As we navigate a unique back-to-school season marked by a significant teacher shortage, persistent COVID-19 outbreaks, and controversial book bans, the role of parents becomes more crucial than ever. In this challenging context, teachers discuss how parents can help them, offering valuable insights to ease the transition and foster a supportive environment for everyone involved.
The past two years have been especially difficult for teachers, and this fall, they have a great deal on their minds: the continued spread of COVID-19 variants, the mental health and behavior issues that became more prevalent last year, laws banning certain books, subjects, or even classroom topics of conversation, as well as reported teacher and staff shortages.
According to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s 2022 Educator Confidence Report, an annual survey of more than 1,000 K-12 educators and administrators in the United States, more than 76% are currently pessimistic about the teaching profession.
Whether or not we are prepared, though, we have returned to school.
We asked teachers from throughout the country how parents can support them this year and what they want parents of their students to know about teaching right now to make this school year better for everybody.
What they have to say is as follows.
Do Not Expect Every Classroom to Be the Same
According to Amanda Leach, a sixth-grade math teacher in Cobb County, Georgia, many pupils are still playing “catch up” on their social development as a result of their seclusion during the pandemic. “Whatever parents can do to help their children develop social skills with their peers would be of great advantage to the student,” she says. And this would also benefit classrooms.
Tammy Steffy, a math professor at a college in Central Florida, explains that the upheavals of the past few years can also affect older pupils. “During the past few years, children have witnessed vastly different school approaches to recent issues,” she explains. “Given the variety of high school experiences they had, it can be more challenging for them to comprehend what will be expected of them in college.”
Social-Emotional Learning Is Necessary
Recent changes in curriculum and teaching standards have teachers scurrying to be prepared for the next school year. According to Jennifer Gilbert, a second-grade teacher in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, some of the adjustments are good. “These past few years have been tremendously challenging for so many of us, and so many sacrifices have been made. Yet, one of the better outcomes has been a genuine emphasis on social-emotional learning,” she asserts.
The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, a Chicago-based organization that seeks to integrate SEL into all students’ education, claims that social-emotional learning, or SEL, aids students in acquiring and putting to use skills and attitudes to develop their own healthy identities, manage their emotions, feel and demonstrate empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.
Although SEL has recently been linked to discussions about parents’ fundamental rights to raise and control their children in a particular way in a number of states, including Florida, SEL’s objective is uncomplicated and apolitical: giving kids the skills they need to be more socially and self-aware, self-regulate better, and form better relationships with one another. This leads to a more positive classroom learning environment and, with continued implementation, better student outcomes. SEL can also help make our schools safer and reduce school violence, according to research.
Gilbert adds, “A safe, happy, and confident student who feels appreciated by their instructors and peers will not only perform well academically, but will also continue to foster kindness, respect, and understanding for others throughout their communities.”
Curriculum Alterations Demand Adjustment Periods
In some states, teachers face more difficult transitions. Sara Conway, a second-grade teacher in Winter Springs, Florida, wishes parents were aware that teachers are continuously shifting gears and making decisions with the best interests of each student in mind.
Conway notes that Florida is implementing a new state-wide curriculum this year, Florida’s B.E.S.T. Standards, which will include new and very specific guidelines for teaching English and mathematics and will change the format of standardized testing for public schools from one test at the end of the year to three formative assessments per year. “There is a lot of new information for all educators, so please be patient with us as we navigate this together,” she says.
Book Bans Are Exhausting
Marjorie Soffer, a sixth-grade English teacher at a major suburban middle school in Lake Worth, Florida, begs that parents remember teachers are not the enemy. “When I have to remove books from my library, the rift between the parents of my pupils and me grows,” says Soffer. “I had over 4,000 books in my classroom library, and I had to go through a checklist for each potentially problematic book to ensure that none of them contained something that could offend a student.”
Soffer stated that due to new state requirements, she had to remove novels from her classroom, including the Hunger Games series, Lily and Dunkin, and others. Soffer states, “Many teachers I know have entirely dismantled their classroom libraries and have no books.” “They would prefer not to publish any books for youngsters rather than face objections from parents. That is a pretty sad state of affairs.”
Teachers Need Allies and Assistance
Greg Andree, an eighth-grade teacher in Massachusetts, was surprised when parents came to his open house last year with “talking points about ‘critical racial theory’ and my students will not read homosexual books,” he says, referring to any book with an LGBTQ+ character. Parents instruct their children on how to disrupt any discourse regarding racism, LGBTQ+ individuals, equality for girls, and even equal rights and justice under the law. “I’ve been teaching for twenty years and never seen so much politics pushed into the classroom.
