Tag Archives: School

Teacher Appreciation

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week at my sons’ school. Recently, I asked some teacher-friends what parents can do to encourage them and make them feel appreciated. So, parents, here are 5 ways you can make your child’s teacher feel loved and appreciated ~~

IMG_5218 Silas and his beloved third-grade teacher. She made the transition to public school a non-issue for him. He stops by her room to give her hugs every day.

1. Donate classroom supplies. Often, teachers purchase classroom supplies with their own money. You can help alleviate this extra financial concern by donating things like Clorox wipes, tissues, pencils, baggies, glue sticks. Donating needed items reinforces the idea that you and the teacher are partners, working together to educate the children.

2. Volunteer. Whether your schedule allows you to volunteer for one field trip or field day or whether you have time to come in once a month or once a week, volunteer. Offer to make copies or help with school picture day or read with a struggling student. Come during your lunch hour and eat with your child for 20 minutes and help in the classroom for 20 minutes. Again — when you volunteer, your actions tell the teacher that you’re partners. And when you spend 20 minutes making copies, that is 20 minutes earlier your child’s teacher can go home or one lunch period he can sit and eat lunch or 20 minutes she can spend working on the mounds of paperwork she has to submit to the office.

3. Coordinate teacher luncheons. Something magical happens when a teacher walks into the teacher’s lounge and finds tables full of food thoughtfully provided by parents. I’ve seen it. That food is a tangible expression of love and thankfulness. And when the tables are overflowing with food, the teachers are overwhelmed in the best way. They feel loved.

4. Send letters or email messages of commendation to the principal or superintendent. When your child’s teacher makes a remarkable impact on your child, share the good news. Teaching can be a very lonely, thankless job, and teachers can feel like their entire job performance is distilled down to median test scores. I don’t know any teachers who chose education so that they could train students to fall within the right sections of test results bar graphs. Teachers want to connect with children and make a difference in their lives. When they succeed in this goal, tell their bosses. Everyone enjoys being acknowledged for doing his job well.

5. Give gifts and write notes. Whether it’s a gift card to a teacher supply store, a mug of her favorite coffee, a gift card to his favorite restaurant or a couple homemade cookies, teachers enjoy little tokens of appreciation. And the teachers I know especially appreciate thank-you notes or stories of how you see that teacher influencing your child. Sometimes, teachers hear from the unhappy parents far more than they hear from the grateful parents. So a little bit of encouragement can go a long way in reminding teachers that they are making differences in the lives of their students.

Even if it’s not Teacher Appreciation Week at your child’s school, purpose to show your child’s teacher some love this week.

Putting Children In Boxes

jackinbox Can we all agree that this is the only kind of box we should put our kids in?

Yesterday, I told you Caleb’s story.  Today, let’s talk about putting children in boxes. I’m talking about this tendency some of us have to expect cookie cutter children, as if schools and homes are an assembly line cranking out children who all learn the same and test the same and perform the same, children who are “well-rounded” and look great on traditional college applications.

The problem with that — well, gosh, there are too many problems with that. That entire notion is a problem! The beauty of it all is that we are each so distinctive! I am constantly amazed at the uniqueness of each of my six children. All raised by the same parents with the same guidelines and influences, yet each so individual and different. If you have more than one child, or if you come from a family with more than one child, you’ve seen it too.

We are fortunate. The teachers my children have had in public school have taught to various learning styles and seem to appreciate each child’s distinctiveness. But I know that kids still feel pressure to get the right scores and make the right grades and fit into the mold. And sometimes parents feel the pressure too, so parents try to push the children to make all A’s or fall on the right side of the bell curve. I know better. At my core, I value individuality and recognize different types of intelligences. I appreciate that our world needs all sorts of people with all sorts of skills and passions and personalities. And still, sometimes I get sucked in to the idea that all my children should be making the Honor Roll and scoring well on the state’s standardized test. I have lapses into Freaked-Out-Land in which I become a crazy momma who frantically obsesses about whether my high school children are in enough clubs and making the right grades and building the right resume to get into college.

For the LOVE! Can we just all stop already? Can we agree that not every kid can score in the top tenth percentile because – HELLOOOO! –  then that wouldn’t be the top tenth percentile any more? Can we agree that the kids who are really smart at taking tests and writing papers might not be so smart at fixing a dishwasher or playing guitar or creating delicious cupcakes? And all of those things are important in this life. And the cupcake part might even be the most important. Amen? Can we agree that not everyone’s child will get into an Ivy League school, and that’s OK? And can we agree that the kids who do get into an Ivy League school don’t have any more value than the kids who go to community college?

