By Jennifer Graham Kizer
A while back, I read a New York Times piece with a great title: “Parental Involvement Is Overrated.”
The gist: Don’t worry so much about helping your children succeed in school! You don’t need to visit the classroom, head up the PTA, and drill your kids into the wall with math facts and Mandarin vocabulary flash cards!
It turns out that a hands-off approach works best, based on extensive research of academic outcomes spanning three decades. So parents are off the hook. Hurray!
But then the article offers the mere three things that parents do need to do. Just three.
“The list of what generally works [in helping your child succeed] is short: expecting your child to go to college, discussing activities children engage in at school, and requesting a particular teacher for your child.”
The first two are easy. But that last one, about requesting the teacher? For me, it turned this article from reassuring to terrifying. It became my takeaway fact, the one part of the piece I remembered long after reading it.
That takeaway: Teacher quality is so important that wrangling a good one made the list of the Only Three Things You Should Be Doing For Your Child.
This is bad news, because at my daughters’ school, landing the perfect teacher is extremely complicated. Parents aren’t allowed to meddle in classroom placement. So if you want your child to avoid the sub-par teachers, and get a high-performing one, you have to pull off some 007 maneuvers behind the scenes.
Parents write carefully worded letters, mentioning teacher traits they can’t abide. They cozy up to the principal, and casually drop their teacher preferences into conversation. Or they throw caution to the wind, and audaciously request a certain teacher anyway, despite the rules not to. (Sometimes this ballsy approach even works, which infuriates everyone else.)
To do any of this, you need a steely resolve to fight for your own child’s optimal placement, knowing that children with less crafty parents will lose out and get the “poor” teacher. But if this task is one of the Only Three Things You Should Be Doing, well, shouldn’t you be doing it?
Yes, of course. And last year, I didn’t do it.
I’d heard all the teachers in my daughter’s upcoming grade level were good, so there was nothing to worry about. Then the class lists went up. All of the returning teachers may indeed be good, but my daughter got a brand-new, first-year teacher. And a rowdy class, to boot.
This is a big testing year for her, in general and to qualify for the gifted program. It’s an “important” academic year all around, according to teachers and parents of older kids. They cite smart-sounding reasons. When my daughter returned home from her first day of school, she gave some troubling reports about the spanking new teacher and the hoodlums in her room. Mostly, Ms. Inexperienced couldn’t get the crazy kids to shut up.
So I was disappointed. While it was too early to tell how disappointed I should be, this qualified as something that I could legitimately freak out about, at least a little.
But I decided not to. Instead, I recited some Phillippians–a verse I’d committed to memory long ago.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phillippians 4:6-7)
And then, I let this passage speak into my situation:
Do not be anxious about your daughter’s experience at school this year, despite what appears to be a less-than-ideal situation. Be thankful for her good school and her fresh teacher and all her classmates. And also for her beautiful smile and her energy and spirit and good health and for the fact that I—her Father—love, love, love her! Present your requests to Me. What would you like for her? To grow in confidence and knowledge and wisdom? To learn how to walk with Me? To meet good friends who know Me, too? Present these requests to Me, expecting an answer, and you’ll find peace.
Next, I remembered that God’s sovereignty determines the path of my daughter’s growth—spiritually, academically, emotionally and physically. And then I just…prayed. For my daughter, and for her teacher.
This week, the third graders embarked on several days of their important testing. The teacher has emailed me twice already, letting me know that my daughter’s doing just fine. Yesterday, I wrote to her with the news that my daughter didn’t agree. She was finding the tests hard, and she was worried about not getting into the gifted program. The teacher’s reply was exactly what I needed to hear. She said she would do everything she could to help my daughter. And she said, “I will pray for her, too.” I cried when I read that.
No doubt it’s true that teacher quality matters. Attempting to secure the best one for my child is a good thing to do. I live in the real world, where my actions (or inaction) make a difference. But amidst my efforts to help, I must never forget that PRAYER is the most important. It is a real action, a means of helping that’s even more important than writing a letter, or networking at the school.
In God’s sovereignty, He’s placed her right where He wants her to be. God’s interested in the transformation of her heart (and mine), and He’s chosen to do that work in these circumstances. He’s allowed her to have this teacher, this praying teacher, for a reason.
So let’s amend the Three Things You Should Be Doing to help your child at school, shall we?:
- Expect your child to go to college.
- Discuss activities your child engages in at school.
- Prayerfully request a particular teacher for your child, and prayerfully accept and support the teacher that God ultimately deems best for her.
I think that’s a much better takeaway, don’t you?
No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor heart imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him. (1 Corinthians 2:9)