Category Archives: Parents

Easy Public Relations with Students and Parents

One thing I’ve realized during my career as an educator is that positive public relations are always good for my classroom. Really, isn’t that what Open House is? It’s a PR moment for the school–especially high schools–where parents frequently state they are intimidated to enter, and a chance for teachers to reveal their plans, the standards, and themselves in a short presentation.

However, I’ve also learned that PR comes in many packages.

One way I use positive word of mouth is to show films related to the content in my classroom. Occasionally, during an evening of the work week or on a weekend afternoon, I will show a film for my students to watch while I work on grading assignments or planning projects and the like. To get the students there, I offer extra credit, but I make sure that the points are a negligible amount having no real effect on students’ grades, or I will give students a ticket which, when redeemed, allows a student to retake a test or rewrite a paper (which I do anyway, but it’s about perception).

Plus, showing films is an excellent way to use a popular medium to provide enrichment opportunities while simultaneously showing students and parents that I sacrifice my personal time for students. We all do this. We grade student work on our own time, plan lessons and units, prepare assessments, and more on our own time, but this makes the time sacrifice a visible teaching moment for the students and parents.

Moreover, it’s a fun way to show students how the literature I teach connects to what they learn in class. For example, here are a few of my favorites:

Many other films work well with the literature I teach, especially when I teach American Literature, and the students enjoy coming to school for a fun activity. Since I’ve started having these movie nights and afternoons, I’ve have seen a difference in my students’ feelings about coming to my classroom and my parents’ attitudes about how teachers care about their kids. The comments I receive from the parents are heart-warming and they sometimes come to the movie nights too and bring snacks.

I don’t attribute all of my successes to these movie nights, but they are part of a larger series of positive PR moments that increase engagement in my classroom and word of mouth about my classes.

Open House

I’m not sure what purpose Open House serves besides having a short PR session. Parents want to talk about their kids, and they aren’t learning much about their kids’ classes or progress. Maybe it’s different for elementary or middle school teachers, but I don’t see much point in high school Open House nights. I’d rather have an extra day of conferences.

My classes are off to a great start. I’m actually surprised how excited they are to learn something new each day. 🙂

I had a fun lesson today where I showed the Blues Traveler video for “Runaround” and had the kids count and list the allusions to The Wizard of Oz. It was a fun way to teach allusions, and nothing gets the students’ attention like cartoons or music videos.

The Online Calendar

I maintain a website for all of my classes with additional links to help pages; however, the most useful page I created is the online calendar, and I spent an hour yesterday updating that calendar. It’s a simple but time consuming process because all of the dates must be changed from last year’s school calendar to this year’s school calendar.

This calendar has become my favorite online resource that I created.

  • Parents use it to see what their kids are doing in class and what they should be doing at home.
  • Students use the calendar to see what is upcoming or what was missed.
  • Administrators use it because it’s essentially my plan book.
  • Other teachers follow my lessons and unit progressions during the year.

Plus, I can include downloads, extra videos, and more for my students to peruse.

At the end of each year I print the calendar and keep it for the next year. I examine what went well, what did not, and what I can do to improve my lesson sequences, units, and assessments.

Web pages and online resources are expected of teachers by administrators, parents, and students, yet teachers are frequently not provided time during the school day to create, maintain, or update these tools. Although my website does require time each day and week to keep it up-to-date, it’s worth the time because it becomes a first contact point prior to people contacting me about assignments and activities. Since I started the website, my phone messages and e-mails have decreased significantly because I don’t have to answer every question; parents and students get their information from the calendar most of the time.

The State of Education Today

Washington State, like many other states, is hurting financially. No one questions this; however, the recovery methods and suggestions do cause me to pause and worry about the state’s and nation’s education futures.

One column’s composer basically says teachers should be able to overcome all odds to create student success. Granted, the author states that parents are the most difficult group to involve in education, and he also thinks that schools should focus on what they can control (as if that hasn’t been happening for years). However, he concludes with the lazy argument of getting rid of “weak teachers” and “better compensating” the better teachers as if these two ideas are novel and haven’t been a part of the educational landscape.

Ironically, at a time when so many call for this better compensation and merit pay for effective teachers, the state is looking to cut the stipends for National Board certified teachers and freezing pay for all. Once again the highest striving and most vulnerable in the profession are being hurt by the cuts. Those who were promised extra pay for achieving what is perceived to be the most prestigious teaching accomplishment and those who are in the early stages of their careers are losing pay–up to 10-20% depending on years of service and NB certification. Broken promises and hypocrisy are not helping the debate.

The state is still fighting the case it lost when a judge ruled that the state is failing education. Instead of increasing funding or services to education, the state is wasting money fighting the ruling.

