Wednesday, September 18, 2013

BTS Series, Lesson 4

I hate to tell you this, but I literally just emailed my son's teacher letting her know we could not complete the Star of the Week poster that's due tomorrow and I blame moving.

I blame moving not only for my total lack of photos, which are supposed to be plastered all over the poster and which are still packed away, but also for my scatterbrain because I could have realized this a few days ago, in time enough to print more at Costco. But I didn't. And I'm human. A human who just moved.

Here's why I hate to confess what I just did. Because when I was a student, I never missed an assignment. I completed them with extra designs and decorations in the margins and spent hours coloring in bubble lettering. I was born to be an overachiever, not because I felt I had to be, but because I really loved school. And school loved me back, meaning I now realize what validation and worth I gathered into my arms school year after school year because I did well.

So I may or may not have carried a bit of this overachiever-ness into my mothering once my own kids started elementary school. Naturally, I thought the responsible thing to do was train them early to cross every "t" and dot every "i." Complete all your assignments with your best effort, your best handwriting, and maybe add bubble lettering. Just kidding. I mean, it would have been nice though.

My intentions sounded good, in theory. It sounded like I was teaching good habits, I was teaching them how to be good students. BUT. I was forgetting the more important matter: they are small children, and I need to be their mother first.

Suddenly (why do all these BTS posts come to this point...where I realize I'm doing it all wrong!) I had a third grade girl who was spending MULTIPLE HOURS on her homework each night. I had been trying so hard to train her to be responsible that I lost touch with common sense. I don't remember what exactly hit me upside the head. But I had a sort of epiphany.

I am her teacher before anyone else. As her mother, I'm the authority who is ultimately in charge of her education, whether or not I'm physically sending her to school outside my home. It's still my job to regulate, monitor, and decide what kind of life I'm providing for my child. And if I AM deciding to send her to school outside my care, then I sure as heck better be on top of those people to whom I'm entrusting her.

Now, I didn't become THAT mom. You know, the overbearing mother who can't ever give a teacher a break and who thinks her child is the Queen of Sheba. Gross. But I did start to decide what homework my daughter really needed to do. I certainly decided to try to provide a more balanced lifestyle for my girl. I wanted her involved in cooking with me before dinner, she played a sport that was important to her emotional and physical health, and I wanted her to be a kid, to have at least a little time to play with her brother. All her after-school time could NOT be filled with more school work in order for her to be a well-rounded person. Does it seem crazy that I had to be intentional about providing time for a child to play? I think so. I can't believe it took me a while to notice, but I'm telling you, it had gotten THAT bad.

Do you see how I was passively handing off authority over my child's life to people who do not probably love her? I'm sure I've just stated many a mother's reason for choosing homeschooling. But I do believe I can remain my child's primary teacher and still send my kids to school. I know there are several good alternatives to public school, but whenever we've considered a change, God has always led us back to it for our family.

So when I took my child's life back into my own hands, first I doubled my efforts to understand what she needed more work on, and what she had already mastered. If the teacher assigned 20 math problems in something she'd totally mastered, I wrote the teacher a kind note saying that my daughter had done enough school work for the day and had proven to me that she'd mastered the concept. If she needed a little practice, I'd reassign her just the even numbers, and then check them.

Once, she was required to type an essay in fourth grade. The school was clear on their policy that they would not teach typing and the children would have to learn independently. I overruled that requirement and said she'd be turning in a neatly handwritten copy because I would not have her practicing how to type the WRONG way just for this assignment. Other times that year, I typed a few papers for her that she'd dictate from her written draft, since the grade was always for her writing, not her typing, and I was pretty sure nine year-olds didn't need to be spending an hour typing when they didn't know how. I never once got a complaint back, and my daughter never once got a consequence for incomplete work. If she had, then I would have taken up her case with the teacher myself in person. Because I am my daughter's authority.

The whole thing reminds me of being in labor for the first time. I was terrified during my first delivery, so whatever the nurses told me to do, and whatever the doctors ordered for me, I consented. I have regrets about not being my own body's authority. It's a horrible feeling to be pressured into choices that you would not freely choose, were circumstances different.

I did not want the life for my daughter that I felt so pressured into giving her. Thankfully, I got the gumption up to make changes, because no one else would have. I'm not only the authority on my kids, but I am their first and best advocate. You know your child's needs better than anyone else. At some point, you'll have to fight to protect them. Here's permission to do so.

