Teacher to Parent
by Draco Chu | 12.8.15
Draco Chu is a special education teacher in his second year of the Teach For America program at a Title I middle school in the Los Angeles area. He previously taught a day class for students with disabilities; this year he co-teaches in a mixed special education-general education classroom.
Disability is an achievement gap within the achievement gap. It breaks my heart. I know what it’s like to be in poverty and grow up without someone [checking in on] you. I tell my students every day, they can do it, it’s not so much about their circumstances, but they need to work hard. I give them specific strategies, motivation and a concrete solution.
I’m really working with parents about how they can help their kids as well. They want to help, but they [sometimes] don’t know what they need to do. One father told me, “I don’t speak English, I don’t know how to support my son even though I love him to death because I don’t understand the homework he’s doing.” That was a trigger for me—parents need to be able to understand how to help [their kids].
Everyone at school cares for [a student], but the parent is with the child more than the school staff will ever be. For me to establish that relationship [with parents] is critical—at home they can reinforce the strategies that I teach them.
At the beginning of the [school] year, I do praise calls. Before I have the chance to say, “Your kid hasn’t turned in his homework,” I call and say, “This is who I am, this is what I hope for your child.” I [invite] conversation—I say, “Call me any time, write a letter to me any time.” [That way,] the next time I reach out, which might be because the child is falling behind, it won’t be so harsh. I learned that the hard way.
[My students’] parents often don’t speak English, communication is difficult and [they] feel oppressed when a teacher speaks in English all the time. I don’t speak Spanish natively but have a lot of friends who do, so I practice in that setting. Whenever I call [a student’s] home, I speak in Spanish to introduce myself. I make it clear from the beginning that I’m trying to communicate with them.
When my students leave at the end of the year, I want them to be able to look back at this year and think that they took something away. I want them to take those social skills that it’s ok to advocate for themselves and okay to speak up for themselves if they need something.
Parents [should] be partners in this work, and they have power too—a lot of power. Voice is my goal for students and parents. They have one.
Draco’s top two tips for making connections with parents:
1. Share yourself and your background with students and parents. Far too often, parents see teachers as, “This person is working, taking care of my kids, doing grade reports,” and they don’t see them as a human with a life and hobbies outside of school. I come from a low-income background and I can relate [and share] on that level about school [anxieties] and applying to college. Being a human with [parents] has made them feel comfortable in sharing things with me. Being human goes a long way.
2. Be humble enough to adapt [your] own way of communicating with parents to what they want. Some parents won’t communicate through phone or letters—they want email only. That’s something I respect. Other parents don’t have a computer or don’t know how to type. Some barely have working phones and are working many hours a day. In that case I write notes and send them home with the students, and they write back. I vary my style. Some teachers only communicate through phone and refuse to do anything else, and parents give up. It’s such a pity; we should adapt.