So my great kid started his junior year at his wonderful high school this week. After many letters home, multiple phone calls and texts reminding us of the “mandatory” back to school meeting for parents that first night, off I headed to the tiny auditorium in his school to listen and learn. Because – as the daughter of a great teacher – I know only too well that teachers appreciate and cherish those parents who become and remain involved in the school life of their child, and their child’s life at school. Call it an unscientific theory if you will, but I truly believe that a teacher remembers those parents who show up for the meetings (even when it’s after they’ve put in a long, hard day at work), who offer the thanks when thanks are called for, who volunteer (even for the grunt tasks), who make sure their kid is present physically and intellectually every day at school.
And so, knowing that the sophomore and junior classes of my great kid’s school total 200 kids, I got there extra early, knowing the meeting was being held in a small space and wanting to get a good seat. By the time the meeting started at 7:30 – attended by the principal, vice principal, director of academics, director of athletics, director of advancement and many, many teachers – all of whom had already put in a full day work themselves at the school – scarcely 30 people were there. More people drifted in throughout the hour-long meeting so, by meeting’s end, there were – by my rough count – about 50 people there. Or – just to prove I can still do the math I learned in high school – about a 25% parent turnout.
Really? That’s the best we could do?
And it’s not just that we were given a boatload of information about the school year and what to expect and what their expectations of us and our kids were. We were shown improvements to the school’s media program, educated about something called Moodle (a wonderful site that lets parents learn whether their kid actually has homework that night, even when your kid tells you they don’t!), presented all sorts of college preparatory information (as the college tour will be our next big adventure), told about their zero-tolerance policy for disrespect and bullying (and yay for that!). So much information – so much great information – that my fingers flew over my Blackberry keys typing in as many notes as I could manage to make sure that I retained all I heard. I came home with a game plan; we were a team; students, teachers and parents, all on the same road towards ensuring a great school year.
But . . . what about the kids whose parents couldn’t or didn’t show up? It’s got me thinking a lot. Is it that the other parents are too busy? (Certainly possible). Or is it that they forgot? (I guess possible but since I had received a reminder phone call and text that very day about the meeting, I’m not sure how one could forget). Or – and I hate to think this is the reason – is it because the parents didn’t feel it was necessary? (A nicer phrase than “didn’t care” or “couldn’t bother”.)
I know, believe me, I know how busy everyone’s lives are nowadays. I’m always amazed by how the more technology we have, the less time we have. We’re glued to our Blackberry, or our SmartPhone, or our iPad, or spending our evenings at home checking the virtual world we live in through Facebook or Twitter. The more time-saving and instant-connection devices we acquire, the more isolated it seems we become. Just the other night, my great kid – who resides in a room a mere 10 feet from mine – Skyped me to ask me a question. And I spent 10 minutes on Skype with him, having a conversation. Oh, the insanity.
But what is more important than finding time, making the time for our kids and their future? I was very lucky as a child, having my parents always so engaged in my education. Always volunteering, always participating, always on top of my sisters and me to do our homework and assignments as our first priority every day. Because who are our first teachers, our most important teachers in forming the person we become? Our parents who led by example, who sacrificed silently to make our lives better than theirs, who gave us their time (when sometimes time was the only commodity they had to trade in).
Our parents knew that you cannot – you must not – punt your child’s future to their teachers. I’m a big believer in teaching being a word that should be synonymous for collaboration. Because while our teachers can explain what’s in the text books, show us how to dissect a frog, teach us how to ask “donde esta la biblioteca?” (the only remaining high school Spanish phrase I remember), drill the formulas for algebra and geometry and calculus into our brains (thank you, Sr. Florence Rose) – they can’t do it alone. They need to pass the baton back to us, as parents, at the end of every day and we need to take it and keep that education cycle going. And if that doesn’t happen, we’re failing our kids because it’s not the teachers’ job to be all things to all people. (As we all know, that’s Oprah’s job. But I’ve told you that already, haven’t I?)
We cannot let our teachers raise our kids. Life is hard enough for our kids these days. Peer pressure, bullying, AP classes, dating, learning to drive, applying for college, getting a job, worrying about their own future (let alone all the worrying they do about us). The most important job you have – when you’re a parent – is being a parent. You can’t opt out when your kid is stressed or rude or having a bad day or yelling at you because they’re mad at someone else or sad or quiet. You can’t shut down when you’ve had a bad day. And you can’t let the teachers do everything, even if you think that you’re paying enough tuition that they should.
If we’re not present in our kids’ lives, then we have failed them and ourselves. Being a parent, being an involved and loving and caring and understanding and tough-when-it’s- needed parent is your primary job. You don’t get to take a day off from it; you don’t get a vacation from it; and you certainly don’t get to retire from it. It’s your 24/7 job from now until forever.
So please, please – show up for meetings at school, say thanks to the bus driver who gets your kid back and forth to school safely every day, send a box of cookies to the school office staff at Christmas, write the teacher a note and let them know you appreciate what they’re doing. But the best thing you can do is be your child’s most important teacher. Because they won’t forget it, and neither will you.