What is the role of a parent vis a vis the school?

The following comment was posted in response to my last post, in which I shared about the limited amount of help that has been available to our children in the school system.

>>I’m sure that you are aware that you have taken a big risk moving your children here at this stage of their lives. I also hope that you acknowledge that no one is responsible for their integration here other than you.

Please forgive me for being so harsh about this. There are resources to help you but the ultimate responsibility rests with you, and not the school or the system.

As a fellow olah, I can only suggest that you shed any romantic idea that the “system” is going to take care of you and your children. You need a lot of support and most likely it will come through the networks that you build up yourself.<<

After seeing this comment, I realized that it might be helpful for me to clarify two points.  Firstly, what is the purpose of me sharing about my experience?  Secondly, to explain what I see as my role as a parent who is sending her children to school.  How much of their education is my responsibility, and how much is the school’s responsibility?

Though I share about many different topics here, I’ve been sharing about my aliyah experiences with the increasing awareness that a number of people considering making aliyah have begun to read my blog.  There are lots of places you can find inspiration about why to do make aliyah – I’m so glad we made the move and love being here! – but my experience has been that many olim (new immigrants) don’t have a realistic idea of what to expect.  (I spoke to two people in this situation just yesterday, and this is a painful place to be.)

Many people are emotionally sold on the dream of living in Israel, but there’s very much a reality every person moving here needs to be aware of.  Exactly what the reality is will differ from person to person and place to place, but not sharing about this and letting people think that a move to another country isn’t the hugely major thing it is would be misleading.  Though I prefer to be positive and look for the good in things – and this is what I try do when faced with challenges here – I don’t think I’m doing anyone a favor to pretend that difficulties don’t exist.

To address the main point of this post, what do I think a parent’s role is vis a vis the schools?  Overall, I  think you have to always remember that you’re  the parent and you can’t expect the schools to give your children what they need.  This isn’t as easily said as done – over the years schools have increasingly moved to a position of disempowering parents, and minimizing the importance of parental influence, while continuing to blame parents when anything in school goes wrong!  Educators (at least those I’ve spoken with, and I’ve read this same thing in a number of places) will claim that this is because parents today are increasingly apathetic and uninvolved, they aren’t stepping into their responsibility as parents, so the schools are forced to take up the slack.

Regardless of  if that’s the best way to handle it or not (two parties can’t take responsibility at the same time for the same thing – one will have to let go), the school administrations are doing what they feel is best for the child.  And sometimes as parents we back down when told by a teacher or principal how foundational different aspects of school are to a child.  I think we have to be willing to be confident in our role as parents to look out for our children and make sure their basic needs are being met.

That doesn’t mean looking for problems – I view the teachers and administrators as my partners, and assume they have my child’s best interests at heart – but if I see something isn’t working and it’s  not being attended to or  addressed, I’ll step in and talk with those involved about what’s happening.  I think it’s important to have a positive attitude towards the teachers in our child’s life, and not to make mountains out of molehills – but we also shouldn’t make the mistake of making molehills out of mountains.

My personal expectation of the schools is first, ‘do no harm’ – I don’t expect them to raise them, instill them with good character or positive spiritual outlook/values, and my academic expectations are that basic skills are taught.  That’s it.  I don’t mean this in a disparaging way, but I think that unrealistic expectations set us up for disappointment.  If you get more than the basics, count yourself as fortunate.

Practically speaking, in terms of our aliyah here, this has meant that I’ve been continually in touch with the teachers of every child (except ds13, who dh speaks to).  I’ve explained their needs, advocated for their needs, and this has created a school environment in which they aren’t constantly faced with unrealistic expectations.  I’ve repeatedly told teachers and principals that my only goal for the kids for this year is that they learn Hebrew, and I understand that this means missing a year of academics.  (That’s what the reality is anyway, but it’s good to clarify from the outset since otherwise teachers feel pressured that you’ll be upset your kids aren’t learning anything.)  I’ve also gotten permission for all of the middles (ds9, dd11, ds13) to be allowed to leave school midday, which gives them time to decompress from the intensity of being in a Hebrew language environment for so many hours.

