After working in Oklahoma City Public Schools for two years, we interviewed teachers, administrators and community members about their work with The Learner First. This is part two of our interview with Molly Jaynes, a teacher. Part one can be read here. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Tell me about how going through this process has had an effect on how you perceive or work with parents. Have interactions with parents changed as a result, or not?
Yeah. Our school, we had two parent-teacher conferences a year, once the first semester and once the second semester. Then we would have an “open house/meet the teacher” night in August, when school started. Our parent-teacher conferences were pretty much just to let the parents know how the kids are doing, give them the grades, go over any assessments or anything you need to go over. That was pretty much it.
Throughout this process, we started thinking about parents as true partners and how with the rubric and assessing ourselves how we can move up. This year, we have actually had built into our calendar four or five, and we don’t call them parent-teacher – even during the district scheduled parent-teacher conferences we just call it “talk to the teacher” night.
One of them was before school even started, and we have had three since then. We have also created a parent committee at our school, which we didn’t have before. The parent committee has met and discussed what types of things, we as teachers, would like to discuss with the parents that don’t just center around academics. We have talked to the parents about their hopes, their vision for their child, what they want for their future. We have asked them if there is anything that causes anxiety that we should know about. Whenever their child is feeling upset, what is the best way to deal with that in school? Kind of giving them a platform to say how we can better bridge the gap between home and school. Is there anything that they would like to see happening in the classroom that isn’t currently happening? Are you interested in volunteering? Just kind of some discussion points that we can have with parents that are more about the child as a person rather than just as an academic student.
So, we have met with them more frequently this year, and our meetings have been more centered around the well-being of the child, and not so much like “Here is a bunch of information I’m giving you. Sign these papers. It was nice seeing you. I’ll see you in four months.” Just in conversation with other teachers in the building, that has really strengthened communication between parents and teachers. I think it has brought more parents up to school. It has got parents more involved in checking in with their students. I think it has just made both the teachers and the parents feel more comfortable reaching out and communicating to the other. That has been a big change that I have noticed and have also heard a lot of teachers talk about in the building.
Do you have an example of what one of those conversations would look like?
Yeah ok so, I teach in Oklahoma City and the school that I have is about 80% Hispanic. So there is a mom this year who has been up at the school… She has been really involved in her son’s well-being. We met at the beginning of the year, and I had some assessments to let her know about. He is in third grade right now and the assessment shows that he is reading at about a second-grade level. It’s a Hispanic family and so she speaks English but she’s still not 100% fluent.
Anyways, she has some books at home that teach her English. They teach her sentence structure, nouns, verbs, placement, and all that. So she has actually used those tools that she has and she has helped her son at home. She has requested that I give her—she did the typical thing that parents do, “Do you have anything else that you could send home, more homework or whatever?” I had an extra book with short stories and comprehension. I sent that home with him.
Every once in a while, she would send them back. I would go through it and we would discuss it. His writing grade was low during one of his progress reports. Right away, she was up in my room talking to me about it. So, all year she was working with him at home. I have been working with him at school. We have been communicating clearly. To the point where it’s like, she’ll get a paper where he was supposed to be rounding to the nearest ten and he missed a lot of them and she wants to come up and know, “What exactly did he miss? Why did he miss it? How do you round to the nearest ten? How can I help him understand this?” Very involved and on top of it this year.
The thing that’s amazing—this is just a story that I’ve been telling people a lot—her husband recently was pulled over and he didn’t have the papers he needed or the title for his car. So, he was taken by the police, immigration, or something. So, one morning he comes to school and tells me that his mom will be here after school because she has something to tell me. I said “Okay,” because I had no idea what it was. I’m thinking she is going to come up and ask about his school work again.
So, she comes and she tells me that her husband was taken by immigration and they don’t know what was going to happen, and she was very emotional. She said she was planning on talking to a lawyer that day so I was kind of texting her throughout the day. I talked to someone at the district who had a couple of contacts that I could share with her about people who could possibly help. Anyways, I kind of checked up on the situation for about a day or two.
Then the next day, I got several text messages from her in a row. I kind of just looked down at my phone and saw that I had 3 or 4 texts from her and was like, “Oh, I need to check this. This is probably about her husband. She is probably telling me something about her husband.” Well, it was several pictures that she had taken of her son’s homework, or a paper I had graded that had gone home the previous night. She had specifically targeted like three. She was like, “I don’t understand why he missed questions three, four, and five. Could you help me explain it, so that I can help him understand it?”
To me, that was amazing. In the midst of everything that was happening at home with her husband, with not knowing what was in store for her family, she was still just so concerned with his school and his academics. That consistency was still there, and it was so strong. She was, you know, “He missed these questions. Why did he miss these questions? What can I do to help him?” For me, that was just amazing. I was like, “Man, if every parent could be like this…”
And, he brought his reading grade up. Or, his reading score up. He is now reading at a fourth grade level. And, she is very grateful to me for that. I’m like, “No, I’m so grateful to you. Everything you have done at home has helped.” It feels just totally mutual. She brought the support at home. I brought the support at school. It just feels like a true partnership. I don’t know…that’s kind of amazing.