To my little boy, who is suddenly, miraculously, all-grown-up,
Tomorrow we leave with a truck filled to the brim with your sheets and pillows and computer and clothes and start the five-hour drive to your new home. A dormitory filled with boys and (heaven help me) girls just like you who are starting a new chapter in their lives.
It seems like we’ve been preparing for this move all summer. The list of things to get, to buy, to wash, to sign and to organize seemed like it would never end.
Until it did.
And now there isn’t anything left for me to do or buy or wash or pack.
I thought that during your last night at home, I would give you lots of deep, sage, soul-searching advice that would carry you through the good times and the bad while you are away at university but…
I got nothin’.
And you know what? I think that’s good.
I think it means we already did that. Over the past 18 years, anything that needed to be said has already been said many times over.
Don’t worry about us. Your dad is ready. I’m ready. (And you know your brother was ready last month when he started measuring your room to see where he would put his furniture!)
You’re ready and I am so excited for you.
There’s a whole new world waiting out there for you.
As an elementary school teacher, I rarely assign homework.
Of course I encourage my students to read. I also encourage them to follow the news, eat right, and be kind to their friends and family.
But nightly math sheets and fill-in-the-blank grammar exercises?
I’ve studied the research, read the books, watched the kids, and talked to the parents. I’ve raised two boys to teenagehood and I was in school for almost half my life. And I know, in my gut and in my brain, that regular, daily homework for homework’s sake is at best, unnecessary, and at worst, detrimental to children’s learning.
You can start the shrieking and the hand-wringing now. I’ll wait. I’ve taken more flak for my decision to not (regularly) assign homework than I have for just about anything else in my career (except my smart mouth, but that gets me in trouble everywhere I go).
The myths that surround the benefits of homework have been around for so long, most of us just assume it’s a necessary evil.
But it’s not.
Now, I know what you’re saying.
Reader: OK, Heather, let’s say that I believe you (which I don’t) when you say the research shows that homework makes little or no difference in terms of academic success, especially at the elementary school level, but what about the non-academic benefits?
Me: Like what?
Reader:Well, you know, homework teaches kids responsibility and time management and self-discipline. That stuff is important!
Me: I agree. Those things are important. But does homework really teach those things? Can you show me a study that proves that to be true? How many 7-year-olds do you know who come home from school and pull out their homework and say, “Gee Mommy. I have to finish this math worksheet and colour in this photocopied picture of an apple without going outside the lines before school starts again tomorrow. Let me see, how much time will I need? I guess I’ll have my snack now and then I’ll go outside and play for 30 minutes. That will leave me with enough time to colour in the apple while you’re making dinner. Then I might watch a little TV for no more than 45 minutes because I need to leave myself lots of time to work on this math because I really don’t understand it.”
Let’s be honest here.
When homework comes home, the only person who has to cram more responsibility, time-management and self-discipline into their already crazy day is the parent or guardian of the youngster with the homework.
So, how DO we teach important things like those noted above?
One word: laundry.
Now, this means that the job of teaching responsibility, time-management, and self-discipline outside of school hours has to be taken out of the hands of teachers and placed into the hands of parents and guardians.
I know. Now I’m talking crazy talk.
“But you’re the teacher! It’s your job!” I can hear you screaming.
Yes, I’m the teacher. And when your child is in school, I will do everything I can to teach them all sorts of things, both academic and non. But, I can’t follow my students home.
And home is where these incredibly important lessons need to be taught.
Household chores (unlike homework) have been proven to instill in children all of those great non-academic life lessons that help nurture and grow our children into responsible adults.
“Using measures of an individual’s success such as completion of education, getting started on a career path, IQ, relationships with family and friends, and not using drugs, and examining a child’s involvement in household tasks at all three earlier time, Rossmann determined that the best predictor of young adults’ success in their mid-20s was that they participated in household tasks when they were three or four. However, if they did not begin participating until they were 15 or 16, the participation backfired and those subjects were less “successful.” The assumption is that responsibility learned via household tasks is best when learned young.” http://www.cehd.umn.edu/research/highlights/Rossmann/
Children who feel like they are contributing members of their community are more likely to feel like they belong.
