Thursday, May 28, 2009

Suze Orman Says Teachers Lack Self-Worth and Power. I Disagree.

A profile of finance expert Suze Orman in a recent issue of The New York Times Magazine contained the following passage:

“She has been reluctant to work on school curricula on personal finance, because she says students can’t learn empowerment from people who aren’t empowered, and teachers, she says, are too underpaid ever to have any real self-worth. She told me: ‘When you are somebody scared to death of your own life, how can you teach kids to be powerful? It’s not something in a book — it ain’t going to happen that way.’”

I read about Ms. Orman’s comments in the article “Do Teachers Lack Power and Self-Worth” on  I posted the following comment on the article today:

Teachers in classrooms all over America right now are interacting with our children—interpreting history and current events for them, imparting knowledge to them, encouraging them to strive for success.  Teachers are supporting students who are facing crises in their personal lives, encouraging students who lack self-esteem, and challenging students with latent potential.  These children represent the future leaders of America, and teachers are fostering their intellectual, emotional and social development every day.  To me, a person with this much influence over the next generation has an abundance of power.

My father taught in an inner-city junior high school for 32 years. But to call him a teacher would not adequately describe the role he played in his students’ lives.  One story in particular stands out in my mind.  One of my father’s students overcame severe personal hardships and excelled in school.  My father encouraged him to apply to a prestigious and selective private high school.  Although the student performed poorly on standardized state tests, my father convinced an admissions officer to interview the student.  The admissions officer was impressed with the student, and the school accepted him on full scholarship.  When the student was admitted to an Ivy League university four years later, my father packed the boy’s things into our car and drove him to the university.  The student is now a successful and prominent attorney and continues to keep in touch with my father. 

Suze Orman is right about one thing—teachers are underpaid.  But I feel she’s wrong to link compensation to self-worth and empowerment.  Anyone who can have such a profound impact on a child’s life and future is someone who knows pride, fulfillment—and power—beyond measure.  Instead of disparaging teachers because they are willing to accept inadequate compensation in exchange for the major contribution they make to our society, we should honor teachers with respect and gratitude.  (And pay them more too.)

Link to The New York Times article:

Link to the article:

Monday, May 25, 2009

Partners In Education

It was the day before the December break, and Maureen Richards (not her real name), a fourth grade teacher in New York, was eagerly anticipating her upcoming trip to the Bahamas with her husband.  It was her first year teaching fourth grade, and the pressure to adequately prepare her students for the state’s standardized tests was intense and stressful.  She was walking down the hall on her way to make copies when the mother of one of her student’s approached her and said, “I wanted to tell you that my daughter doesn’t like you, and she says none of the other kids like you either.” 

The brief conversation that followed was less than productive.

While this example represents an extreme case, it illustrates a big problem in our school system:  The lack of effective communication and cooperation between parent and teacher can inhibit a child’s academic progress.

Sometimes parents don’t know how to approach their child’s teacher if a problem arises.  The parent may feel intimidated by the teacher, or have concerns about negative repercussions on the child.  So they do nothing, and the problem continues or becomes worse. On the other end of the spectrum are the parents who contact the teacher constantly with concerns, or accuse the teacher in a hostile or condescending tone.

Studies show that parental involvement in a child’s education has a major impact on the child’s academic success.  Parents have a right and responsibility to advocate for their children.  But children benefit most when parents and teachers communicate effectively, develop constructive relationships, and work together as partners. 

The most important thing you can do as a parent is to keep in mind that your child’s teacher shares your goal—the academic success of your child.  The teacher wants your child to succeed.  If you have a concern, contact the teacher as soon as possible.  Teachers want to know if there’s a problem so they can address it.  Go directly to the teacher, not to the principal or another administrator.  This is a common mistake.  When you go to the principal, it makes the teacher feel you don’t respect him or her as a professional, which can damage your relationship. 

Your approach is important.  Explain your point of view and ask the teacher for his or her perspective on the situation. Ask the teacher how you can resolve the issue together.  Find out what you can do at home to support what the teacher is doing in the classroom.

The parent-teacher partnership works both ways.  If you’re a teacher and one of your students is struggling with an issue—whether academic, social or behavioral—contact the child’s parents as soon as you detect the problem.  Keep in mind that parents are sensitive to negative comments about their children.  They will be much more receptive to your comments—and less defensive—if you put the problem in a broader context.  Acknowledge the child’s positive attributes first, and then let the parent know you have concerns about one area.  Reassure the parent that you’re confident the child can succeed if you work together.

Ask the parent for input.  Parents have information about their children—including past behavior and academic issues—that can help you arrive at a solution. Let the parents know how they can be part of the solution you recommend.