Jeez, What Was Ron Clark Thinking?

Ron Clark, the acclaimed teacher and author, wrote a CNN commentary this week titled What teachers really want to tell parents.

I hope any teacher reading it ends up following the opposite of some of the advice he gives:

And if you really want to help your children be successful, stop making excuses for them. I was talking with a parent and her son about his summer reading assignments. He told me he hadn’t started, and I let him know I was extremely disappointed because school starts in two weeks. His mother chimed in and told me that it had been a horrible summer for them because of family issues they’d been through in July. I said I was so sorry, but I couldn’t help but point out that the assignments were given in May.

Now, that’s the way to model empathy….

We are educated professionals who work with kids every day and often see your child in a different light than you do. 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 lawyer.

How about starting a relationship with parents by asking for their advice on what works best for their child?

For more elegant responses to Clark’s column, be sure to read:

Letter To Ron Clark: What Parents Really Want To Tell Teachers by Doug Goldberg.

This is what creates gang wars between parents and teachers. by Lorna Constantini.

What CARING Teachers Want To Tell Parents is by Michelle Baldwin.

Listen, I understand and have experienced occasional frustrations with parents as much as any teacher. But, come one, in order to work effectively with parents, we need to lead with our ears, not with our mouths.

11 thoughts on “Jeez, What Was Ron Clark Thinking?

  1. “And if you really want to help your children be successful, stop making EXCUSES for them.”
    The caps are my emphasis. Perhaps I misunderstood: A reason and an excuse are not the same thing. I listen to reasons with an open mind and heart in my work as a teacher every day. However, after twenty-plus years, I can spot an EXCUSE a mile away. As for the question ,”Is that true?” That riles me, too. I suppose I am an old-fashioned, over-the-hill baby boomer, but I can very clearly hear my father ( a well-respected teacher and coach) telling me as I wailed and pleaded and began “my side of the story” or “what really happened” as a child that he didn’t need my opinion, and that comment did not leave me scarred. I don’t remember anyone ever describing my father as an ogre although both stern and loving have been used. Both parents and teachers can be both. Master teacher Rafe Esquith has said that we need higher expectations and a “no excuses” approach in our classrooms, and I agree. I think that is the point Ron Clark, too, is trying to make in his appeal to parents.

  2. Fran,

    If Clark wanted to communicate to parents with that article, he might have used less of an elitist tone. Teachers may have “heard” it, but, as a parent, as someone very involved in parent engagement efforts, and as a teacher, I think any of his good points got lost in his preachiness.


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  4. Larry,
    I think many who read Ron Clark’s article need to realize it was written as a commentary, an editorial of sorts. He is saying aloud what other teachers “wish” could be said. Seeing the article as opinion and not fact may make it easier to swallow.
    As I read the article, I told my husband that he had heard me say these comments over morning coffee many times. And as an public school educator of 28 years, I have gingerly stepped on parents’ toes as well.
    Yes, we educators get a bad rap at times; however, we wear many hats while we are in the classroom as you Larry have mentioned. The one we don’t want to wear is that of the child’s parent, yet many children have no parent or adult behavior to model after. When a parent comes whining and complaining to the teacher, the child will model that behavior first and learn from it possibly never.
    Cheryl Higginbotham
    Fort Smith, Arkansas

  5. I guess I’m very old school, but my parents never bad mouthed a teacher in front of me or my brothers. If we got in trouble or complained about something in school, my parents stood up for the teacher and told my brothers and me that it was probably our fault. I can remember a few times when my parents made appointments with the teachers and spoke to them privately, but never in front of students and they never let us know what it was about. I didn’t think Ron Clark sounded preachy or elitist at all. I work in a school with little parent involvement and I can relate a great deal to what he said. While I do feel it is of utmost importance, it is hard to build those positive relationships with parents when they just aren’t there. I feel that if we don’t get parental support for teachers, we may never be able to make the progress in education our students so desperately need. Teachers across the country are being held accoutable for things in and out of their control. I can’t say the same thing for many parents. Teaching is a profession and as such teachers should be treated with a greater amount of respect.

  6. I think Ron Clark made valid points, and yes there is a battle between parents and teachers. The making excuses for while a child is not succeeding and rewarding children for meeting the lowest standard possible, is part of the failure of a system that needs both parents and teachers to work together. I think Fran stated it clearly, if a child is not doing what they are supposed to it is up to the parent to help fix the problem not makes excuses or take the child’s side. Other wise the child never learns from their mistakes, and suffer from a long string of learned helplessness and never becomes independent thinkers.

  7. It’s a good thing Ron Clark owns Ron Clark Academy. Any teacher that worked for him prolly woulda been fired for saying the exact same thing in public. Can you imagine any employee using their own name and the company name and dissing the clientele of any industry, service, etc in such a hateful, arrogant & condescending manner (and keeping their job???) And this guy is supposedly a “professional”? I hope the kids in his school do not read what he REALLY thinks of their parents that brought them into this world, long before he molded them into his likeness. But I do hope their parents have read it and act upon it (and not for his “excuses”)!

  8. I have to agree with Ron. I am retired from teaching after over 25 years in early elementary. I understand and support parents who are the ball for their kids. However, I am afraid that sometimes the support takes an inappropriate turn.
    I would ask what it is that parents want most for their child. Try to imagine ten years from the current event. The teacher will be involved with other children, but the parent will have that same child. In fact, twenty years from the current event, the parent will have that same child, who is now an adult. Where do you want your child to be?
    I once experienced a parent telling another teacher that she had angry handwriting, just three weeks after school had started. I am still puzzled how the parent was an expert at handwriting, why all that grade teachers were called on the carpet, and what the parent truly wanted. Since this was years ago, I wonder, on a retired and sunny afternoon, what that parent was wanting and how that student is faring. I hope all my students look back with good feelings.
    Teaching is a wonderful and joyful job ninety percent of the time. Paperwork and Problem Parents take up the rest.

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  11. He probably does develop relationships.

    But even with students that have difficult parents. He’s simply being frank, without filter. As if you’ve never wanted to say what he wrote. Let’s be honest here.

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