Teachers must get Latino parents involved in education

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For educators, parental involvement of first-generation Latino Hispanic parents is a tough issue.

Teachers need to understand what Latino parental involvement means in light of our American educational system, and its impacts for kids especially through middle school. The issue is layered and thorny given the many cultural barriers Latino parents encounter around student expectations, the support role of parents, the need for testing, etc.

Such issues weigh heavily on parents; they confound attempts to help their kids. So what can teachers do?

Teachers can work to develop relationships one family at a time by guiding Latino parents through the school’s requirements. Parent-Teacher Nights afford opportunities.

Relationship building begins with family history. Many teachers assume the one-size-fits-all approach when dealing with Latino families. Truth is, the practices of Latin American schools don’t apply to U.S. schools. Here, parents are free to challenge teachers, while in Latin American countries, parents rarely question a teacher’s authority. Mexican teachers, for example, command status and influence.

In the end, it’s really about parent-teacher communication.

True, parents value education. But the esteem around education is different in places like Mexico. In the U.S., an education has its economic rewards, while in Mexico the rewards are different: community status and a network of professional relationship are the outcomes.

Teachers can aid parents to "re-connect the dots" about school success, relating how success here is different, not necessarily better or worse.

Recently, I attended a Latino student conference in Washington state where parental involvement drew fire from teachers. Latino students agreed parents were uninvolved with their education, not intentionally, but because they had little to offer.

"The Internet provides us more help than our parents ever could," said one student.

Fine, except it leaves the parent out of the loop. Teachers can bridge this gap by encouraging life-long learning in parents: taking computer classes, asking for help with their own homework, learning to use Twitter — all such ideas are creative and helpful.

Then there’s the issue of English. Second language acquisition is rudimentary to success. Teachers can make a case for parents enrolling in ESL.

Remember: for Latinos, the teacher’s role carries influence; teacher suggestions carry impact.

So, teachers, listen up: the road for Latino parents is long. Gaining competence in the education of one’s child is no small matter, but school

involvement can become a reality for Latino parents. Teachers can make it happen.

Victor Chacn is a cultural trainer and consultant with Floriman Associates.

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