"Hacks" are all the rage these days. The internet allows us to share tips and tricks for how to make life easier. Some of the life hacks I've seen are pretty sketchy, but some have proved quite useful. The parenting hack I'm sharing today is one that Jason and I stumbled upon long before becoming parents.
Let me set the scene. We were at Greenfield Village. It was Thomas the Tank Engine day. We didn't know that it was Thomas day when we had decided to attend and we didn't even have any small children with us. The crowds were oppressive, but we made it in and since we had come a distance to visit we stayed. For the most part we avoided the large creepy train (sorry - I've never been a fan), but we were surrounded by children wearing all sorts of Thomas gear. At the end of the day we sat watching the Sir John Bennett clock chime 5:00. Behind us sat a little boy wearing all sorts of Thomas the Tank Engine apparel, holding a Thomas the Tank Engine balloon, and eating an ice cream cone. We overheard his parents talking about how fun it had been to ride on Thomas and see him in action. Including Village admission and swag these parents had probably spent at least $200 on Thomas themed activities that day. Then it happened. The dad asked his little guy this question, "So, what was your favorite part of the day?" Waiting to hear something that including the word "Thomas" the parents were flabbergasted to hear their child say, "Ice cream!" "Ice cream?!" the dad exclaimed in a high and slightly frantic voice, "We could have stayed home and had ice cream!"
At that moment I thought, "Note to self. Skip the expensive day out and get ice cream."
Because of that experience we opted to embrace the little moments and opted out of the stress of big events that parents feel pressured to participate in when Logan was very young.
I don't mean to contradict all the other stuff that I've said about experiencing things, but when it comes to toddlers and preschoolers, save your money for future trips. This doesn't mean they shouldn't go places, just that you shouldn't spend time and money on expensive places they won't truly appreciate. Little ones need to get out and see the world, but they also need naps. This can make activities difficult and exhausting for parents. Below is a list of activities that are toddler or preschool friendly versions of more extensive activities.
This morning I have one quick question for you. WHERE DID THE SUMMER GO? Can you believe it? Logan's first day of school is August 19! I've already got his 2019-2020 school calendar and have entered all the dates in my Google Calendar app. I've filled out out forms galore and our new school uniforms should be arriving this week.
All this school prep makes reminds me that we have so far to go on our bucket list. As I said during an earlier post, I don't ever intend to get the entire list complete, but we still have a LONG way to go this year. As I look at all the things we haven't done, I try to remember what we have done. Well, so far this summer has been full of a lot of family activities. We went up north to a family wedding, my sisters came in to visit for a week, and we spent a few days up in the Thumb of Michigan during the week of the 4th of July. Once I realized that we've been busy just not busy doing the things on my list, I relaxed knowing that time spent with family is time well spent. We've listened to old stories, made new memories, and shared many a meal together.
We also have several things that are "in progress" like reading books which we've attacked with renewed vigor after seeing all those back to school forms. I've been working on all kinds of craft projects including how to use my new Cricut Maker. I'll talk more about my favorite craft projects at a different time though.
This summer has been a good one. I strongly believe in making the list and pushing myself and my family to do things, but sometimes, other things come up and we do those instead. That's okay. The time with family, making the most of spontaneous opportunities, and embracing the time we have is what makes for a memorable summer. Time is a fleeting and fragile commodity. We all have the same 24 hours in a day. How we use it demonstrates what we believe about God and what is important to us. There's only a few weeks left! How will you spend the rest of your summer?
Last week in my post about summer break, I emphasized that school does not have a monopoly on learning. Summer can be all about the best kind of learning. The kind of learning that expands the mind. The kind of learning that leads to interesting places and people. The kind of learning I hope Logan will continue with for the rest of his life.
There are two parts of our summer bucket list this year. I want to visit some interesting places and try some fun things with Logan, but I also want to work organizing some areas in the house, improving math skills, and strengthening language skills. When considering academic work over summer break, I like to think of it as bonus time. We had too much homework for me to add on more during the school year so summer is the perfect time to learn a few things that will help with next year. I also want to play some fun games that teach as we play such as the periodic table battleship and the Pringles ring.
The second part of the list is all about the go. I'm currently obsessed with my National Park Passport book and I want to collect several stamps available in our area. Detroit is part of the Motor Cities National Historic Area so several museums offer the National Park Passport stamp. On the list below, the areas with the available stamp have the green letters next to them identifying what they are. (Key below). Will we make it to all these places? Absolutely not, but we will have fun trying and often we get to them during days off school and weekends.
Without further ado, here is the Gies 2019 Summer Bucket List.
Visit Niagara Falls
Visit Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural NHS
Take piano lessons
Visit Whiting Forest
Clean out guest room closet
Visit River Raisin NBP
Study Men and Women in the Word with She/He Reads Truth
Learn about the law of diminishing returns with ice cream
Visit Cranbrook Gardens
Go to a baseball game
Host a class party
Day camp at the Henry Ford
Visit Stahls Automotive Foundation NHA
Ride bikes to downtown Rochester
Family game night
Visit the Edsel Ford House and Gardens NHA
Play the license plate game
Visit Cambridge Junction Historic State Park NHA
Build an egg drop
Visit the Detroit Zoo
Read and complete Big Life Journal
Visit the Toledo Zoo with Fougeres
Family movie night
Memorize the definitions for the parts of speech
Visit Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes NL
Jackson Pollock Painting
Visit Yankee Air Museum NHA
Play periodic table battleship
Visit the GM Renaissance Center NHA
Build a LEGO fortress
Visit Meadowbrook Hall NHA
Visit Michigan Military Technical & Historical Society NHA
Make a Pringles Ring
Plant giant sunflowers
Read a biography of Bob Ross
Finish London puzzle
Visit the Detroit Historical Museum NHA
Finish toy puzzle
Visit the Detroit Institute of Arts NHA
Memorize times tables
Read Treasure Island
We're ready to grow and go!
