Tagged: parents

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TEACHER VOICES: Michele Godwin, #11

“All parents love their children.”

favicon Wednesday, 9/16 – 8:30 pm
Having dinner with a friend and fellow teacher. We are complaining about our jobs, as we are wont to do when we get together. I bemoan how much work it takes to get my students to do anything, how being in a room with them is like herding cats. I can’t tell them, “Everyone needs to work on their EOP (Educational Opportunity Program) essays. Get to work!” because they aren’t at all self-sufficient. I go on and on about how exhausting it is to spend a mere hour and a half with them twice a week. I describe it as a game of whack-a-mole, where I’m helping one student fill out a college application online (“What does ‘D.O.B.’ mean?”), begging another to please PLEASE register for the next SAT (“I’ll do it later,” he tells me for the fifth week in a row, as he thumbs through a copy of Watchmen), and lecturing three others about making up their lost homework/missing quiz/failed test. Random students from other advisories walk in and out of the room for no apparent reason. And all the while, I’m flapping around with my whacker, trying to solve problems and whack moles and help them see their future.

I am frazzled just describing this scene to my friend, and I realize I’m slipping into the “teacher-as-martyr” mode that happens so often when teachers talk to each other. I finish the tirade with my usual gush: “They drive me crazy, but I love them so much!” And I mean it. My love for them is the only thing that keeps me sane.

My friend, who works at a private school, wants to know more about the craziness.

“Why are they like this?” she asks. “Do their parents just not care?”

This is a common refrain in our culture: Where are the parents? When young people behave badly, or fail out of school, or don’t behave, many of us are quick to look to the parents. When my students are not doing as well as they should be, I call the parents. Of course!

I’ve met with many parents in my 15 years of teaching. I’ve met with doting parents, overbearing parents, and seemingly clueless parents. I’ve seen parents get angry at me, at the school, at the principal, at their kid’s friends. I’ve seen plenty of parents get mad at their own kid. I’ve seen parents cheer, yell, cry, and shrug their shoulders. I’ve seen lots of responses from parents.

I’ve never met a parent who didn’t care about his or her child.

M’s parents struggle because her family is still reeling from her mother’s stroke a few years ago. Mental illness runs in their family, and right now, the whole family is trying to keep its head above water. That doesn’t mean they don’t care about her and want what’s best for her. It means that they struggle. A lot.

K’s mom works all day cleaning houses. E’s mom is supporting the entire family, including her sister’s new baby. A’s mom goes to visit her husband in jail when she’s not at City College, working toward a certificate in child development. D’s mom is flying back and forth between San Francisco and her hometown, so she can take care of her own, elderly parents. All parents have a lot on their plates; some parents have more than others.

But all of them love their children. favicon

Ed. note: Michele Godwin is in her 15th year of teaching high school. She’s back at Leadership High School, where she taught from 2001 to 2008. An English teacher by training and experience, Michele has changed her focus to build a library for Leadership. In addition to her fundraising and library organizing, she is an 12th grade adviser. These are her musings from the past few weeks. Please donate so Michele can buy more books!

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TEACHER VOICES: Michele Godwin, #10

“They need lots of extra love this year.”

Michele Godwinfavicon Friday, 8/14 – 4:15 pm
Second day of student retreats. It’s so good to see these lovelies! It’s only been a couple of months, but they all look just a little bit older and wiser, somehow.

Yesterday, we focused on fun and reconnecting, with the warning, “There’s lots and lots of hard work ahead. Let’s relax a little bit before we dig in.” We played pub trivia and had a 12th grade Olympics at the park. Today, we split off into three different community service events. I took a wonderful group to the SF Food Bank. We had to take one train and one bus to get there, and many of them insisted on going into McDonald’s instead of taking the first bus. We arrived late and harried, but they let us box up melons and weigh out bags of pasta. We laughed together and wore hair nets. It was a fantastic way to start off the new school year.

