The power of the parent

Written by Michelle Robinson

This month’s Alive theme, with the focus on educators, is particularly personal, given I was a teacher of teenagers and adults for almost 30 years.

Today, I share some insights on the power an inspiring teacher can have in our lives, and just as importantly, how you, if you are a parent of school aged children, can help teachers bring out the best in ‘their’ students.

It was because of two teachers that I was brave enough in 1976 to leave the small country town where I had lived my entire life, and go to university in Brisbane. Back then, it was still unusual for a girl from Childers to go to university. However, I knew that high-school teaching was my calling and I had to go to the University of Queensland to pursue it.

My first inspiring teacher entered my life in late primary school.

My love of reading and creative writing began in Mr. Ogden’s classes. He unlocked my understanding that being an individual was okay, and because a love of poetry was an unusual hobby, I needed him to validate I was not as weird as the other students thought I was.

The second teacher to inspire me was my Grade 12 English teacher, Mrs. Ginn. She gave me the gift of self-confidence and promised I would thrive at university. She was right. Simple words of encouragement gave me the courage to follow my dreams.

Now that I’m on the other side of the student-teacher relationship, I’d like to offer some advice to parents who want teachers to bring out the best in their children.

It was not unusual for me to teach about 130 students each week. Every one of those students deserved and needed my attention, and whether they liked it or not, I pursued them for the best effort they could offer. I emailed students in the evenings to remind them they had assessment due, and I corrected essay-drafts late into the night and most weekends. That was standard stuff.

Yet, more could be done to enhance the students’ progress, and this is where you, as a parent, can help your child.

Show interest in your child’s progress.

Contact the teacher or teachers. Let them know if you have concerns about your child or if there are challenges at home. Contact the school’s guidance or counselling service if you are seeing a lack of motivation, and ask for a case-conference to discuss support strategies. Be involved, and even more importantly, make sure the teachers know you care and want to know any time that teacher has a concern.

Nothing focuses a teacher’s attention on a student more effectively than a parent who would like a meeting. Suddenly, there is a sense of immediate accountability. It makes a teacher reflect on how that student, in this very moment, is travelling.

I once had a parent confront me at school because she had not slept all weekend and was sick with worry. Apparently, I had given her son a C minus on his first Year 11 English assignment. Apparently, he simply could not fail English because he wanted to join the police force after grade 12 (two years away).

“How could this happen?” she demanded to know. “Should she send her son to a private school? Could she speak to my Head of School about this?”

This is a true story, without exaggeration.

It is fair to say, that in addition to the significant care I offered every student that year, my awareness never left this young man’s career path, and he passed year 12 English with a Sound Achievement. Just.

Great educators surround us and I salute them all. Great parents also surround us, and in the intersection between the parent’s child and the teacher’s student, lies tremendous potential. If you are a parent, I hope you use it.

Until next time, Michelle