Posted by: Kate | September 14, 2011

Education Frustration

I attend a lot of different meetings that involve the education system, so I speak to or listen to people involved in lots of different parts of the system. The one thing they all like to say is that parents are equal partners in the education system, that our input is valued and in fact, required. But the dirty truth is, it just isn’t so. Because when it comes down to it, parents’ concerns and voices are the first to be shut down.

It happens at all levels, although this week it happened at the biggest level. The provincial body of parent involvement is the BCCPAC (BC Confederation of Parents Advisory Councils). This body does amazing work in providing support to district parent groups around the province, through both education and resources, as well as brings a parent voice to the provincial level of education issues. This week the provincial government has decided to discontinue providing any funding for the Confederation (you can read the letter here). While I understand that education funding is in a crisis, this was actually gaming grants funding, not specific educational funding. And the question is, where will that money now go? Corporate incentive funding?

It happens on a lower level as well. Every year as a parent you receive a notice from your child’s teacher, saying how he or she welcomes parent questions or concerns. But try actually talking to many teachers. There is a defensive stance taken, and often (not always. there are of course amazing teachers out there. but too often.) the parent is left feeling foolish or worse, not heard. There is the overwhelming sense from teachers that they don’t want parents to ask questions, as it might threaten their jobs in some way, or we aren’t recognizing their expertise. As a parent I always recognize a teacher’s expertise, save for on one thing — my child. I am the expert on my child. If I know that something isn’t working, and my child is struggling, then I deserve some help and acknowledgement. For many parents it is hard to talk to the teacher in the first place, so the fact that a parent found something important enough to bring forward would seem to me to require some thoughtfulness on the teacher’s part.

All through-out the system, parents are treated as outsiders. It is difficult to navigate the political and hierarchical systems through schools and districts, and there is little help. If you cross over into someone’s fiefdom, you better step carefully, and no one will tell you where the minefields are. For example, building a playground right now is done by parent groups. Or at least, the money and purchasing all comes from parents. But then the difficulties faced in dealing with various unions and departments to get permission to get the playground done — the parents are made to feel like an inconvenience, yet they are providing a $30,000 plus piece of equipment for the schools. Building a playground last year was one of the most stressful things I’ve ever been involved in, and no one seemed to be able to tell us the steps required. We had to find out the hard way, by having someone say but didn’t you call this person first. When we originally talked to the school, there was no information sheet for parents, no guidance. Yet we got in trouble repeatedly for not following procedures.

This post has gotten really long, and I am obviously frustrated. I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know I will continue to fight for parents’ rights in public education. If we truly believe in education for everyone, then we all need to have a say in the process.


  1. Well put, Kate.

  2. I am sorry you are feeling so frustrated. It would be hard not to feel that way given the circumstances. I have a good friend who taught for many years in the BC public system, as did her husband. For the past decade they have been teaching overseas. She told me she could never go back to teaching here. My guess is there are many other teachers still in the system who feel like she does, but don’t know how to fix things. Frustrated parents, frustrated teachers, and students who suffer as a result of bad decision making at the administration/government level.

  3. i can completely understand your frustrations kate, but i will say that the students of canada are lucky to have you out there advocating for them!!

  4. I have friends who have tried to approach teachers and have encountered the same kind of defensiveness and, actually, aggression you speak of.

    You’re so right that you’re the expert on your child. I wonder whether it’s the specificity of that idea, that is so inflammatory to some teachers. In a way, it’s the premise of every kid being so different – with different needs, different learning styles – that undermines the teachers’ whole MO. In many ways, they have to treat the class as a homogeneous unit.

    I’m not suggesting it’s deliberate on their part, of course – I sympathise with their constant balancing act. But, in effect, that’s their unconscious goal – to broadcast the information that children need to acquire in as universally-acceptable a way as they can…to get the Group through as seamlessly as possible. A parent’s insistence on them seeing the children as individuals could be quite threatening.

Welcome! I always like to hear what people think of a post, it often leads to a great discussion! I am now responding to comments and questions right in the comments themselves, so other people can follow the conversation.

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