Teachers want parents to be more involved, and parents want to know teachers are doing their best to educate their children. While that may sound easy to accomplish, it becomes impossible when the two sides don’t communicate.
On Thursday evening, parents and teachers from schools around the Oakland Unified School District gathered in the gymnasium of the International Community School in the Fruitvale area to talk about how to overcome communication barriers and learn how parents and teachers can better work together.
The evening was called the “Parent-Teacher Summit: Parents and Teachers Working Together,” and was organized by the Bay Area Parent Leadership Action Network (PLAN), an organization that trains parents to help out in schools and better educate their kids. The summit was the first-ever large meeting between parents and teachers throughout Oakland to discuss the parent-teacher relationship, said Evelyn Sanchez, the lead organizer at PLAN.
The idea for the summit came from a group of parents who have been meeting since last year, Sanchez said, when they “expressed concern about the conditions at their children’s schools, the academic level of their children, and their desire to communicate more effectively with teachers so they can know how to best support their children.” The parents she said, “also expressed difficulty in reaching out to teachers.”
“Tonight, we feel confident we’re taking the first step toward building an effective parent-teacher partnership throughout Oakland Unified School District,” Sanchez told the group during an introduction.
More than a dozen tables were set up around the gym on Thursday, and parents, teachers, community members and a few OUSD administrative staff members sat at each table to discuss various prompts, such as: “What would motivate you as a parent to be more involved in your children’s schools?” and “As a parent, what support do you need from teachers? As a teacher, what support do you need from parents?” Many of the tables had language translators.
The most focused kids in the classroom come from families where the parent is in constant communication with the teacher, said Alfreda Turner, a third grade teacher at Reach Academy, a kindergarten-3rd grade school in East Oakland, during an introductory talk. “Those kids are motivated and try harder,” Turner said.
Those sentiments were echoed by Benjie Achtenberg, an eighth grade English and History teacher at Melrose Leadership Academy, a K-8 school in East Oakland. During the group discussions around the tables, Achtenberg told a group of about 10 parents, with his words translated into Vietnamese for some parents, that in a school district that lacks resources, it’s vital that parents actively participate in their kids’ education. He encouraged parents to volunteer on field trips, where a language barrier often comes into play and can be alleviated by a multi-lingual parent, or with the Parent-Teacher Association or the School Site Council, which makes decisions concerning the school’s budget.
“You have to be there often, and show you want to be involved,” Achtenberg said. “Our schools in Oakland need so much support.”
But parents often just trust the teacher is doing the best they can, said Roshanda Morris, a parent of four kids who attend OUSD schools. “Parents took care of the kid at home, and then the teacher is educational mom for the rest of the day,” she said. “So in some instances, I think some people have stepped back from worrying about what’s going on in those hours you guys have the kids.”
After the talk, Morris said she was glad she came because she was able to learn about the way teachers have “different ideas on how to work with kids.”
“It was great to hear different perspectives, different point of views,” Morris said. “In my circle, we see things one way. But then to be able to hear from the other schools, and how things go there, is very important. Different things that may not be working for us, may work for someone else.”
Go here to find out more information about PLAN.