02/04/2011 10:34 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Teachers, Let's Stop Blaming Parents

At a time when those of us who teach the children of this country are being implicated in what is being called a massive systemic failure, I understand the impulse of some of my colleagues to suggest--or even emphasize--the culpability of parents in the shortcomings of our public schools.

But we must resist that impulse.

In twenty years of inner-city high school teaching I have gotten to know some less than ideal parents--phantom mothers and non-existent fathers and parents who refuse to recognize their children for who they are and parents who have moved on in their lives and marginalized their teenagers just when they are needed most--not to mention crazy, negligent, and abusive parents. I've lost students because they were pulled out of school to go to work in sweatshops and family cleaning services or to do housework and take care of younger siblings or be shipped to another country to help care for a sick relative. I've taught students whose parents or grandparents or aunts and uncles were milking the government for money in that child's name while denying him proper clothes and other basic essentials. I've seen parents rationalize the most egregious misbehavior of their sons and daughters and teaching them that they are always right and that if things don't go their way then a terrible injustice has been committed. All that and more, but I am telling you--it is not our prerogative, as teachers, to blame parents when their children aren't learning.

Parents can be an enormous part of a student's success and we ought to give praise to the many mothers and fathers--and those who step in for missing mothers and fathers--everywhere who do the really hard work of raising children with selfless love and patience and sacrifice that make children grow up relatively happy and well adjusted, self-respecting and self-disciplined, intelligent and ethical.

All parents ought to step up and take care of their children and teach them self-control and the value of education--and perhaps we could all do more to get more parents to do so with more support for those who struggle and want to do better and some serious pressure on the ones who don't.

But pointing blame at parents when students are not making progress in our classrooms is weak. Making excuses for our lack of success with students gives legitimacy to those who wish to degrade us.

Teachers, we are in a battle for our self-respect and I'm proud to see so many of my colleagues standing up to the insult of all the disingenuous rhetoric and misinformation about what we do and how we're doing it and what needs to happen so that we can help our students more.

We've got to be the strongest advocates for the children we teach--and that means believing in them no matter what and holding those children accountable to us with the highest expectations, regardless of whether or not anyone is properly taking care of them when they leave school each day.

Let's be warriors and do this job whether or not the parents of our students are doing theirs.