By Marguerite Mingus | SFER Parent Organizer
Last fall, I attended a parent advocacy workshop hosted by Partnership for Educational Justice and Students for Education Reform – Minnesota. The flyer said that parents are too often absent from conversations about our children’s education, and I couldn’t agree more.
Many of the parents who attended the workshop were there because of concerns about their own children’s education. I know what that feels like, and I understand why it can lead to silence instead of outspoken advocacy.
For me, the tendency to remain silent started with my own experience as a student. I had good teachers, and when I became pregnant as a teenager, they were a strong and supportive influence for me. As a young mother, I let teachers take the lead in my children’s education and I thought my role was to simply reinforce whatever they said. Because of the authority that teachers hold, I would sometimes ignore my own instincts as parent, if a teacher or educator told me something different.
When my children were younger, this happened more often than I’d like to admit. For example, when my oldest son was failing chemistry, the school’s solution was to move him into an honors chemistry class. When my other son had trouble staying at his desk all day, the school kept him out of gym class, where he might have gotten the physical release that he needed to sit still for the rest of the day. I was also pushed to put him on a special education individualized education program (IEP), despite his doctor’s opinion that he was only a “willful” child, and did not have any learning disabilities or behavioral disorders.
As a parent, when you hear from teachers that your kids are a problem at school, you worry. Because teachers are the experts, you sometimes fight with your children to get them to change. And often, you feel embarrassed and ashamed that your kids are causing problems. Sometimes you feel that you lack the authority to ask questions of your school. I felt all these things.
I found myself in the same position yet again when my daughter’s teacher pulled her out of class for shouting out and being disruptive. Even though this didn’t sound like my daughter’s typical behavior – she had been a great student and always enjoyed school – I began to think my daughter was lying to me when she insisted that she wasn’t yelling or talking with other students during lessons.
Luckily for me, there was a group of parents at my daughter’s school who were going through the same thing. And once I started talking to these parents, I realized I was not alone. My self-doubt was replaced with an inspiration to act.
This was so empowering. Without the shame and embarrassment, I was more willing to look into what was really happening. I learned from my daughter that the “shouting in class” I heard about from her teacher was actually my daughter enthusiastically calling out the answers to her teacher’s questions. Together with other parents at this school, we talked to the administration and advocated on behalf of our children. In this particular case, I wasn’t satisfied with the school’s response, and so I moved my daughter to a different school where she is now thriving.
I never would have stood up for my daughter if other parents hadn’t pulled me out of my shame and frustration, and encouraged me to trust my own judgment.
I attended the parent advocacy workshop last fall because I want be part of the community that encourages parents to stop feeling alone when there’s a problem at their child’s school. At the workshop, we heard from educators and public school experts who showed us how to find valuable information about our schools online, and shared helpful strategies for productively working with teachers, principals and others to ensure that our kids are learning.
At the workshop, I saw so many parents open up and let go of their own shame about problems they might be having with their children’s schools. By showing up that day, not only did we gain access to tips and tools from educators and experts, we were also beginning to build a community of parent advocates who will stand up to make sure our kids get the best education possible.
Marguerite Mingus is a mother of four from Minneapolis.
On March 16 from 6:00-8:00pm the third workshop in a series of three titled, “Know Your Educational Rights: A Parent Workshop,” will be held in Minneapolis. This event is open to parents who are new or returning to the workshop series. Click here for additional event information and to reserve your spot. Childcare will be provided.