As a classroom teacher I always saw an almost magical aspect to offering 6 year olds a choice. Even when asking, "Which area of the room do you want to clean up?" usually yielded more motivated cleaners than when I simply assigned areas. When dealing with children who refuse to comply with directions I often give them a choice, "Carpet or chair?" in order to get them to follow the broader instruction of come sit with the group.
I've been doing a lot of thought on school choice lately. I used to be 100% against it. I believed that we need to fix the schools that exist, not allow the parents with resources to find better schools to flee their neighborhood schools, forcing children whose families can't navigate the system to be left behind. I thought school choice only further created a sense of us vs them- parents who cared enough to make the choice and those who did not.
And of course I still think we need to fix all schools and I hate to think of parents fleeing a school leaving behind only those students whose parents don't have the resources or the knowledge to look for other schools.
But after the last couple years I've started to wonder if maybe school choice wouldn't be the worst thing. It seems that we're dealing with more and more frustrated parents- and not just at the Think-Tank. Teachers I know from all over the country are struggling with parents who, although otherwise rational and caring people, are suddenly making unreasonable demands on their schools.
I love working with parents. I love meeting with parents and I welcome feedback-positive or negative- on how things are going. I am more than happy to listen to concerns about how things are going in my classroom and discuss ways we could make it better.
What I find has been happening lately- and again, not just to teachers at my school but teachers I know all over- is that parents don't want a discussion about what's best for their child. They don't want to express concerns and listen to how we plan to improve the situation. They want to dictate what happens inside the classroom. Despite teachers and principals explaining current research, best practice, and showing data that clearly shows a method is teaching the child to read, a few parents refuse to be open to suggestions from the school. In these parents' minds it seems to have become the school vs the parent and no matter what the school says or does it is not going to change the parent's mind.
Most parents are not like this, of course, and again, as educators we usually love interacting with parents. Even when we're being challenged we can come out of the situation creating a better education for the child. Every parent should advocate for their child.
But a few parents walk into the building already assuming that everything we do or say is wrong without listening or being open to a discussion.
It's for those parents that I wonder if school choice would create a better situation. Not that it would mean that the parents could just leave, but I think the mere concept of choice would improve the situation. Listening to those parents I think that what they are really saying is that they feel powerless. This is their child, their baby. The Mama Bear instinct we all have kicks into high gear and they want to guarantee that they are doing everything in their power for their child who currently spends a significant amount of time away from them. So they stand up and speak out for their child. As they should- as long as it is a discussion where both parties are open to feedback.
I can't help but wonder if these parents had a choice in where to send their children- if they had actively chosen where to send their little ones- would they be more willing to listen to teachers? Would there be more respect for teachers and administrators if these were the teachers/administrators that came with their choice. Would more reasonable conversations and discussions occur since the parents were feeling as though they'd already had a say in the conversation when they originally made the choice?
I have no idea, as I have never worked at a school where parents were able to choose. I can't help but wonder though, if the mere power of choice would create a more friendly teacher/parent relationship.
And since we can't magically create school choice what can we do with parents who feel they are "stuck" in our schools? How can we give them the right amount of choice and voice in our classrooms so that we are able to have conversations around what is best for their child?