National surveys tend to indicate public dissatisfaction with public education, yet those same surveys generally find that parents are quite satisfied with their local public schools. The same phenomenon is seen when surveying opinions about Congress, which people tend to not like, and their own Congressman, who is generally held in high regard. Each of our schools conduct parent, teacher, and student satisfaction surveys every year. Without exception, overall satisfaction is in the 90% range or better – even for our schools that have struggled with test scores. As superintendent, this is nice data to review, but in all honesty, it is dangerous because we do not want to become complacent and one wonders if the people who answer the surveys are only the ones whose children are having a good experience. It occurs to me that, with only their own school experience from which to draw, parents may not really know what they should now expect from their local school and how to address it when they are not getting it.
Parents send us their most valuable possession. With parental support and cooperation, our job is to provide a safe environment, a rigorous program of learning that meets the needs of each individual student with the end result of being ready for college or a career, a place of respectful and pleasant interaction where students are clearly taught what is expected of them, and a great deal of communication.
At the start of the school year, or class in cases of semester classes, students should receive (and parents should review) a syllabus, which is essentially an outline of what is to be learned. Most every subject has a state mandated list of learning standards that are broken down by grade level or by class. If you do not have this, first look on the teacher’s web site. If it is not there, call the school and ask for it because if parents don’t know what their kids are supposed to be learning, how can they be partners in their education? Each week, teachers are to post lesson plans on their web site describing the learning targets for the week, how they are being taught, and how student learning is being monitored. Parents should take a look at these. If they are not there, or don’t seem to address what is supposed to be learned, a phone call or email is in order. If parents aren’t getting a newsletter, or their child’s work returned with meaningful feedback, or a phone call asking for help before the D or F comes home on the report card, they should be making phone calls.
Our community is very lucky in that we have a most dedicated and excellent teaching staff. I walk through class after class and am amazed at the work and professionalism of the vast majority of our teachers. I wish I could say it was universally so, but it is not. Like any large organization, we have some staff members who are likely marginal at best. Our principals supervise very large staffs in most cases and simply cannot be aware of everything through their own observation. If we are ever to be the truly excellent school system we aspire to be, we must have the help of our customers to point out areas of concern so we can help the less than excellent improve.
Think of it this way: If you received your gas bill and it looked out of whack, would you just pay it? If the waitress brought you the wrong food, would you just eat it? If your doctor told you that there was nothing wrong with you when you clearly felt sick, would you just accept it? Of course not – to get good service sometimes you have to point out when you are not getting it. Why should a child’s education be any different? So, if you have questions or are confused, you need to get it straightened out. Our teachers are professionals and a good teacher will welcome your interest – it shows you care as a parent.
Let me close by stating that sometimes, an expressed concern is not valid. We parents sometimes get only one side of the story. By calling and asking questions or expressing concerns, parents can gain understanding and insight into the instructional process. What parents, as customers, deserve is a clear, non-defensive response that addresses the concern, but it does not automatically mean that the teacher is doing something wrong and should change. We, teachers, parents, administrators, and community leaders, all have the best interest of our kids at heart. Through working together, and honest give and take, we will continue to improve as a school system and a community