Learn Your Special Education Laws, Special Education Rights, and Share IEP Goal Ideas

Sep 09
Profile photo of Doug Goldberg

by Doug Goldberg

Dear Ron,

I have recently read your article, “What Teachers Really Want to Tell Parents” and found it to be ill-conceived, short sided and quite frankly wrong on many accounts. I am aware of your accolades and achievements as written in the editor’s note prior to the article but I will also point you to Rule #51 in your Essential 55 Rules, “Live so that you will never have regrets”. If you don’t already, I feel you will learn to regret writing this article. This article has the ability to create an even bigger chasm between Parents and Teachers. Parent Involvement in a Child’s Education, as proven by 20 years of research, is one of the most effective methods in a child’s academic success. Educating our children needs to be a partnership between Parents and Teachers. Especially, since school age children spend 70% of their time outside of school. Your article makes it painfully aware that your idea of a Parent – Teacher partnership is one where Parents do everything you ask without input or questions. 

If you are unfamiliar with Joyce Epstein Ph.D.’s work she has created a National Standard for Parent/Family involvement after years of research for the Center on School, Family and Community Partnerships at John Hopkins University. Below is her list of National Standards for Parent/Family Involvement.

1. Communicating. Design effective methods of school-to-home and home-to-school communications about school events and student progress.

2. Parenting. Families should establish home environments that are conducive to learning.

3. Volunteer. Recruit parents for help and support in the school.

4. Learning At Home. Teachers give parents ideas on how they can help students with homework and other academic related activities.

5. Decision Making. Develop parent leaders by including them in school decisions.

6. Collaborating With Community. Involve the community with school programs, student learning, and family practices.

Schools and Teachers that follow the standards as outlined above are much more likely to have a Parent – Teacher partnership in education. For instance, in your article you say, “If we give you advice, don’t fight it. Take it, and digest it in the same way you would consider advice from a doctor or a lawyer. I have become used to some parents who just don’t want to hear anything negative about their child.” When I take advice from a doctor or a lawyer it is someone I have a relationship with and trust. If the first time I am hearing from a teacher is to tell me something negative about my child that conversation is not going to go well. Why, because that’s human nature? We trust the people we are closest with. Form a real partnership with parents and you will not get this type of reaction.

You go on to say in your article, “One of my biggest pet peeves is when I tell a mom something her son did and she turns, looks at him and asks, “Is that true?” Well, of course it’s true. I just told you.” Ron, have you stopped to think that we are trying to teach our children responsibility and trust. Even if we have enough of a relationship with you to take you word unconditionally I would still ask my son the same question. Why, because I want him to learn to take responsibility for his actions. I refer you once again to your essential 55 rules, #53 which states, “No matter the circumstances, always be honest.” Please do not question my methods for raising my child and to teach honesty. While we might have a partnership on his education, we do not have a partnership on how I raise him.

Lastly, you bring up the point regarding Teachers walking on eggshells. You state, “I feel so sorry for administrators and teachers these days whose hands are completely tied. In many ways, we live in fear of what will happen next. We walk on egg-shells in a watered-down education system whose teachers lack the courage to be honest and speak their minds. If they make the slightest mistake, it can become a major disaster.” While, I agree with this sentiment it is not for the reason you state. We live in a watered-down education system because the system is broken and School Districts are more concerned with budgets than education. Teachers by the tens of thousands are being let go and they fear being one of the causalities so they do the best they can with the limited resources they have available to them. This lack of resources is an even greater reason to make sure the Parent – Teacher partnership is strong. Teachers are often times stuck between the School District budget policies and Parents dedication to their children and that is the real reason Teachers walk on eggshells.

Your rule number 52 on the Essential 55 Rules is, “Learn from your mistakes and move on.” I very much hope you will learn from your mistakes and try to move on by making amends with the Parents you offended with your article.


VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 4.0/5 (23 votes cast)
A Letter to Ron Clark: What Parents Really Want to Tell Teachers, 4.0 out of 5 based on 23 ratings
Be Sociable, Share!
Create Your FREE Profile

23 Responses to “A Letter to Ron Clark: What Parents Really Want to Tell Teachers”

  1. Wow! I haven’t yet read the article this one’s replying to, but it’s definitely my next stop! One thing that irks me about a teacher, especially at the start of the school year, is that my husband and I have had nearly 11 years to get to know our child. Please take our word that we know him better than you do, having only been his teacher for a short time. We realize that you have 29 other children in your class and need to give them as much attention as you give ours, so please listen to us when we tell you that he has difficulties in certain areas.

