Parents in a Student’s Life

A couple years ago, I asked Sonia Wang, a teacher and friend to write about the importance of parental involvement.  I’m sure you’ll enjoy her post again for its continued relevance.

Advocacy. This word is often seen as a job of someone else. But I think we forget that advocacy is merely being “in the know” so that we can speak up and respond appropriately as needed. One thing that our students, especially in urban environments, are lacking is having an ample group of advocates.

Where does this absence of advocates stem from? Often it starts with the students’ parents. It is argued that students spend the majority of their day in school, however, the more important truth is that students need consistency in their lives.

Consistency must be obtained in two ways—from home to school and from school to home. When a student is told in school that they need to read at least 30 minutes at home, but they are expected to cook dinner, watch their younger siblings, and then manage their work without a space to do work, there is a mixed message sent to the student. At the same time, when students are told at home that helping out with the family day care program holds priority in their lives and that message is overturned at school, students are flooded with mixed messages.

How do we as adults integrate into the lives of our students to best support them? As a classroom teacher, I strongly believe that there are two main sources for support—parents and mentors, which include teachers.

The role of parents in a student’s life is invaluable. A teacher can only impart so much when it comes to skills, content, and values, but if that is not reinforced by what happens at home, it becomes obsolete to the child. From my years of teaching, I cannot count how many times a student has referred to their parent’s indifference or absence in their academic achievement as a reason for their own indifference or absence of care for their academic progress or goals. The attitude and tone a parent holds for their child sets the baseline for the child’s personal expectations and hopes.

When a student knows that his/her parent knows what’s going on in their lives, especially in their school life, it not only sets a new tone to the importance of this thing known as “school” but it also redefines the student’s approach to school. Suddenly their work in school matters because what they do in class matters to people who matter to them. Reading a chapter and jotting personal thoughts on what was read isn’t just homework but it is an opportunity to show the parent what’s happening in class, what is being learned, and what thinking is happening.

Furthermore, let’s consider an example situation:

If a student is reading a novel that is perceived to be at a lower level than the student’s ability, his/her parent is now able to advocate for their student. This can lead to multiple outcomes:

1.)If the book is in fact easy, the teacher is now held accountable to meet the learning needs of the student in order for the student to GROW!! and

2.) If the book is actually at the student’s reading level because he/she is struggling, then there can be an honest conversation about where the student is at in their reading progress, what supports are in place in the classroom to monitor and assure growth, and what strategies can be implemented at home to support the student’s growth.

Regardless of what the outcome might be, the more important fact here is that the student has multiple advocates in his/her life; no longer is their education a passive one but one that is active and purposeful.

Parents must be involved in their student’s educational journey. Involvement does not mean teaching algebra in fourth grade or having the student comprehend Beowulf in middle school. I would actually discourage this type of involvement.

Instead, knowing your child’s syllabus, asking what he/she is learning, and checking in about their academic strengths and weaknesses are ways to be involved in his/her life. By doing so, our young people know they have advocates, people who will not allow them to be invisible in our current education system where too often our students are reduced to an ID number or a test score.

With advocates, our young people begin to see the importance of knowledge and voice. And in turn, they become our community’s most effective advocates.  


A Prayer In Anticipation of A Friend’s Son

I offer this prayer today as we await and expect the arrival of Joseph Byron Durham, III:

Dear God,

Grant Byron the steady gaze to see everything good thing you do today.  Make him able to live fully, to feel fully, from joy to fear to awe to surprise to gladness to love.  May he feel everything between these and other stirring movements.  Give him the ability to help Karen and grant that he might be filled with every necessary gift for all that awaits.  Help him listen and act with grace and tenderness and with more love than his best actions before today.  Give him gifts for this day and for each day following.  Walk out the paths before him, and when he looks ahead, let him see your footprints in every possible direction.  Shine light in dark places for the rest of his life because his life is different after Joe comes.  It is already different with the baby on the other side of all that skin and muscle and warmth, waiting to come down through all those contractions.  Hover over Byron so that he might sense you in places that he hasn’t.  Give him witnesses of your abiding, unconditional  love.  Convince him again and again that what he does matters greatly but that your love comes despite his best or his worst.

