Friday, March 28, 2008

Through The Cracks

A friend of mine's husband teaches fifth grade math in an urban school. He got this note last week:
"Dear Mr.-----
My step-daughter is repeating fifth grade this year. She started school in Mexico and for two years just basically had play time. Since then, she has been in eleven schools. Her mother can't help much because she doesn't speak English. I have six kids to care for so I don't have time to help. What I want to know is what you are going to do to make sure she doesn't fall through the cracks?

Signed (Concerned Step-Father)"

This kid has the deck stacked against her, but I don't see that it's the fault of the school. Her own mother hasn't bothered in at least nine years to try to learn English. She has moved her daughter to eleven different schools in three years meaning that the child has changed textbooks, teachers, classmates and procedures around every three months. The step-father is too busy, too unconcerned, too overworked to do anything,
It's the problem that the schools must solve.

Does anyone else get the idea that there is something wrong with this picture?
I could speculate that this child has parents who skip out on leases and buy and drop cell phone numbers by the month. They probably rely on the schools for meals, for health referrals, for daycare, for ESL, for early childhood education and countless other costly measures that the schools have been legally mandated to provide. And for the most part, the schools will try to fulfill these goals. But every night this child will go home to the same family that sees the schools as the Big Nanny that will keep the kid busy while the parents do whatever it is that they do during the day. Bad grades won't matter. Bad test scores that can impact entire faculties, won't matter. Because all many people see when they send their kid to school is something they get for free-something other people pay for-soemthing that many other nations only provide for the wealthy.


nebraska girl said...

I'm on a first name basis with both of my kids' teachers and the principal. My son had some behavioral issues in kindergarten and a bit into 1st grade, but his teacher and I worked together to make sure there were consequences to his behavior. Both teachers have my home, work, and cell numbers and my work/class schedule. If they need to talk to me, I'm there and if I need to talk to them I know they'll listen. I can't imagine making it all the school's job to educate my children.

Darren said...

Perhaps his wording can grate on a teacher, but I don't find fault in a father pointing out the problems, giving the background information, and asking that the teacher not let his child fall through the cracks.

Yes, I see that "he's too busy". The question to ask here is "what about the girl". Be angry at the parents for creating the situation--but let's not let that anger excuse us from taking ordinary, or even extraordinary, steps for the girl.

I'm not suggesting that you're excusing the teacher from helping her, I just want to ensure that it's mentioned explicitly instead of implicitly.

Ellen K said...

I would agree that the fault isn't the child's. And knowing the district, they will pull out all stops to help this child with programs to support and enrich. But what I want to know is this, why is it that schools have the moral responsibility to bring this child up to level, when the parents haven't really seemed to care enough. I have all kinds of respect for working parents who make education a priority, but I also know of a number of kids in similar situations that only come to school when they feel like and who don't do well in state testing. The administration and state admonish the classroom teachers for these students' failures, but there seems to be little similar action taken against the parents. At what point do we return the responsibility for feeding, clothing and making sure a child is educated to the parents?