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  • Writer's pictureCharles Williams

The Myth of the Absent Parent

Updated: Jul 2, 2020

If nothing else, the COVID-19 epidemic has forced us to reflect and question long held notions that we commonly accepted as truth. One such area that I have been re-examining is parental involvement in academics, specifically those in typical urban settings.

There is no question that parental involvement in areas impacted by low socioeconomic issues are considerably lower than in those who benefit from higher socioeconomic statuses. In fact, it has become one of the trademark rationales that low performing schools provide when questioned about their struggles. “Schools can only do so much.” “Parents need to step up.” “They don’t care.”

Truth be told, my school was no different.

It was true that our parent involvement was less than ideal. We tried every trick that we could think of from offering food to childcare to even raffling off items for those in attendance. Nothing worked. Exasperated with our continued efforts to get parents to attend meetings we even started making announcements during schools-wide assemblies which were almost always filled to capacity.

I was frustrated. I would personally speak to parents and invite them out to events and sessions. More often than not they would assure me that they would be in attendance only to have me sit with our guests alone ending with awkward apologies for the no-show group.

And then COVID hit.

We were fortunate to have acquired enough devices to be a 1:1 school. This was something that I pushed for almost immediately after being hired and it paid off. Nearly every student had a device and most of those students were on and rocking out remote learning for the last seven weeks of the school year. Part of my daily process was visiting classrooms to check in on students and staff. Sometimes just quietly slipping in and out and other times jumping in for a Kahoot session. It was during these visits that I began to notice something interesting.

In multiple classrooms, I saw parents sitting with their students during the lesson. Some were involved and helping their child with the concepts being taught while others were merely present. Regardless, they were there. I started paying more and more attention as I continued visiting the classrooms and was delighted to see that some of these parents were regulars with some even popping in from work to check on their students’ progress. I was elated but I was also confused. Why now? Instead of assuming, I asked.

Due to COVID-19, many of my parents were unable to work or simply chose to stay home with their children. While this may have presented other struggles, it finally allowed them the opportunity to become active participants in their students learning. Some even admitted to learning a thing or two while observing the lessons. Their absence before was not because they chose not to be present, but their work schedules would not allow them to be present.

The transition to remote learning also meant that instruction was now happening in our students’ homes. Because some of my parents have younger children, they were unable to attend meetings due to childcare issues. Providing access to the school through our Google Platform meant that parents could become connected while caring for their younger children in the comfort of their own home. Again, their absence was not because they did not care about their student’s educational experience but was a result of needing to provide care for others at home.

Additionally, I had some students who were unable to access remote learning for one reason or another. (Did you know that there exists a clear disparity between provided internet access in low-income communities compared to their more affluent neighbors?) Knowing that some students would struggle with remote learning, we provided all of our students with take home workbooks that provided lessons for the entirety of time out of school. Upon returning to collect their personal items, many families who were not active online brought their completed workbooks citing that they still wanted to be involved in the learning process. Just because we didn’t see their involvement didn’t mean it wasn’t happening.

In Episode 3 of my show, The Counter Narrative Podcast, I chatted with Tara Desiderio who spoke about the need for schools to claim ownership of their shortcomings. She stated that we need to meet parents where they are at. Those words echoed in my mind as I reflected on my conversations with these parents. I felt ashamed for promoting the narrative that my parents were not involved. I felt embarrassed for toying with the idea that my parents did not care.

I knew that my parents were awesome. I interacted with a majority of them on a daily basis as they dropped off or picked up their students. We would laugh and cry together. They would provide me updates on my former students and bring in little ones who would one day be walking my halls.

The problem wasn’t my parents … the problem was our definition of involvement. Shifting our perspective and thus our interpretation of involvement we quickly realized that our parents played a very active role in their student’s learning. Our parents cared deeply about their children’s academic success. The problem wasn’t my parents … the problem was us.

Thank you Tara for your insight and wisdom.

Thank you to my parents for being amazing. You guys rock.

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