    Unfortunately throughout much of my son’s elementary career, we’ve felt like we’re in an adversarial position with the school, always having to fight for what we need. Forgive me for being a little defensive when it comes to my special needs child.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 10 votes)
  2. Thank you so much for standing up for the relationship between teachers and parents. An adversarial relationship full of blame will do nothing but hurt our students and children. I was extremely offended by this article because of the extreme generalizations of “teachers” and “parents”. The vast majority of our parents and teachers are caring, nurturing, understanding people – not those that are portrayed by Clark.

    Thanks again!

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: -2 (from 6 votes)
  3. Well written, great points!

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 4 votes)
  4. As a teacher and a parent of a child with special needs, I do see both sides of the article. However, what Ron Clark didn’t clarify with his question of “Is this true” when asking about a behavior incident is that he didn’t see it as a parent asking a child to take responsibility. It sounds more like a parent challenging what the teacher said, and that is two totally different scenarios. When I ask my child about his behavior checklist every day, I ask him… Did you do this? Of course, I know he did, but I need HIM to see that he did.

    Unfortunately, with public education being such a HUGE institution, you are going to find both scenarios to be true. The parents that Mr. Clark was referring to are people that are looking for someone else to blame for their child’s deficits.

    I often feel that I am the exception instead of the norm, embracing my child’s difficulties and approaching the school as a partnership.

    I advocate for all of my children… the one I have at home, and the 1800+ that I have taught in my 18 years of teaching.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +6 (from 8 votes)
    • Ingrid, I agree with your more balanced and perceptive response in this debate. As a parent of a special needs child and as a special education teacher, I have been on both sides of the aisle.

      VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  5. I think all of the article writers just want attention, when the focus of education should really just to back to the children. Good grief. Stop the petty arguments and grow up.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +2 (from 4 votes)
    • You’re less likely to be unjust and foolish if you abstain from personal attacks and psychoanalyzing people that you aren’t even acquainted with. Ift’s easier to be helpful and persuasive if you don’t overdrive your lights – interact with the things actually written and go no farther.

      VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  6. Clark’s problem is not imaginary. Lots of parents are unreasonable and can’t handle the truth about their kids, and they do scapegoat the teachers. I’ve often heard some of the dumbest words a human mouth can shape: “My kid would never do that.”

    But straight thinking is largely absent in Clark’s article. He says that bad teachers are likely to give good grades – thus acknowledging that bad teachers exist. And then parents are supposed to just take the teacher’s advice, trust them on demand, and “digest” whatever they say.

    Yo, Clark! We’re supposed to give this deference to the bad teachers, right? Teachers and administrators regularly maim and even kill students in school, as the Government Accountability Office documented in 2009, and lesser abuse and bullying are epidemic. If it were not so, there wouldn’t be as much legislation as there is against, say, retaliation against kids, which is about as contemptible as it gets.

    Teachers are like any other large population of human beings – a few great ones, a few horrible ones, and a mass in the middle. They have a job that’s tough to do well. They always need justice and due process protection, and indeed parents owe them due process even within our own heads. Thus far Clark is absolutely right.

    But beyond this, no one gets trust on demand. Trust is earned. Trust is forfeited by those who demand it, because the trustworthy never demand trust. Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau was absolutely right that war is much to important to leave to generals. The same way, nobody in their right minds will blindly trust a lawyer or a doctor either. Prudent lawyers and doctors welcome questioning and pushback, because they have the sense not to trust themselves either. Trustworthy people don’t trust themselves and don’t demand it of others. They know that everyone screws up and can’t make it without being challenged on things.

    I advocate for disabled kids, often against school districts that are ripping them off. Those I serve know a lot less about the law and the right strategies to force a good resolution against a hostile district, but when they push back about things they’re not comfortable with, sometimes they keep me from a stupid mistake, and other times they make me explain things that they really need to know.

