Saturday, September 18, 2010

Please Excuse My Dear Ad Nauseam

Dear Mrs. Teacher Lady,

Please excuse Butch, Mahalia, Watson, Marley, Dylan, Sam, All God’s (Allah's, Buddha's, Krishna's) Children Great and Small, non secular types, each and everyone for not having his/her project, homework, permission slip et al. He wasn’t able to find it in his room. She couldn’t remember where she left it. I will help her find it and probably clean his room for him. We are busy with piano lessons, video games, holidays, mental health breaks for quiet meditative reflection regarding what may or may not be important in our lives. We may have been shopping, out to dinner, at a soccer game or finding dust bunnies under a bed or two, we may have all been on our laptops, ipads, blackberries, or cell phones. We may be juggling 2 jobs, home mortgages, divorce and illness. Our lives are overwhelmed and our quality time is scarce.

Please call to set up a conference regarding the lawsuit, district office visit, state ed investigation, or family curse if you choose not to excuse my son or daughter.

Peace and warm fuzzies to you and yours.

Kisses?.....hugs?…. laughs and guffaws way out loud?

Maybe. Maybe not so much. I am a parent and a teacher. A crazed, conflicted paradox. On the defense and offense simultaneously, so let me cautiously dissect this issue from both sides, if I may.

As a teacher, this type of note tends toward outrageousness and then calms itself to ignorance and maybe hovers around disregard and back toward misguided support, on a good day... Rather than excuse the student from being responsible, why not help support the purpose. Admittedly, the purpose is not always clear. The homework may not seem prepared to motivate or engage or instill great knowledge seekers. Maybe it is a ditto, worksheet, or mindless activity. Maybe it simply appears that way out of context. As a teacher, I have room for growth and development, continued education and the ability to learn more. I am open to the idea of communication that may inspire such radical changes. I may even have the opportunity to explain why the lame-seeming assignment was issued. Honestly, at times, students, workers, and even dreamers need to learn to do stuff that just isn’t fun. Sometimes that is enough of a purpose, although that isn’t typically the aim or purpose of homework. A note that explained why the assignment was attempted but not able to be completed would be better suited. A note that hinted toward a confidential matter with intent to honor said assignment would also work, perhaps the student was not able to do the assignment because they didn't understand, this is important information to share. Blatant disregard doesn’t much build strong connections, support systems or respect for the education of our children.

As a parent, I would have loved for my children to receive homework that was motivating and stimulating. I wasn’t always able to engender those feelings when I asked for tasks to be completed but I definitely would have had fewer struggles around homework and more positive times with my children during the homework crunches before, after and at times during dinners if homework was always stimulating. Who wouldn’t want their child to come home excitedly charged to share news about something interesting? How often do we have to hear about recess, and later, nothing? The flip side, as a parent, I continue to wish that some teachers, coaches, extra curricular activity directors, instructors and persons, et al did not believe that their role in the life of my child was to instill unwavering passion and dedication for one cause. Nightly practices that stretch on past 11 at night for a play that will not garner Oscar nods, Athletic training that lasts 1 or 2 hours overtime and is carried out 7 days a week to prove dedication, assignments that are less tangible then a doctoral dissertation and almost as belaboring seem unnecessary, teetering toward abusive, and egocentrically motivated and cuts into the time needed for the very important homework, limited family time and sleep.

As a parent I was stunned to find out that my battle cries for developing responsibility and respect regarding homework were done in near isolation, merely optional on some counts. One very early occasion that had me suited up for the fight went something like this-

Me- Do you have any homework?
Child- No.
Me-Are you sure?
Child- Yes, I finished it all or It’s the weekend we don’t get homework on the weekend or some such business.

When later that same weekend attending a pool party because the homework was completed….

Family Friend- How’s school going? Any big projects due?
Child - Yeah, I have to create a diorama and do a speech on Monday about a Native American clan, I get to choose.

Child slowly walks toward friends realizing we are in public, at a friend’s party and will not likely be leaving to complete assignment, and I will probably not put on a public display or wrestle the child.

The rest of the tale ended with me deciding said child would not be working on said project that evening. Hah! That will teach said child! I called the teacher, explained the situation and asked that the consequence be given at school, where it would count. I was imagining, a poor grade, group pressure and personal admonishing of the sort 4th graders assign. I was also not going to be tossed into the unsupportive parent file. I think I ended up in the parent that puts too much pressure on child file instead. The teacher had other ideas and told said child to finish the project when said child could. Said child did said project on the bus got a passing grade that was not so painful and moved on to bigger brighter battles, victories and good times. The teacher told me, defeatedly, most of the students don’t do homework most of the time. We were sort of united, parent and teacher, knocked-down, beaten.

So was/is homework so important and necessary? Yes and no. A larger problem that arises from these parent supported notes and excuses involves respect. Respect for education. Teaching children respect for others and respect for themselves. If a teacher is giving an assignment and a student believes they don’t really have to complete the assignment, the student is offered a place of power that is not theirs to hold. They are not developmentally ready to decide that they are more important than all of the other students and the teacher. They are not in a place where they can call the shots and decide who and when to listen to and follow instructions from. They are interfering with the instruction and academic opportunities for other students by their indifference and contempt for the system.

Do your homework- systems work when members buy into them. Systems crumble when there is anarchy. I for one, am attracted to anarchy when it is done for a meaningful cause and certainly homework might be a place to start a revolution or reform at least. Simply disregarding it? That's just not right. Teach your child to advocate and make meaningful change. Empower them, don't make excuses for them.

We need to look at the system and make changes, carefully and respectfully. How do we create experiences that engage and motivate? How do we learn how to work together? How do we manage our lives when there is not enough time in a day? How do we acknowledge when to throw in the towel? As a teacher, when can we add more time for concept mastery of needed skills? More important, what do we want to teach our children about life, responsibilities, consequences and opportunities? Homework may not be THE answer but wouldn’t it make more sense to practice courtesy and respect? Can children self-advocate, review other options and assess their own progress? Let's teach them.

Isn’t life easier when you go to the supermarket, doctor’s office, airport, movies etc. and the person required to perform a service or task actually can and will? Isn’t it better yet when they are polite, enthusiastic, engaged and interested? When they can’t provide the service, wouldn’t you prefer an honest answer or alternative solution? Or maybe you like when they shrug and walk away, not even knowing what they don't know how to do. As an employer, would you want to hire someone willing to do the job well or do you like those personal challenges trying to motivate someone that is unwilling and uninterested? Life. School. It can all work. Balance. Change. Peace and kind regard.

1 comment:

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