An Open Letter to Minnesota Parent Readers

Editor's Note: With our back-to-school focus this month, we've asked Lt. Governor Mae Schunk to share some thoughts with us.

 

In my heart, I don't think I can separate being a teacher from being a parent. When my son was born twenty-eight years ago, I realized that, for the first few years, I would be his only teacher. That is one of the reasons I suspended my professional teaching career when he was born. I stayed at home for five years, until he was ready for kindergarten. It hurt our family financially when I quit my job. Like many couples, my husband and I had expanded our lifestyle to the limits of our income. We knew we would have to cut back, and we did so in a big way. We sold our large house and moved into a small one. It was a sacrifice, but the joy of our baby boy more than compensated for the loss of a little extra room.

In the first few years of life, a child forms basic personality traits and habits that last well into adulthood. One of the best contributions you can make as a parent is to be a good teacher until your child is ready for school.

Truth is, you're a teacher from the very beginning, whether you know it or not. Our children start learning from us the moment they're born-imitating the way we walk and talk, for example. When my son could barely stand, he tried to help me with my household chores. When I sat down to read a book, he took out one of his picture books.

Parents are models. Children learn from what we do, regardless of what they are told. I once had a student who was very bright and talkative. His problem was that when it came to writing assignments and projects, he could never complete anything. He always found a way to disengage. When his mother came to the parent-teacher conference, I asked her if she could help me with this problem. To my surprise, she became very angry and stomped out. Aha! I thought. So this is where her son learned to disengage and never finish anything!

Once our children start school, parents and teachers must form a partnership. We need parents to be involved and supportive in their children's education without crossing the line by telling the teacher how to teach. Nor do we want teachers performing duties that properly belong to parents.

The ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius uttered a piece of timeless common sense when he said there is justice in society when you: "Let the ruler be ruler, the minister minister, the father father, and the son son." He meant that we all have our proper roles, which must not be intermixed. Our update of Confucius is, "Let the governor govern, the school board administer, the teacher teach, and the parent parent." Governor Ventura's mantra is that the government is not a parent.

It is a challenge to keep these roles separate, because they all interact. Each facilitates the education of our children in different ways. The government establishes standards to be met by all students, so we know that a high school degree from Edina means the same as one from Warroad. It is up to school districts to figure out how teachers will meet those standards.

The role of parents in education is equally crucial. Parents must support their child's education at home and get involved at school when possible.

Here are some suggestions for being a good "education parent":

* Make sure your child has a place to study

* Establish a regular study time

* Talk with your child about school and homework; be encouraging

* Set a good example, such as reading a book instead of watching TV

* Go with your child to the library

* Turn your family outings into educational field trips

* Get to know your child's teacher and attend all conferences

* Join your school's PTA or other parent-teacher organizations

* Visit your child's class

* Volunteer at your child's school

 

Parents have implemented these ideas in many creative ways. Governor Ventura volunteered to be a high school football conditioning coach, even though his son was not a football player. Jesse wanted to get involved and share his skills however he could.

Parents at Groveland Elementary School in St. Paul organize the student science fair, since the budget doesn't always allow staff members the time to carry out extracurricular educational activities. Responsive parents can step in and make a difference.

At Bendix Elementary School in Annandale, parents, grandparents and others are invited to visit the school all day twice a year, for "Keeping in Touch Day." This successful program attracts about 400 parents and relatives, who become acquainted with teachers, the classrooms, and the entire school. Parents should not be strangers in their children's school!

Involved parents extend their child's learning. I used to teach a project called "Green Thumb, Inc." The students operated a plant business. They applied for positions, purchased stock, tested soil, cared for the plants and finally sold them (to parents, of course). The lesson didn't end there for one father. He purchased quite a few tomato plants and, with his son, grew them at home. The next fall, the boy came to sell me tomatoes! (They were delicious.)

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