I’ve been asked to offer up a short speech during new student and parent orientation on Monday. The topic of my presentation is the importance of parent involvement as it affects student achievement.
Most of what I have is anecdotal. I’m a parent. I’m a teacher. As a writer, I tend to be pretty observant of what’s happening around me, so not only am I looking at my own experiences, but I’m peeking in on others’ lives, too. What I’m seeing – and what is being borne out again and again in the research – is that the kids who roll their eyes because their parents won’t let them watch t.v. until their homework is done, or who sigh in exasperation when their parents show up to potlucks and to chaperone dances, or the kids who bitch about parents who insist on proofreading essays or lab reports are the kids who, without question, do better in school than the kids who spend from 2:31 until dark at the skate park, who are a little too good at World of Warcraft, and whose parents never return my emails or never come to community events.
Is it a pain in the ass to be elbow-deep in your high school student’s business? Ummm.. yeah. High schoolers are all about the independence – sometimes, they’re worse than the three-year-olds and their “I do it MYSELF,” so getting even wrist-deep can be a challenge. Pair that teenage resistance to all things that even hint of authority with the very reasonable attitude that kids of that age SHOULD be given more autonomy and responsibility, and it’s very easy to see why so many moms and dads throw up their hands in surrender. That is, of course, the worst thing parents can do.
I’m not advocating a GPS chip behind your teen’s ear or that you force your child to spend every waking moment in your presence – you’d both be indicted for attempted murder if you tried that, don’t you think? What I am asking for here is some level of participation in the life your kid leads outside of the walls of your house that shows your kid, in whatever roundabout way you need to do it, that you really truly care about what happens to her at school, and that you know he can succeed. How about family dinner now and then? Talk to your kid; find out what kind of music she’s listening to (and give it a listen; some of it’s pretty catchy), what movies he wants to see (how about a Saturday matinee?), who their friends are (pizza night at your house?). When your kids’ teachers give you their websites and email addresses, USE them. Check in every once in a while; lurk on the websites to see what’s going on in science class and then see if you can surreptitiously work that into dinner-table conversation. Find out what’s being read in English class and then let your kid see YOU reading that book. Did you suck at math in high school? Commiserate. Fire off a quick, “Hey, I’d like to check in to see how little Johnny’s doing in class” and answer attempts teachers make to get in touch with you.
Raising a kid is serious business. So is teaching one. If parents and teachers can work together to support kids through what most adults will agree are some of the most challenging years of a human’s life, imagine what kind of miracles we can work.