For Karen, give her a full sense of your nearness.  Keep company with her and grant that she may feel closer to you—and not only to her son or her husband—than she ever has.  Pull her into the experience of labor.  Shower her with good words and impressions and nudges and pictures as she does what is the tough work of receiving this next joyous gift from you.  Sprinkle her throughout this day with more than hope for the good future you’ve assured.  Help her to receive every help and gesture as from your hand.  Give her strong gratitude.  Give her ever stronger peace that is unshakable.  Through the movements of this day, give her vision for all the tomorrows you’ve prepared for her, for them.  Inspire her.  Build in her increasing courage.  May her breaths be prayers.  Each one a tiny theophany.  Grant her the splendid and sparkling blessing of closeness with you, her God and her Rock.  May she and Byron be strength for one another.  May Karen get all the grace she needs for every next step.

Will you bless Joe with all the memories necessary to live the rest of his life with and for you?  Collect in his ears, his heart, and his spirit, the voice of your spirit, the abiding comfort of your company, and the life that always comes from you.  Send him into this side of life with increasing joy and purpose, both coming from you.  You have counted his days before this day.  May even he come knowing that in unsearchable, deep ways.  Lay within his belly an appetite for you and your things.  Lift his vision to you, even as he looks through the good models of his parents and his family and his friends.  May he know that his life has been surrounded by words spoken in your ears about him.  May he never feel alone or unloved or unwanted.  Grant that he will accept all the love you’ve provided.  May he follow the instructions you give, through his parents and through every other good gift that comes from you.  Protect him from the plans of all his enemies.  Make them your enemies because you win all your battles.  Kiss him righteousness and bravery and set his face in the direction of fruitfulness.  Be his present and his future.

In Christ’s name,


Doctor’s Appointments & Other Milestones

His doctor stood his unclothed self on the scale.  She took his weight the way my doctor took mine.  She pulled the long “big boy” ruler out and told us how tall he was.  They were at the table.  He sat there, watching that light, tracking his doctor’s movement.  Her voice was soft and light, filled with some playful tone all the kids must love.  He took her in through the entire exam.  I told Dr. Jenny that he was trying to convince her not to make him take any vaccines.  He was smiling, occasionally singing, even though he wouldn’t sing his doctors doctors song.

She bent down and talked to him.  She asked him questions, in between talking to me and Dawn about his last few weeks and how he hadn’t really slept well in the last week.  She gave him that wood thing they stick on your tongue that always makes me think of manicures.  Bryce took it and smiled.  She asked his permission to look for monkeys in his ears.  He said yes, and I was silently surprised because he really hates for us to look in his ears.  He must have known she was only looking and not cleaning.  He must have believed allowing the doctor to do these things would prevent an upcoming needle meeting.

He would need two needle sticks, she told us.  I think me and Dawn looked at one another; we took deep breaths.  She goodbyed to our boy because the doctor didn’t have the hardest job.  The nurse did.

She entered with the tray.  The tray was what Bryce saw first.  He learned what the tray was early on, well before his memory structures formed.  He doesn’t remember everything yet, but he remembers the tray.  He kept silent when the nurse spoke to him.  She asked him if he was ready.  He didn’t answer.  She told Dawn to sit on the exam table and hold him.  Bryce was still cool.  He stared at the nurse, followed her movements, listened as she told him exactly what was about to happen.

Every other shot came back before me during moments like this.  The same nurse from last night was the first person responsible for making my boy scream during those first months.  There was a woman in dark navy scrubs and gym shoes.  Another wore a blue coat.  I remembered all of their gloves, flapping at their wrists right before they held that blasted point.  Bryce didn’t know what that point meant, but I did.  I’d flash back without fail to that time in Dr. Parsons’ office, as a boy, when I yelled for my mama to save me and he told her to “tell him okay, tell him okay.”

Bryce has lungs like mine.  I heard the clink of the implements on the shiny tray.  I thought about those early days when he was so small, when he didn’t react until a second and a half later because his head and neck muscles weren’t listening to him quite then.  They weren’t following sharp points.  Life was so much more innocent.

