Why I’m not involved: Parental involvement from a parent’s perspective




A university researcher explains how issues of race, culture, and trust have made her reluctant to become more involved at her son’s school.


I am the mother of a 7-year-old boy from South Korea, and I’m also a college faculty member, teaching and writing about social justice, race, and education. I truly enjoy being both a mom and a faculty member, but juggling motherhood and career tends to make my daily life intense and fast-paced. Like many other moms, my day starts with packing my son’s lunch, getting him ready, and driving him to school. Later, I pick him up, cook dinner, check homework, supervise video game time, give him a bath, and put him to bed. Mixed in with these duties are course prepping, grading, responding to student emails, teaching, and working on my own research and writing.

Last year, after spending a couple of years in daycare, my son Michael (not his real name) entered kindergarten. My baby had finally become a student, and I was excited, hoping that the experience would help me sharpen my insights into educational issues. What I didn’t realize was that my faith in the school system would be shaken, especially my beliefs about parent involvement.

Parent involvement for what? 

The school that my son attends boasts an excellent reputation for academic rigor, quality teachers, an enriched curriculum, a whole-child approach, and more. It’s also known for its many efforts to involve parents in fund-raising, chaperoning, reading books to the students, helping with parties, and so on. So it didn’t take long before my email inbox was flooded with event flyers and requests for volunteers. I didn’t mind. When I attended a school event, teachers and administrators smiled and told me how much Michael loves school.

Michael’s kindergarten teacher was a white woman with many years of teaching experience. In November, the first teacher-parent conference was scheduled, and I prepared my questions and discussion points to share. The teacher began by showing me the work that Michael had done in class and explaining how much progress he had made in math and reading. That was all good to hear. But, she went on, Michael sometimes got carried away by his silliness and misbehaved.

Exactly how, I asked, had he misbehaved? She said that he had a hard time following the “do-not-pop-the-bubble-policy” — that was the classroom rule about not touching other kids. Imagine that everyone has their own bubble, she explained; you don’t want to pop anyone’s bubble by coming too close to them. She told me that Michael often touched and hit others in a playful way, and she constantly had to remind him about the policy. Overall, she concluded, Michael is a good kid, but he needs to work on that rule.

I left the conference feeling disappointed, humiliated, and dumbfounded. I had expected something fundamentally different. I expected to have a conversation with the teacher. I expected the teacher to ask questions about Michael’s family life. I expected a true parent-teacher partnership for the benefit of his education. I expected the teacher to take an interest in my approach to raising Michael. But all I heard from his teachers — that year and the next — was information about where he stood on the spectrum from struggling to smart and where he stood on the obedience spectrum (from disruptive to respectful).

How can it be, I wonder, that teachers show no interest in my son’s culture, or in working with me as a partner to support his learning?

Those first two years of Michael’s schooling, it became clear to me that my expectations about the teacher-parent partnership had been naive. As the researcher Mary Christianakis (2011) has argued, when teachers encourage parents to be more involved, what they often mean is that they want parents to help them, specifically by getting our children to obey school rules and make their jobs easier. But do they care who I am, how I raise my son, what my struggles are as a parent? I haven’t seen that in my conversations with Michael’s teachers.

Race matters 

For immigrant and nonwhite families like mine, the absence of genuine, two-way communication tends to be especially hurtful. For example, consider the “do-not-pop-the-bubble policy,” the no-nonsense approach in Michael’s kindergarten. As an educator, I understand the rationale behind it, but the teacher’s enforcement of the rule also strikes me as a typical case of the sort of everyday institutional racism that has been widely discussed in the literature of critical race theory (e.g., Ladson-Billings, 1999; Sleeter, 1996) and critical white studies (e.g. McIntyre, 1997). I’ve devoted the past 15 years to teaching and preaching about such issues in college classrooms, but it really hit home to be on the receiving end of what so many minority parents and children endure every day.

