So you have now been in America awhile. Your child is enrolled in the local public school. You are now employed and possibly enrolled in school with hopes of improving your family finances. Everything looks good…except that your child just doesn’t seem to be going along with the plan; he/she is under-performing in school. Now what?
1. First contact the teacher and set up an appointment to discuss your child’s performance and what you can do at home.
Keep in mind that the teacher’s job is just as demanding as yours; perhaps it is more demanding than yours. Just because you work and go to school doesn’t mean the teacher has endless time because she or he has one job. (You don’t know that for a fact). Keep in mind that being an American now doesn’t mean that you may be unduly aggressive when communicating with the teacher or that you can make unreasonable demands on a teacher’s time or resources. The fact is that the school employs teachers for a limited number of hours for a finite amount of money and your child is not the only child in the class.
2. Be prepared to ask questions and to listen during the conference.
Be realistic about your child’s ability and your expectations. Keep in mind that this is not the forum for discussing other people’s children or comparing them to your own. Focus on your own child. Your child’s under-performance is the issue. You may hear some things about your child that may not please you. Listen. Be honest. Honesty gets one more help than defensiveness ever will. Do not expect the teacher to be able to resolve all your concerns about your child. The American way of schooling is a participatory one. You must be involved in your child’s learning. Your role in your child’s education goes beyond getting your child to school on time and making sure homework is completed. Schooling in America demands that a parent practice concepts and skills learned at school with his/her child.
3. Read between the lines.
Most teachers in the United States will not be blunt with you. The culture in many Third world countries permits the teacher to be very direct. This is not the norm in the United States. Most American teachers speak from an empathetic stance and are quite diplomatic when talking about their students. Don’t expect to hear, “Chinye is failing.” The teacher is more likely to say, “Chinye is having a difficult time.” Just because a teacher offers to tutor your child beyond the school day doesn’t mean that you should relinquish your responsibility to find time to work with your child at home. Finding time for your child may mean that you will have to decline a few invitations to social gatherings or that you need to come home a little earlier from that extended religious service. You may even have to pay for extra tutoring. This is not a new concept to any one who grew up in Nigeria. Many of us had extra lessons after school. You have to decide how you will find necessary extra time and resources for your child.
4. Follow Up… Don’t rest on your oars.
You have had a meaningful conference with the teacher and you have enrolled your child in an after-school tutoring program. Your work is not done. You must monitor your child’s performance. True. Your child will never be expelled for failing grades. However, don’t wait until the report card or the next time the teacher contacts you to pay attention to what how your child is doing in school. Don’t blame the teacher for your child’s under-performance. Keep in mind that your child goes home with you at the end of the day. Public school may be tuition free, however you must participate fully to reap the full benefits of the savings.