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Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Posted: December 3, 2010 09:31 AM

The Education of Student Success: Top 10 Family Responsibilities to Help Their Student Avoid Failure

I have written before in the past on various blog sites and networks about the vital equation that must exist in order for a student not to fail in our schools:

Family + Student + School + Policy makers/Voters = Student Success

Each variable is co-dependent on the other. Each link in the chain must do its part, pulling its weight for the goal to be achieved. To tackle this polynomial equation takes deconstructing its parts. Therefore, much like a Top Chef contestant deconstructs a grilled cheese sandwich to analyze its ingredients, I am going to break down our education equation into parts and analyze what each must contribute for a student to succeed.

So I've posted three articles simultaneously, a webquest of sorts through my blogs, covering the following:

• Here, you'll find my take on what the family and home life must contribute to the equation.
• At the George Lucas Educational Foundation's Edutopia site, I've written on what the student must bring to the table.
• At my personal website, Tweenteacher.com, you can read about the schools' responsibilities, specifically those of the teachers.

Stop by each site and look at each of the variables. For without any of them, the equation will undoubtedly fail.

The Family's/Guardian's Responsibility

It seems simple to say that a family provides the first and most important education for a student, but it's true. As a teacher, I have influenced many students in my time, but never more so than the lessons coming from their homes. It doesn't matter whether the student comes from two parents or one guardian, a traditional home or an alternative one; there must be structure at home that supports a child's learning. At school, we struggle to differentiate for the 30 or so students before us, but in the student's home, individualization should be the norm. Teachers may be educational experts, but those at home are supposed to be experts at their own children.

The home life must follow some foundational rules to contribute to the equation of student success to avoid a student's failure:

1. Get the student to school... on time.
2. Make sure the kid is fed... on something other than Snickers.
3. Make sure the student has had proper medical care.
4. Communicate with the school: show up to meetings about the child, have a way to reach out with questions or comments.
5. Be accessible. Make sure the school has accurate phone numbers. Make sure calls are returned.
6. Know where the student goes after school.
7. Make sure the student has a place to work and a routine time to do homework.
8. Follow the homework to its destination. Many times, parents let go of monitoring before the student is ready. Check to make sure the work was done. SEE the kid put the work in their bag before school.
9. Learn how kids change from year to year. A student who is an A-student in fourth grade might be struggling to make Cs by middle school or might never find a passion for learning until high school. Students are constantly trying to redefine themselves, and it is not always the school's fault if a student is trying on a costume that we all disapprove of.
10. Share honestly what a student has a tendency to do socially, academically, and behaviorally. Don't leave that knowledge for the school to unearth. It wastes time in solving the problems. Be upfront with the school, and work together to provide consistent structure as soon as possible.

Look, I know that not every home life is set up to allow for all of these rules to be followed. There are parents with multiple jobs, homes of nomadic families, and things that happen that throw a tragic wrench into the consistency of a family's life. I get it. But it's important to realize that there is a trade-off if this variable in the equation is not functioning at its full peak, and schools cannot always bridge the gaps that exist in all homes.

So far, families are not held accountable the way the schools are for their student's failure. But one must ask: are some families of failing students living up to their end of the social bargain?

The Final Variable in the Equation of Success

Of course, the last vital variable is what we all, the voters and the policy makers who work for us, must do for education to succeed.

It's important enough that I want to end each of my three posts with this challenge: make education a priority in the voting booths and the campaigns. Retired baby boomers can't dismiss educational issues as no longer their problem to solve. Younger families coming up through the system can't cut-and run from our public schools in their indecision of how to educate their own children. The problems that plague some of our schools belong to us all.

Public schools are a miracle of this country. The mission, to educate all for free, is one that anyone on any side of the political fence should be fighting for as a top priority. But it's up to voters to send the message that it is important, and its up to policymakers to do the right thing despite party politics and lobbyists.

Cutting education will only cut the future of this country, and that hurts us all. With every vote that does not pass and with every "nay" on the floor, our voters and policy makers condemn our system to further failure.

The equation of student success isn't about who is to blame. Rather, it forces us to ask the question: how can each variable that involves us all, better do its part?

