A HANDBOOK FOR TEACHERS
I went into teaching about fifty years ago in order to build a parent teacher alliance to transform the schools and build a fairer society. The politics have changed, but neither the schools nor society have changed very much. Neither has the strategy. Building an alliance of parents and teachers is still the way to go. I have had a lot of experience in this effort over the years, some miraculous successes and some spectacular failures. I’m going to approach this handbook project as if I were a second-year teacher with the intention of implementing this strategy (the first year is too hard).
The Coronovirus crisis gives us new opportunity to reinvent the schools. It’s clear that some forces want to go all New Orleans privatization on us, as well as replace teachers with robots. At the same time, our schools are connected electronically as never before, an organizer’s dream. I’m hopeful that many teachers are already using this or some similar approach. Here is what I would do.
- Get to know the families of the children/students in your class(es). Have them all on Zoom chat. Check in with them daily. Get to know their strengths and their struggles. This is easier said than done. Most teachers have to overcome professionalism to take this step. White teachers (like me) will need to resist the racism that we’ve sucked in with our mother’s milk. However the best antidote to fear of people of color is to get to know people of color.
- Act as a resource for the family. If they need food, send them to Food Banks. If some one is ill, help them find the appropriate assistance. If the child or student in your class needs extra tutoring, give it to them, or find it for them. Hook up parents with adult literacy or ESL classes on-line if they need them.
- Exchange emails with the parents and the students. Have people tell their life stories. Encourage the students to send emails to you and to each other. Consider it a writing exercise. Ask who can come up with the shortest story. The longest?
- To the extent possible, teach them to navigate the technology, to find Wikipedia, to learn how to program. Teach them how to use Scratch or another simple programming language — or have them teach you.
- Have them tour museums on-line. Have them explore topics they’re interested in. There’s no end to curricular ideas that can be enhanced by technology. Let’s just not go in the Pearson video game phonics direction that school administrations will try to steer everyone toward
- Ask the students and the parents to write emails to Sacramento and Washington demanding that schools get a pandemic bailout.
- Meet the parents of students in your class together on Zoom and listen to their concerns. Have them imagine a dream school to create once the crisis is over, based on who is in the building.
- Tell the other teachers that you want to organize an alliance of parents and teachers for your school and meet (remotely) with teachers who like the idea. Not all will. It’s better than it used to be when I was teaching, but too many teachers blame the parents for their children’s challenges. Too few blame the racist society.
- Find the parents and teachers most committed to building such an alliance and ask them to run for the School Site Council. Once the council is elected, suggest they facilitate a school-wide conference on a Saturday and select a committee to organize it.
- Reach out to teachers in other schools, and to some extent, the teachers’ union. You don’t want union folk to dominate because the union’s agenda can conflict with the parent agenda on personnel issues (cf. the New York Teacher’s Strike of 1968). The alliance of parents and teachers (whatever you call it) should form a separate alliance with the teachers union on issues they agree on, like more funding, smaller class sizes. Seniority, not so much.
Those are the basic suggestions. I’ve directed them at teachers, but parents could flip them and do much the same thing. In any case, you need to be prepared to be attacked, because a true alliance of parents and teachers* is an existential threat to the education establishment. But a unified movement can overcome these attacks.
*DISCLAIMER: An astroturf organization of charter advocates have co-opted the name Parent Teacher Alliance (and even got in trouble with the PTA for hijacking their logo). How about Alliance of Parents and Teachers (APAT) or come up with your own name. Honor a community hero.