A rule like “Do not touch other children” may sound neutral, favoring no students over others, but consider this: At home, I teach different values. I’ve never told Michael not to touch anyone or to keep out of their personal space. My husband and I cuddle with him all the time. That’s how we show love and affection, and not just among family members. In South Korea where I grew up, personal space or privacy wasn’t valued like it is for many Americans. Like everybody else I knew, my family — my parents, two siblings, and I — lived in a cramped apartment where all spaces needed to be shared. I didn’t even know it could be otherwise until I was invited to the house of a white family and was appalled to see that a 4-year-old boy had his own room, with his own bed and desk. To many Americans, making a child sleep alone may seem like a good way to foster independence at an early age; to me, it seemed like child negligence. Given our belief that young kids need constant supervision and care, my husband and I did not create a separate room for our son. Nor does he have his own bed. We haven’t taught him to see a clear boundary between “your” space and “my” space.

For immigrant and nonwhite families like mine, the absence of genuine, two-way communication tends to be especially hurtful.

As he gets older, Michael will learn code-switching — practicing different behaviors and observing different values in different settings. But for now, he has a hard time following the no-touching policy. Worse, because he brought his home culture to school, he has already been labeled as an unruly kid who struggles to follow the rules. “Mommy,” he told me in kindergarten, “I am in the bad behavior group at school.” I can’t help but worry that his teacher’s punitive reaction to his behavior has created a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I fear that instead of learning to appreciate the differences between his home and school cultures, he will learn to think of his home values as inferior.

How should I have responded to Michael’s kindergarten teacher? I could have tried to explain this cultural difference, but I did not. I didn’t feel like I could say anything at all. According to the teacher’s mental framework, children are either respectful or disruptive, and she had already put Michael in the second category. I didn’t want to be on the defensive, I didn’t want to apologize for my son’s behavior, and I didn’t want to try to educate the teacher. How could I carry out a conversation with someone who does not know me and does not try to know me, who offers no analysis and insights but only judgment? So I bowed out. I politely said thank you, and I left.

Until then, I had been an advocate of parent involvement. Despite my busy work schedule, I volunteered here and there. I was the parent who wanted to be genuinely involved in my son’s education. I wanted to have a collegial relationship with his teacher. But when I looked through the list of parent involvement opportunities, I found, to my dismay, almost nothing that would truly support learning. Mostly, we were asked to provide helping hands to teachers (by chaperoning or supervising lunch) or to help the school raise money. This was no parent-teacher partnership, I realized. It was a one-sided request, based not on mutual respect but on an appeal to help overwhelmed teachers manage their workloads.

In her research in an inner-city school, Christianakis (2011) found that the teachers “did not talk about or treat parents as partners or intellectual equals . . . They did not collaborate with the parents to support home or family goals, as is implied by the term partnership” (p. 172). My son’s school serves an affluent, upper-middle-class community, but that description resonates powerfully with me. I could be more involved with the school, but it would be false to call that a partnership.

Parents, teachers, and trust

Over the past two years, I’ve shared my story with many friends and with my students, and few of them have been sympathetic. There’s nothing unusual about what I experienced, they explain. Plus, they ask, how could teachers possibly accommodate every kid, given how many different home cultures students come from?

For my part, I remain frustrated, even more so to hear that my story is the norm in K-12 education. How can it be, I wonder, that teachers show no interest in my son’s culture, or in working with me as a partner to support his learning? Is this behavior (and I can only see it as a kind of institutional racism) so common that no one thinks to stand up for justice? How will it be rectified? How can I be empowered?

I wish that my son’s teachers would meet me at the very beginning of the year and engage me in a conversation that continues all year long. I wish that they would invite me to look at the curriculum and share my perspective. I wish that I had chances to offer my insights about the rules and values that are practiced at my child’s school. But while my voice — and my critical understanding of race — is highly valued in college classrooms, it doesn’t seem to have a place at my son’s school.

Had the school invited me to do so, I would have gladly discussed the issue of cultural mismatch and helped Michael’s teacher put his “misbehavior” in context. Had there been any real effort to build trust between me and the teacher, I would have been more than willing to lend a hand and become more involved. I hope that comes true one day. Hopefully, it will happen before Michael graduates from high school.



Christianakis, M. (2011). Parents as “help labor’: Inner-city teachers’ narratives of parent involvement. Teacher Education Quarterly, 38 (4), 157-178.

Ladson-Billings, G.J. (1999). Preparing teachers for diverse student populations: A critical race theory perspective. Review of research in education, 24 (1), 211-247.

