Musings About Life... After Birth

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AresponsetoRonClark’s“Whatteachersreallywanttotellparents”

Posted by Janna on September 20, 2011

On September 6, 2011, an article by Ron Clark titled “What teachers really want to tell parents” was featured on CNN.com. I’m guessing most of you saw it because it seemed to harvest a lot of attention on Facebook and Twitter. If you missed it, I encourage you to take a look. Clark offers some important suggestions that, if put into practice, would serve our children well. 

In this article, Clark addresses what he believes are the key issues that are encouraging some really phenomenal teachers to leave the field of education. These issues are, in Clark’s opinion, due to problems with parent-teacher relationships and I gotta tell ya, he knows what he’s talking about. The challenges he mentions are real and they do make teaching more of a headache than it should have to be.

I’ve been in the field of education for six years, but right now I am taking a break as I re-evaluate my career path. There are a lot of things that I miss about being in the classroom…I miss middle schoolers. I miss the humor that can only take place inside of a school full of pre-pubescent kids. I miss opportunities to help struggling students master a new math skill. I miss exploring Greek Mythology and Shakespeare with my students. I miss working with the parents who went out of their way to help me help their children succeed.

Clark’s article, though, reminded me of what I do not miss about teaching.

For example, it is a pretty crappy thing when a parent refuses to hear something that you need them to know. Obviously, it is a problem if a student is uncooperative. Teachers need to try to help students choose to cooperate, but sometimes, even if a teacher is doing more than his or her part to keep students engaged in the lesson, some students will still choose not to cooperate. I know that I’ve done a million different things to foster student interest in my lessons. I’ve even been known to wear tap shoes to class and shuffe-shuffle-flap around the room to keep things interesting, but that didn’t stop some students from making poor choices, and when that happened I had to let their parents know. However, a lot of parents can’t handle it when you make that phone call to explain that their child is making that choice. As a result, there were many times when parents spouted off a laundry list of ridiculousness as to why it was my fault that their child was not being cooperative in the classroom instead of working with me to try to find a way to reach that kid.

And excuses were not only made for children who chose not to cooperate. I often heard them made in response to me calling to discuss behavior issues. Conversations such as this were not uncommon:

“Hi, Mrs. Jones. Do you have a minute to chat? I’m calling because I have a concern about Joey’s behavior today.” 

“Oh, he already told me about that. He says that he can’t behave because he is sitting next to Billy and that distracts him. He also told me that all the other boys in the class were misbehaving, but you didn’t discipline them. And he said that he was bored because he already knows how to multiply fractions and the way you were teaching it just confused him. And I forgot to remind him to take his medicine this morning. And we were running late, so I think that just threw him off today.”

Unfortunately, in the minds of some parents, those are all valid reasons to excuse poor behavior. Now, teachers should do what they can to prevent poor behavior in their classrooms, but even the very best classroom managers will have students who refuse to behave. And when students make poor choices, excuses being made for those choices are the last thing they need from the adults entrusted with their care.
I have also encountered parents who make excuses for their children earning poor grades instead of holding them accountable for being unprepared for assessments. If a student chooses not to study and earns a low score when they are definitely capable of a better grade, what does it teach them when mom or dad excuses that choice? I heard stuff like this on numerous occasions:

“Madeline couldn’t study because she left her book at school. And she has test anxiety (which does exist, but in my opinion is used as an excuse in too many cases). And she had an argument with her best friend yesterday, so she couldn’t concentrate. And she doesn’t like the desk you assigned her. And she couldn’t attend the tutorial you offered last week because she had basketball practice.”

Believe it or not, I even had one mother tell me her son flunked a test I gave because he didn’t have a bowel movement that morning before school. She requested that I give him a chance to re-take the test. I wanted to ask, “Are you shitting me, lady?”

As if those issues weren’t insane enough, I have also had parents attack and/or belittle me in front of their children. One occasion in particular comes to mind. We were doing a pretty cool geometry project that required the kids to each sketch a tessellation that would be used to create a fabric square for a class quilt. I cannot tell you how many times I reminded the kids to put their names on the back of these sketches. Despite my reminders, one sketch was turned in without a name and when I checked off the names of the kids who had turned them in, it became apparent that two students were missing their sketches.

