Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I Have High Expectations and No Apology For It

So let's talk about school.  And teachers.  And parents.  And kids.

Yup, I'm gonna go there.

I've done home school and public school with my kids and both have their wins about them and both have their costs.  Let's leave that part to the side.

My boys have been in the school system for a few years now.  We have had very few issues and nothing I would consider all that challenging or out of the ordinary.  We've had a few of the standard bully episodes and a hand full of "where is your work?" episodes.  We've had to have the talk a few times, you know, pay attention, quiet down, work harder, etc.

Over all, my boys cooperate pretty well, play the school game with a pretty good attitude and generally step up when either we or their teachers ask them too.

Enter Little Miss.

She has had 2 years in Head Start and a full year of 4K.  She knows her basics and learns fast.  She was for those two years the "quiet, shy, delight to have in class" little girl.

She is now apparently the Poltergeist child complete with head spinning around and maniacal laughter.

Something tells me I should have known on that very first morning of kindergarten when she mysteriously wasn't in line with her class walking into the building after I had just helped her get in line.  Perhaps I should have had a clue when she answered my questions daily about school saying she was doing nothing and learning nothing.

And now we're going to talk about the grown ups.

I have a lot of respect for teachers, don't misunderstand one bit of this post to say that I don't.  They have a difficult job, few resources and not a lot of support.  I get that.

But, I'm trying to understand how we got to where I am already.

We are two months into the school year and I think I'm only mildly overstating when I say Little Miss has complete control over her classroom and her teacher.

My daughter is no easy," walk in the park" kind of kid.  But her teacher is no "inks still wet on my diploma" kind of teacher.  She might actually be close to retirement.  She's definitely been around the block more than once.

This is what I heard in conferences last night.

"well....she is a distraction, she disrupts class often"

How often?

"well....I'm stopping class 4-5 times a day to have a conversation with her about her behavior"

That's far too often.

"hmm, yeah, it really is, isn't it?"

Hello?  Yes!

How are you handling this?

"well....I keep telling her if she doesn't stop I'm going to make her sit alone, but, insert laughing here, I've only done it once...I guess I have to follow through on my threats"

Hello?  You've had a class room for how many years and you're just now asking me if you should be following through on your discipline?

In all seriousness, yes, my daughter is hard kid.  She will challenge everything but that doesn't mean she should "win".

This whole conference left me all jazzed up.  I'm thinking about a whole lot of things now in the context of teachers and parents and schools and how it all works and doesn't work.

I'm curious why a teacher would let a behavior issue continue in the classroom like this for weeks on end and only sort of half look for a solution.  I'm curious why, even though the teacher sees me daily, she wouldn't say a word about this until the very end of the conference.

Why are teachers afraid of parents?  Why are the teachers afraid to insist on being the adult in the classroom?  Why am I as the parent not expected to be responsible for my child?

I am one of those parents that does indeed respect that it is the teacher's classroom and I need to stay out of it and let him or her teach and run it the way they see fit.  I do believe that what happens in school should be overall dealt with at school by the powers that be.

That said, I'm also one of those parents, who are in my kids business.  I hate Web Grader more than words, but I use it to know what's going on with missing assignments and grades.  I check back packs and assignment notebooks.  I quiz the kids and look at the papers that come home.  I ask about school.

I may not be the room mom or know every last one of my kids friends, but I have a good handle on who they are as they build their independence and grow.

As much as I feel compelled to stay out of the classroom and let the school handle what it needs too, there is also a point where I have to be involved and we have to work as a team to pull this thing off.  So I expect that if you tell me everything is fine with my child in the classroom it really is.  I expect that if my child is has a constant issue that you are not finding a successful way to deal with, you will involve me, or at the very least contact me and make me aware that the issue exists.

Not telling me about an issue with a child does not help the child.  None of us can help the child succeed if we don't know what we're trying to overcome.

I'm also not a big believer in the double punishment thing.  I go along generally with the, whatever happened at school will have it's own consequence at school and I don't need to "pile on" so to speak.  Sometimes though, a school issue is also a home issue or a life issue and needs to be dealt with on multiple fronts.  Sometimes there really is no consequence for the school issue.

So with my daughter, her main school issue is also one of her main issues at home.  We have been addressing it, but not in a front and center sort of way.  Now that we are aware of how it is bleeding over into the classroom and effecting the entire class, you can bet on our side the parenting just jumped up a dozen levels!  But what if the teacher had never gotten around to mentioning it at the end of our conversation?  What would this class look like at the end of the year with my daughter controlling it with the whims of her behaviors?  In this case it seems as though there really were no consequences and the school really wasn't handling this issue.

The teacher and I have a plan, but again, I wonder because it seems like the teacher is afraid to be the adult, the authority.  I made the plan and already at the end of the conversation the teacher way trying to make the plan "less".  She sort of "pooh poohed" it to my daughter and immediately washed all sense of seriousness off the issue.