I am not suggesting we send our children back down into the mines on the backs of old ponies to dig for coal. I am suggesting that they do age-appropriate tasks that allow them to feel like they are contributing to making life better.
Children are not pets or pieces of furniture or even guests. They are a valuable part of the family unit. They BELONG.
I chose laundry as an example but any chore will do. (Don’t panic. You can ease into it. I’m not expecting your child to be running a laundromat out of your home at age 11.)
Children as young as 3 can be taught how to put their dirty clothes in the laundry hamper instead of throwing them on their floor.
By the time that child reaches elementary school, he or she can sort the laundry into whites and colours and help mom or dad carry it to the washing machine. They can also put their clean clothes away in the drawers.
Then you can add folding or hanging up their own clothes. (This one is scary because children rarely fold their clothes in a way grown-ups consider acceptable. That’s OK. If they don’t like wearing wrinkle clothes, they will do it differently next time.)
You want to teach a teenager about time-management? Let them do their own laundry. They will soon discover that if they want to wear that dirty shirt and those jeans to the dance, they need to do their laundry at least the night before so everything will have a chance to dry.
You want to teach a child about self-discipline? Let them do their own laundry. They will learn that instead of playing video games non-stop for 3 hours, they need to keep an eye on the washer, so they can move one load to the dryer and get another one in.
You want to teach a pre-teen about responsibility? Let them do their own laundry. They will learn that no one else is going to pick their dirty clothes up off the floor and wash them, so they better do it or else they’ll be wearing dirty clothes to school.
(Note to the OCD Moms out there. Back away from the mess. Seriously. Close your eyes, put your hands in your pockets, breathe into a paper bag. Better yet, shut the door, walk away, pour yourself a glass of wine and sit. Do whatever you have to do but do NOT go in there and ‘rescue’ your child. Think of it as short-term pain for long-term gain.)
Disclosure: I have two teenage sons. Both have been doing their own laundry, along with numerous other chores, for years. One took to it like a duck to water, while the other kept forgetting to add the laundry soap.
The first time he realized what he had done, he called me into the laundry room in a panic, “Omygawd! Does this mean I have to do it all over again?!” (Like he had just scrubbed each item of clothing by hand on a rock in the middle of a river.)
“Well,” I said. “Smell your clothes. Do they smell clean?”
We both smelled a piece of wet clothing. Mine smelled like wet stinky teenage boy.
As the school year rolls to a close, some parents feel the need to go out and purchase a gift for their child’s classroom teacher.
Been there done that. When my kids were little, I bought their teachers gift cards and bottles of wine and mugs that said “You’re A+”. Once my kids hit middle school, though, they put a stop to all that. (If you make me give a card to my teacher, I will never speak to you again.)
As a teacher, I’ve always been slightly uncomfortable with the concept of year-end gift giving.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the heartfelt notes and the coffee gift cards, but I always feel slightly uneasy accepting them.
I want to say, “You know I didn’t do this all by myself, right?”
Like Hillary Clinton, I know that it takes a village to raise a child and school communities are just little villages. Everyone has a job to do to ensure that the village is successful.
So, here’s my thank younote to all of those people who work together to keep the village running smoothly.
The Teacher’s Aide (otherwise known as the TA or EPA or EA) – These valuable employees are among the lowest paid in the system and yet they are often the key to making our schools function successfully. In the course of a day (or an hour), they may be called upon to act as a nursemaid, teacher, parent or paramedic. Integration is a wonderful thing IF it is done properly and IF students with special needs get the support they need within the classroom. EPA’s work with the most vulnerable members of society every day for little recognition. It is often back-breaking physical work, not to mention emotionally all-consuming. Their dedication is admirable. To all the EPA’s I have worked with over the years? From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
The Custodian – Mopping the main hallway in a school might just be the most futile job in the word. The minute you mop it up, someone messes it up…again. You know that feeling when you’ve just cleaned your house and you look around and think “ahhh” and then everyone comes home and throws their stuff down on the clean counter and the dog tracks mud all over the clean floor? Imagine that times a hundred. A hard-working, diligent custodial staff makes a difference in the way children and adults feel about their school. It’s a dirty job and I’m glad they do it.