And, you know what, adults? That means we’re going to have to stop saying in hallowed, hushed, adoring tones, “Johnny got into Harvard.” And it means we’re going to have to stop with all the extra rationalizing and apologizing when a kid goes to community college, “Well, Bobby is going to Neighborhood Community College for a year or two. He’s really smart; he just didn’t apply himself the first two years of high school. I don’t think he realized that all his grades actually counted. But he made the honor roll his last two years, and he’s going to get into a top college after a year of Neighborhood Community College.” No, stop it. Harvard Johnny is no more worthy of a parent’s pride and adoration than Community College Bobby. 

And then, after all of the grown-ups agree on this, can we all tell our children these truths? And can we keep telling them and keep telling them until they believe it? Until they know in the center of their very being that whatever sort of ways they are smart –and they ARE! – those ways are just as important and valuable and beautiful as the ways other people are smart. 

When report cards come home and students are in the middle of standardized tests and the valedictorian is announced, can we promise each other that we’ll pause and take a deep breath  and remember that these things do not define our children? And they certainly don’t define us as parents. Can we promise not to elevate these sorts of things to a higher place than they deserve? Even if our children make straight A’s and ace the tests and have the highest gpa. We can be proud of their hard work and the character that work has formed in them and grateful for the gifts and talents they’ve been given, but let’s not be deceived into thinking that their grades and scores and accolades make them better than in the ways that are truly important in life. And let’s be realistic, those things don’t really even make them smarter than. Because there are so many ways to be smart.

Please know that I am saying this not only as the mom of children whose intelligences are not best measured by big tests and report card grades, but also as the mom of children for whom schools are made. I am not in one camp or the other, friends. I am not trying to devalue anyone’s children and their gifts. I am just asking us all to keep perspective.

If your child fits in the box that is school, that’s OK. Praise their diligence and work and help them be grateful for their gifts. And if your child does not fit into the box that is school, that’s OK too. Help those children find their talents and gifts, help them figure out what types of intelligence they have. Then praise their diligence and work and help them be grateful for their gifts too. And let’s celebrate all the children’s distinctiveness and help them be thankful that we’re not all the same. Because how boring would that be?

Giving Our Children Time To BECOME

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This boy will soon celebrate 13 years of being alive. And we will celebrate because when he was a toddler and a preschooler, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep him alive for 13 years.

He was such a curious boy, always climbing and investigating and touching and tasting and experimenting. And I was a little distracted some of the time, what with carrying and birthing and nurturing and keeping alive his little brothers – 3 of them before he was 4 1/2. For a few years, that Curiosity killed the cat saying played on repeat in my brain, a taunting refrain. Especially when Caleb got really quiet. Because with kids, quiet equals trouble.

As a toddler, he figured out how to climb out of cribs and unfasten himself from car seats or high chairs. He could open that child-proof door handle thingy faster than I could! As a preschooler, he enjoyed sneaking into the kitchen and mixing together different foods to see what happened. Cracking eggs seemed to be his favorite. Experimenting with tubes of food coloring ran a close second. He devised elaborate string or yarn booby traps all over the house. And he became obsessed with creating a Duplo block boat that would float, so he was often overflowing the bathroom sink during his trial and error sessions. I suspect Caleb sneaked out of his bed and watched segments of Will It Float on David Letterman because he was often tossing items into the sink or bathtub or toilet to check their floatability — paperback novels, toy cars, toothbrushes, hairbrushes.

Clearly this genius child had the mind of an engineer or scientist! At least, that’s how I consoled myself when his shenanigans threatened his life and my sanity — when he drank some medicine or stuck his finger in an outlet or climbed onto the top of the fridge or climbed onto the top of his crib and free-fell off (again and again and again).

When it came time to learn his ABCs, Caleb the genius wasn’t all that interested. His big sisters and I sang the ABC song to him. We did alphabet puzzles and games and coloring sheets. We watched videos. I pointed out letters and sounds in signs and books. Caleb could not have cared less about learning his letters. Nobody in the history of the world has cared about anything less than Caleb cared about the alphabet. He had some powdered drink mix to snort and a bookshelf to scale. Letters schmetters. Whatev.

Perhaps he will be motivated to learn at least the letters in his name. Every kid loves his own name. I was a teacher. I would teach this kid to write his name. In big block letters, I wrote C A L E B then I wrote it again over and over in dotted-line letters for him to trace. He half-heartedly traced a letter or two before covering the page in elaborate drawings. He would draw detailed pictures of a house with an underground tunnel connecting it to a neighboring house or of fire-breathing dragons chasing a blue-jean-wearing boy. When he would bring the pictures to show me, he would tell me these incredible stories depicted by his illustrations. But absolutely none of his pictures had an artist’s signature in the bottom corner because this boy had zero interest in learning to write his own name. No matter how many times I wrote his name in dotted-lined letters.

