I ended last year with a question: Should parents help evaluate teachers? Having raised 11 children, all of whom went through public school, and now helping the 8 grandkids navigate through, guess I can offer an informed opinion on this one.
Since I was a public school parent before I was a teacher, there have always been some things that I knew about the work of my children’s teachers. Most of all, I knew which teachers cared about my children as human beings, and which ones cared about whether they learned. I also knew which ones mistreated my children in ways they would not have tolerated for their own. That metric was always the most important criteria in my evaluation of my own children’s teachers.
I took the teachers’ competency in their subject areas as a given—that was the responsibility of the licensing agency and the district administration that hired them. I took knowledge of how to teach (pedagogy) as a given—that was the responsibility of their teacher preparation program. My focus was on whether each teacher could use his/her subject and pedagogical knowledge to meet each of my children at his/her unique point of development and talents and move each of them further towards individual potential.
Grades were an indicator of how things were going, but my husband and I were more concerned with what we heard come out of our children’s mouths when they talked about school; what kind of questions they asked about things they were learning; whether there was any excitement; and what they wanted to do with what they were learning.
I was most involved with the education of our deaf son, for whom I often had to advocate to get the services to which he was entitled under IDEA (special ed parents and teachers can you relate?). Although most of his teachers were great, there was one who deeply resented having a hearing impaired child placed in her classroom and made it well-known. She refused to put directions for him in writing; she resisted not being able to give oral spelling tests; she resented having to face him when she spoke rather than being able to talk over her shoulder as she wrote at the board. She was considered one of the best teachers in the building and was clearly a favorite of the principal. To me, she was ineffective and hateful. Had I been able to participate in her evaluation it would not have been favorable.
During ten years of classroom research that I conducted on teaching standard English to African American students, I held some focus group discussions with parents of my students. When I asked them to describe what they meant by a “good English teacher,” the consistent top response was: Someone who cares about my child. And make no mistake: Just because a parent is single, poor, uneducated, or doesn’t show the type of “involvement” educators might want to see, does not mean that parent does not care about his/her child. I know too many teachers who learned that lesson the hard way.
I don’t suggest that I or other parents do not care about the academic accomplishments of our children, or other aspects of the educational experience. Nor do I minimize the pressing need for greater parental involvement in many areas as well as greater outreach by educators to parents, especially in our most challenging schools. But this I do know: As a mother, I did not want any of my children in the classroom of someone who could not or would not value them as God created person.
Caring is a qualification that should be part of every teacher’s evaluation, and parents may be our best tool for measuring it.