parentsI was in my first few weeks as a middle school social studies teacher and basically had no idea what I was doing. It was a struggle from one day to the next simply being able to put together some sort of lesson plan.

Throw coaching on top of that and I was just lost.

But what was really throwing me was the classroom management stuff. It’s difficult to explain the feeling of walking into a room with 30+ eighth graders and closing the door behind you. It truly has to be experienced first hand to be fully appreciated.

But, being a rookie, I figured that I could always count on parents to help out a bit. A quick phone call to the mother of a student should take care of the problem, right? A quiet conversation at parent-teacher conferences? A note home?

Of course, what I began to realize is that while there are some very involved parents out in the wild, there are also some who . . . well, using a baseball analogy – are batting .185 in single A. They just ain’t ever gonna make it in the majors.

And for quite some time I used the “Bad Parent” excuse. As in, “if only these parents would do their jobs, I could do mine.”

But what I’ve come to realize over time is that perhaps some parents literally don’t know how to do their jobs. That we’re expecting something that probably won’t ever happen without some sort of intervention on the part of schools and society in general.

And there are some attempts to work with parents and train them in the “how” of being mom and dad. But the current focus in schools is still too much on teachers and not enough on parents. We spend literally billions on finding ways to increase test scores and tiered interventions and programs and MAP assessments but yet find it difficult to find money or time for improving the skills of parents who need it most.

A recent Newsweek article by Anna Quindlen provides some insight into how powerful it can be when the focus shifts to include parents. The article describes research showing how appropriate and useful parenting can lower stress chemical levels in students, improving both behavior and learning. She does a much better job of describing the project so you won’t hurt my feelings if you head over there for the full story.

But a couple of things caught my eye. After working with parents,

. . . their kids’ cortisol levels changed. Or, as the study itself says in science-speak, “family-based intervention affects the stress response in preschoolers at high risk.” By the time those same kids were 11, both boys and girls were less aggressive, and the girls less obese, than the kids in a control group. Having their parents learn the basics of good child rearing had actually shifted the biology of these kids, so that it became similar to that of “normally developing, low-risk children.”

Connect the dots here, and the picture you have is mind-boggling-even in tough neighborhoods, with boys and girls whose background and circumstances would argue for a negative future, a little parent training can go a long, long way.

We often assume that parenting is just something that comes naturally – that simply fathering a child or giving birth magically transforms us into Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver. It doesn’t happen this way but educators often want to act as if it does. It seems like common sense to me that we need to be spending as much of our time and effort outside the classroom as we do in them.

. . . here’s how it turns out: there are markedly lower rates of aggression among kindergartners whose parents have been in ParentCorps than among a control group of students at similar schools. The kids also score higher on standardized achievement tests.

And let’s be very clear here . . .

. . . it would be a mistake to think that (parental) instruction and support are required only among the needy.

We need parental training across the entire range of economic and cultural neighborhoods.

And we need it today.