I have taught in very different types of places with very different types of families over the last six years, and have heard a similar question after each experience:
What are the parents like?
That’s actually a much kinder version of the various similar questions I was actually asked.
When I taught in a low-income, high-crime, gang-ridden, mostly minority town in Texas I was often asked, Are all the students raised by their grandparents? and Are any of the parents involved at all?
When I taught low-income, mostly white students in Tennessee I was usually asked, Do your students get any help/discipline/care at home?
When I taught oversees in Albania at an International school the questions became more positive, Are all the parents super involved and much more appreciative there?
While teaching extremely wealthy over-privileged children in New York’s Upper East Side I usually heard, Are are all the students raised by nannies? Are they all spoiled brats?
It was in New York that I began reflecting on all of these questions. At first I was shocked and appalled that everyone assumes that families are less involved, less educated, less caring and worse parents in the U.S. Most people automatically assumed that parents are better at their job in Europe, why is that?
Then, I was angry that so many people concluded that low-income families and wealthy families are equally bad at raising their children.
Finally, I became disappointed in myself. I often vented to friends and family about the hardships I dealt with in the classroom and failed to acknowledge the wonderful experiences I had with many families.
Now, I want to set the record straight. No amount of money, lack of money or geographical location makes a good parent, or a bad parent.
In every single school I taught I had to handle difficult parents. I had meetings with chid-protective services, angry emails with misspelled words and cursing, parents doing lines of coke on the premises, parents who had no respect or faith in their own children, parents in jail, parents who should be in jail, racist parents, sexist parents, lying parents, uncaring parents, unhelpful parents, step-parents, grandparents, aunt and uncle parents, nanny parents, you name it I’ve dealt with it.
However, in every single school I had wonderful experiences with families. I had parents volunteer to read to my struggling students on their mornings off, parents come in after school to help me decorate for celebrations, parents who wrote me hand-written thank you letters, parents thanking me with tears in their eyes, parents who would drop anything, do anything, give anything if it meant helping their child, parents who do all that if it meant helping any child, parents who stayed home to spend quality time helping their kids become amazing people, parents who worked numerous jobs to give their kids experiences they never had and parents who were so freakin’ awesome I only hope I can live up to half of their standards.
It does not matter where you live or what your income is to kids. All children need is your love, support, respect, help, belief in them and discipline. It’s pretty simple. No amount of toys or lack of extra special expensive after school programs compares to those basic needs.
It’s time we stop judging families who are different from our own, and start supporting each other. Parenting is hard for everyone, so stop assuming that the single-mother who looks like a wreck every morning is unable to properly care for her children. Maybe she is exhausted from night-shifts she works so she can be with her children before and after school. Don’t assume that Nanny is the only one caring for the kid in the stroller. Perhaps the parents both work in order to afford their life and health insurance while simultaneously paying off student loans. That Dad on his cell phone carrying the girl in mis-matched clothes with tomato sauce down the front might be on the phone with doctors trying to save his wife’s life. Maybe these parents need a helping hand. Maybe most parents are doing the best they can, and the few that aren’t need our help and some good examples.
I always say that you really get to know your students after meeting their parents. Often, I am guilty of judging a family before I even know them. It’s a constant battle to stop judging, but it’s one I am willing to always fight.
Whenever, Husband and I become parents I hope to respect, help and get to know the parents I meet along the way, and maybe get the same in response. It’s hard enough raising a dog and a Husband. So, on the morning I show up to drop-off in my PJ’s, hugging my large coffee, with one eye lined and a crying child yelling that I burnt her breakfast again, I’ll prefer a helpful hand or knowing smile. Don’t judge.