There is that old saying that your friends are the family you choose to keep. Well there should also be a saying that teachers are the parents many need to have. When you step back from all the problems currently swirling around education in this country the issue of bad parenting is there, lurking, yet nothing is really done about it.
We are all aware that many of the most disadvantaged students suffer from poor economic backgrounds. In fact when someone uses the phrase “disadvantaged” when discussing students the immediate reaction is, for most at least, to think poverty in monetary terms. But the real disadvantage for many students isn’t the fact that they might not be able to afford certain things or the fact that they aren’t eating properly. For them it’s their parents. There I’ve said it. It would be convenient to say that bad parenting is found in only one social class. Yes, from my own experience and those around me it does seem that often those coming from lesser economic means also happen to be the students unfazed by the threat “I’m phoning your parents”. Yet I’ve also witnessed some truly committed and terrifying parents, classed as having little economic means, who are raising their children brilliantly whilst parents considered upper middle class barely feign interest in anything their child or I say.
It is never going to be simple to give a definitive recipe for a good parent, however what is simple is to acknowledge how powerful an influence a parent and their own attitudes and values have on their child. If their values are positive and support things such as hard work, respect and eating broccoli then brilliant but what about when their values are distorted? What happens when the child is being told, whether explicitly or implicitly, that they don’t need to work because someone else will pay, dad or the government, or that calling anyone a “cheeky w*rd” is acceptable, or that SAM’s chicken is real food?
People will always be individual, that is the beauty of being human, but for those students who have been linked to individuals with less admirable values and quirks is it a beautiful thing then? Educational equality is what we all believe in and yet in order for that to work teachers need the support and commitment of parents, something we so often don’t have. As parents like to say,
“You clearly aren’t teaching them properly. Maybe if you taught them better they would listen and not mess around.”
Many parents don’t seem to realise that how they teach their children at home affects how they learn in school. As a result we deal with chauvinists, racists, those that feel they are owed something, those that feel they are worthless and don’t deserve anything, apathy and laziness but to list a few. Realistically there is only so much a teacher can change in the short time they have with a student. We can begin to alter a student’s attitudes but if we are then forced to concede to a guardian who makes bad choices the student is going to continue to follow the wrong figure, blinded by the belief that those particular choices and values are acceptable.
A friend of mine works in a school where parents sign a contract before their child starts ensuring that teachers don’t have to get a parent’s permission before putting a student in detention. Mobile phones when seen are confiscated for the whole day with no room for manoeuvre by any party. Surely this gives teachers that extra boost in helping to teach life lessons such as hard work and respect through discipline, no parent able to step in.
The other day I confiscated a mobile phone off a Year 11 student and at the end of the lesson she demanded it back. When I told her she could collect it at the end of the day she said,
‘Well I’ll just phone my mum then.’
Sure enough 30 minutes later my next class was interrupted by said, now smug, student informing me that her mum was in reception and was reporting me. A few minutes later both the deputy head of the school and my department’s secretary appeared at my door to ask for the phone, allowing the student to believe she was in the right. In the eyes of that particular individual I have no power because she knows that her mother will do whatever she asks and the school will do whatever her mother says. How is that educating for the better?
Why don’t all schools take a tougher line with parents? It seems like such an obvious thing yet it just isn’t done enough. In order to keep on tackling educational inequality and raising standards we need to be extending our influence as role models and educators. We need to be able to punish laziness or rudeness knowing that the punishment won’t be excused because a parent doesn’t agree with it. Only then can we begin to start reversing some of the misguided values that have been instilled in too many of today’s students. Helping disadvantaged students isn’t just about giving them access to better resources, free school meals and engaging lessons. It should be about helping to push them back onto the playing field from which they’ve fallen, potentially through their parent’s failings. For that teachers need to be given more power and support by schools.
I’m not saying all teachers and their actions are always perfect and I’m not saying that all parents and their actions are wrong. I’m also not advocating that we should dissuade parents from becoming involved in school and their child’s education. What I am saying that all students deserve to be given an equal shot at a fulfilling life. Since not all are given the simplest building blocks at home, all schools need to be more willing to potentially put prospective families off by creating tougher school policies that will provide these blocks. It may seem hard on the students but ultimately it is this severity that will set them up for a much brighter future.
Our anonymous blogger is Teach First teacher in an inner-city school. These are their individual views.