McIntyre, A. (1997). Making meaning of whiteness: Exploring racial identity with white teachers. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

Sleeter, C. (1996). Multicultural education as social activism. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.


Citation: Choi, J. (2017). Why I’m not involved: Parental involvement from a parent’s perspective.  Phi Delta Kappan 99 (3), 46-49.


JUNG-AH CHOI (jchoi1@saintpeters.edu) is an assistant professor of education, St. Peter’s University, Jersey City, N.J.


  • A necessary story for all educators. Don’t be discouraged. You are right. Over and over again, family engagement in learning has been proven to be a major indicator of student success. Note I said ‘in learning’ and not ‘in helping schools’. Dr. Jane Goodall at the University of Bath says it’s time to stop working for the benefit of the school, and for all parties to begin working for the benefit of the students.
    You’ve hit a couple teachers who haven’t figured that out yet – and maybe never will. By coincidence, I read this article before yours. Perhaps the staff at your sons’ school would benefit from a copy. 😉

    Sometimes its the parents who have to take the initiative and teach the school. Best wishes.

  • Logan

    As a teacher, I found this illuminating in many ways. Thank you for expressing your feelings. I do want more parent involvement, and I would love for it to be at the level you describe as a partnership, but I don’t see how that is possible. I am given policies, overarching expectations, and curriculum from the district and my administration- often with little or no teacher input, let alone room for parent input.
    I don’t know how to truly include parents in my classroom. I can barely get ahold of parents during my work hours. To schedule conferences, I usually end up calling between 6-8pm, which is well outside my paid time (and not feasible for my colleagues who have children of their own!).
    There are many families who I never see outside of that 10 minutes of conferences, and almost half of them that I never talk to again. I have, in the past, talked about how the child does academically and behaviorally because I thought that’s what parents would expect to hear. I wonder if there is a good way for me to integrate that with an interest in the child’s home life (which I have, of course, but have never thought about actually expressing to parents). Since I am not a parent myself, I often find myself being surprised by what parents want from me as a teacher. It’s always a learning process!

    • Logan

      I should add, while I wrote that I don’t know how to include parents more, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try! Reading this article definitely put it at the forefront of my mind to find more ways to do just that.

    • N. Soule

      Logan. I respect your humility and openness. There are many ways to engage that are beyond calling during the day or between 6 and 8. There are online platforms, emails, newsletters, volunteer opportunities, and truly, the most important role you have is how you talk to families as equal partners. You already seem to have that outlook. Keep reading and take some baby steps! Good work!

  • Tracy Patterson

    Your article brings up many valid points. I am a high school Spanish teacher and Spanish for Heritage Speakers teacher. I have 180 students, with whose parents I crave to have a a professional and collaborative relationship. Every year I set the goal that I will contact individual parents just to tell them about their students’ successes instead of only contacting parents when there is a problem. Every year I fail to meet that goal. I am being 100% honest when I say that I spend 10 hours a day at school and most days an additional 2 hours at home working on school related tasks. These are things teachers must do: grading, planning, responding to emails, attending staff meetings, professional development, preparing to be evaluated, creating assessments, and in my district- re writing assessments so students can retake assessments they do not pass. All educators know that the list goes on. This is not my point. My point is that there exists a great disparity between what we, educators, know to be best practice and the policies that prevent us from carrying ou those best practices. So, what you end up with is bunch of teachers who live in a constant state of frustration at their inability to completely self-actaulize as educators.

    My mantra is, “Don’t bring me a problem, without offereing a solution.” To that end, to all of my fellow educators out there, as I go into high school conferences in the week before Thanksgiving, I am going to mindfully change the one-way dialog that Professor Choi points out happens all too often. I am going to ask questions about the family, the student and what the parents wish their student’s teachers knew about him/her. I am not going to discuss grades, behaviour, nor progress. Instead, I will share with them the resources available to check on that themselves.

    I would genuinely welcome more advice on conversation starters to help me how to carry out my “un-conferences.”


