As a former public school parent, the process of effectively navigating the school systems can be daunting and for some-almost impossible. It is important to become familiar with the way the system works, at the local school, district and city-wide. Especially important is the relationship between parent/caregiver and their child’s assigned classroom teacher from the first day of attendance. Teachers are a vital link between students and the learning process in class and parents are the vital link between schools and complementary learning at home.
Getting to know parents helps teachers to strategize and informs pedagogical solutions to maximize learning. Parents can also provide critical information about their child at home, address behavior, study habits, etc… Without a teacher’s commitment to establish reciprocal communication with families, a large number of parents would be left in the dark about their child’s school experience, and conferences aren’t enough. There must be regular, consistent, ongoing communication. That is the best way to enable parents to support their child’s learning within the home environment. Teachers can be a parent’s ‘best friend’ and supportive ally in sharing the child’s best interest.
The Gifted & Talented students have special needs, and are under the special education program umbrella. They express themselves and their gifts in many ways. In my experience, determining aptitude and testing for ‘gifted and talented’ identification in the public schools is a rather subjective process. Unfortunately, many exceptional African American children can be, and are overlooked and under-identified for appropriate advanced placement. Perception, implicit bias, expectations, prejudices, administrator mood, parent savvy, and other factors may influence appropriate identification or a mis-identification.
My oldest daughter was reading at the age of three. As a stay at home mother and her primary teacher, I cultivated early reading skills and increased her preparedness for achievement. At the age of five, she began kindergarten. Early into the year, her advanced skills were recognized by her teacher. This was great, because I already knew she was smart. What I didn’t know was how to navigate the school system, and advocate for appropriate placement for my child. Had it not been for this wonderful kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Facher[true name], and her acknowledgment of my daughter’s aptitude, my child could have become a statistic, living in a community nearly surrounded by poverty. It didn’t matter that we didn’t live in poverty at all. We were, however, surrounded by poverty, and thereby it placed her equally ‘at risk’ for failure in school.
That first year, Mrs. Facher, in recognition of my daughter’s reading fluency, allowed her to read to the class at storytime. She also suggested my paying a visit to the school’s principal to discuss placing her into a 1st grade class to address her abilities, maybe more appropriately. It was then agreed that she would become a 1st grader. After about three days into this new class, my daughter seemed to withdraw somewhat. She performed all classwork on par with other 1st graders, but she was unhappy, not her usual precocious self. She was even unhappy at home.
Her new 1st grade teacher spoke to me and informed me that my daughter was seen crying during class. My child missed the friendships she had begun to develop, and most of all- she missed her wonderful kindergarten teacher. This teacher nurtured her almost as much as I did, being her mom. In fact, I missed her also. So, back to kindergarten she went and promptly returned to being a happy child, though still more academically advanced than her classmates. That didn’t matter, because she was happy. That unforgettable teacher continued to nurture her skills throughout the school year, and my daughter developed important lifelong leadership skills from that experience, as well.
At the end of the year, she was evaluated and accepted into the Gifted and Talented academic program and assigned to a new school. Because the transition made from home to school was successful, my daughter was definitely ready- socially, emotionally and academically- to achieve and excel in the classroom as a first grade student. This time, she would be the same age as her peers, similar accelerated learners.
My oldest and first born daughter, spent the next years of public school in advanced academic programs, grew in leadership, and became an innovator at every grade. She graduated high school as Class Valedictorian. With a full scholarship, she attended and graduated from Penn State with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. As a cadet of Air Force ROTC[AFROTC], upon degree conferral, she was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant to next enter pilot training. Twelve months later, and still blazing trails, my daughter became one of only a handful of female African-American U.S. Air Force pilots. Now ranked Captain, and an Instructor Pilot, in the next few months, she will become a USAF Major. I am so very proud!
So, what’s the point of all of this?
Teachers can make a huge difference in fostering the success and achievement of the countless numbers of young developing minds that enter their classrooms. My degree in psychology, and the fact that my mother was an educator when she entered kindergarten did not matter much. I knew that my child was smart, then gifted, but didn’t know what do do with this knowledge, in terms of placement in the school system. Prior to that teacher’s guidance, and advocacy, as far as her academic programming, I was unaware that there was a special program to address the learning needs of children such as my daughter. In fact, it was later on, the next school year that I learned that my daughter was also a special education student. My initial perception of ‘special education’ was negative, and children ride the ‘short yellow school bus’ or the ‘cheese bus’, according to my former middle school students…..Not!! [ I have a different story to tell about learning to effectively navigate the school system, as a parent.]
It is you, our classroom teachers, who must establish relationships and partner with your parents, help them navigate the school system, and encourage the success of their children. The rewards from your hard work, extended hours, dedication, devotion, and attention paid to every student, is their successful learning experiences. You guide children to reach their potential everyday, and your encouragement, patience, high expectations, and genuine positive regard for them helps propel them to achievement.
When a former student sees you from across a crowded street, smiles and calls you by name, rest assured that YOU have made an impact on the lives of young students and their families, too! I have experienced that feeling, when a former student saw me and yelled out, “Ms. Bishop, remember me?”…and I did remember. With no uncertainty, that’s when you know the gravity of the role of being a teacher. Isn’t it a joy to guide youngsters towards realizing their unique potential? Oh, what a feeling! Thank you, Mrs. Facher! I remember.
Did You Know
Nearly one in four students in our nation’s public elementary and secondary schools is Hispanic. Yet, less than one in 10 teachers—or roughly just 8 percent of America’s teaching force—is Hispanic.