Monday, 8/17 – 4 pm
First day of classes and we jumped right in. I assigned the first part of their UC statement, and I got a lot of pushback. T. loudly proclaims, “I’m not going to college!” N. says, “I’ve already done this. I’m not doing it again.” M. and S. tell me they’re not applying to UCs because their grades aren’t high enough.

I tell them in my calm voice, “All of you are writing a personal statement. All of you are shooting high, and all of you are applying to college because all of you have what it takes to get a college degree.”

Lots of grumbling.

I explain to T. that he can decide not to go to college at the end of the year, but I want him to be in a position to decide. I suspect he is scared of going, and that he can’t quite wrap his head around it; he’d be the first person in his family to go beyond high school. I’ll have to work hard to show him the possibilities.

I can see the fear in their faces: fear of rejection, fear of responsibility and hard work, fear of adulthood. It’s very real now, and they don’t know how to handle it.

They need lots of extra love this year.

Wednesday, 8/26 – 2:30
I see a former advisee, O., in the office. We ended on a bad note last year, when she moved out of my class because she was tired of me asking her to put her phone away. We’ve been avoiding each other ever since, which is why I’m surprised when she addresses me in the office.

“My mom’s cancer spread,” O. tells me. “She’s having surgery next week, but the doctors don’t think she has much longer.”

She says this with an expression I used to think of as a smirk. I’ve since learned that her half-smile is a defense mechanism, as is her belligerence and sharp remarks.

I sit down next to her and ask some follow-up questions. Her dad is sick with diabetes and terrible habits, her toddler nephew has moved in while his dad is in jail, and her little sister is having a hard time. O. acknowledges that she will likely become the primary caregiver for her nephew when her mother dies. Her expression never changes.

A couple of things come to my mind. One: how much tragedy this 17-year-old girl has experienced already in her life, with more on the way. At the same moment she loses her own mother, she will become one to her nephew, as well as her little sister and, in a way, to her ailing father. And all she can do is sit back and wait for the other shoe to drop.

Two: While she’s practicing being the adult of the house, she’s reaching out to me, despite our difficult break last year. She’s doing what I should have done long ago to mend our relationship.

I’m embarrassed and grateful.

I hug her and tell her how sorry I am about what’s happening to her and her family, and I apologize for how we ended things last year. She hugs me back and tells me we’re cool. And then she walks away.

Friday, 8/28 – 12:30 pm
D. comes into the room and asks for the assignment sheet from Wednesday. He’s lost his and he wants to work on it this weekend. He’s leaving early with his dad.

D.’s dad is one of the only parents I’ve not yet met, so I follow him into the hallway to introduce myself. His father could pass for his brother, he’s so young looking. I tell him who I am and how honored I am to work with D.

His dad thanks me and proceeds to gush.

“I couldn’t be more proud of him. He impresses me every single day,” he says, D. standing patiently waiting, expressionless. “He’ll always be my baby,” the dad continues, and then he leans his face toward D., who immediately kisses him on the cheek. “See!” the dad says. It’s such a sweet and wonderful gesture to witness, I can’t help but well up.

I’m often overwhelmed by my love for my students. Now their parents too?

Friday, 9/4 – 10:45 am
Fridays are my real work days. I don’t have advisory, so I spend the whole day in the library, catching up on all the paperwork, unboxing books, organizing. Every once in awhile I step out for some air, but I try to stay focused and productive.

Today, though, when I take a break, I see a former student. T. (barely) graduated in 2006. He was funny and charismatic, short and skinny, with an enormous presence. He caused me a lot of frustration and grief, but plenty of joy and laughter as well. I think about him often, and wonder how he’s doing. When I see him walking down the hall, I shriek with happiness. It’s such a pleasure to see him, taller and wiser, but just as wonderful.

We catch up. He’s adjusting to being a new father. He says he’s the best dad in the world, which is wonderful to hear. He’s working on his music still, about to have a release party on a yacht.

“Wow!” I say.

