of not seeing their children enough to know anything about their behavior. Teachers at least have the time to observe behavior problems. Sorry, your on your own teachers. You are the only ones with these children. Everyone else is gone. Housing prices have surpassed a 2 working parent income. Happy women's lib!


Anonymous said...

I disagree. Kids can be schooled in impulse control and how to interact with other kids before they enter kindergarten. Great preschool care can go a long way toward achieving that goal. I have heard educators claim that some of the more difficult kids come from home care - where children are not schooled in how to handle themselves around other kids.


Seattle Citizen said...

Wow, West -
You throw your hands up ("two jobs!") and just throw it onto teachers...after blaming women's lib!

I suggest modeling taking responsibility, doing something, rather than blaming others (women's lib?!) and tossing it into the laps of teachers (who, you write "have no ability to discipline," anyway?)

"When in danger,
When in doubt
Run in circles!
Scream and shout!"


(who similarly advocates doing nothing helpful whatsoever)

Anonymous said...

Kids now are way less free-range. In 1985, it was no problem for an eight-year-old to bike to the store and buy some gum or whatever she wanted, all on her own. It was no problem for kids to play in groups or in pairs or alone in parks. There are all kinds of social, emotional, and developmental skills that come from pure, unstructured play time with kids among other kids of all different ages and no adults in sight.

But parents are afraid to let their kids out of their sight nowadays, in large measure because they fear Child Protective Services or the police will be called, and as we know from several high-profile incidents, any involvement by CPS can be destructive to a family and police involvement can be literally deadly. In 1985, it was commonplace for kids as young as six to spend an hour or two at home alone until a parent came home from work. The kind of oversight we are expected to give kids nowadays does not align with the facts, either: kids have statistically never been safer than they are now.

Something else that is fairly recent is lack of sleep. 25 years go, children tended to go to bed earlier and sleep more hours per night. (I lack specific statistics at the ready, but this is well researched.) Today, it is common for students to get much less sleep than they need, developmentally, because parents work late and don't even come home until at or after the traditional bedtime of most children. Lack of sleep compounds all kinds of developmental delays, because children cannot learn anything academic, social, or otherwise, when they are chronically underslept.

The snowball effect of the restrictive rearing environment and work culture in this country is played out in schools, where children lack social and emotional development skills from lack of free play and a lack of sleep.

Utah recently passed a free-range kids' "bill of rights." Something like this would have a strong impact over time on the health of all children and on their school readiness and social and academic performance. But to get legislation passed, people have to be willing to listen to the statistics of how safe kids are nowadays and ignore the frantic voices of alarmists.


Unknown said...

I'm an 18th year teacher, and I have definitely seen a decline in my students' self-regulation skills.

Beyond the unnecessary women's lib comment, I agree with West, and I agree with Simone too. Parents are way overtaxed by the current socio-economic system, and while I won't pin it solely on women, the dual-income model has driven property values up because there's more money chasing the same land. And Simone is right too: parents are afraid of the state intervening through its CPS and public educational channels. It's good that the state steps in to protect children in dangerous situations, but CPS over-reach scares people, and this attitude that "don't worry, we'll fix your kids for you" and "the state will fix your problems for you" disempowers people. It's baked into our political system too. When was the last time you heard a politician say "that's not the government's job; fix it yourself"?

I also blame it on the schools and colleges of ed. I remember reading Martin Haberman's book _Star Teachers_ in a graduate class way back in about 2006, and he told a generation of young teachers to take it all on themselves, stop blaming families, only work on what happens at school, which was good advice back when we did blame families for a lot of things that were in our purview, but, as is often the case, the dialectical pendulum has gone too far the other way, especially in progressive Seattle where we want everything within the purview of a rationalist, materialist, technocratic bureaucracy.

Anonymous said...

West's comment was a bit over the top. "Everyone is working. No one is parenting. No one is home with children." Really? A working parent can still parent in the morning, the evening, and on weekends. And some working parents only work part time, or work from home, or work alternate schedules as their co-parents. It seems like West is trying to make a case for why women should stay in their rightful place, the home. It's also not the case that "Teachers are the only adults who are consistently with children." How many hours are in a week, and how many of them are spent with teachers vs. parents?

West also said: "They [teachers] have no ability to discipline children (lest everyone scream abuse)." If by "discipline" you mean "hit" or some form of physical or psychological violence, sure, teachers are (rightfully) prevented from "disciplining" children. But surely there are things they can do. There are teachers who command respect and who maintain control of their classrooms and there are those that don't. My own children have been frustrated by what they see as weak supervision of students (e.g., students playing games on their phones during class); absurd disciplinary tactics (e.g., if a group of students is being disruptive the teacher sends them--as a group!--out into the hallway...to have more fun and encourage repeat behavior?); teachers allowing students to "talk back" and swear in class; etc. As students continue to get away with this sort of behavior in school year after year, is it any wonder they think they can keep misbehaving? Students like to push the boundaries and see what they can get away with in school, too. Not just at home. Maybe teachers need more training. Maybe parents do, too. Maybe schools should have some parent-teacher trainings re: how both can support appropriate behaviors, and how they can effectively communicate when efforts aren't working.

Simone's comment re: free range parenting and parent fear is interesting. I agree it's true to some extent, but it also doesn't address the issue of students' own fears. They are hearing a lot of stories of tragedies in the news. They get BLM presentations at school that talk about cops killing innocent people. They go through frequent lockdown and shelter-in-place drills. They walk past homeless and strung out people on the street on their way to/from school. They may be statistically safer, but they are also exposed to a lot more that suggests otherwise. The blissful ignorance of my youth is not something they have had the luxury to experience. Many have some very real anxieties. On top of all that, schools have pushed academic expectations earlier and earlier. Students get more homework, are expected to do more and more. They have less time for play, face greater pressure to perform at school.

Parents, schools, teachers, and society all share the "blame" to some extent.

It's Complicated