This is not something I am writing on a whim.
Fair enough, yesterday I went through the trauma of supervising my seven-year-old son while he did his Italian Grammar homework. This was not only traumatic because I didn’t know the right answers. It was also traumatic because he was tired, bored, and doing all he could to get me to play with him, and genuinely distressed that I refused.
Once he’s done his day’s work at school, he wants to use his imagination. He wants me to tell him what clouds are made of, where more oxygen comes from since humans keep using it up, and why grown-ups have hairy armpits. (If anyone knows the answer to that last one, please submit your anwer below: my son is waiting.)
He also wants time to invent stories and tell them to me. He wants to use his soft toys and action figures to act out tales about making friends with people, about people being mean and how to deal with that, and about what it would really be like if we all turned into bacteria and lived inside somebody’s intestine.
He also wants time to be downright silly, for us to tickle each other till we can hardly breathe, to make ridiculous jokes and talk in silly voices, to have cushion fights. He wants to jump up and down on his bed, when I am in the other room, and he thinks I cannot hear the hideous twanging sound of semi-rusted bedsprings being stretched to hell and back so that his bum nearly touches the floor when he goes to sleep at night. Above all, he wants to hang out with his friends, running around among the trees pretending to be aliens and robots and superheroes, or playing football with some squidgy oranges they found lying about.
Yet, the government has decided that, instead, he should spend his afternoons the same way he spends his mornings: doing maths and grammar exercises, perfecting his twiddly Italianate handwriting that he’ll never use because we all write with computers when we grow up, and working on elaborating his nervous tic over the whole wretched thing.
Although I’ve already made it clear that my son is being deprived of the time he needs to grow up in varied ways, there is an even more important reason why I am against homework for primary school children. Let me tell you about my father.
His parents were teenagers when he was born, and they were both semi-illiterate. His father started work as a coal miner full time at the age of fourteen and his mother seemed to spend her life doing laundry and making pastry. When Grandpa read things, he would run his finger under the writing and mouth the words out under his breath, generally looking very perplexed. I remember getting birthday cards from them each year, written in a strange jumble of capital and lower case letters and all spelled wrongly.
Well, my father was a dental surgeon. He had the largest vocabulary of almost anyone I have ever known. There was almost nothing he didn’t know in the field of all the sciences, and world history, and geography. He was such a voracious reader that our house looked a bit like the public library. Primary school children were taught everything at school by the teacher when he was a child, and sent home when the day’s learning was done. Do you think my Dad would have ended up achieving what he did, if he had depended on his parents as his teachers for half of what he learned at primary school?
Please don’t get me wrong. I am fully in support of homework at secondary school. By the time people are in their teens they should be able to study independently, manage their time and workload, and be self-motivating.
What I am against is giving homework to primary school children. There is no such thing as a primary school child who can study without adult help. Giving homework to little kids simply means teachers are abrogating part of their teaching job to the parents.
For the children with educated parents, with a stay-at-home mother, that’s fine. No doubt this private tuition works out great for those children whose mother books them piano tuition when they’re five and fills their toybox with those real wood, aesthetically pleasing hand carved crashingly boring toys from The Early Learning Centre. It may be fantastic for the kids whose mothers bought giant earphones to play Mozart to their uterus while they were pregnant, thus optimising the development of their foetus’s mathematical capabilities during gestation. For kids from families like my Dad’s – why shouldn’t they get the same chances? Don’t they deserve the same start in life as everyone else? How many really clever children are going to waste?
We’ve gone back to the old days, when people were born into a certain socio-economic class, and could never rise out of it.
I get a lot of correspondence from my old university, which comes under criticism for the fact that very few of its students are from state schools, from working class families, and from poor neighbourhoods. Somehow, talking heads in the government think it is the university’s job to fix this. Instead, may I humbly suggest that we go back the primary schools? That’s where the problem is being caused.
Do you agree with me about this? I’d really like to know what you’d think.
Lori Garcia for Babble
I'm a responsible parent. I'm a tough disciplinarian. I don't lie on reading logs. My kids get flu shots and their bedtimes are carved in stone. But in spite of all that Type-A parenting, I'm still human. I make mistakes and forget things once and a while, and recently I forgot to sign my second-grader's homework. Now keep in mind, he did the homework. He did the math worksheets and the spelling activity. He studied for the geography quiz and practiced for the timed math tests. He did the required reading on his reading log and completed the reading worksheet, but what his mom failed to do was sign off on it.
I get it. I get that my son's teacher wants parents invested in checking off the completion of every assignment. I get that she wants parents to know what's going on, but I'd like to believe this truth is evident by the quality of the work he turns in -- by the nicely written penmanship, by his carefully written name scrolled across every worksheet (front and back), and by the parent-completed reading log pictured above. But hey, I respect that that two parent signatures each week are her policy and I totally forgot one, but what I'm having a hard time reconciling is the manner in which she chose to communicate with me for a first offensive. Why have we skipped the pleasantries and reached code orange? Whatever happened to sticky notes? Or a polite reminder in the corner?