“You gotta spend money to make money,” he tells me, and I agree. That’s what the tech companies do, right? He’s also working construction, to pay the bills. He tells me he had a rough couple years, but he’s got his head on straight and he’s doing well for himself and his daughter. He talks about the school wide outcomes and how he still refers to them (“Every job interview I’ve been to, I talk about social responsibility, personal responsibility, critical thinking, and communication. It works every time!”).

Again, I feel my eyes welling up. There’s nothing like seeing former students come back and visit. It’s one of the most gratifying experiences of my life.

I tell him goodbye and get back to unloading boxes and writing emails, reminded, once again, of how much I love my job. favicon

Ed. note: Michele Godwin is in her 14th year of teaching high school. She’s back at Leadership High School, where she taught from 2001 to 2008. An English teacher by training and experience, Michele has changed her focus to build a library for Leadership. In addition to her fundraising and library organizing, she is an 11th grade adviser. These are her musings from the past few weeks. Please donate so Michele can buy more books!

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Why don’t I call parents more often?

 Every August, I have the same goal: This year, I’m going to call more parents.

The benefits are huge, right? Calling home means showing that I care, which builds relationships and contributes to student success. I get it.

And calling home is much more effective than emailing (10 percent of my students’ parents read email regularly) or texting (some parents have access and feel comfortable, others don’t).

But year after year, I never improve. So what’s keeping me stuck?

Maybe it’s just that I’m tired and there’s too much to do. At the end of a hard day at work, there are still papers to look at and lessons to plan — and sometimes not enough time to squeeze in a call.

After all, phone calls are unpredictable in length. I don’t know how long they’ll take. Even if I stay focused, a call might take 5-10 minutes. That’s a lot of time if I’m trying to reach all my parents on a regular basis.

They’re also unpredictable in content. Did I reach the right person? Which language will I speak? Will the parent be angry? Might I cause unnecessary conflict at home (even with a positive call)?

Those concerns, though perhaps valid, cannot be excuses. This year, I must do better. I can’t wish for some technological miracle to solve my problem. (But I do like Slydial and Phonevite!)

So here’s what I’m going to try:

1. Schedule 15 minutes a day to make calls. Yes, just 15 minutes.

2. Make it the same time every day until it’s a habit.

3. In every conversation or voicemail, encourage the parent toward my preferred methods of communication: the class website, e-mail, and texting (in that order). If a parent can move in that direction, it’ll make me so happy. 

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Staying in contact with parents

faviconIt’s the evening before Back to School Night, and I still haven’t reached five parents I want to invite.

Yes, you’re right: These are parents who don’t have an email account.

As teachers, we know the importance of establishing and maintaining contact with parents. But doing so is challenging and time-consuming, particularly across language and technological barriers.

The digital divide is huge for parents who don’t have computers at home or at work. For parents whose primary language is not English, computers are intimidating. Besides, email is impersonal and devoid of human contact.

For a long time, I’ve been looking for an easy way to share information — like a reminder to Back to School Night — with parents in an efficient way. I’m pleased to say that Phonevite is a good solution.

Up to 25 people twice a month
Phonevite lets you record a voice message and send it to up to 25 people, twice a month, for free. You type in the phone numbers you’d like to reach, schedule the time for your call, and then type in your own number. Phonevite then calls you to record your message, and you’re done.

No, it’s not the same as a real call, but I like Phonevite because I can get across a lot of information without devoting hours to get through my phone list. In addition, I can record my message in English and Spanish without worrying about my Spanish speaking fluency. (I really should take more Spanish classes.)

Unlike other free voicemail services, the advertisement comes after your message, not before. There are other features — like RSVP capability — that are pretty neat, too.

If you want to send messages more often, there is a paid version, where each call costs 5 cents.

A possible solution?
It got me thinking: This year, perhaps I should require parents either to check an email account regularly or donate $1 to receive phone messages throughout the year. Of course, parents with email will still get much more information, but at least I’ll know that everyone is covered. favicon