Teaching high school English is a second career for me; before that I was a social worker. In between, I stayed home to raise my three children. When it was time for my oldest to start kindergarten, I think that I was more excited than she was. As my children progressed through school, our shopping trip for school supplies became like a holiday every August. Through the years, I tried to support my kids as they struggled through projects that found them whipping up French crepes in my kitchen or using clay to model the parts of a flower. I labored with my teens as they anticipated the math formulas they would encounter on the ACT, and felt a little hurt when they would not let me read their essays, for fear I would suggest another revision. Like any parent, I wanted my children to be successful in school, and I knew that I would have to be involved if I was going to show them I valued education. Even when I began working again and before online grade books were widely available for parents to use regularly, I determined to follow their progress and partner with the school to get them any help they needed. I was always aware that I was their most important teacher and probably would be for years to come.
I was fortunate as a child to have parents who valued knowledge and education. We weren’t wealthy, and neither of my parents were college graduates. But my father would present me with a new book on every special occasion – birthdays, Christmas, or to celebrate a report card recording all A’s. I was never appreciative enough of the fact that his idea of a family outing was to go to the Central Library downtown rather than to attend a Cardinal baseball game or pack up the car for a camping trip. My mother was a stay at home mom and though she wasn’t a teacher by trade, she “taught” most of the kids in my neighborhood and church by inviting them in for snacks and telling them stories. She regularly used her writing skills to voice her opinion. For example, an editorial she wrote on high school smoking lounges ran in the Post-Dispatch and aired on radio stations in St. Louis in the 1970s. I enjoyed a learning environment rich with literature and with the realization that everyone deserves to learn and to express their thoughts.
Sometimes parents do not feel equipped to help their child academically or do not feel at ease in the school their child attends. They may not have been successful themselves in school or they may be having trouble finding the time to contact their child’s teacher. Just knowing where to start can be difficult. Parental involvement looks different in every family. It runs the gamut from simply asking your child at dinner how his day went to volunteering to chaperone a school field trip. Reading together with your child or sharing something that you have recently read, organizing your child’s time, showing interest in her homework, attending any school activity – all are ways to communicate that you value her education. There is no doubt that there will be struggles and frustrations as you partner with your child’s school, but the rewards will be great. Studies indicate that children whose parents share in their formal education tend to do better in school. Those students earn better grades and test scores, have better attendance, demonstrate fewer behavior problems, and are more likely to graduate and to attend college. Students who have parents working with them on school-related activities at home improve their grades regardless of their background or income level. There is no doubt about the benefits of getting involved!
A student graduating from high school today has spent only nine percent of his or her life in school. Parents have far more opportunity to teach their children than any other teacher their children will ever have. We are teaching our children from the moment they get up in the morning until they lie down at night. As parents, let’s be the teachers our children need and deserve to be successful.