What Inspired Me to Study Parent EngagementBy Soo Hong, Ed.D.'09
As is true for many teachers, I have fond and not-so-fond memories of my first year teaching. It was a year both of trial and error, of extreme joy and disappointment—that led to self-doubting about my effectiveness as a teacher. The first couple months were, at times, terrifying and discouraging. There seemed to be little I could do to assemble order and cooperation in the classroom. I found myself raising my voice, pleading for cooperation, and scrambling to find valuable instructional time. All I had learned in my training seemed futile and irrelevant in those first weeks on the job.
At some point during that first month of teaching, I realized that while I had many demands and expectations of myself as a teacher, I lacked something that everyone else in the school building had—prior relationships with others in the school. I called a class meeting with my fourth graders—the first of weekly meetings we would have that year—and told them that I wanted to start over. I began building one-on-one relationships with each child, either during lunch or before/after school. Rather than negotiate for their cooperation, I earnestly sought to get to know each one of them on a personal level. We talked about our progress as a group during class meetings, where we also learned to speak honestly, openly, and with respect to one another. By the end of October we were a different classroom. In fact, I recall one student saying that we were becoming more like a family. I can still feel the rush of emotion that overcame me when he made that statement.
Maybe I was a naive 23-year-old, but I was never prepared to understand just how important it was for a classroom teacher to be relational. I came in with theories and strategies of graduate training, but I soon learned that without mutual relationships centered around trust and caring, the knowledge and skills amounted to nothing. As I got to know my students, I learned about the people who were important in their lives—siblings, cousins, parents, grandparents—as well as the places, activities, and traditions they cherished in their communities (locally and in native countries their families had emigrated from). I decided to extend this relationship with students’ families to communicate what I was learning about their child and to share a moment of kindness, community, and caring. I wanted this to happen early in the school year, so I made a commitment to call each student’s family within that next month of school to have this conversation. …