I don't want to be a jerk parent or a mean mama, but my girl needs to understand that she is to respect and obey her teacher.  She needs to understand that there is a certain expectation in the classroom and in life for her behaviors.  Refusing to cooperate will only end up hurting herself in the long run.  I believe as the parent it is my job to make every effort to help her pull herself together and behave in a healthy, appropriate way.  But, if the teacher and I make a plan, and she turns around and makes light of the plan, the consequences and the importance of the issues, the entire thing is undermined.

We are right back to the place of this teacher is going to struggle to control this class for the full year.  I am going to struggle to convince my child to show the expected level of respect and obedience to a teacher who not not expect it of her.  I am now in a position of having to begin being that parent who is sticking her nose into the classroom business and how the teacher handles her room.

Why are we in a place where there is no balance?  This doesn't help our teachers teach, our parents parent or worst of all, our kids learn.  And I am not keeping learning in the small box of simple academics.  I am talking the broader scope.  I expect part of the learning process at a school to involve some of the unwritten lessons of life that usually get tossed under the umbrella of being "socialized".


Back to the idea that sometimes there are no consequences.  I have one child that likes to just randomly skip assignments or not hand them in.  He unfortunately understands the "game" of school a little too well.  For example, in one of his classes practice time is required.  There is a log they are supposed to track their time on and a parent is to sign that it was done.  Well, he's not doing it and I'm not signing it.  I'm not going to lie and said he did it.  He's not going to do it no matter what consequence I throw at this.  The only consequence for this is not being able to get an A in the class, oh excuse me, a 4.  We wouldn't want to traumatize our kids with letter grades like A, B or F.  Cause you know, grading them with numbers so gets them ready for college where an F is an F with no do over or second chance unless you pay the money and the time and retake that course.  But that's another blog.

This is another episode where I think, OK as the parent how do I back up these teachers and this school.  It is in my child's best interest to do his stupid homework.  Even when it's busy work, repetition teaches, whether we like to admit it or not.  Yup, it's dull.  Yup, it's an insult in a way, but honestly after my own school years and now my kids years, with some things like grammar, spelling, math, geography and so on, there is simply no better way to learn something than by repetition.

Spelling words? Write them 5 times each, every day from Monday to Thursday and you get 100 on your Friday spelling test.  It's not fun.  It's not flashy.  It's not quick.  But it works.  For most kids, most of the time.

And yeah.  I get special needs kids.  I have them.  I get it.  And I also get the truth that you can't force a child to learn if they don't want to, but most kids want to feel good about themselves through whatever successes they can find, including classrooms.

So parents, how do we back the school and the teacher when there is no consequence?  So my kid frequently skips an assignment.  The teacher tells him to finish it and hand it in.  We tell him to finish it and hand it in.  In the end, there is no consequence.  Especially once you get past the days of recess.  So in middle school you don't do an assignment or two every month.  So what.  The majority of your grade comes from your tests.

Light years ago when I was in school, if you didn't turn in all your work for a class, it didn't matter if you were passing all the tests and had passing grades on all the other homework, if you had incomplete work you failed the class.  Maybe if you had one of the "easy" teachers you could get an incomplete in the class until you turned in the work or did summer school.  But there was no way you would pass a class without doing all the work.  But in those days you didn't pass on to another grade if you were failing classes in that grade either.

What do I know, I'm just a product of the system myself.

So how do you give a consequence at home for something that at school, "doesn't really matter"?  How do I teach a child that even though at school you are learning that if you don't like a couple of assignments or don't feel like doing them, it's OK to just skip them and everything will still all be magically OK but in "real life" that isn't OK?

Right?  We don't want our mechanic to change the oil on the car and leave the oil pan open because he didn't feel like grabbing that cover and putting it back on.  We don't want the dentist to drill out the cavity and skip the filling.  We don't want to order a Big Mac and get it to find they didn't feel like doing the burger piece.

So why are we letting our kids do 90% of the work and say good enough?

When did we decide that good enough was all we could expect of our kids, of our teachers, our schools, ourselves?

This is every part of life,our kids lives, our American society, our own personal adult lives, and yeah, I'm plenty guilty of being a sheep in this flock, but I can see it, and maybe I'm not, but I feel like I'm fighting against it, swimming up stream and expecting more, expecting a lot more, from myself and everyone else, because I sort of have this crazy belief that if we have high expectations for people, they will generally rise up to them, or at least a whole lot higher than they thought possible and that's a win for us all.

Let's hear it.  What do you think about schools and teachers and expectations?

1 comment:

Shelley Gallamore said...

Well said rant! I wholeheartedly agree - last year was a mess with teachers at middle who had no consequence and no plan. They kept assuring me that the kids needed to toe the line because the group agreed to it as a "tribe agreement"...which doesn't take into account the depravity of man. :-)