    I run into lots of teachers at IEP meetings. And when the district wants them to lie, they almost always lie, to the kid’s injury. I understand the pressure to lie under pressure. But are those that are willing to betray the kid and his parents in that way entitled to the trust and deference that Clark demands?

    I also run into teachers that cruelly discriminate against kids with disabilities and even retaliate against them, who can be restrained only by a Gebser letter to the principal and the superintendent. Clark and his kind ought to reflect that if the behavior of some parents rouses their suspicion and makes them hyper-vigilant, then the experiences of parents with such as these will do the same to parents.

    Just as Clark is not imagining things, neither are parents. It’s not a few bad apples, either. The majority of teachers will lie in an IEP meeting or at a hearing to please their bosses at the kid’s expense. What do you want parents to do with that fact, Clark?

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +9 (from 13 votes)
  7. that article did not go down well with me AT ALL. He’s asking parents to accept that what teachers say is not to be questioned, as if all teachers are excellent and all-knowing.

    you’ll appreciate the advocacy series I’m doing on Imagination Soup right now — with more to come. Please stop by! http://imaginationsoup.net

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +1 (from 9 votes)
  8. I read Ron Clark’s article and was outraged by his generalizations about parents and arrogant attitude toward parents. (Outraged enough to be inspired to write a blog about his article,) Thanks for showing another perspective and presenting your ideas in a logical, non judgmental way. I agree that the parents and school working as a team is the most beneficial for all involved, especially the children.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +1 (from 9 votes)
  9. 4. “Learning At Home. – Teachers give parents ideas on how they can help students with homework and other academic related activities”

    If teachers are expected to give parents ideas of things that can help at home, why are teachers reluctant to consider ideas from parents that may help at school? That would seem more like a partnership to me.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +7 (from 9 votes)
  10. Being both a parent and a teacher, there is one HUGE differentiation between both jobs. As teachers, most of us go through 6 years of higher education, plus ongoing professional development on a yearly basis. As parents, there’s no manual and no training.

    Perhaps what we should be talking about is that parents and teachers are all in the same business: trying to raise children to become functional adults. If you are not willing to listen, don’t expect anyone to listen when you talk. And if honesty is returned with ‘I hope you regret writing this article’ then perhaps we’re not really focusing on the kids but engaging in an ego battle.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 10 votes)
    • CA,

      I never wrote, “I hope you regret writing this article”. I wrote, “I feel you will learn to regret writing this article.” These have completely different meanings. I am not wishing ill on Ron Clark in any way shape or form. I am relaying an opinion that the tone of his article started a divide among Parents and Teachers that I think he did not expect and will come to regret.

      Whether he was being honest or not and whether he conveyed that message with the appropriate tone would be a whole other topic of discussion.

      VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: +1 (from 5 votes)
    • There is a big difference between honesty and arrogance. Much of what was said in this article had an air of arrogance and it seems that people are responding to the attitude more than the specifics of what was said.

      This is a man who chose to focus on a parent making an excuse for a child who had experienced some family trauma rather than trying to understand what had happened. Perhaps it was an excuse but perhaps there had been a legitimate trauma. We will never know if we jump to conclusions and find others wrong.

      When a person is judgmental they best assume that
      others are going to respond with in kind attitudes.

      Just as all teachers aren’t any one thing, let’s not assume all parents are any one thing. And let’s listen to others before jumping to the conclusion that they are the bad guys. I am not deciding that all teachers are arrogant and don’t consider their kids needs, but you can bet I’m wondering why this guy was given any kind of education award. I’m hoping there is a lot more to him than is represented by this article.

      VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: +1 (from 3 votes)
      • Hey everyone. I am a teacher in WA state and I see both sides of this argument. There is a theory that we should all be aware of: Teacher Expectation-Student Achievement or TESA. The thought is that if the teachers hold high academic expectations, then the students will achieve greater than they thought they could. Too often in education, parents will inform teachers of a student’s struggles and then that student is coddled along by the teacher who views said child through the unfair lens of “they are incapable.” Some of these ideas were planted in the parent’s head in young grades like Kindergarten where the child had a slow time grasping letter sounds, and so the parent tells every teacher up the line that their child was a late starter in reading and is likely behind. For me, as a teacher, I try my best to not judge the student even by what the parent says. I believe that all students can learn, BUT they all learn in their own way. Too often I have seen students painted as “behind” or even diagnosed by their parents, not a doctor, with learning disorders and the parents are looking for all this extra assistance with keeping their child on task. I have had a few of these kids and, while it is not always the case, sometimes what they have needed was a teacher to tell them to sit up straight, clear off their desk, and be ready for school. (TESA) Just the other day, I had a meeting with a grandmother who told us she was going to enroll her granddaughter in my 6th grade class and that I shouldn’t expect much. She said that her granddaughter is very slow and won’t be able to do any work and just plays computer games all the time. If I would have believed all that she told me, I would not have done that child justice. I found out within one week that that child is one of the most brilliant spellers I have ever taught. Her penmanship is beautiful and her artistic abilities are coveted by the entire class. She has been told for so long that she can’t do work because she isn’t smart, but today she turned in a multiplication packet of over 360 problems that I assigned this morning and gave a week to complete. Am I any sort of special teacher? No way. I have my flaws. I disappoint myself every day, but I refuse to let a child believe that they cannot achieve even when their parents won’t believe in them. Rule #18 in my classroom is “We believe in eachother and ourselves.” My classroom is a strict, disciplined environment, but it is a learning community where we don’t let eachother fail. We work together and make sure that we care about each other’s success. Rule #1 in my room: “We are family.”

        Ron Clark’s strength is being able to take students who have been told that they CAN’T, and make them believe that they CAN. He has a remarkable skill of using TESA to take students from failing state exams to passing them within one year. He doesn’t give up on the students, even when they have given up on him. Is he perfect? No. Is any teacher perfect? No. Our strength comes in our abilities to care about the learning of the student before they have even begun to care. This is where the magic happens in the classroom.

        “Every day in this room, we are learning things far more valuable than you can get in some book.” -Ron Clark

        VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
        Rating: +1 (from 3 votes)
  11. I have been teaching for 7 years now, and every time I see a letter like this, or parents with such narrowminded paradigms as this, it makes me want to leave this profession. We are the least respected job in America, next to being a good mother.

    I’m underpaid, I see a different side of your child than you do, and I’m not really allowed to say what I feel to parents. While there are many great parents out there, the majority do a horrible job of raising children. The drop out rate in my state is almost 50%, and this is not the fault of teachers. Parents like this chase the great teachers out, and then they have the garbage teachers that you always complain about. I don’t care so much about the pay we receive, but the treatment could be much better. Most of us are not second class citizens, but we are still treated as such. But don’t take my word for it, keep up your complaining. I’m smart enough to get a job where I’m respected and my opinion matters.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: -1 (from 13 votes)
    • Mark,

      Many Teachers and Principals think Ron Clark’s message got lost in an elitist tone just look at the comments above. I’m also not sure why asking Ron to follow the National Standard for Parent Involvement in Education which was created by a Ph.d. based on 20 years of research would cause you to say it’s a narrowminded paradigm.

      I’m very sorry you feel disrespected in your profession but I have a great Parent – Teacher partnership with my child’s teachers.

      You might also want to keep in mind that anyone, be it a Parent or Teacher, that thinks they have all the answers on their own has lost sight of the question.

      VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: +3 (from 5 votes)
  12. I totally agree that Mr. Clark’s article did nothing more than create more of a divide between parents and teachers. It is incredibly difficult for a parent to hear something negative about their child, and his compassion and understanding for that is next to nil! Is he a parent?! I think his “youth” is showing. And NO, no one knows my child better than I do. Period. Thanks Doug for telling him what parents really want to tell teachers!

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +1 (from 7 votes)
  13. I definitely don’t have all the answers, but I also manage to have a great parent/teacher relationship with all the parents that are willing to ‘deal’ with me. The real problem isn’t all the parents that are offended by this article. Those parents care about education, it shows in your empassioned criticism of this original article.

    The original article was probably not written for you at all, but rather, the parents of the school I teach in where 98% of my students are on free or reduced lunch.

    Parent involvement is an oxymoron at my school, and when we finally do track down a parent or guardian, they don’t support us very much at all. Their response is that their child is my responsibility while he as at school, and they don’t have to support me.

    In fact, our parents have told their children it is okay to curse out a teacher, or walk out on a class if they feel like it. This has created a huge divide at my school.