The “Other” Teachers – These are the people who teach French, music, art, phys.ed, home economics, shop and all those other subjects that people often dismiss as “not that important”. I taught home ec one year and I couldn’t tell you how many kids said to me, “My parents don’t care what I make in this class. It’s only home ec.” I learn the most interesting things about my students when I talk to these teachers. A boy who constantly causes trouble in the regular classroom, may be good as gold in gym class because it’s a place where he can move. A shy girl who may not say a word in math class, may love to sing and be totally confident in music. These teachers help me see a different side of my students and they give all of the students a chance to develop gifts they may not have known they had.
The Resource and Learning Centre Teachers – These teachers offer pull-out and in-class support for students with special needs. They help with designing and implementing a program that meets the needs of individual students who would otherwise flounder in a regular classroom. If your child is struggling, you need more than the classroom teacher to make a plan for your child. Through their daily support they may also help the classroom teacher from completely losing her mind. (Not speaking from experience or anything…)
The Specialists – Having the services of well-trained outside professionals makes a huge difference in a school. They often get to work with kids one on one and can give a perspective on a child that the teacher may not see in the classroom. I have worked with the best school psychologists and speech pathologists and I can tell you, they can change lives.
The Parents – Supportive parents are the key to confident, hard-working children in the classroom. A big bouquet of thanks to parents who work WITH their child’s teacher to make every school year the best it can be.
The Cafeteria Staff – These folks feed hundreds of kids everyday. I am in awe. I can barely get dinner on the table 6 days a week. (Day 7 is pizza day. Don’t judge me.)
The Administration – The principal and vice-principal(s) can make or break a school. I’ve seen strong schools crippled by poor administrators and weak schools made strong by great administrators. Administrators set the tone for the village. If they set one of respect for all and put in place policies that back up what they say, everyone wins.
The Government and the School Board – We all love to bash the government and the school boards for what they “aren’t” doing but we rarely acknowledge the good that is done every day. A friend of mine works for the department of education and she works her butt off. She cares about children and teachers and does what she can for the students in her area. Is everything perfect in the world of educational government and school boards? Of course not. But people need to stop being armchair coaches and get in the game. No one ever changed the world by complaining about it.
The Students – Well, we couldn’t do it without you, could we? Teachers are not in the manufacturing business. We don’t go to school everyday to make widgets for what-nots. We teach people. So thank YOU for being amazing, funny, talented, awe-inspiring individuals who make us want to come to work everyday.
p.s. Seriously, put your wallets away. If you want to do something, just tell your child’s teacher one thing they did that year that benefitted your child. It will be appreciated more than you know.
Some folks are predicting that live teachers in classrooms will soon be replaced by disembodied voices over the internet.
I hope that doesn’t happen.
Not because I’m anti-technology or because I want to preserve my job for all eternity, but because so many important things that are taught in schools every day aren’t officially on the curriculum.
I think there are plenty of aspects of grammar or math or science that can be taught on-line. And good teachers can and do access this technology and use it to benefit all students.
But what about the other things? Call them life lessons, if you want. We don’t plan on teaching them but when you deal with children, and people in general, these things come up. And I, for one, am glad they do.
Here are a few of my favorite life lessons
Everyone has strengths and challenges…even teachers. Every year I tell my students the things that I am terrible at. I tell them that my drawing skills are abysmal and that I have absolutely no sense of direction and that I am woefully uncoordinated. Then I tell them that I am good at teaching writing and math and that I will do everything I can to help them have a great year. I tell them that each of them is going to be good at some things and that other things may be more challenging for them. And then I tell them that’s OK. All that matters is that we all try our best.
Equal does not always mean the same. It’s important for kids to know that everyone learns differently and that sometimes other kids will get something they won’t because they need it. That doesn’t make it “not fair”. It just evens out the playing field.
The world is a big place. One year I had two South Korean exchange students. Our social studies curriculum outcome that year was not to learn about South Korea but boy did we. Even showing kids where we are on a map of the big, wide world opens a flood of questions and wonder.
Sometimes we have to work with people we don’t particularly like. Some people will be bossy and some people will slack off. Some people will fool around and others will work like dogs. It will happen at school and at home and maybe even on your hockey team. It’s a fact of life. Learning how to deal with all different kinds of people is part of leading a successful life.