Then one day months later, he ran into the room where I was drying my hair. He tossed a Sunday School paper in front of me. In every bit of white space on that paper was scrawled C A L E B. “Who wrote this?” I shut off the hair dryer. “I did, Momma!” He beamed. “How did you know? Who helped you?” “Uhhh, you did. Lots of weeks ago. You showed me.” Duh. Of course I had. But he hadn’t practiced. He barely seemed to pay attention. But there it was in front of me – C A L E B. C A L E B. C A L E B.  All over the page. Every letter perfectly formed in little boy manuscript.

He learned his ABCs the same way. All that time of not caring, then one day – BAM! he knew them all. Counting to 20, days of the week, months of the year, short vowels, long vowels — Caleb learned all of it in the same maddening way. Weeks and months of disinterest and none of it sinking in, then BOOM! perfect mastery.

I homeschooled him in kindergarten and the first half of first grade. Because I knew his style, I didn’t push him to master reading and gain fluency. I figured I’d just consistently and repetitively teach him and read with him, then when it clicked he could move straight from those teensy Bob Books to Robinson Crusoe or something. And that plan may have worked if we hadn’t enrolled him in a small Christian school.

Four days into the second semester of first grade, Caleb’s first four days of traditional school in a classroom setting, a teacher told me Caleb was super sweet and a joy to teach, “but he’s really so far behind the other children in reading. We may want to move him back to kindergarten.” From that moment on, the phrases “you’re behind the others . . . you need to catch up” became the refrain of Caleb’s school day. His self-confidence balloon burst. Deflated and defeated, he began to say, “I can’t read. . . . I’m behind everyone else. . . . I’m just not made for school.” My momma heart ached. And the momma bear in me rose up. My husband and I went to the school to tutor him during reading class, and I practiced sight word lists and phonics with him at home. I countered every “I’m behind everyone else” and “I can’t read.” with “You are becoming a good reader.” Over and over and over, I repeated this truth to him, “You are becoming a good reader.” And I prayed for peace as we waited and worked during the Becoming

By the end of second grade, all of Caleb’s self-confidence was gone, replaced by a vicious anxiety. He cried easily, picked at his skin until it bled, hoarded food, had trouble sleeping and regularly complained that everyone was mean to him and nobody liked him. He often declared he would quit school and travel the world. Using an array of tests and assessments and some hours of observation, an educational psychologist evaluated Caleb and presented us with a 12-page booklet of results and recommendations. As it turned out, I had been right — my little boy was practically a genius, but the chasm between his IQ and his academic achievement in language skills was vast.

Between my ears and my brain something magical happens to break down a word into individual sounds. This helps me spell words, and it helps me read new words. Sound it out. That’s what teachers had told me when I was little, and it’s what Caleb’s teachers and I had been encouraging him to do. Except that magical thing wasn’t happening between Caleb’s ears and his brain. He could break words into syllables, but that’s it. He wasn’t hearing individual sounds within a word. Sound it out meant nothing to him. Nothing except frustration and piled on anxiety. So we had to change the way we were teaching Caleb to read. The Sound it out way would not work.

The school was not willing to accommodate a different learning style. I highlighted a few ideas in the educational psychologist’s booklet of recommendations that could be implemented at school and asked during one of our many conferences if they would consider making those few adjustments. None were implemented. Their solution was that Caleb should repeat second grade, even though he was mastering the math and social studies and science. But teaching him the same material a second time using the same technique that didn’t work with his brain did not seem like a logical solution to me. That would be like repeating the English sentence slowly and more loudly to a person who doesn’t understand a word of English. What’s that Albert Einstein quote? — “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” 

So we made plans to homeschool Caleb for third grade. I researched various learning styles. I read about learning differences and disabilities. I bought a book written by a man who had overcome his dyslexia to become a professor and author. After reading it cover to cover, I showed Caleb — “Look! Some day, you will be able not only to READ a book like this, you will be able to WRITE a book like this if you want! If this man could do it, so can you!” My teacher-friends shared creative teaching ideas with me. Friends and family members who parent children with learning differences brainstormed ideas with me and pointed me to excellent resources. After reading about and researching strengths-based education, I evaluated Caleb’s strengths and learning styles and developed a plan to teach specifically to his strengths.