    Tracy “Profe” Patterson

  • Laura Willoughby

    I’m concerned that the author has spent 15 years “teaching and preaching” and likely publishing about the importance of critical race theory but wasn’t fully aware of it being a true problem that’s dealt with daily until it happened to her. As someone who instructs at the university level, likely to future teachers, I feel she should be spending more time in the field and less time isolated in the university environment surrounded by theoretical perspectives without the reality of why those perspectives really matter to real people. Also, this was/is the perfect opportunity to put her platform to good constructive use and open up a dialogue with the school, both the teacher and principal and suggest children’s books that would give all the students (and teachers) different cultural perspectives. Recommend or put together workshops for teachers about the importance of recognizing and celebrating, and respecting different cultures. They may not have explicitly “invited” a conversation, but there’s no mention of even trying, through e-mails, meetings with the principal, extra meetings with the teacher outside of conferences, etc. Taking yourself out of the equation, writing a complaint about how imperfect things are then throwing your hands up and retreating back to the world of the university doesn’t actively change anything.

  • Jung-ah Choi

    Hello Laura,
    I appreciate your comments.

    • Jung-ah Choi

      Hello Laura,
      I appreciate your comments, and you are right that “writing a complaint” is not helping. However, don’t you think that “writing a complaint” and publishing my complaints may give me an opportunity to “trying meeting with principals and teachers”? If I had not published my ideas/thoughts, how would they know this perspective, and how would they know that I can present this thought to them?

      • Carter Bell

        Did you send them a copy of your article? If not, I would suggest you do. Or even a more personal e mail detailing your experiences. I am a teacher, but also the mother of Black children who were adopted. Many teachers are clueless when it comes to adoption and I find that I have to do a lot of educating. Some teacher have taken well to my advocating for my children, while others haven’t. But I first had to take the step of educating my children’s teachers.

        My question in your article comes from your response to the “bubble” rule. As a music teacher that uses lots of movement in my classroom I talk a lot about personal space. As a teacher of children from trauma, I have several kids who respond very negatively to touch because of prior experiences. As a teacher of children with special needs, I have students who respond violently to touch- a gentle tap to them feels like a pinch or punch. I can be both culturally sensitive while also working to do what is best for all of my students and create a safe place. Your child feeling like a “badly behaved” child is most certainly problematic. As a teacher, I would want to know a child felt that way in my classroom so I could make reparations and, hopefully, restore a healthy relationship.

  • KC

    While I agree with a lot of the points made in the article and have experienced them myself, I do wonder if the author has modified her own instruction with her students as a result? I know at the college level the parents are left out of the loop, but there are still many students with many varied customs and cultures in almost every classroom. How have these experiences with her son’s school impacted her own classroom? I would be very interested in hearing how her own practice as a teacher has changed as a result.

  • Kay

    I have an adopted child and I work. I felt that in kindergarten I had to reach out to the teacher specifically as the teacher had 20 children in the class. I knew I couldn’t wait for her to come to me.

  • EB

    How can you not tell the teacher that touching is normal in Korea? if the teacher knows that, she can see that Michael has not yet learned the classroom protocol that exists in every US classroom (including, I would guess, those taught by teachers of Korean descent) BECAUSE that protocol is not yet internalized for him. And instead of placing him on a binary of “respectful” vs. “disrespectful,” she can see that he may need coaching and patience on her part (as well as encouragement as he learns) in order to move towards the goal of not touching in class.

    • Liz

      I can’t speak for the author, but having been similarly blindsided in a kindergarten conference by a teacher who shouted at me, “THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH HIM!” (seriously, this happened. What was “wrong” with my son was that he was reading at a 3rd grade level and doing multiplication in his head while also being “wiggly” during the three hours she expected them to sit still in the morning), I can offer my own perspective: This was my first “real” parent-teacher conference. I’m not sure I expected overtures toward a partnership, but I expected something more professional and collegial than I got. I was dumbfounded for several reasons: (a) this was the first contact I had with her. If my son was so WRONG, why had she not contacted his parents sooner? (b) her whole demeanor was terrifying. This is someone who works with 5- and 6-year-old children? (c) this was fully outside what I consider to be the scope of professional behavior. I honestly could not have mentally prepared for the experience because it was so outrageous. Now, I will say that after that dismal conference, I got smart. I have gone in to every conference since then (my son is now a 10th grader) fully prepared and, to some degree, ready to fight if necessary. I expect the author will do the same. But the first time a teacher really lets you down as a parent, it can be hard to think on your feet and rally in the 15 minutes that you’re allotted to speak about your child.