Tests are no more than a measure of what you are able to express at this particular time in this particular place. They do not measure your worth as a person. A few years ago, I started reading report cards (privately) with my students before they were sent home. Knowing I would have to look into a child’s eyes as they saw their marks and my comments made me more accountable and conscious of what I was writing. When I sit with the student, I explain why I said what I did and why they got the mark that they got. I answer their questions and sometimes dry their tears. And I tell them that this piece of paper in no way measures them as a person. No test can do that.
Respect and manners matter. Like all of us, kids often speak without thinking and sometimes that causes hurt feelings. In a classroom situation, they learn how important it is to be respectful of each other. Helping kids make the classroom a “safe” place to learn and take chances is one of the most important things a teacher can do.
If you can laugh about something, everything is better. Once I sent a student out in the hall for disrupting the class. I told him I would be out in a minute to speak to him…and then…I promptly forgot about him. About 20 minutes (!) later, I went out in the hall to get something and was startled to see him sitting there against the wall. He knew instantly that I hadn’t been coming out to talk to him. “You forgot about me!” he said, incredulously. “No, I didn’t,” I stammered. “I just…I…” He started laughing and pointing at me, “Ohmygod! You forgot me!” I couldn’t fake it anymore. I started to laugh. “I’m sorry! It was just so quiet in there and I…” By this point we were both laughing hysterically – me and a 10-year-old boy who had almost driven me to distraction 20 minutes earlier. I apologized for forgetting him and he apologized for being a pain in the…neck…and the rest of the day was lovely.
When you help out and contribute to making your class YOUR class, you are a part of something bigger than yourself. I generally like to leave some time at the end of every day for clean-up and organizing. Yes, I could do it myself at the end of the day. No, this doesn’t mean I’m a lazy teacher who is trying to race out the door as soon as the bell rings. Children who help keep their classroom neat, tidy, and organized are less likely to throw garbage on the floor or draw on their desks. Children who put their artwork on the walls and their writing on the bulletin boards are more likely to see their classroom as THEIRS. It’s not MY room, it’s OUR room. Hopefully these same kids will transfer this lesson to their home and their community.
Today may have been a difficult day, but (hopefully) tomorrow will be better.* Some days will just not be fun and kids will end up learning a lesson that is not warm and fuzzy. Sometimes other kids will lie to them or be mean to them. Sometimes they will get in trouble for something that wasn’t their fault just because they were hanging out with the wrong people at the wrong time. Sometimes the teacher will get mad at the whole class for “no reason” just because she is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.** And that sucks. But hopefully everyone will learn that these things happen and that it doesn’t make someone good or bad but, rather, human. And that tomorrow will be better.
Grade 4 (or 8 or 12) is a journey, not a destination. To paraphrase the great Steven Tyler, “Life’s a journey, not a destination” and school is a part of life. If every lesson plan is based on preparing for the next test or the next project or the next report card, then we are missing out on an amazing journey. Enjoy the moments. They are what matter.
Now YOU tell ME: If you are a teacher, what are the most important lessons YOU have taught that weren’t part of the curriculum? If you are/were a student, what important lesson did you learn from school that wasn’t part of the regular lesson plan?
Yesterday, as I was driving through my neighborhood, minding my own business, I saw one of my former students coming around the corner of the little side street where I was about to turn. He was with three other boys, all in grade 8.
I taught him three years ago when he was in grade 5. He was a cute little kid then. Nice, friendly, helpful.
I waved at him but he didn’t wave back. This was odd because he always waves at me. In fact, the other day, he actually stood in the middle of the road so that I would stop my car and talk to him.
That little mystery was solved in a matter of seconds.
As soon as I rounded the corner, I saw the fire.
I have no doubt that this former student of mine started the fire with his empty-headed buddies and then just sauntered away. There was no one else around and the flames were pretty high by the time I started beating them out with an old hat I found in the trunk.
Between my hat beatings and the man from across the street who came over with a bucket of water, we managed to put the ditch fire out pretty quickly.