I got this vision in my head. I believe God placed it there. I saw Caleb standing in a cap and gown, graduating from college, telling everyone, “All my teachers told me I was behind and couldn’t read. I was ready to quit. But my mom believed in me. She told me I was becoming a good reader. She gave me time to become a good reader in my own way. She believed in me when nobody at school did.” That vision motivated me to become Caleb’s biggest cheerleader. That vision fueled hope within me. We would overcome this little speed bump.

That next school year, Caleb and I worked hard. He did jumping jacks while spelling words and reciting phoneme sounds. We tossed a ball back and forth while breaking words into syllables and sounds. He formed words out of clay, then built pictures of the words with the clay. He formed letters and words with beans or beads. He spelled words out with letter tiles. He hopped across the room while drilling sight word flashcards. Out on the basketball court, we wrote words in sidewalk chalk. He began to read articles and books about things that really interested him — hammerhead sharks, creepy bugs, magic tricks. He discovered the genius that is spell-check and proclaimed it to be his life-long friend! We learned some basic spelling rules, like “every syllable must have a vowel,” then checked every written word against that rule until it became second-nature. Over and over, I told Caleb, “You are becoming a good reader now.” 

And he was becoming a good reader. Each week, we saw more evidence of the Becoming As his strengths were acknowledged and his reading skills blossomed, his anxiety began to shrink. We replaced lying thoughts, “I can’t read. . . . I’m not a good student. . . . Everyone is mean to me. . . . I am not as good as other people.” with truthful thoughts, “I can read. . . . I can do hard things. . . Everyone has challenges. . . . Sometimes people are mean, but sometimes they are kind. . . .” 

Education isn’t a competition. There is time for everyone to learn his own way. That year of homeschooling removed Caleb from the perception of a learning race, where children can be behind other children.

That same year, Caleb and I discovered parkour. Have you seen this? YouTube it. In parkour, people run up ramps and jump over railings and leap from building to building. They run up the sides of buildings and then do backflips. If there is an obstacle on a sidewalk or trail, these guys will jump on it or over it or use it to launch a flip of some sort. Caleb became obsessed with parkour, and every trip to the playground or park involved parkour practice. And -LIGHTBULB! – I realized that education can’t be a race because some people approach it like a marathon, straight ahead, steady paces, arms pumping at their side; but others approach it like parkour, leaping rocks, running up handrails, jumping from one platform to the next. And you just cannot compare marathon running with parkour. It’s apples and oranges, people.

Once we tapped into Caleb’s strengths and rebuilt his confidence, reading began to click with him. He asked for a big book of magic tricks for his birthday in the spring of third grade. The day after his birthday, he was performing magic tricks for us. He had read and understood the step-by-step instructions all on his own. He also asked for a biography of Ronald Reagan. Within a week, we were hearing all sorts of details about President Reagan’s life. Caleb was becoming a great reader.

At the beginning of this school year, Caleb’s middle school English teacher told me Caleb is always reading a book as soon as he finishes his work. “Has he always been an avid reader?” She wondered.

No, but he has always been becoming one. Even when it seemed everyone else was saying otherwise.

Celebrating Accomplishment Without Fueling Unhealthy Competition

Competition. I’ve been thinking a lot about competition lately.

Since my children entered public school, especially public high school, I’ve been reminded how much school can be about competition. In academics and sports and clubs and social order, young people are constantly thrust into competition. Earning the highest gpa, making the team, starting in the game, getting the role, being first-chair, eating at the right table, wearing the right clothes, being asked to the dance, having enough Twitter followers and Instagram likes . . . 

The competition may culminate in high school, but it all starts pretty early. I recently had lunch at school with Griffin, who is in second grade. He and his friends were lifting their pants legs to show each other their name-brand socks. Soon, they were discussing who owns Nike Elite socks and how much they cost (around $14 a pair). Though the teachers go out of their way not to make the reading and math groupings obviously about skill level, the children know. Griffin knows he is in a reading group with the kids who go with the gifted teacher. He knows that some of the children who go to the reading specialist are in another group. Because we’ve talked about this a lot in our home, Griffin knows that someone’s true value isn’t measured by reading groups or report cards or the types of socks a child wears. But he still works hard to earn good marks on his report card and to successfully do the work in his reading and math groups, and he consistently asks for a pair of Nike Elite socks.

