Involvement: How Necessary Is It?
By Brynn Beavers and Rosalyn Dewberry
Is it essential to have parental involvement in order to develop a successful middle school student? According to Electronic Education Report parents have more of an impact on the achievements of their children than previously believed. “Studies have shown that parental involvement has more influence on academic success than the families socio-economic status, race, ethnic or educational background.” (Legislation to Improve Parental Involvement in Schools Introduced, 2001) Whether a parent helps more at home or actually in the school, also has impacts the achievement of the student (Parents At-home and At-school Academic Involvement with Young Adolescents, 2001). Perceptions about parental involvement vary between educators, parents and students. Schools can also have an impact on the involvement of parents. If parents do not feel welcome at the school, then there will be less involvement. (Getting Middle School Parents Involved, 1992).
In the views of teachers, most would like to see more parents involved in the education of their children. This does not mean that teachers only want to see parents when there is a problem, but in all aspects of their child’s education. Teachers would like to see at home involvement, such as help with homework, and involvement in activities that bring parents to the school, like extra curricular activities and parent conferences. (How Parents and Peers Influence Children’s School Success, September-October 2000). Based on a survey published on the National Parent Involvement Network, (Parent News for August of 1998), 83% of teachers would like to see the involvement of parents rise in their schools. In inner city schools, almost all of the teachers would like to see more parental involvement and 95% of inner city teachers feel that involvement is lacking. (Parent News, August 1998).
A student’s perception of parental involvement is another point of view. Most students believe that their parents are at least somewhat involved, but do not want them to become more involved. Although students with grades below a C, are not as likely to say that there is some form of parental involvement and do not want their parents to become more involved. Students in middle school are in a developing stage of adolescence. While adolescents want to develop individual personalities outside of the family atmosphere, they still need the protection and acceptance from parents. For many adolescents this is a double-edged sword. Based on the adolescent characteristics found on Middleweb, a website for middle school teachers, adolescents do not want to see their parents in their school atmosphere around their friends, but still want their parents involved in their education. Author Ronald Beghetto, in the article Virtually in the Middle (Clearing House, Sep/Oct 2001), states “That middle-level students do not want parents that are ‘always around’ but take comfort in the fact that their parents are ‘always around’ is but one paradoxical and often tumultuous landscape that is middle school.” For students that are in this confusing and difficult stage in their development, parents are needed more than ever.
Parents of adolescents also have reasons for not being involved or the types of involvement in which they choose to participate. Research suggests factors that may influence parental decisions about involvement are: their ideas about parenting and roles in their child’s education, how much of an impact they believe they can have on their child’s education, and their perception’s of how much their children and the school want them to be involved. (Parent News, Feb. 1998). Parents, who see involvement in education as part of their role as parents, will generally become more involved. If parents do not see education as a part of their parenting, they are less likely to become involved. Parents that understand the effect that being involved has on the academic success of their child are also more likely to become involved. The belief about this impact has a large impact on involvement. Schools and children that welcome parents to become involved also see a rise in parental involvement. The types of activities that parents become involved in are also dependent on certain factors. Parents can either be concerned with home involvement; helping with homework or encouragement, or at school involvement. This includes chaperoning field trips, participating in conferences, or volunteering at the school. These factors include past experiences with involvement, other demands on time, or perceptions about their own skills or abilities. For example, parents that work during the day cannot volunteer at the school, but can attend programs at night. (Parent News, Feb. 1998).
Increasing parental involvement in the schools is a difficult problem to contend with although there are aspects that the schools can address to solve the problem. Some strategies put forth by the National Parent Teacher Association’ s National Standards for parent and family involvement to make schools “parent friendly” are: orientation sessions to acclimate parents with the environment, a family resource center that gives parents access to materials on parenting and adolescents, information on the curriculum and teaching methods, encouragement to parents to volunteer either in the school or on clubs or teams, and invitations to parents to sit on committees to participate in school-decision making. Other options to increase the involvement of parents in the schools could be the implementation of organizations like the Parent Teacher Organization or PTA, although there are several forms of this organization. The PTSA, Parent Teacher Student Organization, is another option. This involves students in the decision making as well as parents and teachers, giving the students more ownership in their schools as well as their education. Dr. Helen Jones at the 2000, Closing the Gap Conference, found that parents want to feel welcome in the schools and one way to accomplish this is to have a parent welcome center staffed with parent volunteers. Parents do not want to make decisions in the school, but do want to be in advisory positions.
According to the research parents becoming more involved in their children’s school life is a plus for many teachers. Having the support of the parents enables the teachers to focus more on curriculum and less on classroom management. (Getting Middle School Parents Involved, 1992). Teachers can also have their own websites that let parents what is going on in the classroom. Mrs. Dowling at Saunders Middle School in Manassas, Virginia, has created a Virtual Classroom. On this site there is a letter to parents and students with links for parents to get more information on getting involved in their child’s education. This can help busy parents get involved in the classroom.
According to the research observed in two Georgia middle schools, parents becoming more involved in their children’s school life is a plus for many teachers. Having the support of the parents enables the teachers to focus more on curriculum and less on classroom management. At one middle school in Georgia the interaction between the teacher and parent is invaluable during phone conversations, written notes, and parent/teacher conferences. Through these methods teachers keep parents abreast of what occurs when their children are not in their presence.