I readied myself.  Dawn held him lovingly, her arm bracing his other one so he wouldn’t snap.  The nurse cleaned the area of impact as Bryce volunteered his hand.  She explained it to my son.  He heard her, probably nodded as if to say he understood.  She cotton ball dried the finger.  I sat there and tried to close my ears.

He gave no sound when the finger prick ended.  The nurse talked to him about his fingers.  She placed the long thin tube at his small spot of blood to collect the redness.  She told him and us that sometimes it took effort to get blood from babies.  When she prepped the next spot, there was more worry.  Surely two pricks in one sitting invited disastrous wailing.  There was a baby in another room, down the hall, still yelling from when we first arrived.

Bryce took the needle into his arm without a sound.  His eyes bulged, his head steadied, but he didn’t flinch as the kind woman ushered that familiar stick into his forearm.  Imagine our collective shock when he sat and took the next needle with as much quiet as the first.

After she pulled the needle, he turned to look at me.  The clouds of disappointment, the tenderness of his skin, came up to his brain.  His brows furrowed, and I touched his arm and rubbed it and told him he was great and strong and brave.  He didn’t go into that common place of frightful yelling.  Dawn was yaying and congratulating him the way she does when he says that he’s gone to the potty.  Even though he says it sometimes when he hasn’t actually gone.  The nurse voiced her pleasant surprise.  Those words—all of our words—distracted him.  I thought about it later and asked myself what I would’ve said if he did, in fact, cry.  Would I have called him strong?  Would I have said he was still great?  Would I have held him like his mother was holding him and said nothing at all, choosing instead to comfort him wordlessly?

The nurse missed no beats.  She flipped through her pockets.  Her hand was filled with little paper pieces.  I looked up at my boy’s eyes as she went from one sticker to another.  She asked him which one he wanted.  She gave him two stickers, and when he saw Elmo, he brightened and sang Elmo’s name the way a friend would when seeing another friend walking toward them.  And all of us lifted and sighed with joy because Bryce liked Elmo so much that the momentary pain of getting tested for lead and stuck for TB was so far away from the red friendly face smiling at our growing child.

Strength to be Free (Thurman)

I’m reading a book of meditations by Howard Thurman.  Today’s passage felt like it made a lot of sense for fathers and for those who love us.

“Give me the strength to be free.”  The thought of being free comes upon us sometimes with such power that under its impact we lose the meaning that the thought implies.  Often, “being free” means to be where we are not at the moment, to be relieved of a particular set of chores or responsibilities that are bearing heavily upon minds, to be surrounded by a careless rapture with no reminders of costs of any kind, to be on the open road with nothing overhead but the blue sky and whole days in which to roam.  For many, “being free” means movement, change, reordering.

To be free may not mean any of these things.  It may not involve a single change in a single circumstance, or it may not extend beyond one’s own gate, beyond the four walls in the midst of which all of one’s working hours and endless nights are spent.  It may mean no surcease from the old familiar routine and the perennial cares which have become one’s persistent lot.  Quite possibly, your days mean the deepening of your rut, the increasing of your monotony and the enlarging of the areas of your dullness.  All of this, and more, may be true for you.

“Give me strength to be free.”  Often, to be free means the ability to deal with the realities of one’s situation so as not to be overcome by them.  It is the manifestation of a quality of being and living that that the results not only from understanding of one’s situation but also from wisdom in dealing with it.  It takes no strength to give up, to accept shackles of circumstance so that they become shackles of soul, to shrug the shoulders in bland acquiescence.  This is easy.  But do not congratulate yourself that you have solved anything.  In simple language, you have sold out, surrendered, given up.  It takes strength to affirm the high prerogative of your spirit.  And you will find that if you do, a host of invisible angels will wing to your defense, and the glory of the living God will envelop your surroundings because in you He has come into His own.

Mondays With My Boy #2

I knew it would be a slow Monday.  The last few have been slow, trudging along the way I do most Monday mornings because my body needed more sleep than I got to recover from a long end to another week.