  • michele

    A story from the New York Times that might offer some answers on bridging the parent-teacher divide. http://nyti.ms/2z2X9Rf

  • Bettie Douglas

    Jung ah Choe has wtitten an insightfully honest portrayal of systemic racism. It also indicates why so many children of different cultures have a school record of disciplinary problems. Somehow, each one of us must behin to confront our own beliefs about others and move to understand our fellow man. It is a lofty goal, but the only way we will begin to eradicate our societal violence that has its roots in the mistreatment of youth

  • Bettie Douglas

    Please accept my apology for the incorrect spelling of “begin” in the third line.

  • Amy

    I guess it’s all a matter of perspective. I just had my son’s first parent-teacher conference last night. He is in first grade. The teacher had five minutes to tell me about his academic progress (doing well, reading above grade level) and let me know some things he could work on (not rushing through his work and not touching other students). These “criticisms” didn’t bother me because A) I understand that developmentally most young boys have difficulty sitting still, not touching other students, etc. B) my son is on an IEP for ADHD. He was in early intervention at age 2. He had a lot of behavior problems and autistic like traits, but with therapy and treatment, he is progressing very well. So when his teacher told me these things about him, I wasn’t upset. I know my son has difficulty with these things. In fact, if these are the only difficulties he is currently having, things are going very well! We are also very affectionate in our home. Our son slept with us for many years as well. However, we do teach him that just because we hug our family, doesn’t mean we hug our friends. You call this code-switching, but every family has a unique culture and perspective while schools and work places have strict guidelines for behavior. I don’t expect my son’s teachers to know his family on a personal level. I do my job as a parent to raise him with values and provide him with supports for his physical/emotional/mental wellbeing. I believe the job of my son’s teacher is to teach him. It seems like you have very high and somewhat unrealistic expectations. My son is one of many students in his class. As long as he is learning, safe, and being treated with respect, I’m satisfied.

  • Vanady Daniels

    I would not let this experience stop me from being involved in my child’s education. In fact, such experience would make me even more involved. Why? I would be more involved to be an advocate for my child and other children who may not have a voice. If my advocacy was met with unfavorable actions, I would have to seek another school for my child. I would also let my experiences be known to the school-site administrators, regional and District administrators who oversee school operations.

  • Karen Gifford

    The author, Jung-ah Choi, an intelligent university professor, should recognize that she can take some control of the situation. Her feelings of hurt or disappointment are not warranted. My daughter (when little) attended school in France then Spain. I did not expect the teachers to be understanding of the US culture nor to treat me any differently. It was not racist on their part

    I may have missed something! Parental involvement means different things to different people. To me it means that the parent can take the initiative and respect the teacher and get involved. .

  • Jeff Price

    While I get the author’s point, I wonder why she put the onus on the teacher to understand her son’s culture and her and husband’s parenting skills/choices, without trying to engage the teacher in meaningful conversation. During the parent-teacher conference, Ms. Choi could have simply scheduled another parent-teacher conference to discuss her issues. I also wonder at what point does a line need to be drawn between an individual’s cultural upbringing and the rights of the collective group? The teacher told Ms. Choi that her son “touched and hit others in a playful way.” Don’t the other students have a right not to be touched or hit?

    • Jung-ah Choi

      My article is based on the established scholarship/tenet called (critical) multicultural education. My points and arguments have been espoused by other critical multiculturalists. To address your point: If we do not put the onus on the teacher to understand kids’ culture, we are likely to mis-educate kids by labeling them from the perspective of the white norm. Such miseducation often occurs under the name of “collective group”, which is, in most cases, white middle class. Of course, my son needs to learn white norms (not touch others), but teachers have a moral and professional responsibility to understand my son’s culture not to assimilate him to white middle class culture or not to label him as “unruly” kid.

      • David

        I agree with much of what you wrote regarding the relationships btween teachers and parents. I disagree, however, that the “bubble” is somehow a white norm. I’m white. I also come from a mixed family, many of whom straddle (and many who don’t) the “appears white” life. For my family and extended family, they also find this no-touch school culture as potentially damaging (in most cases). When you look at private schools in the US, schools with higher percentages of white students, the prohibition against touching/proximity is typically non-existent. The no-touch policy exists out of a larger social and educational context typically found in public school settings.

