07/01/11 — The real failure: Teachers' best efforts are thwarted when parents don't do their part

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The real failure: Teachers' best efforts are thwarted when parents don't do their part

There are plenty of teachers in the Wayne County School District who care about the children they teach -- and who go beyond the call of duty to come up with ways to reach those who are facing learning challenges or other obstacles to receiving an education.

They succeed often, but they fail, too. And while, for some, the reason their methods do not produce results might be laziness or a lack of effort on the teacher's part, in most cases, it is exactly the opposite.

There is a reality that few people seem to want to face these days -- and it is really evident if you look around -- there are more and more parents these days who do not offer their children the role modeling and support they need to make it in the world.

And the determining factor, although the vast majority of at-risk children often come from poverty, is not money.

There are plenty of families whose income might not be at the top of the chart, but who teach their children responsibility, respect and the difference between right and wrong. They push them to do their best and require them to adhere to standards of behavior and a work ethic. They understand that it is not how much money you have, but what kind of person you are that determines if you will make it in this world.

There are plenty of people who say that you cannot make it in this world unless you come from money -- and plenty of examples of people who could defy that definition. They made it through education, hard work and looking for opportunities to learn and to grow as a person. They are honest, hard-working and determined to make better lives for themselves and their children. They take pride in what they do -- whatever they do -- and they do it well.

They see public assistance as a crutch, and although they might struggle, they do not teach their children that a future can be made with a government check. They model honesty and responsibility not shortcuts and cheating.

And then there are the others.

They see public assistance as a money-making scheme. They have no interest in getting off welfare and they model behavior for their children that suggests that it is a lucrative way to spend their adulthood. They could care less about their children's progress in school -- and they do not care if they graduate from high school.

They are the ones whose children are out late on school nights and who do not care enough to watch with whom their children associate or what they are doing with their free time.

They are not the iron-fisted mothers and fathers and no-nonsense grandparents who make sure their children toe the line. They are much too immersed in their own existence for that. They would no more read a story than they would go to a parent-teacher conference.

And they are the reason their children are failing.

A teacher can offer the tools to learn and can encourage a young person to dream of a future. They can test, evaluate and create interesting and innovative lesson plans. They can demand quality work and cheerlead until they are blue in the face about the doors an education opens and the rewards of hard work.

But in the end, what matters is what the child does with the information and the inspiration -- and if they are supported in those efforts by the people they love and count on.

So while every teacher would like to be able to say he or she could turn every child around, that is unrealistic -- even if there are more than a few educators who do not let the daunting odds stop them.

And until we figure out how to hold parents more accountable and to support these children the other 16 hours of their day when they are not at school, they will continue to slip through the cracks, no matter how many teachers we label as "poor performers."

There is no easy answer to this problem, no matter what others might tell you.

And until those in positions of authority acknowledge that, and quit beating around the bush about the real challenges these children face, you will not see more graduating seniors and more children interested in learning.

And that is the truth.

Published in Editorials on July 1, 2011 10:39 AM