Caryn Sullivan: Students, teachers, and parents should stay in their own lanes

This is the time for parents to study students' syllabi and library books. This is the time for parents to get boots on the ground, to see and hear what's being taught.

Friday Food for Thought
Caryn Sullivan

In the coming weeks, as kids put on their new shoes and fill their backpacks with fresh (but pricey) school supplies, they’re heading into a bit of a headwind.

The ripple effects of shuttering schools during COVID are beginning to reveal themselves. Students, parents, and teachers were all impacted by the novel virus and the demands it placed on them. Everyone has some work to do to get back on course.

In May, KARE 11’s Julie Nelson spoke with seven teachers from grades two through college level about what they had experienced in the classroom during COVID.

Be it second graders or college students, the takeaways were consistent. Students need structure. They need expectations and accountability. Learning from home changed all that. And many students didn’t rebound well last year.

Teachers said they’re burned out and disheartened by the lackluster commitment and focus of students, as well as from significant behavioral problems, including excessive profanity.

It’s no wonder, then, that we’re launching a new school year with a shortage of special education and classroom teachers.

It’s a bad time for a shortage. Dismal 2021 test scores indicate students aren’t learning the fundamentals.

One can’t help but wonder if teachers are being asked to do too much and whether excessive demands are driving them out of a beloved profession. Might flailing performance have something to do with the push to change the focus and the approach to educating our kids? Might students perform better if there was more emphasis on skills and less concern about equity?

I’d argue students should be taught to master the English language and make basic math computations. Teachers should encourage them to formulate independent opinions and articulate them in respectful and rigorous debate.

I’d argue curricula should be focused on teaching students basic science and history, rather than interlacing subjects with equity, ala “Diversity and Inclusion: Equity, Culturally Responsive Teaching, Social-Emotional Learning in the Science Classroom.”

I’d also argue parents, not teachers, should be discussing gender and sexuality in the privacy of their own homes, rather than under the cover of health studies.

I understand how difficult it is for parents and caregivers to juggle careers, laundry, soccer practices, and a multitude of other responsibilities.

But if there was ever a time to fit in one more thing, it’s now.

This is the time for parents to study students’ syllabi and library books. This is the time for parents to get boots on the ground, to see and hear what’s being taught. That might require a busy mom or dad to volunteer in the classroom or to chaperone field trips.

It might require exhausted parents to attend school board meetings or to raise concerns with the school principal.

And parents also need to set expectations about appropriate behavior in all environments, imposing consequences when needed.

It’s time to recalibrate, for the sake of students and teachers. It’s time for everyone involved to find their proper lanes and to stick to them.

When my daughter played sports, her coaches began each season with a meeting of athletes and parents, in which they reiterated the same message.

Everyone in the room has a role — but just one role. The role of the athlete is to play. The role of the parent is to parent. The role of the coach is to coach.

Everyone had a lane. When we all stayed in our lanes, things went smoothly.

We need to adopt that mindset in schools today. Let the students learn; let the parents parent; and let the teachers teach. If everyone stays in their lane, perhaps our students will gain the skills they need to succeed in life. And perhaps we can save the remaining teachers from burnout.


Caryn Sullivan

A retired attorney and author of the award-winning memoir, "Bitter or Better: Grappling With Life on the Op-Ed Page," Caryn Sullivan has inspired readers with her thoughtful commentary for the past two decades. To learn more about Caryn’s work or to connect, visit