Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘students’

Another school year is beginning, for some it already has. I am in my 9th year of teaching, not counting two years of subbing, student teaching, and several years of teaching classes at The Henry Ford. It’s safe to say that I’ve been working with kids for a long time. There are some things I’ve learned along the way to help you and your kid have a successful school year. I’m not trying to be harsh, but I hate sugarcoating so here we go.

  1. Make reading a priority in your home. I have SO many kids who do not come from a reading background and it shows. Read to your kids when they’re small and continue it as they get older. Reading is so incredibly important in school, so put the electronics away and make them read. Start small and gradually increase the time they spend on a book, it doesn’t matter what the genre is an show them that you read, too. Your example is the most important thing.
  2. Help them improve their attention span. I have middle schoolers who can’t focus for more than a couple of minutes on a daily basis. Do they have ADHD? No, they’ve just never been taught to stick with something. Now, I do have kids with ADD and ADHD who legitimately have trouble focusing, but a lot of the kids I teach don’t have an attention span because they’ve never been taught to have a work ethic. Give them jobs at home that they have to complete until the end, until they get the job done. Life skill.
  3. Teach them to respect. We teachers can handle a lot of things. Your child is struggling in English, math, science, social studies? We can handle that, it’s our job. It’s what we do. But when we have kids who routinely curse us out, I’m talking daily, openly talk back in class for no reason, and shamelessly lie, it makes our job ridiculously difficult. If you allow your child to be disrespectful to you at home and or to other people, they will be disrespectful at school.  Please, please, please teach your child how to speak and act respectfully, not just to adults, but to everyone, including you. I don’t mean that you should teach them to be a submissive little mouse, but if I had a dollar for every time a child openly challenged me at school, I’d be a rich woman. Learning how to treat others and situations with respect is a HUGE life skill. Look, kids are going to test limits, we teachers know that, but when you don’t back us up or worse, you take your kid’s side when he or she has been an absolute brat, you are teaching them that it’s okay to abuse people. Chances are, by the time we call you, we’ve already tried a lot of strategies. I’ve actually had parents tell their children, right in front of me, that they believe their child over anything I had to say and that’s true for a lot of my colleagues, too. That only teaches your kids that they have the power to behave any way they want and won’t receive any consequences. The trouble with that is a boss or, God forbid, a judge won’t see it the same way. Actions have consequences, good and bad.
  4. Don’t blame the teacher for your child’s shortcomings. I had a kid one time, 5th grade, who did not turn in any homework. When his parents came in to see the principal and me about his Es, his father rifled through the mess under his desk, fished out a paper, shook it in the air and said, “All she had to do was look here!” No. One hundred million percent not okay. Students are responsible for turning in their own work. Period. Responsibility is a life skill; teach your kid to own their mistakes. Again, life skill.
  5. Let. Them. Fail. It’s not the end of the world if Junior forgets their homework or forgets to study for the test. It will be okay, they will learn. Stop saving them; it will help them stand on their own two feet. Don’t make excuses for them. I once had a dad who caved and did his 5th grader’s homework for him because he cried if he didn’t understand it. I asked him if he would be doing his child’s calculus in high school. On the other hand, do encourage them! Ask them about school, what projects they have, tests, grades. Ask them about their day. Do you have a kid who won’t talk about it? Email the teacher! We’ll be happy to fill you in.
  6. Don’t take a phone call from your gynecologist and have a conversation about vaginal suppositories during a Parent-Teacher Conference. Seriously. I cannot scrub that from my brain and it’s been about eight years. Just… no. Not kidding.

We know your kids aren’t perfect, mine definitely aren’t. Youngest and Middle Child had some “fun” school moments last year, oy, but we learned from it. In my case, I need to check ParentConnect more often. Teachers don’t expect kids to be little angels, but for a child to have a successful year, we need the cooperation and help from you, the parents. It’s a partnership.

It’s more important than you’ll ever know.

Have a great school year!

 

Read Full Post »

There are five school day wake-ups left this year. I am not sad.