I spoke to those two kids the next day to try to figure out what happened. They both swore adamantly that they had turned in sketches. I showed them the sketch that was missing a name and they both swore it was theirs. Clearly, one of them was not telling the truth and because I am not a mind reader, the only fair course of action I could figure to take was to require that they both redo the assignment. Neither boy was very happy about that, of course, but there was no other choice.

Later that day as I was getting ready to go home, a man in a black suit and tie stormed into my classroom. He blocked my doorway and yelled at me for over twenty minutes about how unfair I was and how his son hated school because of me making him redo the project and how I was obviously out to get his kid and how he couldn’t believe that I was certified to teach school because I was such a horrible and mean person. I was appalled when I noticed that hovering behind him was his son, who was looking rather smug while listening as his father berated me. After the father finished his rant, I explained the details of what really happened. In the shocker of the century, it turned out that his son actually left out some of the details and added some others that simply weren’t true. Once this father had the whole story, he apologized and said he would make sure that his son handed in a new sketch the next day. I suppose that it was nice that he apologized, but the damage was already done. Once a kid sees a teacher treated with such a lack of respect, how can he or she be expected to be respectful? Not surprisingly, this student was a behavior issue for the remainder of the school year. When students see their parents treat teachers with blatant disrespect, everyone’s educational experience suffers and teachers can’t do their jobs. It isn’t fair, especially to the children.

I have a child of my own. I understand those *mama bear* feelings that burst in a parent’s heart when they feel that their child has been unfairly treated. I understand that parents love their children with a beautiful fierceness. I understand that parents want their children to have the best of everything and that parents want to protect their children from feelings of hurt or disappointment. I understand all that, because I feel all of those things for my son. I also know from teaching these last few years, that I need to not let those feelings get in the way of forming positive and supportive relationships with the teachers who educate him, because kids don’t benefit from “parents vs. teachers” environments. However, they can flourish when parents and teachers support one another. And yes, there are some terrible teachers out there…but don’t forget that there are some truly amazing ones as well, and like Ron Clark, I believe that there would be a greater number of the amazing variety if more parents were supportive of their efforts.

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Posted by Colleen on September 14, 2011

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ApparentlyMyHusbandThinksinSci-Fi

Posted by Colleen on September 13, 2011

The husband and I recently watched the movie Precious, and I was traumatized. I wanted to swoop into Harlem and adopt everybody and donate all my worldy possessions to AIDS research. I still do, really. Shudder.

My infant gets a multitude of endearments bestowed upon her fuzzy little head, and the other day I looked and her and cooed, "Hey, there, Precious." I straightened and made a face, with visions of Mo'Nique suddenly dancing behind my eyeballs. My husband looked at me and said, "I know, that movie has ruined the word "precious" for me, too." My heart glowed for a moment as I reflected on how well he knows me.

Then he hunched his shoulders, bent over my precious sweet baby, made a god-awful face, and said, "Come to me, my preeeeeshiousssss." Like Golum. From The Lord of the Rings. Which we haven't watched in like five years.

So I dunno whose head he's in, but in that moment, it wasn't mine. But whichever way you paint it? Disturbing.

Looks like "precious" is joining my vocab junk heap, right next to "moist." Thanks a lot, Hollywood.

How about y'all? Any seemingly innocent words you just can't tolerate?
 

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MondayAgain?

Posted by Colleen on September 12, 2011

It's a rocky start over here, as I'm apparently out of coffee. Ouch. I thought about reverting to hot tea, but in one of my last bursts of organization inspiration I moved the bags I keep on hand to God knows where. (Stupid organization). So I'm basically hitting the ground running sans caffeine. Le sigh.

Here's wishing you all a full-loaded, productive, awesome week of wonderfulness. We have some great stories lined up, as well as some amazing giveaways. (And I mean really amazing. Like anyone-who-is-a-mom-would-elbow-her-bestie-in-the-face-for-a-chance-to-win amazing.)

PS. Want some other mom-related reading while I go scrape coffee grounds to munch on? Pop on over to YourTango, where I discuss Beyonce, Rachel Zoe, and foreplay. All in one post. What can I say, I gots skills.

TheMomtourageRemembers

Posted by Colleen on September 11, 2011

It's been ten years. Longer than I've been a mother, which is now one of the main things that defines me. How can it have been that long ago, and only that short a time ago?

