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OFF THE RECORD:
WHAT TEACHERS REALLY THINK
By Laura Zingmond and Helen Zelon
We polled a number of New York City schoolteachers to learn about the real challenges of life in the classroom. Here are their anonymous, candid comments on everything from Department of Education policy to bad parent behavior.
On Teaching and Curriculum
- There's no grammar program in the elementary schools in New York City. The children do not know a verb from a noun from an object, or how to make them agree.
- Teaching that's too scripted: young children are being taught number sense in math, but you know something? Some children will get the number sense after they learn the formula.
- The lack of a handwriting curriculum and emphasis on teaching handwriting in elementary schools. Kids don't ever learn script.
- New teachers need support-they need mentors and resources. All the tricks and techniques that experienced educators know after years in the classroom they didn't know when they were 23 years old.
- Trust our professionalism; the majority of teachers want the best for your child. Trust my knowledge, trust our professionalism.
- Parents who come in angry, but without any constructive questions.
- Parents who can't separate from their kids, even in late spring of 1st grade.
- If your child gets a bad teacher, don't go in to the head of the school and say "Why did you hire that loser?" Say, "I think my daughter needs something she's not getting. What are you doing to help that teacher grow?"
- Talk to your child's teacher first. Don't go to the parent coordinator or the principal first.
- While your child is the center of your life and the most important living thing on the planet, and rightly so, they are one of the more than 100 most important children in my life. There's only so much I can do.
- Parents shouldn't blow a gasket when a teacher makes a mistake. Teachers are human; we make mistakes, too. Talk to us about it.
On Absenteeism and Lateness
- Lateness, tardiness and partial absenteeism drive me nuts.
- Bringing kids to school late every day. Be the parent, get them there on time.
- Lateness disrupts the classroom. It's disrespectful and it models to your children that punctuality doesn't matter. You tell your child school is important, get them there on time.
- Blaming tardiness on distance: "My son's coming from so far away." You chose the school. You and your child have to figure out how to get here for an 8 o'clock class. You cannot come in at 8:20 and then say, "It's because I live far away."
- Late is late. If you say, "It's my fault, the kid is late," well, I'm sorry, but the kid is still late. Soon enough, the kid will be late on his or her own.
- Parents cover for their children because they're worried about long-term consequences. Don't expect your child to be an A-student in my class when she's missing half of it. Time on task is important; you can't just phone it in.
- When your child comes in on a Thursday and says, "I'll be away next week," understand that by pulling your child out of school for a week, you're causing your child real difficulty. They will miss work, they will miss learning.
- In elementary school, if a child is taken out of school for a week, a packet of homework is not going to replace the week's teaching. The best thing to do during that week is just to read and write every day.
On Honesty and Responsibility
- Parents need to be honest in front of their kids. When they make up excuses- "We're just going to say that the car broke down and that's why we're late"-they're teaching kids that it's OK to make up excuses-to lie-to save face.
- Too much denial and blame, from parents and children. The kid who says "It's not my fault" or the parent who says, "It's not my child's fault." And blame: "This happened because of x, y, z..."
- Kids need to take responsibility. If somebody threw a banana in the lunchroom, and says, "I did that, my bad, I'm picking it up now," it's not a problem and no one's in trouble.
- It's not your job as a parent to be their best friend. It's your job to be their parent. Far too many parents are looking to be a friend to their child. Children need structure and to know the meaning of the word "no."
- Honesty is good-to a point. There are adult things that kids don't need to know about.