Jonathan Welling and Professor Erin Whiting, Teacher Education
This study explores the perspectives of parents and teachers in their roles facilitating their student’s education and on the parent-teacher communication in public high schools in Irapuato, Mexico. This research provides contextual information for educational stakeholders in the United States about the parent-teacher communication in Mexico to aid in accommodating the needs and expectations of Hispanic immigrant families.
From May to August 2012, I personally conducted inductive research in Irapuato, Mexico. I spent over 130 hours doing classroom observations in three public high schools. The three preperatory schools used in this study were: El Cento de Bachillerato Tecnológico industrial y de servicio No. 65 (CBTis 65), La Escuala de Nivel Medio Superior de Irapuato (ENMSI) and El Sistema Avanzado de Bachillerato y Educación Superior (SABES). CBTis 65 is a large technical school with 2200 students, where students graduate with a technical license that qualifies them to work in some scientific fields without a college diploma. ENMSI is the largest traditional public school in Irapuato with 1400 students. SABES is a small public school in the rural areas outside of the city with only 100 students. I conducted semi-structured interviews in Spanish with 4 teachers from CBTis, 4 from ENMSI and 2 from SABES. I also interviewed 7 parents, each of whom had children from at least one of these three schools. All interviews were recorded and lasted about 30-40 minutes.
After first translating and transcribing the 17 interviews, I used a systematic approach of open coding to identify emergent themes. I analyzed each group separately, starting with the teachers and then the parents, to identify emergent themes from each perspective on parent-teacher communication. Next I cross examined the two perspectives to gain a further understanding.
Both parents and teachers articulated that the role of a parent was to check up on the child and verify that they did their school work. The teachers did not expect the parents to help out with the student homework assignments. This was a fitting expectation because most parents did not feel they had sufficient education to help their children learn the material. Teachers expressed frustration because they felt most parents were not actively fulfilling their responsibility in checking up on their children’s educational efforts.
The teachers expressed that they felt the parents expected them to act more like parents to the students while they were at school. Interestingly, when parents were asked about the role of the teacher, most mentioned that the teachers should teach the students to have values such as being responsible, not stealing, listening to their parents, and having the courage to pick themselves up after a failure. This meant that parents did in fact expect teacher to focus not only on academic content, but correct behavior and values as well.
Parent teacher communication varied greatly depending on the type of school. Typically, letters, report cards and conference notifications were delivered to the parents via the students. A parent- teacher conference was a set time when a large group of about 30 parents would meet at the school with a “tutor” or a teacher acting as a representative for many teachers. The role of the tutor was to hand out grades and notes on behavior issues.
The only school for which the parents and teachers were satisfied with the parent-teacher communication was in the small rural school (SABES). This school only had four teachers and during conferences, parents meet directly with the teachers. This was not the case in the larger schools, CBTis 65 and ENMSI. Both parents and teachers felt the communication between them was inadequate. The parents rarely met with the actual teachers of their children. The parents also complained that if they discovered their child had poor grades at these conferences, it was already too late in the semester to do anything to raise them.
The described role of a parent in the education system was consistent from both the teacher’s and parent’s descriptions. However, the teachers felt that most parents did not fulfill that responsibility. This is most likely due to the fact that in most families, both the father and mother worked. During interviews, parents often confessed that they didn’t have the time to get as involved in their child’s education as they wished.
Most parents expected teachers to go beyond teaching academic content and help their children mature behaviorally. It may be that traditionally, teachers in Mexico held a dual responsibility and also taught correct moral behaviors and values, but the teachers I interviewed felt solely responsible only for teaching the academic content.
The frustration for inadequate communication between teachers and parents appears to be related to two specific factors. First, communication to parents was most often done with students as intermediaries. I spoke with students who wished to hide their grades from their parents, and so they simply did not deliver home the report cards or conference notifications. Second, teachers felt bound by formal communication protocols, which meant that their communication with parents was mostly confined to formal documents delivered via the students.
Educational stakeholders in the US need to understand that Mexican immigrant families enter an education system with a different structure of parent-teacher communication. Parents understand their role in checking up on their student’s educational efforts, but they may be very unfamiliar with the ability to check their children’s grades online. In Mexico, their parent-teacher communication was limited and the parents likely became accustomed to their children being intermediaries between school and home. It is likely that they will initially feel timid to calling or emailing teacher directly. Lastly, it may be helpful to explain to parents what their children will learn at school. My research discovered that many parents expected the teachers to focus more on values and on correcting behaviors than what the teachers felt is their responsibility.