Stereotypes Are at the Heart of Parent-Teacher Communication Dysfunction

Everyone has prejudices, whether they are aware of them or not. It is a fact of life that your own background and experiences shape the way you judge others when you see them, even if this judgment is subconscious. Stereotypes and prejudices affect everyone, including people in education. Studies show that stereotypes cause a breakdown in communication between parents and teachers, ultimately having a damaging effect on children’s education. 

Teachers hold prejudices 

Part of a teacher’s duty is to enforce school rules, notice areas where students are struggling, and occasionally reach out to parents when necessary to help correct and monitor certain behaviors. In theory, teachers should consider reaching out to the parents of students equally, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or background. Unfortunately, studies would suggest that this is not the case and that prejudices held by teachers, whether they are conscious or subconscious, affect communication between parents and teachers. 

Previous studies conclude that white parents communicate with teachers more than non-white parents, but the focus of those studies was on the parents reaching out to the teachers. When looking at which parents teachers reach out to, the reverse is true.  

Behavioral issues

This study shows that teachers base their communication with the parents of students not only on the academic performance and behavior of students but also on their race and immigration backgrounds. The study also reveals that teachers are more likely to reach out to the parents of black and Latinx students with reported behavioral problems than any other students. It is important to note that this study was based on all students with reported behavioral problems, so this does not mean that only black and Latinx children displayed problematic behavior. 

The class subject matters

Another important note from this study is that math teachers were more likely to reach out to parents than English teachers, which is thought to be a product of the stereotype that some races or students are better at math than others. Even when white or Asian students, part of the group who received fewer phone calls home, were struggling academically, their parents did not receive as many communications from teachers as other students. 

Celebrating student achievements

Teachers reach out to parents not only to share concerns over behavior and academic challenges but also to celebrate achievements. The study showed that teachers were less likely to reach out to black and immigrant parents to share successes, not because those students were not achieving, but because of the perception that those parents would be less interested in the news or that communication would be too difficult.

Communication between parents and teachers is a crucial component of a child’s education. Studies have proven breakdowns in these communications, and both parents and teachers are responsible. Educators have the responsibility to look deep within themselves and assess whether or not stereotypes and prejudices affect their communication with the parents of their students. They must make a conscious effort to look at all students and their parents the same, regardless of race, ethnicity, or background, and communicate with them accordingly. 

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