This has been a rough year for behavior. My own students’ behavior has improved greatly over the year, this has been a goal, but they’re still not where they need to be. We’ve been working on basic things all year long, like being respectful, not putting hands on other people, and raising hands when there is a question as opposed to just shouting things out. The exception is my first hour. They’re pretty awesome, for the most part. Of course, there are many great kids in my other classes, it’s just an uneven ratio this year and I’m exhausted. Not from the teaching, you understand, from everything else.

The students who aren’t mine, who pass in the hallway, enough of them are ridiculous enough to mentally drain me almost every day. You would not believe what happens in the hallways of a middle school sometimes.

Seriously, this is the most difficult job I’ve ever had, and I’ve been through a few since I started babysitting at eleven years old. Babysitter, waitress, hostess, retail worker, historical presenter (on a historic farm), carriage driver, educational programs presenter, and administrative assistant, just to name a few. Those people who think we have it easy because we have a few weeks off in the summer (when we attend workshops, trainings, and mandatory meetings) can take a long walk off a short pier; this job will kick your butt, which is why so many new teachers don’t make it the first five years. I took a break a couple of years back, which was a really good thing for my mental health.

At work, I have to be the adult, I have to set the example. That’s part of my job.  Sometimes, I’m not a great example when I’ve been pushed to my limit. When I screw up, I apologize, not for being angry, but how I handled it. Since I became a teacher eleven years ago, I’ve probably been called every name in the book, in a few different languages, no less. It gets to you, especially when it happens on a daily basis. Not an excuse, my skin is a lot tougher than it used to be and I’m constantly working on it. Sometimes, I really wish people could see how their kids really act at school, but like my brother said, those parents would probably blame the teachers.

So, at the end of this school year, I’m not looking for accolades, pats on the back, or anything else. I just want peace and quiet for a while. I want to not be called names and talked back to. I want no one to laugh in my face. I no one to blatantly lie or cheat and think I’m stupid enough to not notice or figure it out. I want to be myself for just a little while, to go to the bathroom when I want to, and to not grade. Not. One. Single. Paper.

Teaching is not for sissies.

Happy Summer!

Read Full Post »

As a teacher, I see and hear a lot. I mean, a lot. I know things about my students’ parents that would make those parents cringe. Children see and hear much more than you know and, boy, do they like to tell teachers all about the weird stuff that happens at home. Most of it is humorous, some of it is heartbreaking, and, thankfully, a very small percentage turn out to be matters of real concern.

This topic that I’m addressing today, something that teachers hear a lot,  isn’t a matter of concern in the sense that authorities need to be involved, or that we need to have a conference, but I encounter this situation every year and it seems to be getting worse. Something needs to be said. Here goes:

Parents:

Stop telling children to get As or they’ll be grounded.

Stop telling children to get 100% on tests or they’ll be punished.

Stop promising exorbitant presents and/or cash for good grades.

Stop setting kids up against each other, comparing them to siblings, cousins, or friends.

Stop. Just, stop.

You’re crushing your kids. I’ve held them as they’re sobbing when they get an 89% on a science test, absolutely certain that they’re going to lose computer privileges or won’t be able to go to the birthday party that weekend because of a B+.

Let me repeat that: Because of a B+. A grade that’s considered above average. They crumble into my arms, convinced that it’s the end of the world, afraid of taking that paper home to you. A B+.

Parents, not every child is an A student. Not every child is a B student. Some even struggle with being C students. Most students do, instinctively, want good grades, even the ones who would rather be out playing a sport instead of studying. They want to please you, they want to please me. Few elementary students have the foresight to truly understand that good grades eventually equal a better job, but they constantly hear it from all of the adults in their lives, including my fellow teachers and me. Getting good grades, for them, means parental approval. No matter how old they are, children want their parents to be happy with what they do, to be proud of them. When they hear from their parents that anything below a 90% is unacceptable, the pressure can be too much for many of kids.