  • Karen Gifford

    Thank you, Jung-ah Choi, for the additional comments which go to the crux of the matter — you believe that the ” white middle class norm” is not acceptable according to the tenets of critical multicultural education. As a previous commenter wrote above,
    the onus is really on the parent to meet with the teacher and discuss the concerns the parent may have.
    How would my USA child be treated in a Korean school? Would the teacher need to hold sensitivity training for the other students to ensure that my child is allowed to behave as he or she would in US school?

    The other day I visited a local high school to attend an event. Of the hundreds of students I saw, only 20% or less, might be classified as white. However, no matter the ethnicity, all were acting like teenagers. The kids want to assimilate on their own and not stand out.

  • Alfredia Dorm

    Different cultures have different ideas about education. Maybe having a private conversation with the teacher could help her better understand his culture. I am a 6th grade social studies teacher and I take great joy in learning about the different cultures of my students. I welcome students and parents to share that with me.

  • Julee Veljanovski

    I’m from a different country so my perspective may be a bit different from the article and the comments above. I’m also a school Principal of 4-13 year olds (no junior high here). My first thought was that the disconnect here was not a racist one. Many families have their own set of values and set of accepted/not accepted behaviours at home. Children learn a new set in each new context. However I would not view the writer’s son as misbehaving at his age but rather adjusting to a different expectation. We are time poor in our profession but many of my teachers send home questionnaires to obtain more insight into children’s backgrounds, interests, hobbies and anything else families want to share. Communication is key. The vast majority of teachers prize the close understanding of each child in supporting them to achieve their goal of helping them succeed at school.
    Here in Australia we also have strong mandated rules about acceptable touching as part of our Child Protection policies and also school behaviour management-I imagine there are similar rules there. It’s a sad reality that children need to learn this early in a social context. Next time maybe ask for a further interview or informal chat with your child’s teacher to further the conversation and gain more mutual understanding.
    Last comment I must make. Using the word ‘appalling’ to describe the sleeping arrangement of a child from another culture to your own, may be equally divisive in your thinking and not help advance your argument for acceptance of diversity…just saying.

    • Anne

      I too was reading this and wondering how this was racist. Instead of making yourself and your son a ‘victim’ of the perceived racism you can also just try to engage with the teachers. I am an immigrant living in the US and there are indeed many cultural differences between how I raise my kid and how American families do. However at school they need to have clear policies that do not discriminate between kids. It is not fair to expect the teachers to tailor their approach to every kid. I would try to engage more with your teacher and let them know how you feel instead of withholding comments and then complaining about it on an internet forum.

  • dc

    A fair critique of parent teacher partnership. the problem isn’t the critique; it’s the monolithic, hopelessly static view of it- so much so that the decision is not not to be involved?

  • Mary Lynn Childerston

    I was a preschool teacher for over 25 years, with a Masters degree in Student Development. In all my years of training, including yearly seminars and workshops, the topic of parent-teacher conferences never came up. Year after year I agonized with trying to find ways to make conferences meaningful and to figure out how in the world I could do so given a 10 minute timeframe with each parent. I finally decided I would implement the practice of home visits, a practice Dr. Maria Montessori required of her teachers and the families with whom she worked. Home visits changed my life as a teacher and as a human being, even though other teachers and many administrators with whom I worked thought I was crazy for putting in the time and effort. I am no longer in the classroom but I think back to so many of the things I learned getting into a child’s home and I wouldn’t have traded the time I spent with the parents of my students for anything. In light of the tragedy of school shootings today, I cannot help but think how home visits could target children in desperate need of help.

  • Anne

    As a parent, teacher, and American who lived in Korea for a few years, I found this an interesting read. But I’m afraid I don’t agree with you, Professor Choi.

    My experience in Korea taught me that indeed, Koreans are very affectionate to each other, often more so than Americans, at least in public. However, they were only that way with close friends and family. We’re all social animals, and fitting in is important to us. So it makes me wonder, what kind of daycare environment was your son in prior to K? Was he only cared for by other Koreans, with only Korean friends in the daycare prior to this? Otherwise, the cultural issue just doesn’t hold water.