I woke up mumbling, grumbling that my wife was leaving.  Her foot heels clicked and capped over our floor.  I heard her rummaging through the fridge, finding food for her lunch.  I heard my boy move in his crib.

Her departure each morning sends a switch to my son.  Whenever one of us leaves, and he’s in his bed awake, we must say goodbye.  If we don’t, it’s a sign of bad things to come for the person left behind.  So the switch gets turned and Dawn greets him.  From time to time, she’ll change him or give him that sippy cup.  If she doesn’t have time, I’m limping or crawling or fumbling out of bed to do whatever.  Then Dawn leaves.

Sometimes the boy turns the switch off and returns to sleep without a sound.  Sometimes—read, on Mondays—he doesn’t. He knows it’s my day off.  He’s knows once I’m awake, grasping for darkness and wrapping my fingers around the air hoping that sleep will return, that I cannot return to sleep.  We don’t share the same switch.  He’ll happily find an hour plus nap when late morning comes and I give him back to the bed.  But me, well, I’ll sit up, unable to meet sleep, unable to sink back into that weird dream about being on some new Blue Line stop that I’ve never seen before.  No, I’ll stay awake and be mad at him because he’ll fall right to sleep.  He’ll grab that fuzzy blue or green blanket and breathe deeply until the sleep fairy comes and takes him away.

Before his nap, before he became my little enemy on Monday, we cooked breakfast.  First, we put up the clean dishes from the washer.  Second, I washed the stray dishes that were perching over the sink and along the countertop.  I have a rule: I don’t cook in a dirty kitchen.  Dirty is defined generally as a kitchen with crumbs anywhere; a kitchen with dishes in the sink; or a kitchen where any of the counters have things on top of them which will prevent me from doing my business.  Third, I cut up cherries for the boy and placed them on his high seat.  He watched me, waiting for me to put him up with the cherries.  I had time.  We had 2-3 more minutes until I knew he would complain about it being as late as 8:30 and his having not yet ate.  This kid has been telling time by his belly for months.

I started the grits, remembering that recipe that Grammie Joseph used for shrimp and grits.  I didn’t have the energy for those grits, so I improvised, thanking God for a microwave and for water and for milk and for cheese.  The grits cooled while Bryce stood there, silent, questioning me in his eyes about those cherries and about that milk.  I turned the fire under the skillet for the turkey.  Incidentally, when you don’t eat pork, can you say ‘bacon’ if you would only be eating turkey bacon in the first place?  Just a question.

The bacon crisped on the stove.  I placed the kid in the chair.  As always, he put too much in his mouth for me to think him safe.  I lectured him on how we eat one small slice of cherry at a time, maybe two.  Certainly not five.  He cheeks bulged with his eyes.  He was happy.  I knew he was because he was quiet.  He’s happy when he’s quiet and when he’s squealing.

I scrambled two eggs after the bacon finished.  He started calling.  He was done with his cherries which meant, impatient as he is, I was late with whatever was next.  I put the grits before him.  He started saying “hot” as I blew them.  Then he joined me blowing the grits.  They were already cool enough, but this blowing thing, this “hot” thing is a tradition between us.

I started spooning him grits.  I moved back and forth from the high baby seat to the stove.  “Hot” blow spoon spoon walk away.  “Hot” blow spoon spoon walk away.  He didn’t like this but he got over it.  I brought him eggs, siding them with the rest of his grits.  I pulled my bowl of grits and my saucer of bacon and eggs.  He looked at my plate and then pointed to his.  He thought I was moving too slowly.  I felt him say, “Hey, daddy, wake up.  Get it moving.”   We ate.  Him first mostly.  When he was finished, he asked for milk.  He had water.  I told him to drink that.

He pointed to the sippy cup on the counter.  “Wait,” I told him.  “Did I rush you through your breakfast?”  He looked at me, his face turning to the side.  I wondered what he was thinking. It wasn’t even nine o’clock and he was already laughing at me in his little head.  I got up to give him his milk after I finished.  He drank and I watched.