Does this mean that (gasp) teachers don’t want kids to get As? Absolutely not. Any teachers I know simply want our students to do the best that they can, to love learning, and to understand the value of learning for its own sake, not for the grade. Sometimes, their best is a B- or a C. For some kids, learning and schoolwork come easy and we push them to do well. When they study, they easily earn good grades. (Notice that I said study and earn; we’ll come back to that in a minute.) For others, getting a C+ on a test is a major accomplishment. School is hard for them, whether because of a learning disability, problems focusing, or they are just not naturally inclined toward academics. They know it, I know it, and I celebrate their successes with them, especially when I see how much time and energy they have invested in studying.

I have students who cannot do grade-level work on their own, but whose parents expect them to get As, or rather, expect me to give them As anyway. When they have homework, it comes to me perfect, in complete sentences, every answer correct, because they have lots of help at home. They cannot duplicate that work at school, either on tests or in their classwork, because they struggle with the material. If these students earn a subpar (in the parents’ eyes) grade on a test, I hear it from their parents. I didn’t give a good enough study guide, I didn’t review enough (two days isn’t enough?), the test was too hard (it was taken directly from the material), or, as a last resort, can they take the test over again? (No, not unless it was a fail.  A C is not a fail. Neither is a D. An F is a fail. And even then, they can’t have their original test back and they have to take it the next day.) They are convinced that their child should get an A, even if they did not earn it. Too many parents make it all about the grade, not about what their children are capable of achieving. The struggle to teach these kids how to be independent in their work is real. The student ultimately learns that they cannot achieve acceptable grades on their own merit. This both appalls and scares me, especially during standardized testing time.

Are some kids capable of achieving better grades and just don’t because they don’t study or work up to their full potential? Yes, absolutely! I have a few of them every year. Their idea of studying is to try and remember what we talked about in class. (For the record, that was mostly me as a kid. I had more important things to do, like band and theatre.) Those kids probably need a parental push. The kids that I worry about are the ones who study their hearts out, to the point where they are so nervous about a test that it affects their whole week, the same ones who collapse in tears at any grade short of perfection, the ones who don’t get as good of a grade as their brother/sister/cousin in the same class or the same grade.

I guess part of the reason that this upsets me is that I don’t have that background. I don’t know about you, but my mother simply expected me to do my best, not to get an A every single time. She pushed me when I needed it, but I never broke down in tears in front of a teacher because of a grade that I earned, even in the subjects that truly were difficult for me and I had to actually study, like trigonometry, pre-calculus, or physics. (I still hate the idea of an imaginary number.) My schoolwork was my responsibility and that concept taught me about personal accountability.

I know some people will argue that we should push our kids, that good grades should be expected,  and I would agree with you, to a point. But when parents are using the strategy of threatening children with punishments for not getting perfect, or close to perfect, grades, it may backfire on them in the long run. The key is knowing your children. Are your children serious about school? Does it come easy for them or do they struggle with every new concept? Are their lives balanced, or are they spending hours studying every day? Are they happy, or are they constantly living under the stress of the next test?

As a teacher, I can tell you this: Encourage them to do their best. Their best may be all Bs, or even Cs. Pay attention to how their work is going, but let them be in charge of it. Check to see that their homework is done, but don’t fix it for them. Let natural consequences happen and see how they respond.  If they need a little extra help at home, go for it, but don’t do the work for them or demand that they achieve perfection. As a parent, I know, it’s really, really, hard to let that happen. For example, Middle Child is a HUGE procrastinator on everything from regular homework to major projects. We ask him about deadlines, and it scares me to death that he won’t turn things in on time, but somehow, he always manages to pull it off on his own. His grades are on him and he does very well. (There, Middle Child, I wrote about you.)

I know this won’t change everyone’s mind about the amount of pressure to put on kids and most parents don’t do this, but, as I pointed out in the beginning of this piece, I see this more and more every year. This week, I just had a very nervous 5th grader ask me if a 90% was a good grade to get on a history test because her mother said she had to get an A. Knowing this student, that she studied on her own, I hugged her and said that I was proud of her. As a bonus, her parents were happy, too.