    My guess is that your child is “playfully hitting” children who don’t like it, and they are complaining, and the class is being disrupted. This is not a cultural issue, lots of middle class white kids have this problem, too. As others have mentioned, teachers are overwhelmed with responsibilities. They are not looking to whimsically enforce a rule simply because it supports a WASP-y stereotype or cultural norm. They count on these rules (and come up with creative visuals like “bubble popping”) to help to maintain a calm, relaxed environment in which ALL students may learn.

    I would encourage you to support your teacher by talking to your child about his actions. Ask him what other people say when he touches them. Do they ever ask him to stop? What does he do then?

    Finally, I would encourage you to check your own reaction to this tiny bit of bad news at the conference, which left you feeling “disappointed, humiliated and dumbfounded”. Really? He’s having trouble keeping his hands to himself, which you have told us at length is not his fault…so why the big reaction? This isn’t about you, after all, this is his school experience. Help him make it the best possible one.

  • Allison

    I wish I had time for my own kid. I devote every waking hour to my 170 kiddos. I think the best bet here is to vote for funding to increase teacher pay or decrease class sizes or both. I do all I can for my kiddos, but honestly I am giving the least to the one I gave life to. Get us the resources we need to ensure these quality relationships you speak of for all students. I only have 24 hours in a day. I want this too for myself and my own daughter, but I know I don’t live in a utopia.

  • M

    I don’t think you are experiencing racism. I think Americans raise their children to be independent. Parents teach personal space as part of American culture. Ignorance of other cultures does not necessarily mean someone is being racist. Do teachers in Korea ask about home life? Maybe that is a cultural difference. I would think telling a teacher you don’t teach personal space would help them understand your child. Maybe that option wouldn’t occur to a teacher, I don’t think the lack of thought is therefore racist.

  • S.fultz

    And I wish I made more money, had developmentally appropriate curriculum, more time with each child in my class, smaller class size, respect that my professional knowledge accounted for something. Yes teachers are with your children everyday and yes most definitely they want the best for them, but parents need to start becoming vocal on a state and national level. Teachers have no say about the curriculum. All this article suggests is another initiative we will be voluntarily told to incorporate in an already busy day to white wash the real problems.let’s focus on the real problems.

  • SFmom

    I agree with some other comments. We are also an immigrant Asian family, with a lot similar family’s values to the author’s. I think this is not about racism. Rather, I find this article reflects the author’s getting personal about the teacher’s unpleasant comments, more than providing a solid proof of the white norms. My kids have experienced Japanese, Vietnamese, and American preschools. The fundametal things the kids are taught at these different cultural settings are pretty similar: taking turn with others, sharing, and respect each others’ personal space. The idea is to help them transition from a nuturing family setting to a more independent social setting. Many kids take a long time to get these, and girls usually get these earlier than boys. It’s not about being good kids or bad kids, it’s about readiness. It sounds like her expectation and the teacher’s expection on the boy’s self-regulatory readiness is not on the same page, and “institutional racism” is used as an excuse for the disconnection. To be clear, we did experience some culturally insensitive school experience. My son was asked to write about Christmas celebration, Santa Claus, skying, the things that we don’t celebrate or have never tried. So yes, there is an aspect of white norms in the school system, but the article above is a fail proof.

    As for giving imput to curriculums, join the PTA, talks to principal, attending school district meetings. In public education, you have to be the advocate for your child. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Don’t just be polite then resent people for not understand you. Teachers are masters of multitasking and I have deep respect foir them.

  • Gail R

    This echoes my experience with school now that I have a kindergartner. Thank you for this piece— it’s going to serve as a much needed tool in my toolbox of strategies for working with my kids’ schools and their teachers in the future. Thank you

  • Eva S

    I am a researcher with a Ph.D. in early childhood developmental psychology. I facilitate workshops and seminars on racial equity in early childhood education all over the country. My son and I are African American, and we are currently experiencing many of the same experiences described by this author. We go to a private, so-called progressive school. Although there is a fair amount of diversity among the families who go to our school, Whiteness is definitely centered. I too experience an almost inexplicable sense of paralysis and speechlessness when talking with my son’s kindergarten teacher(s). Even though the lead teacher knows my professional and academic background, the tone and approach she uses with me and my husband are very condescending. I have tried to explain our family’s values and our expectations through both a developmental and cultural lens. It seems to fall on deaf ears. I will definitely be using this article among friends and colleagues – and yes – my son’s teachers and administrators to keep the lines of communication open. It is exhausting, but we need to have an open and honest conversation about teacher-parent relationships in school.

