I spent nearly five years at a nonprofit focused on getting students in and through college. Many of the students who entered our program were not on track to graduate high school and required working closely with counselors, parents and principals to ensure they would graduate high school and hopefully continue on to college.
Our goal was not only to ensure students graduate, but also to equip parents with the skill set to continue helping their children in our absence. Like me, many of the children I’ve worked with over the years have parents that have never attended college or did not graduate. Advocating for your kid can be tough when you’re insecure because of your level of education, in addition to coming from a culture of distrust due to an unequal education system.
So here are some questions we encouraged parents to ask teachers and schools to help our students succeed. Keep in mind these are a general set of questions that work regardless of the age and grade. It is also for any governance model of school, meaning it works across traditional public schools, charters schools and private schools. I know the education systems need to improve but I also believe parents should have a full toolkit. Add this to it.
1. What’s my child’s reading level? This is a critical question because many parents think that school grades correspond with reading levels. They often times do not.
Personally, I go a bit harder on reading because so many of our kids can’t read. Many are multiple years behind reading level yet are getting A’s and B’s in the subject. So asking this question is important. Apply this question to math as well. Know your child’s status, go beyond the letter grade.
2. Can we set up a regular time to check-in? This question does something special to everyone involved. For the parent, it empowers you and sets implicit deadlines around student performance. For the teacher, it signifies to them they have an active partner in working with your child. For the child, he or she may act a bit differently knowing pops will be having a conversation with Ms. Johnson on Friday.
I would suggest pushing to meet with counselors/principals as well at about a 1:3 ratio (i.e. if you meet with a teacher monthly, try to meet with the principal quarterly). If the teacher refuses to meet with you, then I’d strongly suggest a conversation with the principal ASAP.
3. What do you see in my child? First off, your kid is a human deserving of love and respect. How can someone truly love and respect your child if they know nothing about your baby? How can someone truly serve your child from a place of love if he or she doesn’t see his or her potential?
This question opens up a conversation about your child’s humanity. It ensures we start from a place of picturing the best for our children that are often seen as much older and dangerous in the eyes of the world—boys and our girls.