Wednesday, October 16, 2013

When they said I should help my children succeed in school, I didn’t think that they expected ME to be a straight-A student

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.




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40 comments:

  1. It's no wonder we are so freaking tired, is it?? We regularly resort to Googling and YouTube to try to learn what we are supposed to be helping them with. It's almost worse than being in school myself, because this time it's like trying to perform the homework feat with one hand tied behind my back!! When my oldest graduates this year, I'm not sure who I'll be more excited for...her or me!! ;)

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    1. Jessi, my oldest graduated last year and I did the happy dance in June...I feel you!!! WHAT a relief! But sadly, I am not sure that she was all that prepared for college AND she went to Montco, she is feeling overwhelmed and keeps telling me, "Mom, this is NOTHING like high school. I am so NOT prepared..."! It could just be my daughter - she never was a strong academic (although a GREAT kid) but I don't think so - I think these kids struggle in college. Good luck this year and get your dancing shoes ready ;)

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    2. Thank you...I plan to do a happy dance too!! I agree...the pressure coming out of HS is overwhelming!! I'm currently trying to back my daughter down from a ledge of panic of "I have no clue what I want to do with the rest of my life!!!!"... We are encouraging her to take a year...work...try different things... She has plenty of time to decide...though, you'd never think so by the pace of our world these days!!

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    3. I love knowing that I'm in good company. Although, it does make me sorta sad that someday, all this will end. And they won't need us to worry about their schoolwork anymore. I guess I don't know what I want when I grow up either. :)

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  2. My son is in 7th grade this year as well (my daughter is in 10th) and I've been lucky so far. Very often I have no idea what my daughter is talking about, so I get her to explain it to me and if I can grasp the concept, I figure her understanding is good enough. So far so good :)

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    1. Yes! If they can explain it, I figure all is well. It's when they don't understand that I am alarmed.

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  3. Dude, you are scaring me!! I sucked at homework when I was a kid, never mind now, as an adult. Ack.

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    1. Don't be scared. I'm sure by the time your kids are in school there will be a totally new way of doing things. One can only hope that these new ways are more streamlined and straightforward.

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  4. Isn't it frightening? I know it takes my breath away! Many times I lean on my 11th grader to handle what my 7th grader is learning and similarly, on my 7th grader for what my 2nd grader is learning...how did 2nd grade language arts get so complicated? Imagine if you are actually an UNDER educated parent, one that might not have graduated college or even high school! There is definitely an economic gap - we hear that all the time from political analyst screaming at us through our T.V.'s but there is also an education gap and I fear it is more than if you graduated high school, college, etc. Kids today need to know more just coming out of Pre-school and Kindergarten then we could have ever dreamed about when we were napping on our little cots back in the late 70s and early 80s when we were their age! I am proud of my kids for sticking it out, working through the worksheets and busy work and simply just making it through the day! The heck with actually understanding it - if they manage that than maybe we can figure out where to put the stamp together - clearly they will be smarter then me ;)

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    1. You are lucky that the older ones can help the younger ones. Cameron says that the friends in his class who have older siblings are the ones who are getting the material quicker than the rest. I know he wishes that he had an older sibling to help him along.

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  5. I am laughing WITH you, not at you. While I don't have parenting experience with middle schoolers, I have taught sixth, seventh & eighth grades, and your description of the social aspect of sixth is so accurate.

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    1. Isn't it funny? My husband and I swear that the pairing up of boys and girls on the first day is a thing. His social life was rocking in sixth grade.

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  6. Oh yes. Last year (?) I wrote a post about how homework is the devil. We already have trouble (fight) in the third grade. I'm so not looking for it to get harder.

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    1. Aw, I'm sorry. I have trouble figuring out the extent of homework at this point. I know it's there, but I'm just not clear on what it actually IS.

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  7. I feel ya on this one already, Andrea, and my kids are only in the first grade. Everything is taught so strangely now, so differently from the way we were taught, that I don't honestly know how we're supposed to help them.

