This year is the first year since second grade my son has had any serious amount of homework. Over the years, he’s brought home a math sheet, a book to read, a spelling list to peruse once or twice a month. The odd project came home, but not every year. Last year he brought so little work home that I imagined he was skipping school altogether, and I entertained the idea of following him to the bus stop ninja style to see if he was in fact making it there.
He was. His report card said so. Plus, no truancy notices were sent home.
This fall, he entered seventh grade, that first year of secondary education every parent of older teens warns you about.
Seventh grade is hard, they say. Harder than sixth, when the difficulty was social, when every kid in my son’s circle came home the first day paired with a girlfriend or boyfriend, as if they were assigned for the year? I can’t be sure, but the following announcement must have been made on that day: Males and females are to be paired according to their endurance level of text messaging, tolerance of drama over mixed signals, and the nuances of physical interaction according to age and onset of pubescence.
Yes, they say. Seventh grade is when the work gets hard. Your child will bring work home to do that will take him hours to do every night.
Huh. Well, that’s what they said about third grade, and he had the least amount of homework ever that year. We’ll see.
Since the onset of a child’s school years, parents are advised to take part in their children’s education to help them succeed. Work on flash cards. Go over numbers and letters. Read to them at night. Count objects in the grocery store, at home, in the car. Encourage them. Pound learning into their brains so that in school, THEY WILL SUCCEED.
I did my part. We read Goodnight, Moon until I lost my voice and practically gagged on the word mush. We colored books full of pictures, naming each color. How proud I was when my toddler pointed out the correct spice on the shelf when I told her that we were looking for something that started with “P.” We did shapes and animal noises and sorted blocks into categories and built towers out of Legos and volcanoes out of baking soda and vinegar and recited poems and songs. Later when my kids entered school, I listened as they read street signs and talked about Van Gogh and spelled “interesting” and fired off multiplication tables and explained who Martin Luther King, Jr. was and all the different types of landforms that are found in our country.
It is my job to do all this. I take my job seriously. More importantly, I hung with my kids through this part of their education. Spelling and math and reading and famous figures; I got this.
The math got harder, as was expected; but so did the hoops they had to jump through to do a grammar assignment. My daughter is now doing something called “Word Work” that should be called “Advanced Orthography.” I’m not sure how spelling got so complex, but it has. Deciphering the work she is expected to do with these words takes me a good portion of the evening. My son is doing a combined Language Arts/Science unit that I have deduced to be a study of butterfly personalities.
As predicted by the well-meaning mass of parents who came before, my son is bringing work home. True to my calling, I will help him succeed. I sit next to him as he opens his algebra book. It appears to be at a college level. The lesson in the book is short. I don’t have enough information to understand. Desperate, I open my laptop and search YouTube: DIY Algebra. I am no help.
I consider obtaining a Master’s Degree in education or at least study a list of educational jargon to more effectively help my kids in school. Parents who are teachers have a definite upper hand here. Terms and acronyms like “rubric” and “AYP” are tossed around and I am expected to understand.
Each teacher in my son’s school has his or her own website; to stay in the loop, parents should keep up with them as much as the students. To help our children succeed, I need to be successful at navigating their education. Success is less about their intelligence and more about my ability to push my kids to learn more, do more, work more. For me to understand and process the volume of information that comes home each day, I need to take notes. I need my own assignment book. I consider attending school with my children.
But of course I can’t.
My children are now in fifth and seventh grades. I am lost in their sea of learning. They ask me to check their work and to do this it takes me as long as it did for them to do the work. I have to figure out what subject they are working on (it’s not always clear), then learn the lesson, understand the assignment, work out the answers, and check to see if their work is correct. It frustrates them. They want a stamp of approval so they can get on with their lives, so they can be free to be kids.
I can’t even figure out where to put the stamp.