If you’re not sure if you’re pressuring your children too much, ask yourself this: When your children are grown, what will they remember about their school years? Will they remember never measuring up, never being good enough, or that they were encouraged to be independent and to push themselves to be their very best? Things to think about.

Until next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

First things first; I’m not the type of teacher who passionately loves all of my students. I try, I really do, but it’s really hard work to love some of them. I’ll do whatever I can for any of my students, I’m fair in my treatment of them, but I’m not a saint. There are students who every teacher loves: respectful, kind, and who finish their assignments without complaining. Those are the easy ones to love. At the end of every school year, I get emotional about my class leaving, but there are a few students who, when they walk out the door for the final time, I breathe a sigh of relief. I do feel at bit guilty about it, but I think that there are plenty of teachers who feel the same way.

There are those students, however, who stay with you, who touched you in some deep way that you don’t even realize it until later. I remember those kids, as clearly as if they were in my class right now. There was the boy who, at twelve years old, was still in the 5th grade and slept all day. He had such a difficult home life that he would just shut down at school. He was slightly mentally challenged, had significant health problems, and didn’t have a filter when it came to saying what was on his mind, which didn’t endear him to the other children. I worried about him endlessly, especially when he would tell me things that went on at home. One day, at the end of the year, a week passed without him in class. He had frequent absences, but none that had stretched that far. When we finally reached someone at home, we were told that he’d had a heart attack after being left alone all day. A heart attack. At twelve years old. I haven’t seen him for several years, but I still pray for him. I hope he’s still alive.

There was a girl, a sweet, intelligent, little thing, who confided to me that she was being abused at home. I had never had to make a CPS report before, but I learned how helpless the system can make you feel when you’re sending a child home to an unsafe environment every day. I have no doubt that those hard-working folks are overloaded with cases even worse than the one I was sending them, but it didn’t help my anxiety. I wanted her to be safe RIGHT NOW and the system just doesn’t work that way. She was a smart cookie, so I hope that she’s going to go far, especially with her kind nature and drive to do well.

There are many others: the boy who had attended 5 different elementary schools in as many years but made friends easily, the girl who seemed to have no motivation to do anything other than breathe, the kids who want to be more than what they are expected to be, the ones who are so angry at the world that they lash out at everyone, the ones who are so used to going about unnoticed that it takes a while to build their trust. One child I had used to throw chairs across the room. Another kicked books like a football when he was angry.These are the children we see every day, some whole, many broken.

I have one in the breaking process right now. He’s a sensitive little soul who doesn’t speak up much. It took a long time to earn his trust and now he’s going through a new, tough, situation at home. He writes notes for me when he’s having a bad day, writes about his feelings in his daily journal, and he just desperately wants things to be the way they used to be. He just wants what any kid does: to be loved and to feel secure in his world. Rich, poor, black, white, no matter what the differences, all children need those things.

Some of these kids tugged at my heart the whole time I had them. For others, it took the benefit of hindsight for me to see them as they really are. Behavior issues and the stress of trying to give 20-30 kids everything they need on a daily basis can be draining and, inevitably, we teachers can’t give every child everything that they need. We can provide stability, boundaries, encouragement, and hugs, but what they go home to every day has the biggest effect on their lives. Legislators need to look at that when they wonder why our kids don’t have high test scores. How can you study when you’re hungry, or when you don’t know where you will sleep at night? Food for thought.

I guess what brought all of this on was when I was checking journals today. That sensitive little boy who I mentioned? He wrote something that tore my heart in two. I won’t disclose what he wrote, it was in confidence to me, but suffice it to say that it made me want to swoop him up in a huge hug and tell him that no matter how bleak it seems right now, it will get better. I know it doesn’t seem like it right now, but it will. It made me hug my kids tighter tonight, to be more understanding, to be more compassionate. It reminded me, yet again, that these are children, not test scores. We can’t ever forget that they’re children and they see everything that we do. We are the examples.

Our kids need love at home. Our kids need stability at home. We need to grow up and give it to them. Maybe then, our world will be a better place.

Read Full Post »