As teachers meet with parents, one of the primary goals should be to have parents understand that they should provide decision-making experiences for their children. A model of the decision-making process can occur in the parent-teacher meetings by planning to have parents actively participate in projects and activities. It will also be well to have students participate in strategic sessions of meetings so that a combination of the educative team-parents, children, and teachers-can be involved in working together. This may be developed further by using older children as members of the team to work with younger children. To make the experience realistic, teachers should provide children with the opportunity of working alone and with others, for this is the situation that will most likely occur in life.
At first, the teachers may be reluctant to ask the parents to become involved in affairs of the classroom. Some teachers feel that the school should not interfere in the home, and vice versa. However, if teachers can join with parents as partners in career education activities, the opportunities for the child's potential development will be greatly enhanced. A recent study in parent-teacher cooperation reveals that:
A teacher working in an area where parents almost always cooperate, as compared with a teacher working in an area of little or no parent cooperation, is six times as likely to say that his pupils are exceptionally well-behaved... It appears from the data collected that close parent-teacher teamwork offers one of the best solutions to school behavior problems ever devised.
Involvement of parents in the classroom career education program will not happen overnight. When parents have been called in for conferences by teachers, it has usually been for evaluative or disciplinary reasons which have resulted in a threatening experience for parents. This troubled atmosphere will need to be changed to one of a cooperative nature before the conference can be successful. Any suspicions held by either side must be alleviated ... a difficult task that will require initiative from the elementary school teacher. Though parents may be defensive at first, they will respond if they are treated as equal partners-and they can become a powerful force for strengthening career education objectives.
Once convinced of the merits of career education, parents can become a valuable ally to the teacher. Today's parents are better prepared than ever before to help make a major change in the American education system. Many of them will have special interests in career education, for they have been involved in the pressures and forces that have affected the need for it. In addition, they are better educated, better informed, and better prepared to participate in the education of their children. (The average parent today has one year of education beyond high school.) Parents of the near future will likely have increased education, with involvement in courses in family living, psychology, and sociology. Such preparation will assist these parents in becoming intellectual equals with the teacher or counselor and more capable partners in career education.
Programs must be tailored to fit the local situation, taking into consideration the strengths of the teacher, the income of the family, the employment of the parents, the interests and needs of the children, and the composition, religious orientation, social status, and geographical location of the families. Commuter teachers, larger numbers of married women with family responsibilities as elementary school teachers, complicated family situations, and other factors will require individual programs. However, within the flexibility of career education, there is a program which can be developed for every situation.
Because the early childhood home environment has a profound effect on every aspect of later life, it is important that education strengthen home and family living by what is taught in the school. It is vital for children to explore basic concepts of learning how to interact with others in the elementary grades. Building on this foundation in the secondary school years, the students can then focus on learning to develop a family structure that is stable and will withstand the pressures of the modern world.
Because the composition of families will vary greatly according to local conditions and customs, the elementary school teacher will need to create a program for his students which can reinforce and supplement the home situation. This program can include helping youngsters understand the roles of parents, the value of cooperation within the family, the benefits of working together for common goals, the necessity of communicating feelings and attitudes, and the need for getting along with other family members. Since the child's parents and siblings will constitute his image of family life, these must be considered in order to make the school experience relevant to that life.
Because the involvement of parents with the school is of paramount importance to career education programs, the elementary school teacher must actively seek parental participation. In formulating such a program, the teacher may wish to consider the following suggestions:
- The teacher should gain a knowledge of the students' backgrounds and home situations, learning of parents' occupations and their orientation toward the world of work. This can be accomplished in the following manner:
(a) Each child can be encouraged to find out what his parents do in the working world, and through role-playing and show-and-tell procedures, can share his feelings and ideas with classmates.
(b) Parent-teacher conferences and associations which provide opportunities for teachers to consult with parents are the most obvious, direct route to reach the parents. During these consultations, the teacher who is sensitive to the vagaries of parental attitudes can deduce from the feedback how the parents would respond to the career education program.
- If it is difficult to involve parents in the above activities, the teacher can often reach them by generating enthusiasm in the children. If the teacher can plan an activity that involves all students in the classroom, and if he can provide the opportunity for the parents to see their children as active participants, most parents will find themselves willing to become involved.
- Teachers may wish to communicate with parents through newsletters or circulars. Positive classroom work experiences that have happened to the children can be related via the newsletter to the parents to give additional impetus to the parents' involvement.
- Many parents instinctively become irrepressibly enthusiastic about their children's school experiences. The teacher should search out these parents as public relations-type personnel for spreading the word and recruiting other parents into the program.
- Because mothers usually spend more time with their children than fathers, personal contact between the teacher and mother is vital. Inviting groups of mothers to visit the school could enable the teacher to explain the advantages of relating activities at home to career exploration and could also pinpoint for the mothers those areas in which their children have special interests or sensitivities. Through these personal contacts, the family could help the child develop positive work attitudes.
- In special instances where permission has been granted by managers, supervisors, owners, and the like, teachers could-if they feel that such drastic measures are necessary in the interests of the child-visit parents at work locations to discuss the child's education progress while becoming acquainted with the work of the parents.
- An older child or the parents could help in the actual delivery of the newspapers or magazines, or could accompany the student when errands mean a trip to the grocery store or drugstore. The added dimension of helping him find the correct address for the magazines or newspapers or the special brand specified by the "client" at the drugstore could be rewarding to parents and child.
- The father or mother could reinforce the child's knowledge of mathematics by helping with the "profit and loss" aspect of the venture, the joy of any bonus work, and the counting of the proceeds after "collection time" each week or month. Setting aside money as a savings account or letting it accrue for any worthwhile spending-the well-known "rainy day"-is an experience that would instill a commendable attribute in any child.
- Any family member can help "expand" the business by recruiting new customers, but because very young children are often plagued with excessive timidity (though some display temerity), an older child or one of the parents should accompany the child at first.
- The importance of giving good quality work, of "going the extra mile" for a customer, can instill in the child the resulting joy that can be felt from "doing the job right."
- The family work project can be an ongoing accomplishment, offering any child new responsibilities as he matures and is able to perform new and more difficult tasks.