Though we do talk often about how life is not a competition and how our worth is not rooted in grades or paychecks or name-brand clothing or the score at the end of the game, I confess that sometimes I get sucked in too. I am really proud of my child when she scores the most goals of the game. I’m pleased when he outruns everyone else on the field. I’m proud when his dive form is better than the kid who usually out-dives him. And sometimes I’m just honestly proud of my child’s accomplishments in a healthy way. But sometimes I fall into a comparison trap and delight in my child’s being better than, smarter than, stronger than, more talented than. And I am so not pleased with this in myself. It’s ugly.

So I am trying to be more aware of this in myself. Instead of saying, “You are a better striker than _____” or “Your handstand dive was better than ____’s tonight,” I want to say, “You are running even faster this season than you did last!” or “Your form on that dive gets better each week!” I want to teach each child by example that the only person she should compare herself to is herself.

I want to encourage my children to set goals and praise them for meeting those goals. I want to encourage them to work hard to improve their own skills and then praise them for improvement. And I really want to stop comparing them to their classmates and teammates.

There will always be competition, and many healthy character-building lessons can come from competition — in the winning and the losing. Someone will be valedictorian. Some team will win the championship. Someone will win the election for class president. Someone will score the most baskets or goals or win the gold medal. But my children will learn those important lessons even when I choose not to focus on comparisons and competing.

The sense of constantly competing, of constantly trying to be better than, can be overwhelming for kids. Our attitudes and words as parents can fuel that or temper it. Unfortunately, in the past, I’ve fueled that too often. From now on, I want to temper it.

At my core, I believe each child has different strengths and talents and passions. I believe the lessons learned and character built from losing the game and not being the best are often the things that make us stronger, more resilient, more compassionate people. I believe that a child’s heart and character are far more important than his abilities and performance.

So I want to make sure those beliefs shape my attitude and spill over through my words. If I speak these truths enough, my children can withstand the competition-fueled world of school knowing their real value isn’t tied to any of that.

 

Always Winter, Never School

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You know how in Narnia it’s always winter and never Christmas? Well, here it is always winter and never school. So yeah, let’s talk about snow days.

I’ve lost track of how many snow days my children have had this year, but I’m pretty sure we’ve had so many that we’re down to about five hot minutes of a summer vacation now. Every day they jump and cheer about another snow day, I mumble, “Happy summer vacation. ‘Cause this is it. Now move while I put on another pair of socks and sip this hot cocoa.” And then I grieve the days we won’t have at the pool, when I can easily justify sitting in a lounge chair, chatting with friends, sipping Diet Dr. Pepper, and soaking in the sunshine by saying I’m doing it “for the children.”

It is exciting when the forecast is for a big snow, and those first flakes start falling. As the snow begins and the ground turns white, it is easy to get caught up in the anticipation and the milk-buying frenzy and the flurry of Facebook posts with rulers stuck in snow.

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But then the children decide to go out and play in it. And they fight over who gets the good snow boots and who put the snowveralls where and why this one has waterproof gloves and that one has cheap knit ones that get wet in less time than it takes an Olympic ice-dancing announcer to use the word “twizzle” after a couple’s routine begins.

Then, they play outside for a fraction of the time it took them to get dressed. (There is an actual mathematical formula — snow play = get dressed • fight over gloves • find more than one pair of socks / 4) And when they come inside, they track in enough snow to build a small snow family and leave a trail of clothing so my house looks like the Goodwill threw up all over the place. Repeat this scenario at least 4 times each day.

When they aren’t playing outside for a half a second or getting dressed or undressed, they are playing Minecraft. And by playing Minecraft I really mean screaming, “He shot me with an arrow for no reason!” or “He stole all my gold!” or “He just killed a sheep! In MY world! He can kill sheep in his own world!” And I hear strange things coming out of my own mouth, like “Stop killing your brother’s sheep!” or “If you don’t stop killing each other, I’m taking all the iPods!” or “Only shoot your brother with an arrow if he WANTS you to!”

I have also noticed a direct correlation between snow falling and my desire to bake or cook comfort foods. So while the children are creating heaps of extra laundry, I bake coffee cake and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and chocolate cupcakes and fry up some pancakes and sausage and make a big pot of cheesy potato soup and garlic cheddar biscuits and a pot of chili and a side of black bean dip and a small crockpot of queso. (There is also a mathematical equation that looks something like — snow day = 5 lbs )

Snow also directly affects my ability to be productive. If we have more than an inch of snow, I seem incapable of doing anything more than baking, eating and watching Netflix or the Olympics. Sometimes I combine Netflix and the Oympics, which results in something really bizarre like watching a documentary about Tonya Harding at 1:00 in the morning. Don’t judge. I’m telling you, I am not made for long, hard winters.

