Book Review, Education

Book Review- ‘I’m Your Teacher Not Your Mother’ by Suzette Clarke

I was asked to review a book about education and youth. Although most of the book reviews I have conducted have been related to the social work or helping professional fields, I wanted to go a bit beyond.

Hmmm… as a parent not an easy read and as a parent who happens to be a social worker and volunteers in her children’s school-not an easy book to read. Education is important to me and to our family. Not graduating high school is not an option and fortunately the school my kids attend is academically good, offers amazing after school activities for a reasonable fee, and has very caring and dedicated staff. I realize this is not necessarily the case at all schools.

While the author of this book was a teacher for 15 years in the New York city public school system and sees it as the parent’s responsibility to assist children with their homework and emphasize education, I would personally and professionally be somewhere in the middle. Perhaps it is a bit naïve. To me, it is both a system and a parental effort. To me, the two should work together to help students succeed or do the best they can. The PTA or Home and School Association are often a strong influence and every school should have one. I read two amazing books by Rafe Esquith. See my post on his style and his two books with programs and incentives that could easily be offered or part of the teaching style at any school.

If weaknesses are noticed, students are falling asleep during the school day, appear depressed, withdrawn and do not participate in class discussions, there is a reason for this which can fall outside of the school environment, but nevertheless affects a student’s ability to function well in the school/classroom environment. Bullying by fellow students is a whole separate issue. Is there abuse at home of any kind, parental supervision, do they live in an area that is prone to violence, a lot of noise, do they have the responsibility to look after younger siblings, are the parent(s) ill, diagnosed with a physical, emotional or mental health issue? Do teachers or other school personnel even know this information? Should they know it? As a parent and social worker, I say yes.

Socioeconomic class, ethnicity, culture, religion, the fact that there are so many one parent families, divorced or separated families and a parent’s own upbringing and values regarding education will surface and influence. Parent/Teacher interviews are often in the late afternoon or early evening, but not all parents can attend during this time.  What about mornings, online, at lunchtime or by appointment?

Social workers can be a key part in this along with guidance counselors and other school personnel. Parents should be part of the solution and part of the planning with an emphasis on EQ. IQ is one part of the equation, but EQ matters just as much. Teaching students’ empathy, caring, sympathy, the ability to describe their own feelings and the feelings in others is so important and can make a huge difference in the school environment. There are many programs and schools that focus on this and have turned around drop-out rates, increased school attendance and have provided some kids with a haven-in attending school.

Particular educational programs and standardized testing are needed, but do not necessarily fit the mold of every child. Some kids learn visually, others auditory and still others are extremely smart, but are bored. It is very difficult for teachers of today to adjust to the needs of every child in a classroom without the proper support personnel whether teacher’s aides or parent volunteers.

There are so many more issues that did not seem to exist when I was in elementary and secondary school-learning disabilities were almost unheard of, food allergies also, very few cases of ADHD or ADD, Autism and Asperger’s did not exist or where not known in my day or not labeled as such and if anything, it was youth with intellectual disabilities or physical disabilities. So what has changed over the past 20-30 years?

Certainly, there are more single parent families, divorced families and families where both parents work for economic reasons. Finances play a huge part in this equation from the parental perspective, as well as the school district and school tax base. Parents do not seem to be as involved with education. Youth are exposed to electronics by the dozen whether TV, computers, DSi’s, iPods, internet, etc which did not exist when I was growing up. Parents sometimes over- schedule their children for extracurricular activities. Why not make extracurricular after school activities contingent on grades?

So, back to the book…..who is at fault-the educational system, parents or a combination of the two? I find myself going back and forth between all and do not have the answer, but I do see the need for collaboration between both or nothing will change.

The author makes a comment that, “Children are often products of their circumstances” and I agree. Caring parents and involved parents will often show engaged children in school while children who have uninvolved parents, parents who themselves did not graduate high school and/or university as failing and having difficulties in the school environment.

Again, speaking for myself, I check my kids agenda’s daily where their homework is listed and check or ask daily if they need help, had any difficulty and often I have to sign both returned tests and the agenda to show as a parent I have looked at it. I am not sure if all schools do this, but I find it to be very effective. I can write notes in the agenda and the teacher reviews this daily and writes notes back. Phoning the school is always an option as well, but if there is an issue with the teacher, it should be addressed with the teacher first before going to the principal.

Another comment in the book has to do with school uniforms. Some schools have a strict uniform and others a color code. What is the reason for the uniform? Is price an issue? Does the student have an adult to purchase the uniform? Is it a public or private school? Should schools allow students to attend school if they are not dressed in the required uniform? Are parents notified? Are there consequences and a school board to back up the requirement? What happens if a family cannot afford the uniform?

I sense frustration in the author and in the examples she depicts in the book. It is easy for a parent to blame the teacher and just as easy for the teacher to blame the parent. This is what makes me pause and question who is at fault. To me this means better communication is needed between the two. The author has taught in the inner city school system in NY which is very different from a small town system elsewhere in the states or Canada.

How do others feel? What are your thoughts? What is the best way to encourage change? How do we best direct and challenge students to succeed and foster this same goal in parents? How do we encourage collaboration?

Thank you to Suzette Clarke for approaching me about reviewing her book and I hope that discussions will flourish! Her book is worth taking a look at.

By Victoria Brewster, MSW

2 thoughts on “Book Review- ‘I’m Your Teacher Not Your Mother’ by Suzette Clarke”

  1. You make some excellent points about the possible solutions to the poor student achievement of students of low socioeconomic status but as an educator who cofounded a Title I urban public high school in NYC, I must say the implementation of your methods often are not used. Therefore, the students are poorly served and often casted to the side repeatedly. I believe the issue is a matter of the gap between theory and practice. Yes, they are a few administrators who implement the practice and have made great strides in the academic success of their students but my practical experiences and observations show me that the number of administrators who do the work you speak of is very few.

    1. Thank you for your comment. It is unfortunate as the education taught/received should be the same no matter the socioeconomic level of the student, parent or community. The gap you speak of between theory and practice needs to change. Creative solutions are needed, dedicated educators, students, parents and community.

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