As a teacher in New Haven, CT I often find a sense of disconnect between the homes of the students and the actual classroom. Often, an assumption is made that parents of inner city students do not care about education. Looking from the outside in, one might feel as though the family dynamics of a child actually hinders their educational growth. Statistics state that inner city students fare lower on tests, have higher truancy and dropout rates, and display more behavioral issues than their affluent counterparts. I feel as though if we provide more resources and understanding for people, then, we would see more improvements and engagement in education.
Statistics also show that the lack of parental involvement is directly correlated with the failure rates. The question remains, what can we do about this? The most obvious however more uncomfortable answer is to get the parents more involved. This is uncomfortable because as a teacher, your job is to teach the students in your classroom how to be successful and intelligent and the curriculum says nothing about parent engagement. However, when you consider that your students would learn so much more if they were continuously being pushed and educated even outside of school and that if you provided parents with the resources to do so, then you would raise your class test results and close part of the achievement gap. The following narrative provides some strategies to bridge a gap between the parents and the teachers in an effort to teach parents expectations for the school year as well as provide opportunities to get immersed in their child's learning in a positive way.
Inviting your student's parents to visit your classroom as often as possible is a great first step in bridging the gap. At Open House in the beginning of the school year, you will have a great opportunity to set the tone for parent engagement, to set high expectations and to share about yourself as a teacher and as a human being. Being open and honest with parents is vital in building a safe environment for the students in your class. You can have every form and permission slip possible available for completion at this time. This will require some planning ahead, but it will give parents a heads up on what to expect for the school year. If you can set dates for the field trips early and present the dates to your parents, then they will have ample time to request days off, find babysitters or notify other family members to come in their place if they are too busy. While parents are in your classroom for the first time, invite them back for read-alouds, field trips and parent-child crafts. Parents want to feel welcome in your classroom and this will help foster and build a relationship between parents and teachers.
Another great way to invoke parental engagement is to include them in the class lessons. When presenting this unit to your class and discussing how different animals nurture their young babies, parents could come to class and hear stories with their child or read stories to the class. Great read-alouds stick with children and they learn vocabulary and concepts about print within the classroom. Stories that accompany this unit and can help teach lifelong lessons include Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester. This story had nonfiction facts about penguins however it had personified characters that were penguins that learned a valuable lesson about friendship and having respect for others that are physically different from you, especially when you need them. Parents could help out in the classroom and further promote the learning of their own children at home while referring to the stories and concepts in the literature and non-fiction texts shared in the classroom. As parents spend time in the classroom, they learn the vocabulary and educational language that the teacher uses throughout the school day. In turn, the common language can be used at home and at school and ultimately build stability and knowledge in kindergarten children.
When planning field trips try and invite parents or use "force" to get them involved in the process. "Force" could mean sending home a sign-up sheet for trip chaperones where parents are provided with various options to choose from whereas if we send home a permission slip with yes or no as an option to chaperon, the parents could choose no. Try your best to get the parents there because any opportunity for a child to see the leader figures of their lives in the same place will symbolize strength and a united front for them.
There are family oriented crafts that accompany this unit and can serve as a fun way to bridge the gap previously mentioned. One of the in class crafts include a heart shaped parent elephant and child elephant to be decorated and designed to be attached at the snout to symbolize family togetherness. Another craft could be making puppets and having a class production for the students to act out for their parents.