In regards to what families should be required to do to hold up their end of the bargain, what would you add to this Top 10 list to help avoid their student's failure?

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03:13 PM on 12/06/2010
"Families are not held accountable the way schools are." Maybe that's because we aren't paying families to educate their kids; we are paying for the schools. I'm willing to switch that and pay parents instead if you think it will work out better.

BTW, I did all of the things listed as parent responsibilities except follow homework to school. In my opinion, kids need to learn that responsibility, and they do it by taking the consequences for their failures. I didn't once drive a homework paper to school after it was left behind. One child went to private schools, the other to public, and I regret the public. I should have done what it took to buy the best education possible for child #2. They're both college grads and more, but the first got a superior education, the second wouldn't have learned a darned thing in most classes if I hadn't been re-teaching at home. Truth is I was mostly using school for a babysitting service while I worked; education happened in the evenings and on the weekends.
05:59 PM on 12/05/2010
Great post - I'll have to check out your others. The list reminds me of undergraduate educational psychology and discussions of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. It seems that what you're reminding us is that families need to make sure basic needs are met before we can all collaborate on social, esteem, and self-actualization needs.
05:52 PM on 12/05/2010
Sorry somehow I deleted the first part of my message.

Teachers need to us their power as a union and have the NCLB policies addressed. Parents agree that abandoning curriculum mid-quarter to teach to a test makes no sense. Also passing kids on when they haven't grasped material makes no sense. We need to abandon such policy as attaching funding to attendance. In Ohio, they have two or three days a year that are "attendance" days. On those children are bribed with pizza parties, movies and class credit for showing up. Schools with truancy problems hire extra truancy officers for those days to round the kids up so they can be counted.

Teachers also need to not be so defensive when parents ask about teaching techniques. My kids were never required to "prove" their math homework in elementary school. None of their teachers backed me up on this, many of whom I had great regard for.
05:43 PM on 12/05/2010
Don't even get me started on the chicken scratch crap that teachers accepted as written answers or reports. If you want them to respect you as a teacher you have to teach them you have standards.

It would be a good idea to adopt a national policy that in order to be a teacher you have to take some classes on HOW to teach. My son is, ironically, a math teacher for high school. He has a 4 year degree in math and took a certification test and viola he was a teacher.
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Heather Wolpert-Gawron
09:20 PM on 12/06/2010
Hey Noot,
OK, this might be a shocker: but I agree. Our current credential programs are frustratingly mediocre. It doesn't feel good to pay to jump through hoops, believe me.

I actually wrote three posts on this topic over at Edutopia that you might be interested in. I imagined my fantasy program based on the hows and the standards that you mention. Don't think for a second that teachers of any merit enjoy working in a quality-blind profession. We are on that same page.

http://www.edutopia.org/blog/teacher-programs-ideal-wolpert-gawron
http://www.edutopia.org/blog/teacher-prep-wolpert-gawron-staff-curriculum

Thanks for reading and commenting. Participation is key if we are to make any changes in the educational system.

-Heather Wolpert-Gawron
09:21 PM on 12/04/2010
Your list is wonderful! It makes me sad, though, because many of the families of our school do not follow half of these suggestions. No wonder we are exhausted.

Just think how much money we could save nationwide if your list was common. Most of the kids in after school tutoring programs would not need help if they picked up their pencils for the first 6 hours of the day. We could actually get to the ones that truly have learning difficulties. We could even do enrichment! So many things could be accomplished if we didn't have to waste time on behavior.
01:56 PM on 12/04/2010
Great ideas. I would add let them know what the family expectations are-- that every one in the family will have a way to support themselves by their mid-teens (unskilled labor moving towards skilled labor in late teens), and that this is just the starting point. That you expect high school graduation and then technical college or four-year college, two of which can be done at the local community college. If your children will be the first to finish high school or college perhaps, let them know there are financial aid plans out there, that there are school counselors who can help them etc. You must explain that there are cultural pressures on many teens to not do well in school and they must do well anyway and hopefully persuade others to join them. Your expectations should also include not getting into trouble with the law and not getting pregnant or getting a girl pregnant, as this will really interrupt their plans and is too much of a burden on others. From childhood on have annual health checks and let them know that this is to include drug tests. Be vigilant about drugs.