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Last week, we got 2 feet of snow. I considered tying a rope around a kid before sending them to the mailbox, like Pa did before going to the barn during their long, hard winters on the prairie.

I am not normally a fan of wishing time away. But seriously, enough winter already. I need it to be spring. I need sunshine and green grass and buds on trees. The novelty and fun of wearing boots has worn off, and I need to be wearing my cute shoes and sandals again. I need the static electricity that makes my hair always look a little Bride of Frankensteinish to calm the heck down. After living in Florida for 4 years, I never dreamed I’d be wishing for a little humidity! But here I am, applying lotion for the 58th time today and wishing for a higher dew point.

If another winter weather advisory exclamation mark shows up in my daily forecast, you can find me in the fetal position in the corner of my bedroom under a pile of snowveralls and cheap knit gloves. You can leave me there until the daffodils bloom.

 

 

Report Cards & Perspective (Or How Not To Turn Into CRAZYMom When Looking At Parent Portal)

Last week was Report Card Day. The day when all of learning seems boiled down to a few letters of the alphabet and a lot of competition.

When I was in high school, I was all about the competition of grades. I wanted to do my best, and I wanted my best to be better than everyone else’s. Receiving my report card, seeing my gpa, checking in with the guidance counselor to learn my rank among the list of my classmates produced a rush of endorphins.

I vividly remember standing in the little alcove of my dorm hallway in college, holding the beige phone in my hand, its long spiral cord hanging loosely beside me. I had called to ask a professor - Had she graded my exam yet? Did she have my final grade figured?  It was an 88%, a B+. My first B since my first quarter of my freshman year of high school. Two points away from an A. I walked back to my dorm room and cried. 

Perspective – Mine was a bit skewed. Pressure – I put way too much on myself to be perfect.

Now I’m a mom, and I’ve been a teacher, and I’ve learned a lot about learning styles and multiple intelligences and a variety of strengths. Now I know that report cards are not the be-all and end-all of education. Learning is not always summed up in a letter grade or gpa. And class rank is not a measure of intelligence or value.

There have been times I’ve fallen back into those old ideas, the old pressures. Last year, when my oldest was a freshman in high school, I logged in often to check her grades on the parent portal. She was struggling in one particular class that the school had decided would be taught online in a virtual classroom. That method was not matching her learning style at all, and her grade was reflecting that. I may or may not have freaked out every other day - Do you realize this affects your gpa?! Every grade in high school counts! It was weird; each time I checked parent portal, my voice rose an octave. Finally, Lauren said – Of course I realize every grade affects my gpa. You remind me almost every day. And ummm Mom, maybe you shouldn’t check parent portal so much. It seems to upset you. 

And she was right. So I stopped checking parent portal. Because I cannot seem to use that tool responsibly and sanely. I become CrazyMom when I log into that thing. I regress, forgetting all the wisdom I have gained and the values I really hold.

In the past several years, my children’s report cards have varied widely. Sometimes, I’ve had to assure a child - I know that grade does not reflect how much you really know, how smart you are. This grade just shows that this teaching system doesn’t match your learning style. This grade shows that the system is failing you, and I’m going to figure out how to help you. Other times, we’ve celebrated achievements and improvements.

Usually I struggle to find the balance of how to praise the straight-A student without making another child feel inferior. So I’ve settled on praising the action or attitude behind the grade - Good job for working so hard! . . . I’m so proud of you for setting a goal and meeting it! . . . I can tell you are doing your best! Great work!  This way, the focus isn’t on the actual grade, but on the child’s heart and work. Because that’s what I really value. I want my children to do their best, to work hard, to improve, to learn. And that isn’t always reflected by an A on a report card.

I have actually applauded for a C on a report card - You did your very best & you earned that C with hard work! Yay!  Last week, when two of my boys brought home report cards with mostly A’s and a or two, I cheered (with tears in my eyes) - Look at this! These grades represent how far you’ve come, how hard you’ve worked! I am so proud of you! 

Of course, there have been the C’s that represented an incomplete assignment or two (or three), a Zero or two thrown into the grade mix. That’s not OK with me. Not because it results in a lower letter grade, but because it means my kid didn’t try, didn’t do his or her best. So again, I try to keep my comments focused on the attitude and action behind the grade - This isn’t really OK because it shows you didn’t do your best. It’s not OK to just not do your work. 

