What follows is the data and conclusions we drew based on our surveys.
We handed out surveys to three classes of middle school students, including one class of 6th graders with a heterogeneous mix of special-ed and general-ed students, one homogeneous class of general-ed 6th grade students, and one heterogeneous class of general-ed and special-ed 7th grade students. We also interviewed 7 10th-11th graders at a high school for recent immigrants in the Bronx. All subjects were asked the same questions, but the high school students were interviewed rather than asked to fill out a survey.We included the data from the 87 middle school students in our data summary, because there did not seem to be significant variation from the three classes, and will report our findings from the high school in the analysis below separately. The most significant difference between the three middle school classes was that the 7th grade responses to open-ended questions were slightly easier to categorize, because they wrote more in their responses. Below is the data accumulated from these surveys, with brief analysis and comparison to the high school findings included below each graph.
If a student left the “Why?” prompt blank, then their reason was not categorized. Above, “Discipline” is for any discipline or behavior related reasons for calling or not calling; “organization” is for any reasons that are grade-related, absence-related, or bureaucratic; and “positive” is for reasons that have to do with praise. The majority of students claimed that their parents had never been called by their teachers, and a number of them explained that this was because they “weren’t bad,” or because they were “always good in class.” Of the students that cited discipline related reasons for this type of parent teacher communication, the students who claimed never to have received negative phone calls from their teachers cited discipline related reasons even though the prompt did not imply that they needed to explain why. The high school students responded differently; 6 out of 7 of them reported having had a teacher call home more than once, and all at least once for a positive reason. One student explained that his English teacher had once called home to try to convince his parents to let him take part in an internship offered by the school, while another perceived a phone call home about his not having a school uniform as a positive reason for parent contact. It is also interesting to note that the method of communication between teachers and parents was exclusively by telephone; likely due to lack of internet or computer access in the parents’ homes.
Note that in the above plot, about 50% of middle school students who indicated that their parents had been called also indicated that it was for discipline related reasons. About 36% of middle school students claimed never to have gotten a “phone call home,” cited discipline related reasons, despite the survey implying that they didn’t need to share this information. Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that out of all 87 students, only 13 students actually indicated that their parents had received negative phone calls home. With only 13 students receiving these negative calls, and 35 students citing discipline related reasons for either receiving a call or not, it seems very likely that students perceive parent/teacher communication mainly as something that reflects poorly on them. This is in contrast to our high school students, who reported very positive feelings about having their teachers call home.
For parents calling teachers, the majority of students indicated that these phone calls were mainly for organizational reasons. Of the students that indicated discipline related reasons, most implied that it was because their parents were following up with communication that had been initiated by a teacher or principle. A little more than half of students (57%) indicated that they did have follow-up conversations with their teachers or parents about the parent/teacher communication. Of our 7 high school students surveyed, none of them reported having had a parent or guardian call a teacher.
It seemed from this open-ended question that some middle school students surveyed were referring to parent teacher conferences and not telephone calls or emails when they indicated negative feelings towards parent/teacher communication. This may have skewed our data towards the “weird/scary/uncomfortable” spectrum, but it seems consistent with the fact that students do seem to perceive parent/teacher communication as something that reflects poorly on them, as indicated by the 1st middle school survey results. In contrast, all but one of our high school students reported very positive feelings about their teachers calling home. They said they felt important, cared for, and motivated to try even harder in school. Students that had had teachers call home for discipline issues even recognized that if the teacher did not “care” about them in the first place, they would not have bothered to call.
Most students indicated their parents only came to school for parent teacher conferences, and many students indicated that their parents never come to school. This data seemed to be uncorrelated with student perceptions of their parent or guardian’s involvement with their education. One high school student interviewed reported that his parent had come to school once for disciplinary reasons.