My girl has just started middle school this year. I am not sure how things will change. It is all new to us both. I still have the urge to suggest bubble lettering on reports and for goodness sakes, at least write in cursive (she won't). She is not me, and her brain works entirely differently than mine did and does. She is an excellent student, in her own way and of her own right. I've learned that too, to let her develop into her own version of a student. My heart sort of broke in half the couple times over the years when she's said she doesn't like school. But after a few deep breaths, I embraced her individuality.

Trust me when I say that until she is old enough to defend her own needs, until she can choose what a "balanced" life means for her, I will be the one who stands in the gap as the best authority on her life, and her first advocate. It's just my job. And I wouldn't trade it for anything.



  1. I usually love your posts and feel inspired after reading them, but as a teacher, this post upset me. I know so many parents who tell me they know better for their child, and the fact is, many teachers know better than the parents what the kid needs to grow on an educational level. Even homeschoolers are told what work they have to complete and will be penalized if they don't.

    It's also completely unfair to the teacher. What if one kid doesn't complete the 30 problems, but another kid does? Do they get the same grade? You can bet that in middle and high school, parents will find out that the grading was unfair and will make it the teacher's problem (personal experience).

    Not meaning to be harsh, but parents are the worst part about teaching, by a LONG shot. Even the well-intentioned and polite ones.

    1. I am sure you are absolutely right. I've never been paid as a teacher before and it sounds like you've had some bad experiences. I realize I left out something very important. In every class either of my children have been in, I've made all possible efforts to be involved, work in the class, and support the teacher weekly. Maybe that's created a relationship where we trusted one another. And as I implied, I'm certainly only referring to an elementary school level where a parent should be involved, should be parenting and being their child's advocate on all levels. And I was okay with my girl getting a lesser grade if that meant she had a better overall life. It's just my take. But my kids have been very blessed to have excellent teachers who have seen their strengths and weaknesses alongside with me and we've had a sort of partnership that I feel has done nothing but enhance their overall education. How can I not partner with these critical people in our lives? I think teachers have the most important job in the world. They just can't possibly know my kid like I do. That's all.

  2. Thank you, Leslie! I am having the same problem with projects. I gave all my craft supplies away before we moved (don't even have scotch tape yet!) The teacher understood and extended grace when we couldn't get pictures together. My husband is a teacher and appreciates when a parent is involved and welcomes discussion, they are human too and don't want your child to hate school, either! I appreciate your encouragement this morning! Praying that we both find some good friends in our new communities.

  3. Just to provide another teacher perspective (and hopefully, an encouraging one) - I have been a public school teacher at both the elementary and high school levels, mostly in 'underprivileged' communities. If a parent had come to me and said "i sat and checked my kid's homework & they know it & now they want to go play outside with their siblings and help me cook dinner and read a book for fun and I am confident they have learned the material," girl, I would have given that parent an award!!! You rock that parental authority! Lay down those boundaries. Use what you know about your child to be the authority you should be in her life and if your kid comes to my class and seems to not know the material, I will call you and with the KINDEST WORDS IN ME explain where they are missing some things and ask you to go over it again. Because based on your interaction with me thus far, I have know doubt you want your kid knowing what's important.

    Someone else commented that parents are the worst part about teaching? Good gracious. I would put - hours of useless meetings, parents who abuse their children in some way, children who throw tantrums in the 5th grade, 10 fire drills a year, the movement of reading curriculums away from real books, the increasing absence of art and music, & the decreasing amount of freedom ALL above 'involved parents who love and want the best for their children' on the worst-things-about-teaching list. :) But hey, that's just me!

  4. I actually love this too, Leslie.

    As a previous teacher, I think a lot of teachers are under "higher" pressures on how much homework that they have to give and what they need to give - especially in areas like math. Sometimes, the requirement exceeds how quickly they can actually teach the subject matter to mastery and this isn't usually their fault but pressure from the state and now the federal government is getting involved, with pacing charts and such! Plus a lot of math programs now "spiral" so some of the material is actually meant to be content that hasn't yet been introduced. Kids and parents need to understand this.

    When L had tears over a few geometry questions last night, I just wrote, "We've had tears on this area and so I believe she needs more instruction to understand it better before she can address these questions." When a teacher intends 30 - 45 minutes of homework and it's taking a kid much much longer, the teacher needs to know that.

    As parents, we can find gentle and truthful ways to convey that information and partner with the teacher so that everyone has a good school year! :)

    I find that teachers value that kind of partnership!