Five Reasons Why Parents Are Not Participating

Open House: for most parents this event marks the first time a parent gets to meet the teachers to whom they’ve entrusted their children. And yet, for many teachers, Open House doesn’t turn out to be quite the bustling event they imagine. When I hosted mine, I met the parents of 12 of my 158 students. (The mental math on that’s about eight percent—if you round up.)

When I ran this number past a friend of mine, she huffed, “Pffft! So many parents just don’t care about their kids”. Since I’m an English teacher and I analyze word choice with the same obsession people apply to their Fantasy Football picks, I mulled over the verb “cared” for the better part of a long car ride.

While non-participation certainly feels like a lack of concern—after all, I’m working so hard to orchestrate all of this brilliant learning and now I can’t get a live audience!—the issue might be a lack of resources, not a lack of care.

That said, consider these five reasons why some parents don’t participate in school events:

  1. They do not have the luxury of time.

An hour meeting at five o’clock may not seem like much of a commitment, but let’s not assume all parents work banking hours. For servers and customer service representatives, five o’clock is the peak hour of business traffic. In other words, in some industries, this is actually the most difficult and expensive block to request off. When you alter your perspective, the parent dilemma changes from: “Can I spare an or two?” to “Do I want to lose those hours?” Said another way, meeting the teacher and getting an extra copy of the syllabus might cost thirty dollars—which can also buy a couple gallons of gas and two and a half pounds of chicken breasts.

  1. They are afraid.

Have you considered how scary school events might feel for some parents? Let me share a personal anecdote: in sixth grade I confronted my mother, who is a maid, about missing an awards ceremony. She looked at me and said: “I’ve been cleaning toilets all day…you want me to shake your teacher’s hand and then look at a certificate you can show me at home?”

Think about the parents of first generation students: for some, they didn’t finish high school because conferencing with the teacher was a skill they never learned! This in context with anxiety could make a school event feel a lot more complicated than just being physically present.

  1. They Don’t Know How to be Involved

Some parents might not understand what you want them to do. They might ask themselves questions such as: “Do I just stand here, or am I supposed to have a role?”; “Do I have to work with other parents?”;If I come once does that mean I will be expected to come all of the time?”; “Will I embarrass my child if I don’t understand what is being taught?”

Consider these questions and think about how you might subtly, and pro-actively answer them for parents. After all, if you’re expecting people, you may as well share the details of your expectations with them.

  1. They Don’t Understand Why Involvement is Important

Some parents wonder: if the teacher is a master of their subject area, why do they need me? Furthermore, some teenagers do not want their parent to attend events. Put these together and a parent might wonder what exactly is the value of simple physical presence. And yet, as teachers we know it matters. So, have you communicated that impact with stakeholders? Have you quantified it?

  1. They Don’t Understand You

Teachers know that some parents do not speak English, but we might consider that even in English we speak with unfamiliar educational jargon. I’m thinking about sentences like: “we use standards-based scales, not grades”; or, “the student wrote the essay but their thesis and key claims are ambiguous”, or “this was not one of the sight words”.

These reasons open up a range of considerations regarding parent input, but I’ll leave you with this: differentiation isn’t just a strategy we use with students, it’s one we should use with the community as well.

I’d love your input and debate about these ideas. Feel free to comment below.


Angela Buzan

Angela Buzan is a full time English teacher in the Flagstaff Unified School District. She has thirteen years’ teaching experience and has taught all grades seven through twelve. In 2010, she received a Fulbright Teacher Exchange fellowship to Kolkata, India; in 2012 she achieved National Board Certification; in 2014 she earned a Master’s Degree in Curriculum Design and Instruction. Her current challenge is to out-read Gavin, in third period, who typically polishes off three novels a week.

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