I actively work with the middles (mostly dd11 and ds9) at home on their Hebrew language skills several times a week – this includes speaking, reading, and translation.  Although I intended this to be supplemental, it’s actually more than they’re getting from school.  If a parent can’t do this, then I think they’ll benefit by getting tutors for their children after school.

To sum up, for any parent, but especially if you’re making aliyah, you can’t rely on the schools to give your child the support he needs.  The schools are hopefully staffed with kind and caring people, but in the end, your child is one of  many.  This can be a huge and daunting challenge for parents who move to a new country, who are themselves struggling with the transition to a new culture and language.  But it’s really important that your child knows that you’ll continue to be there for them, to support them and not get lost in the emotions of your own transition experience.  (By the way, this is why I think it’s preferable for the first year after making aliyah, if one parent stays home with the kids – so someone is there for them to give them the support and help they need.)


6 thoughts on “What is the role of a parent vis a vis the school?

  1. “over the years schools have increasingly move to a position of disempowering parents, and minimizing the importance of parental influence, while continuing to blame parents when anything in school goes wrong!”

    This is so true…

  2. I think that you are doing great job, and the years of homeschooling enable you now to see what exactly to expect from your children and how to pace their learning in order to keep it efficient. That makes it also easier for their current teachers, because you have seen your children in learning environment.

  3. After years of knowing you, and a few following your writing/teaching/blogging, I am challenged with any insinuation that you expect anyone to parent your children or take the slightest responsibility for the adjustment of your children (other than what they are paid to do, in the case of teaching and limited learning equipping). I appreciate you transparently humbling yourself, making your life public so others can share in your challenges and victories. Even with your wonderful writing skills, conveying your deepest desire for your children to be healthy and happy (while exhausting your resources) can be hard with black and white font. Keep at it!! Side note: (please take with a grain of salt) I know you…very well…and I would never qualify you a ‘romantic’ as much as I would a ‘brass-tacks realist.’

    1. Yes, you could say that you’ve known me a long time, and know me well – like from the minute you were born! You’re awesome, my fantastic sis! I love you tons and appreciate you commenting for the first time just to stick up for me.

  4. This is the first year in 18 years that I have not homeschooled and both my children are in schools. They know they are only there because THEY want to be. They wanted a larger social network. I’m always ok with them learning outside a school building. However, since they have chosen school, and it is an institution, there are inherent attitudes that go with that. Schools have a hard time with anything that doesn’t conform properly so I’m advising my children (mostly one) on how to best work with that mindset without losing their individuality. It’s a learning process for all of us, and a valuable one I think for dealing with the world. Avivah, you are an amazing advocate for your children and I gain a lot by reading how you are navigating not just a new school situation, but a whole new country! Yasher Koach.

  5. There is a huge philosophical difference between Israeli and American Jewish schools. In Israel it’s “sink or swim.” The feeling is that a child may have difficulties, but eventually s/he will “get it.” Never mind that those difficulties can really cause trauma until then, but it’s a kind of “pull up your bootstraps and toughen up” kind of mentality. In the US it’s more of a “we won’t let you sink so you can swim.” Children are pulled out of class for special one on one tutoring etc until they’re caught up. I am speaking anecdotally but from realtime experience. Part of the Israeli attitude is cultural, and part of it is due to the extremely large class size. One time my daughter was refusing to do homework. I asked the teacher if she could simply ensure that my daughter would write the homework assignment down each day and then I would assure that my daughter would get the work done. Her answer was, “Lady, how can you expect me to do this when I have 40 kids in my class? It is her responsibility to write it down, not my responsibility to check on her!” She was 8 years old at the time. When we returned to the US, the very first comment about her teachers was, “Hen kol kach simpatiot!” They are so caring! She couldn’t believe it! I’m not saying that the Israeli “way” doesn’t work. But it can be painful for the parent to watch their kid get through it.

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