    Add to this stress all the new standards and trainings that I have to go to each year, and this job is overwhelming at times. It was great to see someone finally take a teacher’s side for once, and maybe Mr. Clark’s article was slightly elitist, but it was nice to hear for once that every child’s failure is not the teacher’s fault. As a teacher, I tend to only get crticism, not complimented. In fact, the last compliments I remember receiving weren’t from other teachers, principals, or even parents. It was from my students that see me struggle to do my best each day and geniunely care about them.

    I’m not telling parents negative things about their children because I don’t care about them. If I didn’t care about their children, I’d feed them with all the crap parents want to hear.

    I honestly believe that parents are sometimes blind to certain things their children do or say. I’m sure you do know your child better than me, but I see a side of him that you probably don’t. My only job for your child should be to edcuate them, but due to parent deficienies, I have to do too much. Actually, when I think about it, it’s not the parents that are the problem. Parents by definition care about their offspring, but the ones raising children at my school are not parents for the most part. They are ‘breeders.’ They have over 5 kids and can’t make rent or cell phone payments, but their kids manage to have nice clothes, look sharp, and come to school with no supplies.

    I think Mr. Clark’s letter can go out to the breeders as well, or maybe the parents that can’t believe their child can do wrong. I have a relative that raises her children as a helicopter parent does, and I feel for her kids. They aren’t going to know how rough the real world is with her holding their hands through every minute problem they have.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +3 (from 9 votes)
    • Hi Mark,

      If you haven’t read Malcolm Gladwells book Outliers I highly recommend it. He talks about a study performed by a sociologist Annette Lareau.

      In this study, ““Lareau calls the middle-class parenting style concerted cultivation. It’s an attempt to actively foster and assess a child’s talents, opinions and skills. Poor parents tend to follow, by contrast, a strategy of accomplishment of natural growth. They see as their responsibility to care for their children but to let them grow and develop on their own.”

      My question would be how do we change this style of thinking so we can engage all parents in education.

      Also, just as an aside my son has been sick the last week. We finally took him to the Doctor becuase he had pneumonia 8 years ago and was acting the same way he did back then. The Doctor listened to his chest and told us he just had a virus. I questioned the Doctor and said he hasn’t looked or acted this way since the last time he had pneumonia. She decided based on my prodding to do a chest x-ray. Of course he has pneumonia. We caught it early and now two days later he is feeling much better. If I had not questioned the Doctor we would have waited and the pneumonia could of ended up putting him in the hosipital or much worse.

      My point is Teachers, Doctors, Lawyers, Parents, etc. no matter how qualified they are need to be questioned and need to help each other.


      VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: +3 (from 3 votes)
  14. Wow, did that hit a nerve. It seems we all feel passionate about our kids (as parents or teachers), and that is good! I hope that once the dialogue has been exchanged that we can find ways to close ranks and work together, in a child-centered approach instead of a me-versus-you approach.

    As both a parent of 3 special needs boys and a special education teacher, I have found that when both parents and teachers adopt this approach “What is best for Johnny,” we find ourselves on the same side of the fence. After many years of IEPs in both roles, repeating this question over and over changes the tone from hostile to exciting.

    VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 2 votes)
  15. Wow… Do none of you hear yourselves? It is a teacher’s job to educate. Yes, you may know your little darling better, but you do not always know the best way to educate them. Too many times parents have blinders on when it comes to their offspring. I understand that you want to believe the best of your children, but many parents simply do not live in reality. School is where children learn what it is to be responsible; it is not an extension of the womb.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +1 (from 3 votes)
    • I couldn’t agree more. See my comment about about Teacher Expectation-Student Achievement. So many times I have been approached by parents who tell me all of the things that their child cannot do, but then I get that kid into my classroom and I expect them to achieve and guess what? They do! We live in a culture where having expectations on students is too much pressure. Every child must be handled differently and no one learns at the same pace. But that doesn’t mean they are incapable of learning. Too many students do not believe in themselves because their parents don’t believe in them. I am only 33, but I have seen so many students go from “Unbelievers in themselves” to “Believers” to not make any judgments on my students until they are in my classroom, operating under my high expectations, and achieving more than they ever thought they could.

      VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: 0 (from 2 votes)