But the worst part wasn't how the amber admonition of terror made me feel, it was how my 7-year-old reacted to it. He was afraid to show me his reading log for fear that he'd done something horribly wrong. And sadly, he'd gone above and beyond the 80 minutes of required reading that week only to be rewarded with a herculean orange tongue-lashing? Of course he thought he was in trouble. I felt like I was in trouble!
But was I crazy for feeling so shocked and angry? Was my receptivity meter off? Knowing I have a tendency to be overly sensitive, I took it to Facebook (you know, to the people who know all) to gauge the appropriateness of my reaction.
One-hundred and sixty comments later, I learned my feelings were echoed by all.
Reactions ranged from anger:
That teacher is a jerk off. Our poor kids have so much thrust upon them at school. Seriously, that reaction was over board.
She doesn't have self control. I would be a bit scared to leave my kids with her.
I have a problem with any teacher who would demand that a parent comply with any sort of arbitrary rule. They can make rules for the kids, but as an adult, I would resent it. I graduated from high school thirty years ago. I'd be tempted to sign my name right under the phrase "bite me."
Seriously, I would be in the Principal's office then the district offices. Uncalled for!
What ever happened to lighting a bag of poo on a teachers door step?
You should get every single parent you know to sign it. Even parents you don't know.
I would get an orange marker and freaking sign every single thing like that! That's just rude!
That's inappropriate on the teacher's behalf. I would have returned it with my signature in bigger letters and bolder color because I'm feisty like that.
Hmmm just wait till the first time SHE forgets something. Go buy some really bright markers.
Sign your name over the entire page and return it !!!
Don't take it personally. Assume the teacher is overwhelmed by the number of parents she is dealing with.
While this seems harsh please remember that teachers are under extreme pressure right now. She probably just needs a hug and a bottle of wine.
Maybe remember next time. We teachers put up with a lot. And overlook a lot. Parents need to keep up too. It's about responsibility which no one is willing to take for themselves. Sad. Maybe the writing was big, but what if that teacher was just sick of her rules and routines and assignments being ignored. Parents who aren't teachers never try and see the teacher's side. Ignore it. Bite the bullet and build a bridge and get over it! There are so many other things to be irritated over.
...and everything 145 comments in between could bring.
While some of you might think taking this image to the interwebz is akin to a larger, oranger, equally obnoxious attempt to publicly shame my son's teacher, that's not my intention. This note, along with the thousands of others just like it floating in backpacks and tossed in mail piles across America serve as an important starting point for discussions involving parent-teacher communication.
Listen, I'm not a teacher. I can't possibly speak on behalf of the immense pressures our teachers face. Heck, I can barely maintain my sanity in my son's classroom for the length of time it takes to volunteer at a class party, let alone be responsible for educating and disciplining them, but there has to be a better way.
That said, I'm a believer in the benefit of the doubt. Maybe my absent signature was the 30th one she'd seen from that week's homework pile. Maybe she'd had a bad day. Maybe she was overwhelmed. But in spite of all these maybes, there's a bigger maybe that rises above the rest: maybe she made a mistake. They happen. They happen all the time. I mean, my failure to sign was a mistake, too.
Was this note OK? Absolutely not. But should she be burned at the stake for it? I'm going with no.
But now comes the hard part, the part where I actually have to step out from behind my comfortable keyboard and do something about it. But what?
The all-knowing Facebook had some pretty good suggestions:
I think you should go to the class and speak with her. I've found in the years with teachers, it's much more productive to go to the source. You'll have to deal with her the rest of the year.
Write a short, polite note about how it was upsetting and could they please be more discrete in the future.
Involving the principal is completely over the top. Make calm, polite contact with the teacher. She will likely agree that she was in the wrong. If she becomes confrontational with you when you are being calm or this happens again, THEN involving the principal would be appropriate.
Just set the example. Anything else is either an overreaction or sinking to a similar level of tactlessness. Don't completely destroy your future relationship with the teacher. If you say something quietly, like in a short, polite note, she will be embarrassed and say sorry. Then you can both move forward, positively.
After reading through everyone's comments and talking with my husband, I've decided a discreet face-to-face is in order. I intend to bring the note and simply ask whether she felt as if her response was necessary. I'll explain the way the note made my son and me feel. I'll ask that future communications be handled differently. But I won't shame her. I won't be rude or angry. I won't sit down with the principal. Instead I'm choosing to trust that things will be handled better next time. And of course, I'll be sure to sign all homework assignments in the future.
This is my son's teacher, a woman I will be in contact with for the next seven months. I'll need her grace as much in the future as she'll need mine. And on the assumption my son's teacher was simply having bad day; it doesn't mean we have to have a bad school year.
How would you handle this situation? Let us know in the comments below.
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Thanks to Redshirting, My Son's Kindergarten Class Has a Two-Year Age Gap
My Kid's Weight Is None of Her School's Business
The Biggest Lesson Public School Wasn't Teaching My Kids