bad teacherGrade Expectations is a weekly look at education from a parent’s perspective. We’ll talk special needs, gifted & talented, and everything in between. 

Parents and politicians alike spent plenty of time diagnosing the myriad of problems with public schools. We talk about the lack of funding, the crumbling facilities, and the difficult task of measuring effectiveness. I think all of those discussions are important. But as I was reading about a man who helped teachers cheat on their board exams, I couldn’t help but acknowledge that there’s an underlying problem wreaking havoc on schools. It’s the lack of trust that parents have in their children’s teachers.

 Clarence Mumford, Sr. was a former assistance principal and guidance counselor. He ran a cheating ring in three states for over 15 years, helping prospective teachers cheat to pass their Praxis exams. That’s hundreds of potentially unqualified teachers, who were both unable to pass the necessary tests and immoral enough to cheat, now working with students. Like lots of other parents, I hear stories about people like Mumford and think, “Maybe it’s time to homeschool my kids.”

It’s not just Clarence Mumford. I hear parents say something about it being “time to homeschool” pretty frequently. We’ve said it here on our site. It’s this common refrain from parents as every news cycle brings a new story of student mistreatment, extreme bullying gone unchecked, and more inappropriate behavior than I care to remember. With all of that disturbing news, it’s easy to assume that the majority of teachers are inept, inappropriate, or just plain crazy.

Obviously, in the back of our minds, we all realize that these are just extreme circumstances. We know that only the bizarre and corrupt teachers make the news, while thousands work tirelessly to help their students without any recognition whatsoever. But that media narrative of out-of-control classrooms clouds our judgment. We start to doubt the very people we’re letting educate our children.

The mistrust parents have in their schools and educators tears away at the very basics of education. Children can sense their parents’ feelings, and they put less faith in their teachers and administrators. Wary parents don’t feel like getting involved at the school, choosing to work with their kids at home or pile up on extra curriculars to make up the difference. Instead of investing where our kids need us most, that doubt pulls parents away from teachers, when the two should be working together.

My daughter used to attend an at-home daycare with an amazing woman who had been taking care of kids for decades. To parents who wanted to drop in unexpected to check up on things or who had lists of additional rules and regulations for their children while at daycare, Annie always had the same response. “If you really don’t trust me to take care of your child, why on earth are you sending them here everyday?”

It wasn’t that Anne minded people coming during the day to see their kids. It wasn’t that she cared about special family rules that parents wanted to keep consistent. It was the lack of trust that she couldn’t understand. If you really don’t trust someone, how do you give them the most precious thing in your life to look after for eight hours a day.

I think about the problems that lack of communication and mutual respect caused for Annie and a couple parents, and it makes me think about the way our lack of trust plays out in classrooms. There are students who don’t respect their teachers, because they overheard parents bad-mouthing the schools at home. There are parents too busy trying to look for flaws to actually help enrich the classrooms. And teachers become resentful of parents who don’t respect their work.

I’m not saying that we should blindly put our faith in the schools. As Clarence Mumford shows, there are reasons to be wary. But instead of pulling back, parents needs think of these stories as inspiration get more involved. These terrible outliers are the perfect reason to build a relationship with your child’s teachers, to get to know the people at your school.

Parents aren’t the only ones who need to work to fix this problem though. The fact is that these horrible stories we keep hearing are really happening. Every time teachers and unions resist fair and accurate ways to measure performance, every time they protect teachers that they know aren’t doing a good job, they add credibility to all that doubt.

Both parents and teachers are responsible for rebuilding the trust that seems to be gone between families and schools. Teachers need to reach out and communicate. Parents need to get involved and gain confidence in what their children are doing at school. This way, both of these major influences in a child’s life can hold one another accountable.

Next time we hear a story about someone like Clarence Mumford, wouldn’t it be nice to just shake our heads and say, “Thank goodness I know my child’s teacher and how amazing they are.” Wouldn’t it be nice to feel that confidence? Let’s stop half-heartedly joking about homeschooling. Let’s make sure our own schools are doing their job by getting to know them and getting involved.

(Photo: andrea michele piacquadio/Shutterstock)