Still, legislative leaders and the media are calling for the raising of standards without clearly thinking through what is happening with those standards. The mess of higher standards, testing, and holding kids accountable has created a quagmire of regulations and inanity that threatens the graduation of students caught in the middle.

All the while the state and nation call on educators to raise those standards, expect more of our teachers, and pay them less. “Highly qualified” has been a major focus of the so-called reform and ensuring that a minimum standard is in place…until a private industry wants the standards lowered to allow their people in, despite having no shortage of available and qualified teachers. And then, to make matters even worse, the feds agree that trainees should be deemed “highly qualified” even with no experience. The question seems obvious: why not let people into classrooms who have taken a 5-6 week training course instead of people with education degrees, a 3-6 month internship, and (normally) multiple endorsements or degrees (I wrote on this topic here.)? Besides being an issue of sensibility and professionalism, it’s a civil rights issue!

Oh, but let’s not forget the “blame everything on the unions” crowd. Their flags fly just as high. Even though the article means well, look at this title: “How a teachers’ union actually helped kids (not just adults).” Or, how about this one? A writer calls on the public with his editorial to “Professionalize the teaching profession” by treating teachers as professions and “not union workers.” How did professional and union worker become mutually exclusive? In fact, in Washington State, about the only group truly advocating for living wages and research-based education initiatives is the union. This second article writer, of course, blamed less effective teachers being in the work force on the unions–a group with no power to terminate its own members (and why would it?)–instead of placing the blame where it should lie, on those with this power, the administrators.

In an era of blaming the teacher, cutting teacher salaries and incentives, raising standards, increasing testing, devaluing the profession, and demonizing the unions, what do we do? How do we effect change? How do we protect our profession and our kids?

I know Brian from Stories from School is advocating talking to legislators. I know many of my colleagues are writing and visiting legislative offices.

I’m thinking of advocating a new tactic: accepting a couple furlough days. I know, I know. It costs the teachers money. That’s true. But it costs everyone money: teachers, support staff, administrators, the district, and–most importantly–the parents. If we continue to absorb the effects of these cuts quietly, no one will care or listen.

But, by sending Timmy and his pals home for a few extra days and by forcing parents to deal with the problem, we might just see some change. Make the public deal with this mess too. Let the public outcry arise not just from the educators but those at home. They outnumber us any way. Plus, I have seen very little to alter the glacial rate of change more than angry parents.

Here’s another idea: instead of considering strikes, consider getting everyone to work their hours and go home. Show people what their money gets them.  No more extra tutoring sessions, no more recommendation letters, no more enrichment sessions, no more grading and planning at home, no more meeting parents outside the work day, no more calls home at night, no more independent research, and so on. Until the public feels the effects, the public will not advocate for us during these times of unjust cuts.

Preparing for the Politics of Grades

January will be an interesting month as my school heads into the final weeks of 1st semester. It’s a fun time of the year, but it’s also one full of pitfalls and the one I dread the most is the grading conversation on the horizon.

While helicopter parents can be annoying, they are (for me) less daunting than the parents who simply want to negotiate the final grade a student earns. I have already received fair warning that one  student’s parents will be trying to increase her daughter’s grade if it’s not an A.

I simply find these conversations annoying, and a no-win for anyone. I find them tedious. Parents walk away without a change.

I never change a grade that a student earns based on a parent conversation. I tell parents and students that “I record what is earned.” I often repeat that “I don’t give grades. Students earn grades.”

Well, this is put to the test each year, so when a parent asks me to raise a grade I respond with one or more of the following depending on the situation:

  • “So, you’re asking me to cheat for your child?”
  • “Are you asking me to lie?”
  • “Do you often ask people to lie for you?”
  • “What would this teach your child?”
  • (if speaking to a fellow teacher) “Do you cheat for your students?”
  • (if speaking to a fellow teacher) “Do you lie for your students?”

Most of the time, one of these questions ends the discussion. Then I document the incident for future reference.

Awestruck and Saddened

Parent-teacher conferences were this week, and I’m exhausted. Whew!

I love meeting the parents and figuring out ways to assist the students, but I also just get worn down. It’s an intense process of a series 3-4 hour meetings after teaching each day.

However, what strikes me the most every year is how much my students have gone through in their young lives: beatings, emotional abuse, rapes, gangs, disorders, living with grandparents, death, loss, and more.

I heard a fellow colleague wondering why a certain student “even comes to school,” and after talking to his grandmother I think his showing up is a minor victory. His father is finally out of the picture (grandma won in court), his sister is back in rehab, his bruises are healing, and he’s finally eating three meals a day. School is a safe haven–not a place where he may be successful if measured by grades–and he attends for a semblance of normalcy, safety, and positive social interaction.

Not every student is going to be a Horatio Alger story, and I wonder how these students will function in the future. Where will they find success?