stephanie jones

Why Parents Lose Trust in Teachers – and What Some Teachers are Doing About It #1

In communities, families, family-school relations, institutions on May 18, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Key to trust: Make sure parents and children don’t feel like they’re just another person in an impersonal “institution,” which of course they are, so this can be difficult and it’s often why families lose trust…

First let’s start with the fact that no one – I mean no one – cares for a child more than her or his primary caregivers. Maybe that’s a parent, a set of parents, grandparents, aunt, uncle, or cousin, but whoever holds that child when she is sick, wakes up in the middle of the night for his nightmares, puts food in the home for her to eat, tickles and play-tackles him, takes her fishing, helps him find bugs outside, cleans the laundry, finds someone to cut his hair, teaches her to swing a bat, kicks a soccer ball with him, lets too many kids come over who will wreck the house because it’s fun, smiles at her not-so-funny jokes, chokes up when he gets hurt and blood is involved, panics in the middle of the night and heads off to the emergency room, and picks out that something special for her at the grocery store because she’ll be so surprised…whoever that person is…also cries at night when something is going wrong at school and it seems like there is nothing they can do about it.
Educational research tells us this is true – but I’m also a parent, who talks to a lot of other parents, so I know it in a way that research might not be able to convince me.

In my own research, mothers and grandmothers have cried in front of  me talking about their horrible experiences with schools.

I have cried too. Sobbed, in fact, about the helplessness I have experienced when trying to get something changed at school to better meet the needs of my child.

In my research, dads have told me how pissed off they were about something going on at school.

I’ve been pissed off too. Really pissed off, in fact, about some of the double-speak and empty promises and defensiveness and aloofness I have experienced at school when I ask questions about things that seem like common sense to me (How is she doing? What are you studying at school that I can extend at home? Are parents invited to these events? Why didn’t I know about [some event, or a social problem at school, or a homework assignment, or a disciplinary action, etc.]?

And in my “hanging out with friends and colleagues who also happen to have school-age-children” research, moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and really committed family friends have cried, yelled, complained, cussed, shook their heads, and expressed anger/sadness/hopelessness about the children they care about most and what’s going on with them at school.

Interestingly – this often has very little to do with academics.

Instead – this usually has to do with trust.

Do I trust that my child – my pride and joy who I would be willing to die for – will be treated with care and sensitivity?

Do I trust that if something is going on with my child socially, emotionally, or academically at school that his teacher will contact me immediately so we can work together to figure it out?

Do I trust that my child will be provided with security and encouragement by her teacher at all times?

Do I trust that my child’s unique gifts that make us smile at home will be perceived the same way by his teacher?

Do I trust that if I contact the teacher about a concern she or he will respond with a genuine, “How can I help at school?” or an “I’m really sorry to hear that – that must be awful. What can we do here?” rather than a defensive argument?

Do I trust that what I share about my child will be believed by the teacher?

Do I trust that the teacher will be professional, kind, perceptive, and insightful enough to recognize when my child is sad or distant or scared or hungry or sick?

Can I trust that when my child walks into the door of the school that she or he will be treated as if she or he is the future president, physician, artist, engineer, teacher, community worker, carpenter, construction worker, counselor, psychologist, non-profit director, customer service director, governor, inventor, entrepreneur, civil rights worker that she or he can be given encouragement and access to high quality education from the school?

Can I trust that the adults in a school are high-quality professionals who know what education is for, what education makes possible, and that a significant part of “education” has little to do with the math lesson being taught?
Can I trust that my child’s teacher knows that if a child is treated poorly, doesn’t feel welcome, isn’t regularly recognized and encouraged, doesn’t feel a part of a community, or doesn’t see how schoolwork connects to his passions outside of school he will be far less likely to show any signs of success in school and that will affect him for the rest of his life?

To send a child off on a school bus or drop him off at the school door each morning where other adults are in control of his every move is a huge leap of faith taken by millions of caregivers every single morning.

While most schools and districts have policies about parental involvement, or at the very least some nod to parental involvement in their mission statements, very little attention is given at the school level about what parents wish would happen, how parents would like to be involved including in-school involvement and out-of-school involvement, and what turns off parents most about school.

Research tells us what we need to know – but most of the time schools and districts don’t do what research says, because it means paying a different kind of attention to caregivers and children. It’s clear that “PTO” participation or fundraising or even attending special events including parent-teacher conferences are not the keys to connecting home and school. It’s the basic level of trust that a caregiver can instill in a child’s teacher.

It is absolutely necessary that the disconnect between school and home be addressed, and that won’t happen until real people start having real conversations.

To be continued…

  1. Trust is certainly at the bottom of everything, I agree.
    One thingcontributing to lack of trust might be a faulty definition of parental involvement. Schools usually define involvement as coming to conferences or PTO meetings, and attending other school events. Yet the research shows that these are NOT the kinds of parental involvement that make a big difference in how kids do in school I just wrote an article about that research. IF you’re interested, it’s at


  2. Thanks Kathy – this is a great article that doesn’t surprise me at all given the research around “parent involvement.” I just wish more school administrators and teachers would read this and really take it to heart. Given the “high-stakes” nature of testing these days, schools are seriously putting the pressure on parents to do practice tests at home, do practice tests on the internet (even when they don’t have access to the internet or the right kind of software to read the practice tests), etc. etc.

    Schools are pressuring parents, which is likely adding pressure to children, which creates an unforgiving cycle of pressure-mistrust-pressure-more mistrust…It’s interesting to consider at the very least.

    Thanks for sharing this! Let us know when you publish other articles too…

    • YOu’re very welcome!
      Yes thats why I called my latest book Pressured Parents, Stressed Out Kids.
      Something that’s not in the book but which I sometimes think: all this pressure on parents is a way to shift work off the school system and on to parents. Even the “helping with homework” thing — and I know I’m going way off the reservation here — it’s like parents are supposed to become teachers for a couple of hours a day. Support is good and important but — did your parents help you every night? I remember my mom helping me say in first or second grade….but not much after that, except maybe talking to me about where to get library books or something….

  3. I completely agree. A mother of a 5th grader came to see me today – crying – because her child did not meet the score necessary on the state test to be promoted to the next grade. Her immediate response was, “I tried to get the software so we could do practice tests on the computer at home, but I wasn’t able to.” The responsibility is swiftly and successfully shifted to the individual parent and the individual child. It’s just unacceptable. Period. Later in the conversation she said, “I really try to get him to read more. He needs to read more,” – again, accepting full responsibility for her child not passing a test when he is at school 7.5 hours every day and it is not the parent’s job to be the teacher!! Ugh.

    It’s almost as if the school/institution has so successfully convinced parents that they are responsible that the institution has also – perhaps unwittingly – prevented a full-blown parent revolt. If you accept individual responsibility, you surely won’t go public and fight against a system (that is telling you it is your fault).

    I help my own 2nd grade child VERY minimally with homework at home. We spend our time doing things we love to do instead: listening to music, dancing, making art thingy-ma-jigs, playing outside, and spending time with family and friends. I refuse to give a school control over my life with my child…

  4. Hear, hear! They’ve got the parents blaming themselves rather than putting heat on the system. Good point!
    I love the way you spend time with your daughter. Sounds just wonderful…hooray!

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