Last week I called the mom of one of my students, a boy who came to our town by way of New York. The student was not doing his homework for me or his other ELL teacher, and was 10 minutes late to my class one day without a pass. When we want to help our students or get them back on track, we - the other ELL teacher and I - usually make a phone call home, knowing this is the best (sometimes only) way to contact home.
The mom is a woman from the Dominican Republic who moved her family here for the schools. She told me that we could do whatever was necessary to get her son back on track. She gave us her total support, not doubting for one second that we have her son's best interests at heart. She didn't question me, but actually thanked me for calling and for holding him to high standards.
A few nights later, at my youngest daughter's open house, I ran into the aunt of this student (along with her daughter, also a student of mine). She asked first how her own daughter was doing, and then how her nephew was doing. I reported to her the phone call home and told her what had been happening with his homework. She assured me that she would talk to the mom (her cousin) and tell her to take the boy's phone away and not buy him the new sneakers he really wants until he starts to improve his grades and do his homework. After all, she said, they did NOT move here so he could waste away his education. She told me that I could call her any time as well, and she thanked me for being strict with her nephew.
I love that as an ELL teacher, I can almost always play the "I'll call your mom/dad" card and it works really, really well. These two interactions made me reflect on the differences in parenting. My students' parents are thankful, respectful, and supportive - almost always. This is very different from when I taught Spanish at my school, or French at private school. I would inevitably be faced with parents who doubted me, questioned my credentials, asked me to speak French to hear my accent (really) and asked me in the middle of my open house presentation if I was teaching Spanish from Spain.
It strikes me also that my students' families are very involved - though you might not see any of them at a PGO (parent guardian organization) meeting. My student's aunt had offered to me several times to cook, to chaperone a trip, or whatever I needed. They might not be involved in the traditional American ways, but that doesn't mean they don't care.
I know that not all teachers can contact home because if time (if they have 100 plus students especially) or because there is a language barrier (though at my school they can get an interpreter). It's worth the extra effort when we can make these connections, though, and get the support of those moms and dads who don't play.