School to Parents: You Are Not Welcome in Your Child’s Classroom

When did schools start doing everything to keep parents out of elementary classrooms? In light of stretched budgets, increasing class sizes and lack of resources, wouldn’t you think schools would be eager to bring parents in to lend a hand in the classroom or at least to get a first-hand picture of what teachers have to handle?

Last year I suggested a “parent observation day” like we had every year when I was in school. The principal responded:

Last year’s [School Advisory Council] recommended that a curriculum brochure be developed for each grade to give a greater overview of the curriculum.  Teachers will be working on that project this year.  Also, teachers send home classroom newsletters each week.  Can you give me an idea of the specific information for which you’re looking, which isn’t addressed through these other means?

I responded:

It’s not specific information I am seeking but rather the experience of what a typical school day is like. This is not something that can be communicated in writing. Of course I understand that it’s not a typical day when there are 15-20 parents in the room but the expectation would be that teachers not plan any special performances or demonstrations or do anything they wouldn’t do if the parents were not there. I experienced this throughout my school career (in public schools). It gives parents a much better understanding of what happens in the classroom than anything they could read or be told. It helps make future parent-teacher discussions more productive when both parent and teacher have a common reference point. It can also be great way to show parents how they can contribute.

And here was the final word from the principal:

I’ll check with the teachers to see if there are additional ways that parents can help.

Of course I never heard another word about it from the principal and I let it drop until this year when I have concerns about whether my daughter is being adequately challenged. She is bringing home 3rd grade spelling words that she was using fluently in kindergarten and her math assignments look pretty much the same as they did in 1st grade. She hasn’t brought home a single piece of work with a correction on it and she’s developing the habit of not listening to directions since she knows she can do the work anyway.

After a couple of meetings in which the teacher, the principal and I discussed opportunities to make the curriculum more challenging that wouldn’t be overburdening to the teacher, e.g., substituting more interesting vocabulary for her weekly spelling words, I am still getting nowhere and I feel like we are talking past each other. So I suggested to the principal that I should observe my daughter’s class one day, any day, just to put us on the same page. Maybe if I saw what happens in the classroom I would find that my concerns are unfounded. The principal’s response:

I could look in on the classroom and let you know how things are going.

No, that won’t help. So I wrote to the teacher:

I’d like to come and observe the class one day. Perhaps that will put us both on the same page. Let me know a good day to come in.

Her response (in its entirety):

What would be the purpose of the observation?

And mine:

Just to see a typical class. I’m happy to do it on a day when I can lend a hand with an activity.

I’ve done it so much in a professional capacity that it seems odd that I haven’t had a chance to see my own daughter’s class – especially when we’re talking about the curriculum and I don’t have a clear picture of what actually is happening in the classroom.

It’s been nearly a week now with no response. I am fully expecting that next the school will make the case for security as this legal opinion details:

There are a number of reasons why most Districts strictly limit parental visitation. Principal among these are privacy rights of other children who are present in the classroom. Other reasons are that parents are generally not trained educators, their presence can interfere with student discipline and professional evaluation, and liability concerns. Of additional concern to Districts is the issue of direction and control. A parent who is present in a classroom is not under the direction or control of the classroom teacher, his/her supervisor, the administration, or the Board. Thus, if an untoward
incident occurs, there is no ability to discipline or otherwise hold the parent responsible. Finally, in this post-Columbine era, security is an issue. Many districts today actively discourage an environment in which it is usual to see strangers in the schools.

Well, I am a trained educator and I am not a stranger (it’s a small school and I’ve chaperoned field trips and been a guest reader and run school activities and almost every child in the class knows me by name from play dates or soccer or other activities). Plus, I’ve been CORI’d.

Why is the burden on me to prove that I need to see the classroom? My child spends six hours a day five days a week with this person and I’d like to see what she’s doing. Would I let my child take piano lessons or play a sport without observing the teacher or coach? Don’t they realize that the more they resist, the more I assume they have something to hide? Yet most parents don’t have the time or energy to fight this battle – schools prevail through attrition. How sad, they have so much to gain.

UPDATE: I was, after another meeting with the principal, permitted to observe the class on two mornings when I saw the class do independent work in their spelling books, take a spelling test and play math games. The teacher, working with the reading specialist has found a workbook with more challenging spelling/vocabulary that she will substitute for the standard workbook at her discretion, and my daughter is now being asked to write stories for homework instead of single sentences. Additionally, the teacher is providing an advanced math packet for several of the students to work on during class.

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