I know this will be very hard for some parents and some teens are going to be so headstrong that you will lose the battle..but you have to be involved, vigilant, clear on your expectations and nip problems in the bud if you can. Good luck but it will all be worth it.
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Ilana Garon
10:48 PM on 12/03/2010
Thank you!!! As a high school teacher, I really appreciate what you're saying. Students cannot succeed without all four factors correctly in place. I wish this were evident to more people.
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cheapNdumb
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Martha T
We ARE the people!!
09:48 PM on 12/03/2010
Heather,
Your opinion piece was right on target. I too am a middle school teacher and while you have to be slightly off mentally, (lol in a GOOD way), to teach at this level, it is a most gratifying experience . Your advice is right on target, but as you have stated, most families are not the Cleavers and face not only social challenges, but especially economic hardship which translates to increased stress that affects ALL household members, especially children who are powerless to control or change their status.

Parents need to know that they should not be intimidated nor afraid to contact their childrens' schools. Communications between home and school is THE key to educational success. I have 150 students in my 5 English Language Arts classes. At the last conference session, I met parents or guardians of 60 of those children, and for the most part, they were parents I did not have to see. Do not get me wrong, it is wonderful to meet all of my parents but there are indeed some who need to attend/

Once again, thank you for speaking out and giving educators a voice in this sea of educational misinformation!!!
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HockeyMom
I was here before SP and will be long after her.
02:54 PM on 12/04/2010
My experience is be very selective when contacting the school. My kids school was doing a "flat Harry" project. Flat Harry was to be sent with someone who was traveling, they would take a picture of Harry and the kids would report back. My husband traveled when the kids were young and we did this several times. So by mid elementary it was an old trick. When the school did it my husband had lost his job and was working out of town. This was very hard on the kids and myself who now had to deal with being a single parent.
I told the school that the kids had participated in a similar family event. This was NOT a graded assignment. None the less it ended up in their files that we had refused to participate. I never understood why it was even mentioned in their files. I can tell you several incidents with the same outcome. Be very careful when sharing with the schools.
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Martha T
We ARE the people!!
03:44 PM on 12/04/2010
I find your story very disturbing espeically given the circumstances. Our school has a varied economic population and we are extremely cognizant of that fact. The statement that "it was put into their file for reusing to participate" is even more puzzling. Why woudl this be put into aa CA file? We include in our files such information as, grades, attendance records, proof of residency, and attendance records amongst other things but NEVER something as trivial as this. Was it the teacher's personal file? and if you do not mind me asking, I am curious as to whether this was a public school or not and if it was, a charter? Just seems to be such a ridiculous thing to be into a file and as a parent , I would DEMAND that it not be included...as a teacher, there is no way I would place it in there. We would work together to do something as an alternative assignment.
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Martha T
We ARE the people!!
03:46 PM on 12/04/2010
and, just one more thing. When you say be careful of what you share, schools are legally bound to keep your situation, your child's health concerns and other information private. All of our files are kept in the counselors office and we can view them ONLY in that office. They are very careful of what they share.
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Heather Wolpert-Gawron
10:32 AM on 12/05/2010
Martha,
Howdy from one brave Middle School teacher to another! Yeah, I don't think that this will solve all family issues, but when I look at percentages based on my own experiences, I thought it might help to just break down some basic foundational family obligations and how they tie to their own student's learning. Some families, for many reasons, leave the job of educating only with the schools, but without support, with words and actions, there's only so much a school can do.

Hope you had the chance to check out the other variables mentioned as well, since it must be a complete equation or we don't stand a chance.

Thanks for commenting, and once again, my hats off to another enthusiastic middle school teacher!

-Heather Wolpert-Gawron
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Martha T
We ARE the people!!
03:50 PM on 12/05/2010
Heather, I enjoyed your op-ed and agree with all of it! Keep up the good fight and thanjk yo for speaking up on this reliable source of opinion and news! have a great school year and a peaceful, restful holiday season!