Building the parent partnership

Manaswini Sridhar

I have just taken over as Headmistress of our school. I have been working here for quite some time and I certainly want to bring in changes as far as parental involvement in the school is concerned. Many parents, who are so bent on getting their wards admitted in our school, recede into the background after admission. They feel that the school should shoulder the entire responsibility of educating their child. I know very well that a school can only do so much. We do need a lot of parental commitment at least towards the child. How can I address this in the first PTA meeting of the year?

You are absolutely right in stating that parents have to play a pro-active role in getting their wards to come to school with a positive frame of mind, in going through the learning process, and in carrying the learning back home to be reinforced. Most parents dislike being told by the teachers that they should be doing more because many of them feel that they have paid the school to do the job of education. Little do they realize that this will be of no value if they do not make sure that their child reaps the benefits of the payment not just in terms of grades and marks, but in terms of being able to enjoy the process of being educated and getting equipped with the required life skills to face life without feeling negatively challenged or defeated.

At the PTA meeting, where you will be gathering the parents in a group since this is the first meeting of the year, couch your words in a manner such that it cannot be construed as a complaint. Appeal to their reason rather than emotions. Tell parents that the school and the teaching staff will be able to do their job to the best of their ability provided the parents are able to oversee their children at home so that children get adequate sleep the previous night, making it easier for them to tackle mathematics, language, and all the other complex subjects that they have to deal with in the course of a day. This holds true especially of Sunday nights. It is the teacher’s nightmare to have a class full of bleary eyed and exhausted children who have had a taxing weekend and a sleepless Sunday night and are therefore unable to keep their eyes open or focus on what is happening. Parents must be organized enough to make sure that the weekend fun does not spill over to Sunday nights too. The only support that teachers ask for from parents is to send well-rested children so that they can be given educational pills to swallow! The previous generations of parents understood and appreciated this rule. But now that there are plenty of schools and parents can afford to be choosy, they seem to overlook some of the fundamental rules that school-going children need to adhere to.

It is important that parents also ask their wards about what was done in school that day and whether they understood the concepts. It would be a good practice for parents to listen to their children as they reel off the details of their learning with occasional prodding when they tend to trail away. Most parents somehow think this is prying; on the contrary, it helps children delve into the knowledge that they have recently gained. Some children become aware that certain concepts are not really crystal clear only when they find themselves unable to explain it to another person or when another person questions the concept.

Finding out from the child what homework has been assigned and when it is due also helps the child understand that the task at hand must be given top priority.

Making sure that the child goes to school with the homework is also something that the parent can gently remind the child of. Parents can quietly urge their child to put up posters in the room that say:

Have you done your homework?

Please take your homework to school!

Good luck for that test!

Children can also be encouraged to put up sticky notes on cupboards to remind them of tasks that they need to complete and take to school. In this manner, they will slowly master the art of checking on themselves; however this doesn’t necessarily mean that the parent ceases to take any responsibility for the child.

A box kept near the door of the child’s room with school essentials like badge, belt, tie, a library book or an application form that needs to be submitted is a helpful way of remembering to take everything. It also suggests to the child that what must be done must be done; there are certain rules that are not meant to be flouted. Getting to school in time is not something that can be taken lightly. It is a way of showing respect to the teacher, the class, the school and also to oneself.

Taking into consideration the large numbers in a class and the diverse backgrounds from which students come, it is important that parents and students appreciate the enormous strain that the school and the teachers are under in order to impart education. If we all understood that school is not an end in itself but a means to an end, then we would go about it more sensibly. We would make sure that children learn life skills and not just memory skills within the four walls of the school. Being able to get up on time, going to school with their homework done or ready for a test is what schooling is all about. It is this mini world of school that prepares the child for a more demanding outside world. If parents make this clear to their wards, then teachers could go about their jobs in a more comfortable manner and thereby help the next generation find their feet.

The author is a teacher educator and language trainer based in Chennai. She can be reached at manaswinisridhar@gmail.com.