  • Kyla S

    I am a teacher and I can see both sides. I don’t think most teachers are trying to offend anyone, but we just don’t know these types of things until someone informs us. I love when a parent shares cultural beliefs and norms with me. For example in some cultures eye contact might be seen as disrespectful. I would have never known this if a parent didn’t take the time to tell me and I might have thought that a student was being disrespectful when that wasn’t their intent. My mom works in St. Paul Minnesota and in their district they do home visits outside of the school day. Parents have the option to sign up for a home visit and my mom sets up a time with the family. During these home visits, you are not supposed to talk about school or the students progress in school. It is meant to create a relationship between the teacher and family. The family often makes traditional food, talks about their culture and talks about their child outside of the school day. As a parent who feels this way, I would definitely reach out to the teacher and principal. If they don’t know you are feeling this way, nothing will change.

  • Shyam

    One question i have is , first place when a teacher observes something unusual like popping someone else’s bubble , Could the teacher have brought to parents attention immediately? Lets say , a student gets enrolled in a class, as the teacher gets to know more or viceversa parent gets to know more about the teacher and the communication is going smooth , in case something unusual is observed on a particular day and in case teacher discusses that point with parent immediately , lets say on a lighter note asked this question that ” I see Tom was too interested to pop xyz’s bubble and I conveyed him twice not to do so due to xyz reasons but that hasn’t helped. Am i missing anything here?”. It might sound silly to ask every tiny bit , but in case teacher does put this question forward to parent immediately and parent gets to know this soon.. rather than wait to hear during conference (which sounded more like a progress report).. Would that have helped? Lets say this partnership continues , and teacher approaches the problem from the standpoint of learning and gets to know more.. like wise parents are also involved from get go, would that have eliminated the confusion ?

    The other way around, if parents start to expect teachers to understand the culture differences, that would be very vast and would be a never ending process..

  • Sunny M McLernon

    This is crap. Spend time in your child’s classroom rather than your own. You will quickly see why keeping hands to yourself is an important rule for kinders to learn to follow….even for cuddling families.

    Share with your teachers your questions, concerns or struggles. They will engage with you.

    I am not a teacher. I am a mother and I break my neck to work and make sure I am also involved at the kids schhool. I do this because I want to understand what is going on with my kids. I don’t always love it in the moment, but I love understanding their world at school. I’ve found the teachers love kids. That’s why they are there. They are experts in helping children learn and they do it because they love.kids. I am sure though, they don’t always love the parents.

  • KD

    I know this is an older article however I’ve decided to weigh in on this important topic and I don’t agree with you. I do however agree with many of the other commenters and wonder why you jumped to the conclusion that this was an typical case of “everyday institutional racism”. I find it disconcerting, however expected in today’s climate of perceived victimology. I have to wonder if spending your time teaching and preaching in an isolated university environment surrounded by theoretical perspectives without the reality of other valid, yet opposing viewpoints hasn’t helped to foster this immediate jumping to conclusions that it must be racist.
    I have news for you “not to touch others” is NOT some kind of “white norm”. I find such generalizations obnoxious and culturally insensitive as well as lacking in insight. There are plenty of American families who are affectionate in their own homes. There are all kinds of reasons why it is necessary for children to learn what consitututes appropriate and inappropriate touching in social settings such as schools. They need to learn how to respect others’ personal space. I think it unrealistic for you to expect teachers to tailor their approach to every kid as they work with a variety of students from all kinds of families. Several examples were already mentioned in a previous comment by a teacher that they have children/kids who respond very negatively to touch because of prior trauma experiences. Also special needs children who may respond violently to touch, etc., and those are just a few examples. I’m certain there are many “cultural differences” as there are differences in how families raise their children from other families. It isn’t racist nor is it a cultural issue.
    I would agree that it would be wise and prudent to spend time in your child’s classroom rather than your own. Engage more with your child’s teacher and let them know how you feel instead of withholding comments and then complaining about it on an internet forum.

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