Report cards are just one tool to help measure how a student is learning. I try not to give report cards a higher place of relevance in our lives than they deserve (which is why I don’t pay my children for A’s). I know the system; I know the gpa matters when we’re thinking about getting into college. But I also know the gpa isn’t a measure of my child’s value or intelligence, and I don’t want to emphasize it enough to enable my children to believe that lie. I know the truth – if my children are doing their best and if they are meant to go to college, it will all work out. Life isn’t a contest about who can earn the best grades and be ranked highest and go to the most prestigious college.

I don’t want one of my children sobbing hot tears into her pillow because she made a B in general psychology the second semester of her freshman year in college. And I don’t want my daughter to take an easy class to earn an easy A and not learn a daggone thing instead of taking a challenging class, learning a boatload of new things, and earning a or C. And I certainly don’t want any of my children to feel less than or dumber than because of a letter of the alphabet on a piece of paper.

How about you? How do you help your children keep perspective when it comes to grades and report cards and gpa’s and class rank?

 

 

 

This could totally get me kicked out of the PTA . . .

You know what I hate? And, yes, I know hate is a very strong word. But I mean it — hate, hate, hate.

You know what I hate?

Fundraising.

Which is pretty funny considering I was in full-time missions for four years and had to raise all the funds to cover our living expenses. But we didn’t call that fundraising. We called it friend-raising (seriously, there’s a book called that) or partnership development. Whatever we called it, I stunk at it. So did my husband. We hated asking people for money. When we visited churches or spoke to groups or talked one-on-one with people about missions, we barely ever mentioned money. That’s probably why we lived well below the poverty threshold during those four years.

If I hated raising the funds for groceries for my children, then I certainly hate raising funds for iPads for a bunch of middle schoolers. And I hate raising funds for the sake of fundraising, which it seems to me is what my sons’ school does – though I’m sure there must be a very good reason I’m supposed to help convince everyone I know they need to buy something from the catalog my sons brought home a couple weeks ago.

That catalog had everything in it from gift wrap to cookie dough to folksy decor to snowman-shaped serving tongs. And one catalog per family wasn’t enough. I have four sons in the school, so we had four catalogs and order forms.

Out of those four catalogs, guess how many items we sold.

Zero.

I know, I know — I’m not a team-player. I’d probably be kicked out of the PTA if they didn’t want to keep my five dollars in dues. But I just can’t send my kids around the neighborhood as miniature door-to-door salesman — even though they sure are adorable and would probably make some sales. I hate the guilt-inducing pleas of schoolchildren’s fundraisers, and I don’t really want to subject other people to that.

The middle school also kicked off the school year with a fundraiser. They were selling sets of plastic cups with sports’ teams logos on them. Spirit Cups – the catalog was labeled. But I told my daughter I’d only beg my Facebook friends to buy the things if I could call them Sports Cups or Athletic Cups.

Alas, I never even mentioned it on Facebook. Most of my friends have children or nieces or nephews or neighbors or someone who is also selling something nobody needs in order to raise money for their schools. And I sure don’t want to feel obligated to buy something from them! So I’m not asking them to buy something from my kids.

Heck, I didn’t even buy anything from my kids. I don’t need a sports cup — of any kind. And I don’t need snowmen-shaped serving tongs. And I don’t need a Christmas CD — hello? Have these people heard of iTunes? And I buy my kitchen wall calendar at the bookstore the first week of January when it’s half-priced. And I buy chocolate candy on impulse in the grocery store because it seems easier to justify impulse, bad-day chocolate than pre-meditated, from a catalog chocolate.

So I chaperone field trips and I help five classrooms of kindergarteners do a craft on their big spring activity day. I enthusiastically cheer on groups of fourth graders at Field Day and I serve ice cream toppings to the entire second grade. I deliver cookies and cake pops on birthdays and I chaperone the eighth grade dance. Ok, my motives weren’t completely pure and selfless on that one. I was a spy dressed as a mom serving punch.

I even cut and save Boxtops and volunteered to coordinate that program for the whole school. Which may be my way of overcompensating for refusing to sell anything during any other fundraiser my children do. Oh, alright – I don’t even actually cut those Boxtops myself. But I provide the scissors and the Ziploc baggie hanging on the side of the fridge that my kids stick them in. And I let my kids dig the boxes back out of the trash after I accidentally throw away the frozen pizza boxes that have double boxtops on them. And I convince myself I am teaching them responsibility by allowing them to take ownership of this whole Boxtop project! 

I love my kids. I love their teachers. I love their schools. I just really, really, really hate fundraisers.

Please, please tell me I’m not alone. Do you hate fundraisers? Have you ever thrown away a Boxtop or a Campbell’s Soup Label? Would you buy snowman-shaped serving tongs for your child? What about a Barry Manilow Christmas CD? Isn’t he Jewish? And don’t you think the middle schoolers would be more motivated to ask people to buy those things if they really were called Sports Cups? 

