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Gaining a degree in parenting

by Tim Middleton

As we look at how one key to high-quality education is strong parental support, we must clarify whether the phrase “strong parental support” means that parents need to support the school strongly or that the school needs to support the parents strongly. Most readers and parents will consider it to be the former, but in this article we need to consider seriously the latter option.

Samuel Butler was a famous writer and wit who came up with the classic comment: “Parents are the last people on earth who ought to have children.” Of course, it does beg the question: If parents are the last people, who are the first people who ought to have children? The answer? Well, it is obvious, really:
Children! Oscar Wilde, another great celebrated wit, once supported this assertion when he declared that “I am not young enough to know everything.” While we laugh at the witty comments made by these scholars, we must consider the plight of the parent.

The fact is that parenting is probably the toughest job in the world and yet it is the one job in the world which we can get without any training whatsoever, without any qualifications, interview, contract, practice, appraisal and even (which is worse) without any pay — in fact, we pay (big-time) to have this job!

All that is needed is a limited knowledge of practical biology. Furthermore, being a parent often comes at the same time that parents are trying to cope with getting older; with juggling many roles, many of them complex and demanding; with sacrificing their own wishes; with other competitive parents; with exaggerated expectations of their own children.

And then to compound it all, it is made much harder by the fact that just when we begin to think we understand how the child thinks and operates, the child only goes and changes, from baby to infant to toddler to child to adolescent, thus requiring a different tactic and approach. It hardly seems fair of the youngster!

What all of this does is underline one very important fact and expose a very real misconception — being a parent is not a job. It is certainly not a career move, not a kudos, not a promotion, not a victory. It may be a prayer, it may be a dream; it may even be a joy, but it is not a job. It is a calling; it is a responsibility; it is a privilege; it is a mission. And it is certainly a challenge!

How then can schools support parents in their difficult role? The most crucial way may be to train parents in the role of parenting. Schools have people who are already trained and qualified to deal with children at all their different stages of development, so they are the ones who can provide the insight and even training to parents on how to raise their child.

Schools and parents need to partner each other in raising the child. As parents, we all think we know our own child, but having been a child once whose parents never really knew us, we should know that such a belief is misplaced; a parent that claims their child would not behave in a certain way is blind or gullible.

Parents need to be willing to admit their child can, does and will make mistakes. Once the parent has reached that stage, then they can be involved in the process and decisions with regard to the discipline of their child. Parents remain ultimately responsible for the child.

Finally, therefore, the more feedback schools can provide for parents on their child, the more chance that parents can relate to their child. Newsletters and updates on what has been happening at school are all very well and indeed important, but parents need more specific feedback through consultations and reports as well as in meetings with individual parents if they are to be strengthened and empowered in their own specific role.

One does not find oneself suddenly, even surprisingly, being a lawyer or teacher or accountant, but there is no such thing as a Bachelor of Parenting — in fact, the very title of “Bachelor” implies the very opposite of being a parent!

Parents need to be trained in parenting; schools need to provide such training. The bottom line is this: If parents raise well-behaved children, then the children will not misbehave at school and so the school can spend less time dealing with their errant behaviour and focus on their learning; it pays, therefore, for a school to support the parents in their immense task! A school that supports the parents strongly will provide high-quality education, no question.

Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.

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