Through observations of a conference requested by the parent, all of the four main curriculum teachers (math, language arts, social studies, and science) meet and discuss the student’s progress and improvements that could be made. This particular parent works during the day, but managed to take time off to check on his child. The child was not doing poorly, but according to the teachers the student was still not working up to her potential. This was not a discipline issue in the least. This was a parent concerned about how his child was progressing. This was a parent who wanted to know from the teachers “What can I do to assist you in assisting my child?” Parents are helping teachers; teachers’ are helping parents--a utopian atmosphere.
Based on an interview with an eighth grade English teacher the following scenario occurred. The teacher called the mother to discuss the student’s behavior in her classroom. She soon discovered that the mother was not interested in her child’s behavior as long as he was passing his classes. The mother informed her that she had no discipline problem at home with her son, therefore what the teacher perceives as being a discipline problem was nothing more than good natured fun. In no way was this parent supportive of her son’s teacher and he was fully aware of his mother’s feelings. Because of this the student is uncontrollable. Parents should always be supportive of their children but not to the point that they are blind to every other angle. The next time the teacher attempted to contact this parent the phone disconnected after she was asked her name. By the time this incident occurred her son was failing. He felt as if he was invincible. What is going to happen if this young man fails? Who will be at fault? The lines of communication were opened but no one received the message.
According to interviews with teachers and parents, the advantages that children with involved parents have are numerous. Although there are parents who have intentions on being a part of their children’s academic career they are unable to do so because of other obligations. Work schedules, lack of transportation, along with many other issues prevent some parents from doing all that is necessary to improve their child’s chances of having academic success. Unfortunately, there are parents who fall at the other end of this spectrum. Parents who view schools and teachers as glorified babysitters. Parents who feel that a teacher is having a problem with their child make it strictly the teacher's problem and not their issue. Because of this vast difference of opinion, it is always important for a teacher to be aware of what kind of home situation individual students are leaving every morning. The position that parents take on education, discipline, as well as curriculum is essential for teacher awareness.
A small survey was conducted using 10 parents at random. Socio-economics, race, and parental statistic were not factors in choosing the parents surveyed. The purpose of the survey is taking a closer look into what details are important to parents as they relate to their children and school.
1. Do you know the name of your child’s teacher(s)?
2. How many times during the year do you visit your child’s school?
1-2 3-4 4-5 6-7 More than 10
3. How important is it to keep the line of communication open between yourself and the teacher?
Very Important Somewhat Important Not Important
4. It is important for parents to be supportive of the teacher.
Very Important Somewhat Important Not Important
5. The only reason a parent should go to their child’s school is due to a discipline problem.
6. A teacher should contact the parents as soon as the first problem occurs.
7. A teacher should have the authority to issue whatever punishment he/she feels is necessary.
8. The principal of the school should hold a conference with the student, teacher, and parent before the student is faced with detention or suspension?
Always Sometimes Occasionally Never
9. How important is your child’s education while in middle school?
Very Important Somewhat Important Not Important
10. If a student is a discipline problem in school the person responsible for the corrective action should be ________________.
Parents Teachers Administration
Answers: 1) Yes 10/10 2) 6-7 -7/10, More than 10- 3/10 3) Very Important 7/10 Somewhat Important 3/10 4) Very important 5/10, Somewhat Important 2/10, Not Important 3/10 5) Agree 9/10, Disagree 1/10 6) Agree 5/10, Disagree 5/10 7) Disagree 10/10 8) Always 2/10, Sometimes 1/10, Occasionally 5/10, Never 2/10 9) Very Important 10/10 10) Parents 3/10, Teacher 5/10, Administration 2/10
Sadly, the utopian atmosphere is not common enough in the middle school environment. A lot of parents have other responsibilities that limit the time they have to dedicate to the concerns of the teacher. Results from the survey indicate that 5 out of 10 parents believe that dealing with a problem with their child in the classroom is the teacher’s responsibility. Unfortunately, many parents assume that while their child is at school he/she is the teacher’s responsibility; therefore they do not appreciate the communication efforts teachers’ display.
The significance of this study was to uncover the relevance of parental involvement with the middle school student. It was difficult to develop a complete study because we were limited to only two schools that were both similar in a lot of aspects. Future studies should include a variety of schools with different socio-economic backgrounds, races, and levels of administration involvement. Parents and faculty all working to achieve the same goal for students should always be the main objective, regardless to various situations.
The success of a student does not totally fall on the shoulders of the parents. There are plenty of success stories where the parents were not involved. However, the road to success will not be as bumpy with the love and support of a parent. The word “parent” is being used loosely. A parent doesn’t have to necessarily be blood related. A parent can be anyone who is supportive of not only the student, but also the faculty and the school. Teachers and faculty can offer support to their students, but should the teachers and other faculty members be held accountable for the achievements of all of their students? Parents have to show their children that they will ride that road to success with them. The road to success may seem bumpy at times, but with the companionship of a parent the end of that road can be paved with gold.
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