    You joke about going to school with your kids, but I know a mom who is basically a full time volunteer in a math classroom. Her children are long since graduated, but she suggested that when mine got to the serious math stage, I do the same. O_o

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    1. Ugh. I've volunteered in the classrooms before, and while it's nice, it's not something I could do full time. There is a reason why I didn't become a teacher. I give a lot of credit to teachers, because I can only surmise that they are trying to make things as clear and as simple for parents as possible. They work hard.

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  8. Yes. Even though mine is only in the second grade, I've had to Google more than one thing to make sure we are doing it correctly. I can teach/help with reading like nobody's business, but everything else has gone from really concrete 1+2=3 to really vague number lines and diagrams and sometimes I don't have a clue what's going on.

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    1. Yes. There are now four or five different ways of doing basic computation. Who knew?

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  9. Sigh. First of all, I am bummed that this is so exhausting for you. Second of all, I am freaked the freak out about how much responsibility I have apparently taken on by having kids. WHO KNEW? And thirdly, as a working Mom, I am not entirely sure how we'll even manage this when my kids are older. Like, as it is, we don't have supper until 6:30pm. How will I have the time to sit with them and get their work done! OMGosh, I've got anxiety and my kids haven't even started kindergarten.

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    1. I'm sure your kids will be fine. Mine are. It's just that I can't help them. Which I'm kind of thinking is building their character. Independence is a virtue - isn't that what they say?

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  10. This reminds me of when I took 8th grade algebra and had a horrible time understanding the teacher's instructions (who was also my MOM'S algebra teacher). My dad would sit with me every night and pretty much learn the lesson himself so we could understand it together. It was touching and frustrating at the same time.

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    1. What a great dad. Mine tried to help, but our personalities clashed when I was in high school. I failed Algebra in the tenth grade and had to take it again in eleventh. This is the source of my anxiety over not being able to help my son. Interestingly, if I'm given an hour or two to figure it out, it all comes back to me.

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  11. I have le fear. You have filled me with le fear.

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    1. You have many, many years to equip yourself against le fear. Brush up on Algebra.

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  12. My oldest is in fourth grade, my youngest starts school next year. So far with my oldest, homework has been minimal. I am a little worried about what lies down the road.

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    1. I am not exaggerating when I say that my son had almost no homework until this year. He was as surprised as we were when he started bringing his books home. I don't think any of us knew how to handle it.

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  13. We aren't at the homework stage yet, but I seriously dread it after hearing my friends with older kids complain about it. My deepest sympathies. I'm sending you virtual vats of wine and patience.

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    1. Yes. Wine is needed. It makes the patience arrive sooner.

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  14. I passed my mom's maths ability before I hit junior high. I did okay. Actually, I can't recall a single homework assignment that she ever looked at. And yet I did okay. Your kids will do okay even if the work is now written in a way that an educated woman like yourself can't figure it out. It's the homework, not you!

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    1. Thanks for the confidence booster. My mom never helped me with homework either. My dad did, though, and our homework sessions almost always ended with me in tears.

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  15. I gotta say, Algebra and I will NOT be reunited. My hubby is TOTALLY helping with that BS! ;-)

    You're such a good mom, Andrea!

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    1. Thanks, Elaine! When my husband is home, he totally helps. When he isn't, I can practically taste the defeat when the math book comes out.

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  16. omg, thanks for the panic attack! my twins are only in 2nd grade and we have homework issues...NOT looking forward to the years ahead! LOL!

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    1. The advantage with twins is that they have each other to learn from, and hopefully by the time they reach middle school they'll figure that out. And develop good study habits! Or any study habits, really.

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  17. Yikes! The homework. My boy is in first grade and he have homework every friggin day! Books to read and make book report (3 books a week) plus spelling etc. Yes, I'm not ready lol

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    1. It all really starts to pile up, doesn't it?

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  18. well, at least by the time your second one gets to 7th grade, you'll be a pro...right??

    (too bad then the older one will want pre-calc help and you'll REALLY be screwed)

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    1. My only hope is that the older one will help the younger one. And that they will both be math wizards by then.

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  19. Thank you for coming and teaching us about blogs

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  20. Cool! Thanks for the inspiration.

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