I’ve been doing a ton of reflecting lately on just what it is that teachers owe to their parents and students.
I think that’s because my daughter — a wonderfully quirky kid who can’t stand school — begins third grade on Monday and I’m more than a little worried about it. I’m already dreading the battles that I know we will have over getting homework done. They consume much of my evenings — and all of my emotional energy — once school starts.
And I’m dreading the inevitable phone calls from school employees, telling me that my kid isn’t working as hard as she can, isn’t sitting in her seat as quietly as she can, or isn’t making as many friends on the playground as she can. I’m also dreading the inevitable phone calls telling me that she’s not reading on grade level yet — and that the only solution is some form of remediation that pulls her away from the few things about school that she DOES love.
Now don’t get me wrong: I don’t blame the school for any of this.
I know full well that my kid’s strengths don’t align nicely with traditional definitions of success in school. She’s super curious, but not all that willing to invest her attention in things that don’t interest her. She’s super articulate and verbal, but not all that willing to wait her turn to share what she’s thinking. She’s super kind, but only if she feels that she’s accepted by those around her.
And my kid’s weaknesses — stubbornness and insecurity — are only exacerbated by life in school.
She knows full well that there are high stakes attached to darn near everything in her classroom. She recognizes that she doesn’t read and/or write as well as her classmates. And she understands that she hasn’t found as many friends as her peers. All of those things cause her to worry and to push back and to quit way more than I would like her to. And all of those things get in the way of both her happiness and her success in the place where she will spend the majority of her days for the next 10 months.
That breaks my heart.
But I do know that being the parent of a quirky kid has changed who I am as a teacher — and as a result, I’m ready to make three promises to the parents of my quirky kids this year:
Promise #1: I won’t bury you in homework.
For the parents of kids like mine, homework is a source of constant conflict. When Reece comes home after a day of struggle at school, she’s not ready to sit down and struggle some more. After all, she’s spent most of her time between 8-3 feeling insecure already. And she’s exhausted. Struggling all day will do that to you.
But homework is always ready and waiting for us — and it’s a constant battle to get done. It probably takes us twice as long as it takes most kids and families — and twice as long as the teacher intended — because it just doesn’t come easy for my kid. It also leaves everyone in our house frustrated and annoyed and unhappy with one another — and that sucks.
Sometimes I wish I could just come home and read with my kid or answer HER questions or play outside in the backyard or watch her at dance class or in gymnastics — but even when we make time for those things, we both know that our fight over homework is looming just around the corner.
So I’m going to limit the amount of homework that I give in my own classroom. Will there be times that kids have to finish a task or two that we started in class? Sure. But there’s no way that there’s going to be work every single day. Instead, I want to create space for families to be families and for kids to pursue their own interests. Fights over classroom assignments have no place in our daily routines.
Promise #2: I will celebrate your child, too.
Here’s an uncomfortable truth that I’ve never addressed with my daughter’s teachers: While I get lots of emails and phone calls and notes about the “bad” things that she’s doing at school, I rarely hear about the positive things that she does.
Now, I get it: I’m a teacher too. Finding time to communicate with parents is hard enough to begin with. My planning time is consumed with meetings and developing lessons and grading papers. What’s more, why should we set time aside to celebrate kids who are simply following classroom rules? Meeting basic expectations shouldn’t be cause for celebration, should it?
But I never realized how discouraging it can be to parent a quirky kid through the school system until I had one of my own. I know that I’m going to hear a LOT over the next ten months about the reasons my kid — who I love with every ounce of my soul — is a disruption or a behavior problem or academically behind her peers. But it’s unlikely that I’ll hear all that much about what she does well or why she’s worthy of celebration.
That breaks my heart, too.
So I’m going to celebrate every single child — including the quirky kids in my room — this year. Whether I’m writing Kudos Cookies or writing letters directly to parents, you are going to hear me praise all that is unique and amazing and important about your kid, even if they are struggling academically or socially in my room. You deserve it.
And so does your kid.
Promise #3: If I call home with a concern, I’ll come prepared with suggestions, too.
The worst part about being the parent of a quirky kid is the feeling of helplessness that I have when I get the inevitable phone calls and emails about my child’s behavioral or academic struggles.
While I appreciate the information and always want to follow through at home with a consequence so that Reece knows that I expect her to “follow the rules” and to “work hard in class,” I have no idea how to change her behavior or to succeed academically in the long term. If I did, she wouldn’t be behaving the way that she’s behaving to begin with and she certainly wouldn’t be struggling academically!
If Reece is in trouble for behavior, I fuss — but I know that she is likely to get into the same pickle in a few weeks time. At which point, I’ll get another email or phone call. And I’ll fuss again. I’ll ground her or take away her privileges or create some kind of threat that hopefully will motivate her to do all that is expected of her. “Don’t let me hear from your teachers again!” I’ll say, “Or we aren’t taking that trip to DC with your friends!”
Then, I’ll wait until the same behavior repeats itself.
And if she’s struggling academically, I’ll double down on homework time. We’ll spend even LONGER at the kitchen table, grinding through as many practice worksheets as I can find on the ol’ Interwebs. She’ll grumble. I’ll grumble. But it’s all I know to do. I can’t just let her fall further and further behind. I know what happens to those kids when they grow up.
To be honest, I never REALLY know whether or not the steps I’m taking make any sense. After all, I don’t teach elementary school. I’m doing the best that I can with the knowledge that I have — but things never seem to change and I don’t know what to do next.
So this year, EVERY time that I send an email or make a phone call to the parents of a student who is struggling with behaviors or academics, I’m going to do more than just let them know what is going on at school. I’m ALSO going to let them know the actions that I’m going to take at school to address the situation AND I’m going to offer them some suggestions about the things that they can try at home. What I’m NOT going to do is drop bad news on parents and expect them to solve the problem at home without me.
After all, I’m the professional educator. Solving problems is my responsibility.
Could my promises work just as well for kids who are succeeding in school?
But those aren’t the kids or families that I am most worried about.
I’m worried about families like mine. Moms and dads and kids who are discouraged and hopeless — convinced that school is something to be survived instead of something to be enjoyed. Those moms and dads deserve MORE of our support and encouragement and celebration. It’s easy to point out the weaknesses in quirky kids. But it is our responsibility to do all that we can to lift those kids up and help them to be successful, too.
I’m not sure I’ve always done that as well as I should. That changes now.
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