Archive for September, 2013

I’ve been teaching for a few years now, and while I’m a long way from being a veteran teacher, I’ve learned a few things along the way. Parents, including myself, want their children to be successful in school in every way possible: grades, behavior, grades, socially, grades… you get the idea. Some parents, however, go about it the wrong way and it backfires on them. In this second week of the new school year, let me share a few ideas with you

1. Don’t do your child’s homework for him. Ever. Please. I have no doubt that many of you will be shocked by this, as I was when I first started noticing it. I have seen everything from homework done in the mother’s (lovely!) handwriting to perfectly written, complete sentences on homework that the student in question couldn’t have written if his life depended on it. This only serves to teach your child that if something is difficult for him to master, you will swoop in to the rescue, robbing him of the ability to accomplish something on his own. By all means, help your child with his or her homework if he’s struggling, but point him in the direction of tools that he learned in class so that the student, not the parent, is the one completing the task. When a student gets perfect scores on their homework assignments but fails tests and classwork assignments, we know what’s going on and more importantly, your child gets the idea that he is too dumb to do it on his own.

2. Give your child some chores around the house. It never fails, every year, there are children who astonish me with how little they can do for themselves. They come from well-meaning parents who don’t want them to lift a finger and to enjoy childhood, but part of my job is to teach them independence. This helps if they already know how to clean up after themselves in the classroom as well as after lunch. Besides, it’s easier for it to become a habit when they’re younger than to try and foist new responsibilities on them as teenagers, especially teenagers who have been coddled their entire lives. Then when they move out on their own, it’s a really rude awakening that dishes don’t wash themselves and pizza boxes don’t walk to the trash unassisted. Chores are good for them. Believe me.

3. If you want a good relationship with the school, don’t try to bully staff into getting what you want. I’ve been threatened, cussed at, and innuendoed (not a real word) to death. While unpleasant and, at times, scary, I’m not going to give in to that behavior. I will not move your child to a higher math or reading group because you want him or her to be on the same level as your neighbor’s kid. He or she may not be ready for that! If your child is having a problem with another child in the class, I’ll keep them seated separately, but don’t tell me how to arrange my classroom so that your child doesn’t have to look at the other one. (I didn’t make that up; that really happened.) Don’t storm up to me when you drop your child off in the morning and demand to know why a certain grade was given. Don’t demand that the principal pull me out of class so that you can yell at me about a homework misunderstanding. I’m a civilized person. Call my school and make an appointment to meet with me calmly. I’ll be happy to discuss any of your concerns with you at a time when I’m not welcoming children into my room and beginning their day. Take a breath and remember that I, too, want what’s best for your child, but I have to balance your wishes along with those of  all of the other parents in my room. Your child is just as special as all of them.

4. Say “no” and mean it. We do. It’s not cruel. Boundaries are important for children and if there are limits at home, they will have a much smoother experience at school.

5. Don’t be chronically late. Everyone has bad days. The alarm doesn’t go off, the car won’t start, or someone has a bathroom incident right as it’s time to walk out the door. Teachers understand that; it happens to us, too! However, school starts at a certain time. We do important stuff in the morning and it sets the tone for the day. When school begins at 8:30 and parents are constantly showing up at 8:45-9:00, your child misses that important beginning routine of the day and feels rushed. It’s also awkward when parents show up chronically late and want to interrupt class to tell us something while we are in the middle of our morning routine. If it’s not of dire importance, leave a message at the office. The beginning of the day is so important and we want to get it right.

6. Feed them breakfast and a healthy lunch. Low morning blood sugar is not a good thing. Likewise, giant bags of Doritos and bottles of cola are not going to power them through the day. Healthy doesn’t have to mean expensive and, please, leave the pop for home. Countless studies show the benefit of good nutrition affecting brain function.

7. Talk to me! As much as I’d like to, I can’t read minds. If you have a question, ask me! Email is a wonderful, non-confrontational way for you to clear up any worries that you have. My school has a phone and a wonderful secretary who takes messages that I return at the end of the school day. Please don’t let something fester until you’re angry. Let’s talk about whatever it is and clear the air. The less drama, the better for all involved.

8. Don’t overbook. It’s stressful to have a different activity every night of the week and still be expected to do homework.

9. Support your child. Children learn at all different levels, no matter what the tests say. I’ve been brought to tears at some of the ugly things that I’ve heard parents say to their children after they get a less-than-desirable grade. Hey, bad grades happen sometimes. Find out what happened and move on! Be their rock, not something that they dread. Some kids excel at schoolwork while others will always struggle. Know your student and what he or she is capable of. Find their strengths and help them shine! Above all, make it clear that you love them for who they are, not what’s on their report card. More than anything else, a child’s self-esteem is boosted by knowing that he or she is loved.

As I said before, I haven’t been teaching enough to be an expert, but these are some common-sense ideas that will definitely make it easier to have a smooth school year. I’m a parent myself and being on the other side of things has given me a great insight into how to help my boys. As teachers, we love our students and want the best for them but we can’t do it on our own. Parents are so important to the equation, whether they’re in the classroom volunteering or being quietly supportive from home.

Have a great year!

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Here it is again, yet I can’t seem to shake the horror every time it comes around. People say that it’s like when JFK died, that you will always remember where you were. I know that I will.

It was my first week of field trips at the Dearborn Historical Museum. For whatever reason, I didn’t have any groups scheduled that day and I was grateful. I remember the sky. It was my favorite, a deep, deep blue with no hint of clouds. I wanted to change some things about the program I was working and I anticipated productive day. Around 8:30, as I settled into my office, the phone rang. It was our boss, Mary, who had not come into work yet.

“Turn on the tv, there’s something going on!” We turned on the small tv in the office and there it was, the defining moment of the 21st century. I won’t go into specifics, you know them, but for the remained of the day, until they closed the city buildings at 2:30, we watched, awed, terrified, shocked, as did the entire world. Who could do such a thing? Why would they do it? How evil do you have to be to let yourself go there? It still haunts me to this day, the utter hate that would drive one to wipe out thousands of people. Did they think of those who would die? Did they know that they were innocent? Did they know that know that that very morning, someone had kissed them goodbye, told them that they were loved? Perhaps a father heard, “Goodbye, Daddy!” from a small sticky toddler that morning or a Mother regretfully gave her still-sleeping child a kiss as she left the nanny in charge, never dreaming, not one bit, that they wouldn’t be back that evening.

I didn’t know anyone who was there. I lost no relatives, no friends. I don’t know why that this day, every year since it happened, fills me with dread and sorrow that never seems to completely heal the rest of the year. I want to believe that no one can be that depraved, that calculating, but we see it more and more. Boston, the school shootings, threats of chemical warfare. Why? What can blacken someone’s heart to the point that they feel a massacre is necessary? I don’t understand. I never will.

Tomorrow is September 11. I will remember and I will try to think of all the good that is there in the world and that evil can’t possibly win. I will pray. 

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