Today I cried in church as I remembered. I hugged my children and thought of the many families that today still feel the sting of their lost loved ones. I thought of the families unable to hug fathers, husbands, mothers, daughters, because they are defending my freedom, my way of life.

I thanked God that I have the freedom to worship Him in a country I love. These are challenging times, but at the end of the day, we aren't Republicans and Democrats, Catholics and Jews, homo- and hetero-sexuals...we are Americans, made even more beautiful as the sum of our differences. We are not afraid. We did not spend today hiding in fear. We spent it in reflection, in love, and in pride.

We won.

Hate lost.

But we will always remember.

HowtoSoundSmarterWhenYouWrite:FreeLesson

Posted by Colleen on September 08, 2011

I was an English major, but I'm no grammar pro. My third grader asked me to check her predicate homework last night, and I was all, "Uh, sure. What's a predicate?" So we aren't talking advanced English here, folks. But please, for the love of all that's good and holy, stop treating apostrophes like jewelry for your words. They don't make them fancier. They make them wrong.

I know grammar lessons are a distant memory (hello, predicates!), so here's a crash course for those of you who need to dust the cobwebs of off that chapter of your native language.

  • Use an apostrophe if your word owns something. (Colleen's blog post.) Personal pet peeve: The signs at the end of driveways that read "The Baker's." The Baker's what? House? Driveway? Yard?
  • Use an apostrophe if a letter is missing because you've combined words. (Baby, it's cold outside.) An apostrophe does not make your word more plural. So saying "Aren't these table's GORGEOUS??" doesn't make me any more enthusiastic about your project. It makes me cringe, and by the time I'm done cringing I've probably already finished scrolling to the bottom of your page and may be pulling you off my Google Reader.

And that's it. (See what I did there?) There are other simple/common grammar mistakes, and some of them probably bother you more than others. Hell, I bet you're even annoyed by the ones I've made within this post. But here's the deal: I'm seeing apostrophes used more liberally in blog posts and professional communications than butter in a Paula Deen recipe, and y'all. It's bad.

If you're in a business environment, PEOPLE JUDGE YOU.

If you have a blog, you are a writer. It doesn't matter what you're writing about, you're a writer. Writers are allowed to break any and all rules as long as they break them on purpose. Don't abuse that right. PEOPLE JUDGE YOU.

The bottom line: The fact that your readers judge you doesn't make them shallow. Or mean. Or ugly. It makes them smart enough to consider the source of the information they're receiving. Information on the Internet is free and abundant. Don't give your readers a reason to skip over your message. You don't want them wondering if whether you're smart enough to be their boss if you weren't smart enough to proofread. Same goes for blog posts. No matter how cute your photos are, if I see a glaringly wrong error, especially in your headline, I'm not going to read your blog. Sorry.

With that, I'm going to dismount my soapbox before my pinky gets a little trigger happy and hits that apostrophe key.

If you're interested in user-friendly grammar tips, check out The Grammar Girl's posts. She'll keep you honest. And sounding smart.

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WhatShouldYourChildKnow?SpotOnWisdom.

Posted by Colleen on September 07, 2011

Lately I've been a little worried about my 2 year old's academic development. Don't get all huffy, even as I write that I know how Psycho Mom it sounds. I'm not trying to get him to write symphony, but as he isn't in daycare and I'm at home with him all day, I feel the burden of responsibility pretty heavily sometimes. And while I accept that my kids are awesome just the way they are, when I notice a child has a skill they lack I worry that I've dropped the ball as their primary teacher. We spend a lot of time playing, and even more time reading. Lately I've been trying to work in about 30 minutes of (loosely) structured educational time. But whenever I speak to a child at church whose vocabulary blows my toddler's out of the water, or hear a child in the grocery store recognizing letters on packages, I worry whether I'm doing enough.

I think a little bit of worry is good, but when a friend sent me the link to this post this morning, I needed to read it. I'm betting some of you do, too. I'm copying in an excerpt of the text, but hope you'll visit A Magical Childhood's blog for the post in its entirety.

What Should a 4 Year Old Know?

It’s back to school time and children all over are starting preschool.  Many parents are frantically searching the internet to find out if their little ones are “on track” and know everything they should.

