Question: I am teaching kindergarten for the first time, and it has been scary. The children I teach are in a low-income and low-parent involvement area. I had no idea five and six year olds could be so intentionally horrible towards each other. When I try to involve parents in working on their child’s behavior they don’t seem to do anything at all—so the kids are not concerned about any consequences at home. As a teacher, there is only so much I can do to manage their behavior.  What would you suggest?

Adele Brodkin: You are absolutely correct in saying that as a single teacher working alone in a classroom with children who create chaos and who see no reason to alter their behavior, you are helpless.  As things stand for you now, you have little recourse other than to run a tight ship, doing your best to prevent tragedy with the aid of your administration.  But this is not only not the way it ought to be, it doesn’t have to continue and won’t, if you can join with other teachers and administrators to design a school wide program that will turn chaos into cooperation, in support of safety and learning.

Until Dr. James Comer of Yale University’s Child Study Center designed and implemented a program called the “Comer School Development Program” in New Haven, the schools there were precisely as you describe yours. Parents caught up in the all-consuming effort to keep their own heads above water mistrusted the schools. Chaos reigned. There is no time or space here to describe what Dr. Comer’s programs have been able to achieve in New Haven and around the country, but I strongly recommend that you read online about the Comer School Development Program, and partnering with your colleagues and administration, contact the Comer School Development program (203-737-1020) to see how your school can participate. There is also something called the School Development Program’s Leadership Academies, through which selected members of interested district’s faculty and administration are trained to carry out this program.

There is no quick fix for what ails your classroom. But you put your finger on the central issue—how to enlist the parents’ support.  The Comer program is designed for precisely that. Google James P. Comer and make that phone call to get all the info you can.  No online expert can provide the ongoing help your kids need with a few words. Thank you for caring enough about these families to pursue a program that does work.

For more advice by Adele, check out the Between Teacher and Parent column.