First, it is super to debut a guest post on TII. This work matters and is changing conversations for education and ambitious teachers.
“Tag Parents, You’re It.”
It is probably already, or otherwise soon approaching, summer for your students. While the hugs and tears and genuine statements of pride and hope are all present at this time of year, we must talk about something that is innocently NOT compassionate: “Tag! Parents, you’re it.” (also seen as “Tag, parents – Your turn.” or, on t-shirts, as “Dear Parents, Tag…You’re it. Love, Teachers.”).
I get it. You’re tired and ready for a margarita by the pool (because that is what teachers do during the summer, right?) but when you use/retweet/say this phrase you perpetuate a normative family, a lack of empathy, the de-professionalization of teaching, and that children are burdens in educator’s lives. Let us take a look closer at each of these messages.
- The normative family.
Embedded in the phrase is the loaded assumption that children go home to parents. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 69% of children live with two parents, 27% with one (23% are single mothers, the others fathers). That means that about 4% of our students have other household arrangements – grandparents, aunts/uncles, neighbors, foster parents, etc. Note here, also, that this doesn’t even scratch the surface of family diversity in terms of what “both parents” looks like (e.g. adoptive parents, same-sex parents, emerging families) or the actual presence of adults in the household (e.g. working multiple jobs, health, homelessness, vulnerabilities).
- Lack of empathy.
Summer is tough for many children and families. About 21% of children live below the federal poverty threshold with 41% of those under 18 considered living in “low income families” (National Center for Children in Poverty, 2018). It is a great privilege if students can attend camps, go on vacation, or, more simply, have an available caretaker at home. At a bare minimum, we have to consider the implications of summer and added stress on parents to provide breakfast and lunch that was being provided by school: the number of children living in food insecure households (due to cost, proximity, and/or other resources) ranges from 8.5% to 20.8% in states across America (Household Food Security in the United States, 2015; Map the Meal Gap, 2016).
- The de-professionalization of teaching.
With teacher strikes and BAT groups rising, it is clear that it makes educators mad when others don’t take teaching seriously. It angers many of us when the “Those who can’t, teach.” statements are seen or heard. At the same time, though, there are so many versions of “anybody can teach” that get promoted all the time, like this. Families aren’t always equipped with the knowledge and resources to simply continue “school” throughout the summer. They can’t just be “tagged” for the job. That takes dedication and hard work on the part of educators to partner with families and support them in efforts to continue academic and social development at home. The phrase basically says, “Poof! My job is your job now.” without supplementing it with suggestions to families for active learning, continued practice, and reading and educational opportunities overs summer (although, return to #1 about the assumption about families to determine whether they have the time and resources to do this even when suggested).
- Children are burdens.
This one seems fairly self-explanatory, but I will partially flesh it out anyway. Tagging families because you are ready to wash your hands clean from the year suggests that you are tired of your students and ready for them to leave. Aren’t you sad? Aren’t you going to miss them? Does all the joy and learning they brought to you throughout the year get outweighed by your desire to kick them out of your classroom door? And while we’re at it, the phrase also indicates that the 6.5 hours that teachers are spending with children is equivalent to 24 hours a day they spend at home. Remember during the school year, families guard, care for, and exchange with them the other 17 hours and weekends: teachers are not parenting, they are not your children
At this point, I wonder how many have said, “Sheesh, it’s just a joke, of course I love and will miss my group of students and value families.” But, we have to mean it and we have to follow it in every facet of our teaching and in every post and comment we make. Deleting these phrases is akin to banding together to say that calling people “gay” or “retarded” is reprehensible.
So, next time you feel compelled to chuckle at or post “Tag parents, you’re it!” as your students are on their way into June, replace it by checking in with those without available adults, acknowledging the challenges summer presents, providing support for continued learning, and remembering how lucky you have been to share the lives of 17 (or 20, or 25, or 35, or 150) children all year.