Parents, teachers can learn lessons from each other

March 14, 1995|By SUSAN REIMER

Kids don't care about schoolwork, and it is because their parents don't care about schoolwork. That's the view from the chalkboard.

In a survey of Anne Arundel County public school teachers, student apathy was listed by teachers as the second-biggest frustration of their professional lives, behind only discipline.

And it is the parents' fault.

Parents who write notes asking that their child be excused from homework because he had soccer practice, because he was at the mall late, because he was working at McDonald's. Parents who don't care enough to do even that or to respond to the teacher's request for a conference over slipping grades.

Parents who demand top grades for their kids, but don't demand that the kids work for them. Parents too busy with their jobs to care about their child's study habits. Parents who let the television fill up the evening.

Parents who side against the teacher in any dispute. Parents who don't care enough to do that. It happened at school? Let the teacher deal with it. I have enough trouble with him.

Elementary school, middle school, high school. Teachers from all levels responded to the survey by the Annapolis Capital and vented their frustrations with us -- the parents.

"I feel that schools are better than ever, but family breakdowns are ruining our hard work," a third-grade teacher wrote.

"It is hard to motivate a student on a daily basis who is destroyed on a daily basis at home," wrote another of the more than 400 teachers who responded.

The article by Dennis Sullivan and an accompanying collection of comments from the survey paint a dismal picture of us parents. We want the teachers to educate our kids, build their self-esteem, socialize them, teach them values and self-discipline. We not only fail to contribute to this process, but we also undermine it. And we blame the teachers when the children misbehave or fail.

"Not every parent is doing this," said John Kurpjuweit, president of the Teachers' Association of Anne Arundel County and a middle school teacher for 26 years. "There are many concerned parents. But more are doing it than ever before."

Sullivan said the reaction to the story was predictable. Teachers called to say, "Right on. Me, too." Officials at the Board of Education were cautious, noncommittal. " 'Interesting.' That's the comment I kept hearing," Sullivan said.

"And parents called to say it is the teachers who are apathetic."

Parents might be willing to list their frustrations on the front page of the local newspaper, too. We often feel as if public schools, especially teachers because it is they who are closest to our children, have broken their covenant with us.

When a project, though unfinished, is given an A grade. When spelling and grammar are not corrected. When homework isn't collected or checked. When threats of discipline are never carried out. When a teacher is defensive instead of cooperative when dealing with the anguished parents of a troubled or learning disabled child. When enrichment work never materializes for highly able kids or when it takes an academic year of red tape before the system decides that, yes, a child should be tested and given help.

Survey parents of public school children, and many could write indictments of the public school system as hopeless or as filled with anger as those printed next to Dennis Sullivan's story. The frequent movies in the classroom, the parade of substitute teachers, the trumped-up self-esteem awards that leave kids cynical about the rewards of hard work.

The teachers complained about spoon-feeding the kids. So do we parents. The teachers complained about lowered standards. So do we. The teachers complained that homework isn't valued by the students. Of course not, parents say, that's because it isn't valued by the teacher and the kids know it.

There are some parents in some families who don't care about education and who don't discipline their children and you could not pay me enough to try to teach them. But it is not me, and it is not anyone I know.

What this survey and the reaction to it demonstrates is that the teachers and the parents are saying the same things. Education can be more demanding, and we both want it to be.

And while we are taking shots at each other in the newspaper, the Board of Education can be heard in the background, murmuring cautiously: "Interesting."

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