When both middle and high school students were asked explicitly about their parent or guardian’s involvement in their education, most were satisfied with the current level of involvement, and liked the idea of their parents being involved. Middle school students reported feeling good about their parents helping them with homework, showing an interest, and everything that one would want from their parents. The high school students stated that even though their parents were unable to help them with their homework they also felt good about their parents showing interest in their education. A very low number of the middle school students, however, reported positive feelings about teachers contacting their parents. This could be due to the very low number of reported positive phone calls home in that group, and the correspondingly high number of disciplinary calls home. It is possible that the students in the middle school group associate teachers calling home with getting into trouble. Wanting parents to be involved in their education might therefore simply be a matter of connotation — the middle school students think of parent-teacher communication as being negative because of the way this dynamic has been set up in the classroom, but they still reported wanting their parents to be involved in their education; this suggests a positive identification with parental involvement. Further investigation as to what the middle school students would like that parental involvement to look like is needed.
When asking parents of 9th graders about Parent-Teacher communication, the data indicate mixed feelings from parents, likely due to the fact that their children are just beginning high school. The following four graphs reflect the most interesting findings from our survey.
Most parents noted that teachers communicate with them once or twice per year or per semester. This may be related to the fact that parents perceive teacher contact as a sign of their student’s poor grades or behavior, as they noted in other survey questions.
Overwhelmingly popular at this particular high school, the email communication system allows parents, students, and teachers to stay in contact about school assignments. The parents respond well to email communication and seem to feel connected to the class when the teacher sends email updates out to parents. Furthermore, parents seem to want teachers to communicate in a timely fashion. For example, parents want “Earlier feedback [from teachers] before grades permanently suffer,” and feel that “by the time [parents and teachers] have contact, it is sometimes to late to resolve an issue.”
One query investigated how often parents were invited to participate in school activities by members of the school staff (teachers and other faculty). While the parents were invited to participate fairly regularly, their actual time commitment to participate in school activities seemed to be low. This data indicates that the school does a good job of making parents feel welcome to come to class activities, but either way parents have a more limited amount of time that they are realistically able to offer to teachers and their child’s classes.
Finally, the parents surveyed were divided on the overall quality of parent-teacher interaction, with most leaning toward an unsatisfied feeling. This could from many parents feeling that a more individualized approach to parent-teacher communication is necessary to improve student achievement. They commented that teachers should send home written, personalized evaluations of each student. They also feel that the teachers do not communicate with parents enough about in-class lessons or examinations. Parents who seemed more pleased with the level of parent-teacher communication also comment that they are satisfied because their child is getting good grades in classes, thus parents and teachers do not need to be in contact.
Our surveys were structured to seek teacher advice on how best to communicate with parents, in terms of overall communication approaches as well the actual media for communication. There was a nuanced spectrum of data, which we were able to compile into a list of teacher tips that describes how to use various media for communication most effectively. Also this teacher guide includes some other general advice compiled from the surveys. Our surveys also inquired about frequency of parent contact, frustrations that arise when communicating with parents, and whether or not teachers invite parents to physically come in and participate in the class. 10 teachers from 4 different schools were given the surveys.
This data shows that these 10 teachers tend to call parents multiple times a week. Teachers mentioned that they called for various reasons, including behavior/conduct, academic performance (deficits and improvements), and organizational reasons (homework, upcoming tests, information gathering, dismissal plans, etc.).
The distribution of frustration is a bit of a wash, as it seems like teachers more or less either did not identify any problems in communicating with teachers, or they simply had their own individual complaints. In fact if one were to group the above data in terms of either mild or no frustration and perceptions of problems that are not directed at the parents, and frustrations that are directed at the parents, we see that half of the teachers see parents actions as the source of frustration, and the other half see any problems as being more circumstantial.
8 out of 10 teachers never invite teachers to actually participate in the classroom (i.e. come in and help assist the teacher, or even teach the class). One teacher indicated that they occasionally will have a parent come in to give a presentation or help lead activities, while another had recently invited a parent to come volunteer in the class. This is interesting merely in the context of our recent explorations of Culturally Relevant Teaching (CRT), where parent presence in the classroom is a central feature of parent involvement and communication in the culturally relevant context, as explored by the work of Gertrude Winston (Ladson-Billings, 1995, p. 161). This would be an important feature of parent communication to be followed up upon in future research.
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