The Super Secret Notebook

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At a parent-teacher conference in March, ThingFive’s teacher told me that he would completely freeze when given a writing assignment. Not wanting to spell any words incorrectly, he would become paralyzed by perfectionism.

His teacher encouraged him to check his second-grade word list. She encouraged him to stretch the word out, make his best spelling guess, then circle it so he could come back later to find the real spelling. The poor kid just could not get over his fear of making a mistake.

So he wasn’t completing any writing assignments. This cutie spent 20 minutes at his desk wondering how to spell “chocolate,” unsure if he should use a “k” or a “c.”

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During the conference, his teacher and I brainstormed ways to help him take risks with his writing, ways to help him feel comfortable just writing and not worrying about perfection. We came up with this idea of the Super Secret Notebook.

I write a secret message to ThingFive, ending with a question or two. Then I hide it under his pillow.

He finds it, reads it and writes a message back to me, answering my questions and telling me anything he wants me to know. Then he hides it in my nightstand.

I assured him that I used to teach second grade, and since some of my students were not good spellers, I can decipher misspelled words.

It took some encouraging and some very short test-messages to me, but he finally relaxed. He writes in our Super Secret Notebook. He even attempts very challenging words, like “lasagna” and “favorite.”

His teacher says he has become quite the risk-taker in his writing. He often finishes writing assignments so quickly she doesn’t even have time to walk back around the room to check on him before he is done.

Oh, and the other day he spelled “chocolate” correctly in a message to me.

Have you had any great ideas that proved to be an educational turning point for your children? Or maybe you remember some strategy that provided a learning breakthrough for you. Will you share your ideas here?

The Overprotective Momma, Her Control Issues, God, and Public School

So how did this overprotective homeschooling mom with serious control-freak tendencies end up putting her children in public school?

I’m so glad you asked!

Well, first a bit of background. I went to public school, then a small Christian college, then I student-taught in public schools, taught in Christian schools, homeschooled, sent two children to a Christian school, homeschooled again, sent the kids to a different small Christian school, homeschooled again, and now they’re in public school. Whew!

It may sound like I’m just fickle; but before I had children, I said I would decide what was best for each child, each year. And that’s what I’ve tried to do. One year, I had four children in private school, one preschooler at home, and I homeschooled one son.

I say all of that to let you know that I am not anti- any kind of school. However, for many years I thought public school would not be best for my kids. I believed they could get a better education in private school or at home with me. And, to be honest, I was afraid of the things they might learn — from textbooks that were written from a different worldview and from classmates who aren’t being brought up with similar values and morals.

So how did I end up sending my kids to public school? Well, that story involves some conflict with a private school, a major abuse scandal, my realization of my own limitations, a move across a few states and a teacher-friend. Oh, and some major conviction about not making decisions based on fear.

Through several circumstances I realized that a small private school does not always provide the best education for each child and cannot always meet the needs of every child.

Learning about the abuse of other children who were supposedly in a safe and trusted place, I recognized that no place on earth is safe enough to escape sin. I can over-protect all I want, but I can’t prevent every bad thing from happening to my kids.

While homeschooling all six of my children last semester, I came face-to-face with my own inadequacies and limitations. I was doing the best I could, but I could not teach the way I wanted to and manage the laundry and meals and cleaning. I wasn’t able to do all the hands-on, fun learning activities I really wanted to do with the children. Laundry piled up. Our apartment was a mess. At some point, I realized that I love the theory of homeschooling six children far more than I love the reality of homeschooling six children.

When we moved in January, God brought us to a relatively small town in an area we had lived in before. One of my dearest friends teaches in the closest elementary school. I’m not sure I could have warmed to the idea of sending my little boys to public school if she weren’t teaching there. I believe God provided a rental home in the zone for this school because He knew I’d need a sweet friend there to help put my mind at ease.

But most importantly, God has been teaching me to make decisions from a place of faith, rather than from a place of fear.

Do I trust Him? Do I believe God is big enough? Bigger than public middle school? Do I believe God can protect missionary children in a jungle somewhere but He can’t protect my children in a public school?

Each morning I pray that they will walk closely with God being filled with His Spirit and protected by Him throughout the day. Each morning, I give them to Him. Which is what I should have been doing all along.

Sending them to public school reinforces in my mind and heart what has been true since they were born — God can protect them far better than this overprotective momma ever could. He is in control. And as we follow His leading, we can trust Him — whether He leads us to private school, homeschool or public school.