But I was mad. I called 911 and told them they needed to send someone over to spray down the grass, just in case there was a rogue spark lurking somewhere. Then I told them to have the police call me. I was on my way to have a chat with a few budding arsonists.
I caught up with the boys pretty quickly (athletes they are not). The three I didn’t recognize took off running. My former student walked over to the car.
Trying to be cool, he leaned over my window, “Hey, what’s up?”
“You’re busted, buddy,” I told him. “Get ready for a chat with the police about the fire.”
“I didn’t light any fire,” he said, trying to look cool as sweat beaded on his forehead under his stupid backwards baseball cap.
“Whatever. Tell it to the police.”
Now, I know the worst thing that will happen to this little dumb-ass-kid, and his equally dumb-ass friends, is that they will get a slap on the wrist. Even if they are charged, the Young Offenders Act in Canada protects kids from their own youthful stupidity. And I suppose that’s a good thing. I can only hope that their parents will realize that unless they want to visit their kid in a juvenile detention facility in a few years, they need to step up and nip this problem in the bud.
This incident just reinforced my belief that G.E.I.T. is a burning problem (no pun intended) that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.
In my little fantasy-world, students in Grade 8 would not be in the classroom. Instead, they would be out in the community helping: helping people, helping animals, helping the environment. This would help grow the parts of their brain that have been stunted by G.E.I.T. They would learn empathy, compassion and respect.
There would still be grade 8 teachers but their job would be to coordinate and supervise the work placements. Yes, it would be like herding cats, but seriously, if we’re being honest here, isn’t teaching grade 8 like herding cats anyways?If you’re going to let the cats out of the bag, you might as well give them a wide open space in which to roam.
And who knows?
Perhaps if you’ve just spent the week cleaning out the ditches around your neighborhood, you might not be so quick to light them on fire.
I’m just sayin’.
UPDATE: I heard from the police this evening regarding our little junior arsonists. It seems three of the boys threw the fourth one under the bus and said that he lit the fire without them knowing. Apparently, this one rogue trouble maker ran off to the ditch (alone) to pee and then he started a fire. That makes sense to me. I always light a fire after I pee in the ditch. Yeah…and then monkeys fly out of my butt!!! Amazingly, their parents apparently bought this big stinking sack of doo-doo and all four got a “stern talking to” from the police.
I must say, I am a little concerned. I believe the United Nations puts “firm talking to”s in the same category as waterboarding. I hope the boys can get past this.
Last week, I published a blog post about Rehtaeh Parsons, the Cole Harbour girl who committed suicide following an alleged sexual assault and the subsequent bullying that followed. (see post below)
Today I received an interesting comment from someone with the handle TruthSeeker. It invites a different perspective. While I disagree with most of what the poster has to say, I do agree that we can’t start a witch-hunt. We can pressure our lawmakers and politicians to pursue a very difficult case, but we shouldn’t be taking the law into our own hands.
Kindness nurtures kindness; hate nurtures hate. And right now, there is a lot of hate floating around out there. Perhaps instead of ranting and raving about how could such a thing happenandkids today and how this wouldn’t have happened in MY day (yeah, it did…it just didn’t get spread all over the internet) we could try working on our own little circles – be kind to ourselves, each other. I want justice to be served, but hate isn’t going to get us there.
I invite you to read what TruthSeeker has to say, along with my follow-up comments, and let me know what YOU think. I understand the concept of innocent until proven guilty, but I have a very hard time believing that Rehtaeh Parsons was able to give informed consent to four of her male classmates so that they could have sex with her, photograph the act, and then send the picture around to their peers. Call me crazy, but something about that story doesn’t ring true for me.
p.s. I have been advised by a lawyer-friend that I don’t understand the ins-and-outs of the law very well. Which makes sense seeing as I have an English degree, not a law degree. Since he’s much smarter than me in all things legal, here’s what he had to say: Regrettably the law is not as cut and dry as we would like it to be. Law is an absolute premise (statutes saying you can’t do this or that), justice is the contextual premise. Your commentator is correct. We cannot presume guilt because of age, alcohol, the numbers involved. Just because it looks criminally icky (and it does look very icky) does not mean when the evidence is reviewed, or heard that it would qualify as a breach of the law.