Andree says parents can support teachers, especially in subjects like English and civics, by being “loud and unrelenting” in their support of the teachers because whether parents are aware of it or not, teachers are facing a lot of criticism from a small but vocal minority of parents for “discussions about non-white people and LGBTQ+ people. Write to the administration when a classroom or school library contains materials that reflect the variety of our nation. Let them know how much you love seeing works like that in a class curriculum or library collection,” Andree recommends. “Attend school board meetings and express your support for these resources. When books or ideas are attacked, call them out for what they are: intolerance and racism.”
It is beneficial to demonstrate your support actively. “Letter to educators and reassure them that they are not alone. But I can tell you that I receive a large number of emails from furious parents who want books removed or who are upset about the Pride flag in my classroom, claiming that it is part of my “political agenda.”
Andree continues by reassuring parents that teachers like him have no political agenda. “In reality, my primary goal is to encourage them to think independently, to read about lives other than their own, and to have students who care about the rights and lives of all people,” he says. To have students that desire to develop communities that support and fight for the rights and liberties of all individuals.
In the end, he still considers it his responsibility to develop critical thinking. “I never imagined that as a teacher I would be viewed as a revolutionary for doing something as simple as reading books with Black characters or LGBTQ+ characters,” he says. “I am a teacher because I enjoy reading, writing, and telling stories. Yet, if I must fight people over poetry and novels, I will continue to do so. It’s simple to become exhausted and yield. Because I am exhausted and elderly. But I’m also obstinate.”
Teachers Experience Burnout
After sixteen years as a high school teacher in Oklahoma, Stephen resigned from his position this summer. According to him, “social turmoil and elevated political tension” affected his classroom.
Stephen claims that when Oklahoma, along with numerous other states, established a law prohibiting the teaching of CRT curriculum, it did more than damage public confidence in teachers. “The law was so ambiguous that…my colleagues were now visibly afraid to help their kids through complex and challenging social issues, as the law and parents with megaphones outside our school threatened legal action against instructors,” he explains. And the agenda hinders the ability of teachers to assist their students. “Whole sections of my curriculum were incredibly unsettling due to the ugliness of systematic racism in our history: slavery, empire, and genocide,” he explains. “I regularly had to assist kids in navigating their feelings regarding these extremely challenging topics.”
Stephen feared that he might become embroiled in a lawsuit by assisting his students in navigating significant historical events. “Overnight, the humanities were strewn with landmines that professors worried may ruin their careers, a casualty of the culture wars suddenly invading their classrooms.”
Stephen is not alone in his search for the exit. More than fifty-five percent of educators surveyed by the National Education Association in February indicated that they planned to leave the profession. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, public schools in the United States have lost more than 567 thousand students since the pandemic’s beginning.
This new school year presents educators with some of the greatest difficulties they have ever encountered. Stephen asserts that parents are required to vote this November. Our school system must reject the political ideology that is tearing it apart.
What Happens at Home Is Important
“Kids require more assistance than most parents realize in becoming and remaining structured on a daily basis,” adds Leach. Monitoring the students’ backpacks, agendas, internet platforms, and grade books is essential for their success.
She also recommends that parents restrict the amount of screen time their children spend at home and substitute it with “reading, basic math proficiency, or even having pupils engage in creative activities or gain exercise playing outside or in organized sports.” And it is essential to discuss the very real social and political changes that continue to affect children and schools.
Students Must Have Freedom to Thrive
This year, Sarah Hart, a science teacher at Walton High School in Marietta, Georgia, requests that parents take a step back. “Please refrain from texting throughout the school day. Children are so disengaged, “she says. “Furthermore, youngsters need to make errors to learn. Too many parents are overprotecting their children, causing them to develop a sense of entitlement and an inability to deal with adversity.”
Hart asserts that high school students must begin to figure things out on their own. “The objective is to prepare them for independent living, but time is running short.”
Teachers Might Also Need Some TLC
In a time when many individuals are leaving the teaching profession, teachers may use some support. Sumer Ramsey, a second-grade teacher in Indianapolis, Indiana, says, “Teachers are incredibly stressed out right now.” “We require encouragement and assistance. Lawmakers have portrayed us as antagonists. Please extend us some leniency and send an email to the teacher of your child’s class expressing your admiration, with a copy to the principal. And sending in several additional pencils will not be detrimental.”
Everybody has had difficulty during the past few years. Steffy states, “We’re worn out.” “Always passionate and enthusiastic about students and learning, but these past few years have been difficult. Responding to the changing requirements of our employees has been both physically and mentally taxing. Currently, I am seen political issues outside of the classroom wear down committed instructors. Too many outstanding instructors are leaving the profession.”
Most essential, remember that we are all in this together when it comes to the children. She says, “I want parents to realize that we are a team.” “We are on the same team, with the success of our students as our main goal. During these challenging years, our commitment to them is evident. We may not vote the same way or attend the same church on Sundays, but we all want our youth to study, grow, become leaders, and support one another.”
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