I wrote this article about what a four-year-old should know many years ago but it continues to be the most popular page on the Magical Childhood site.  I don’t think a week has passed in the past eight or so years when I have not received a letter from a parent, grandparent or teacher about it.  Parents and principals especially have said they wish more parents realized these things.

So in honor of the new school year, I’m posting it here…

What should a 4 year old know?


I was on a parenting bulletin board recently and read a post by a mother who was worried that her 4 1/2 year old did not know enough. “What should a 4 year old know?” she asked.

Most of the answers left me not only saddened but pretty soundly annoyed. One mom posted a laundry list of all of the things her son knew. Counting to 100, planets, how to write his first and last name, and on and on. Others chimed in with how much more their children already knew, some who were only 3. A few posted URL’s to lists of what each age should know. The fewest yet said that each child develops at his own pace and not to worry.

It bothered me greatly to see these mothers responding to a worried mom by adding to her concern, with lists of all the things their children could do that hers couldn’t. We are such a competitive culture that even our preschoolers have become trophies and bragging rights. Childhood shouldn’t be a race.

So here, I offer my list of what a 4 year old should know.

 

  1. She should know that she is loved wholly and unconditionally, all of the time.1.He should know that he is safe and he should know how to keep himself safe in public, with others, and in varied situations. He should know that he can trust his instincts about people and that he never has to do something that doesn’t feel right, no matter who is asking. He should know his personal rights and that his family will back them up.
  2. She should know how to laugh, act silly, be goofy and use her imagination. She should know that it is always okay to paint the sky orange and give cats 6 legs.
  3. He should know his own interests and be encouraged to follow them. If he could care less about learning his numbers, his parents should realize he’ll learn them accidentally soon enough and let him immerse himself instead in rocket ships, drawing, dinosaurs or playing in the mud.
  4. She should know that the world is magical and that so is she. She should know that she’s wonderful, brilliant, creative, compassionate and marvelous. She should know that it’s just as worthy to spend the day outside making daisy chains, mud pies and fairy houses as it is to practice phonics. Scratch that– way more worthy.

But more important, here’s what parents need to know.

  1. That every child learns to walk, talk, read and do algebra at his own pace and that it will have no bearing on how well he walks, talks, reads or does algebra.
  2. That the single biggest predictor of high academic achievement and high ACT scores is reading to children. Not flash cards, not workbooks, not fancy preschools, not blinking toys or computers, but mom or dad taking the time every day or night (or both!) to sit and read them wonderful books.
  3. That being the smartest or most accomplished kid in class has never had any bearing on being the happiest. We are so caught up in trying to give our children “advantages” that we’re giving them lives as multi-tasked and stressful as ours. One of the biggest advantages we can give our children is a simple, carefree childhood.
  4. That our children deserve to be surrounded by books, nature, art supplies and the freedom to explore them. Most of us could get rid of 90% of our children’s toys and they wouldn’t be missed, but some things are important– building toys like legos and blocks, creative toys like all types of art materials (good stuff), musical instruments (real ones and multicultural ones), dress up clothes and books, books, books. (Incidentally, much of this can be picked up quite cheaply at thrift shops.) They need to have the freedom to explore with these things too– to play with scoops of dried beans in the high chair (supervised, of course), to knead bread and make messes, to use paint and play dough and glitter at the kitchen table while we make supper even though it gets everywhere, to have a spot in the yard where it’s absolutely fine to dig up all the grass and make a mud pit.
  5. That our children need more of us. We have become so good at saying that we need to take care of ourselves that some of us have used it as an excuse to have the rest of the world take care of our kids. Yes, we all need undisturbed baths, time with friends, sanity breaks and an occasional life outside of parenthood. But we live in a time when parenting magazines recommend trying to commit to 10 minutes a day with each child and scheduling one Saturday a month as family day. That’s not okay! Our children don’t need Nintendos, computers, after school activities, ballet lessons, play groups and soccer practice nearly as much as they need US. They need fathers who sit and listen to their days, mothers who join in and make crafts with them, parents who take the time to read them stories and act like idiots with them. They need us to take walks with them and not mind the .1 MPH pace of a toddler on a spring night. They deserve to help us make supper even though it takes twice as long and makes it twice as much work. They deserve to know that they’re a priority for us and that we truly love to be with them.

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