Donna O'Donnell Figurski's Blog

It's All About Me!

On School #34 Parent as Teacher

My daughter, Kiersten, posted a great article on Facebook. It pushed my “teacher” buttons – all the right ones.

The article, How About Better Parents? published in the New York Times and written by Op-Ed Columnist, Thomas L. Friedman, raises the question about where education really needs to start. Of course, ideally, schools should be filled with only the best, the most qualified teachers. For the most part they are. I know some of you will argue and point fingers at the teachers who have failed – the teachers you’ve read about in the papers and on the web, heard about on television and radio who have engaged in a variety of unsavory acts. There are those teachers, too, who put in their time and collect their dime. I won’t deny your allegations. No doubt these less than admirable persons exist in the teaching profession, as they unfortunately do in nearly all professions. Thankfully the number is small.

Most teachers are dedicated professionals who care deeply about the children they teach. Perhaps folks should focus on the strengths of teachers, raise the esteem of the profession instead of disparaging it. Look at Jaime Escalante, a teacher who taught in East Los Angeles, California. The 1988 film, “Stand and Deliver,” portrays how Mr, Escalante changed the lives of his students. He not only taught math, he challenged his students, he raised their bar for academic excellence. He showed his students that he passionately cared about teaching, about them, and their learning success. They showed him they could meet his expectations and achieve higher. Funny thing – children will rise to your high expectations. Believe in them and they will believe in you.

Then there’s Torey Hayden, a child psychologist and special education teacher from Montana. You only need to read her books to understand her passion for teaching and her love for the special children she taught. I fell in love with her students. too, and I marveled at Torey Hayden’s inate ability to reach them. She truly makes a difference. I have read and loved all of Ms. Hayden’s books, but I think my favorite is One Child.

Mary MacCracken, another inspirational teacher and author, is dedicated to working with special needs children. She has written many books based on her teaching. Lovey: A Very Special Child and A Circle of Children are excellent depictions of a teacher and her very special children. The moment I finished A Circle of Children, I paged through the phone book. Mary MacCracken lived only a few miles from me. I dialed her number. I needed to tell her how inspired I was after reading her book. I was passionate. Her line was busy … and I lost my nerve. I never did redial, but I never lost the passion that her words left with me.

After devouring all of both Torey Hayden and Mary MacCracken’s books, I was tempted to change my teaching direction. I wanted to walk in their shoes, but I knew I could never fill them. So I did what I was most qualified to do. I taught in general education classrooms, specifically first and third grades.

So, yes, we all want good teachers – excellent role models in the classroom. Our children deserve that! But to address the question Mr. Friedman posed about where education really needs to start. It’s not the classroom.

Children usually do not have their first formal classroom experience until they are five- or six-years-old. Much too late for “education” to begin. Education begins at home as soon as a child demonstrates understanding. When a child learns to say “mama” or “dada,” we clap and smile and hug that child. That’s education! We cuddle with our child and point to pictures and they parrot as we read the words, “I do not like Green Eggs and Ham. I do not like them, Sam, I am.” We marvel when they memorize those same words and read them back to us – the little geniuses. That’s education! When a child understands “NO” as he or she reaches for an electrical outlet. That’s education! When we guide our little ones to put away their clothes, make their beds, brush their teeth, set the table, or any number of household or personal chores – Education. All education! We are all educators. We are all teachers. BUT …  parents are the first teachers.

I have touted this philosophy my entire teaching career. It is not mind-boggling. It is simply common sense. So it saddens me when parents tells me they have no time to read with their child. I am disheartened when parents tell me that teaching is not their job. I especially hate when parents lay out the excuse for why their child is not doing well in math, in reading, or any subject by stating, “I was never good in ___ either.” (fill in the blank) All the more reason, I say to make sure that Johnny  or Mary gets extra help either with the teacher after school or at home. We all need reinforcement when learning a new subject. “Practice makes perfect,” – so they say. We all need to practice what we have learned. As adults,  as teachers,  or as parents, it is our duty to guide and nourish the new generation. For children are our planet’s greatest natural resource. Parents who fall into any of the above categories are setting up their child for failure. They are sending a loud and clear message that school is not important … or more seriously, that their child is not important enough to warrant their help and attention to school needs.

It is common sense, at least it is to me, that children who read at home, who have educational input from their parents, children whose parents hold education in high esteem and pass that ethic onto their children will far outshine those who do not. It’s simple!

In all my classes, both first grade or third grade, I required children to read each night – at least ten to twenty minutes. I know some children only fulfilled the requirement, but I also know that many children read on and on and on. Their parents told me so … and, yes, more than one, claimed the flashlight under the covers. I remember I used to do that, too, as a child. I still love to read in bed. I like to read anywhere.

Parents are their child’s first teachers. They are their child’s most important teachers.

As a teacher, I take great joy and pride in opening a child’s mind, perhaps by something I said or something I did, or taught, but it is the parent who is the child’s lifelong teacher.

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

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November 30, 2011 - Posted by | On School | , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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