In the wake of the school shooting in Florida, many people have been looking for answers and explanations. Some have asked whether something has changed about the way children are raised. And one teacher has an insight on that question.

As Amie Diprima Brown wrote on Facebook, she has been teaching for 15 years. And in that time she’s seen plenty of changes in the classroom. And she’s not just talking about the changes people know about— technology, “new math,” etc. She said there are also changes that “I think the general population is not aware of.”

Brown, who blogs at Simply the Middle, explained that ever since her first teaching year (back in 2003), she’s sent home an assignment for parents on the first day of school. It’s called the Million Word Letter:

I send a letter home asking parents to tell me about their child in a million words or less. I go on to explain that I want to learn the child’s hopes, dreams, fears, challenges, etc and jokingly ask parents to limit it to less than a million words since we all know we could talk forever about our children.

In the letter, she makes it clear that it isn’t being graded, and she doesn’t care about handwriting or grammar. She doesn’t even care how the letter gets back to her — with the student, dropped at the office, sent electronically.

The point is to open communication with the parents and “begin to truly know” her students:

These letters have been so beneficial to me as a teacher and getting to know my students on a personal level. I have learned about eating disorders, seizures, jealousy issues between twins, depression, adoption, abuse … just to name a few things.

Brown wrote that she finds the letters especially helpful when a student is going through a difficult time or experiencing a change in behavior:

Just this week I had two students lose their mother unexpectedly. Brother and sister, I taught one last year and one this year. As I have done before, I immediately went to my folders to pull the letters that mom sent for her children. It’s a beautiful gift that I feel I can give students to get a glimpse into how much a parent loved and adored them.

Brown keeps the letters she’s received on file. So when she went to put back this year’s letters, she noticed something stark between the letters she had from 2003 and the ones from this year. In short, there were a lot fewer of them:

I know that the percentage of parents that complete this assignment each year has gotten lower and lower, but looking at the size of the folders shocked me. That first year I had 98% of the parents send back some type of letter on their child. This year … 22%. That’s a lot of opportunities lost for me to get to know students.

Parents today can send responses electronically, which should make it easier to send a letter to the teacher. But Brown thinks the low participation points to a larger trend.

That’s because her homework completion rates have dropped too. Brown notes that the average for homework being turned in this year in her class is about 67 percent — and that’s with in-class notices, text message reminders, and a website with class assignments.

What’s more, the homework is just a short, five sentence summary of what they’re reading, due only twice a month. Brown notes that short of doing the work for her students, she’s doing all she can:

Parents continue to let their child rack up zero after zero. But then again, that average used to be around 98% as well. It was rare for more than [one or two] students to not have their homework 15 years ago. Now, it’s just frustrating.

Brown asks how it is that teachers are supposed to be monitoring their students for signs of mental distress or danger to others when they lack the support of parents in the simplest matters. She wrote:

With all of our other responsibilities in our profession, how are we supposed to get to know students so that we can identify the ones with the mentality and disposition to become a school shooter if parents are checking out of the academic process? How are we supposed to educate children when their parents don’t require, expect and demand their child complete their homework?

Brown urged parents to get more involved in their children’s academic life … and to do it long before things are at a crisis point:

Don’t wait until your child is the school shooter to let us know your child is struggling mentally. Don’t wait until your child is ineligible for sports or the day before report cards to check grades and question the teacher on why your child is failing.

As she explained, being a parent means knowing what’s going on with your child and helping them through problems with their friends, academic troubles, and mental health issues:

I promise you, if parents spent more time with their children and got involved in their lives, we would see drastic improvements in our schools and our society.

Brown isn’t just a teacher, but a mother as well. And she feels that parent involvement is critical to raising healthy children — not just physically, but emotionally and mentally too. She concluded:

“As parents, our job is to grow the most amazing humans possible. Its the most important job in the world. The education and emotional stability a parent provides is priceless.”

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