NHA - National Historic Area, NBP - National Battlefield Park, NHS - National Historic Site, NL - National Lakeshore
Are you excited about summer break being right around the corner? I am. (Notice my excessive use of exclamation points.) I love summer. I'm not just talking about the season itself, although I do love that - I'm talking about the long break from school.
Summer is time to take a break from school. Summer is not the time to take a break from learning. Summer is the perfect time to learn without the pressure of tests and the responsibility of homework. It's the perfect time to visit museums and parks. These experiences are extremely important because by exploring and experiencing, children lay the groundwork for their classroom experience.
Here’s an example. At some point in their science education, your child will learn about the life cycle of a frog. I remember learning about this as a student, but I didn’t have to memorize it as a student. Why? Because there was a ditch in the front yard of the house I grew up in. Every year frogs would lay eggs. Once the tadpoles emerged we would scoop them into buckets and check their progress. It was play. Gloriously messy, sometimes muddy play. But then when I got to science class the life cycle was something I knew. I had watched. I had observed. The teacher had new information that I didn’t already know, but she had a shelf to place new information onto. My existing knowledge allowed my understanding to be deeper and more lasting than the student who had never seen a tadpole.
Often our school system becomes adversarial. Students work hard NOT to learn the information the teachers are tasked with the responsibility of forcing the materials into them. This push back doesn’t usually happen until middle and high school, but the mindset begins as early as elementary.
We make a critical mistake when we equate school with learning. Why? School does not have a monopoly on learning. It CANNOT have a monopoly on learning. This is NOT to say that students don't learn in school but when we limit learning to school we limit our children’s mindset and limit their growth. Learning should be a lifelong pursuit. Adults calling themselves a life long learner has become popular. Why can't we let kids embrace that too? Oddly enough when I say stuff like this is it is usually the adults who tell me that kids don't want to learn, NOT their kids. This disturbs me. Learning is awesome. It is fun. It is something that the mind embraces and takes pleasure in. The brain releases a dopamine response when a new fact snaps into place. (Imagine that feeling when a puzzle piece clicks into place.) When your brain has an “ah-ha” moment your brain releases pleasure hormones. When kids make a connection between something they learned in school and something they already know, their brain releases a “reward” for their effort.
Not interested in "teaching" your children this summer? Afraid that you will get stuck or not know what to say? Here’s an example of the type of learning and teaching I am talking about. Many kids have had the experience of trying to connect toy trains. Sometimes the trains won’t connect. They may get frustrated, but they usually figure out that the key to success is to turn the train around. It works! Cool now they can play. When they get to science class and learn that magnets have a north and south pole and connect it with their memory, their brain rewards them for that connection. Those students who have been trained to recognize the moment a connection happens can gain an even greater response. Training to recognize this is as simple as noting when it happens and cheering.
Older students who are interested in Greek Mythology will love making connections about their secular reading and the experience of Paul in the book of Acts. Read Acts 17:16-34 (Paul’s sermon from the Aeropagus.) Those Paul is speaking to believe in and worship the gods we read about in stories. In verses 24-25 Paul makes specific reference to the stories of mythology. “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything.” The Greek gods constantly needed help from heroes who were demi-gods. Without Heracles, Jason, and Theseus the gods would be in desperate straights. Paul is remarking that the one Creator God who is over ALL, not just the wind, seas, seasons, medicine, etc., doesn’t need human heroes to save him. He is omnipotent. When students connect these two things (the Bible and Greek mythology) they get very excited and the discussion is usually a lively one.
Even students who say they “hate” learning take pleasure in learning about things that they are interested in. Summer and other breaks from school are the perfect time to leisurely explore their own pursuits. I recommend exposure to a wide range of activities that will eventually coincide with their classroom learning. Some areas are richer in learning opportunities than others. I have been working on my Southeastern Michigan page and hope to add several more places this summer. Check it out and comment with places you would add. There is no way that you will be able to experience everything that your child is going to be learning about, but you can participate in a variety of things that will set them up for future success.
Next week I will release our full summer bucket list. We are planning on visiting several places that are recognized by the National Park Service as the Motor Cities National Heritage Area as well as River Raisin, a National Historic Battlefield. (All within an hour or so of our house.) Subscribe using the form below to follow our adventures and learn more about fun activities that will help your child's summer be both fun and constructive.
A Note About Video Games: Learning isn’t the only way to receive a dopamine response from the brain. Video games flood the brain with a dopamine response, but rarely are real skills gained and often the cost/benefit ratio is out of proportion. Alarmists love to report that kids are addicted and scare parents with statistics about the dangers of gaming. This sells stories and gets people to click, but it isn’t necessarily true. Video games aren’t all bad and can be a good way for families to have fun together (Wii) or kids to learn about the challenges of running a city (Sim City). Think of it this way - taking the family out for ice cream can be a fun way to bond and have fun. It’s a good thing. Eating ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is excessive and detrimental to your health.
If you have spent any time with me in the past six months, you will have heard me utter these words (teacher appreciation) at least 410,713 times. #sorrynotsorry I may have already told you this about me, but for the sake of clarification, I should explain that I am the head of my son's school's PTO. It's also the school I graduated from as well as the school I taught at. So I particularly enjoy serving in this capacity because it's exciting to serve the staff, some of whom were my teachers, those whom I attended to school with, and even those whom I taught.
This coming week (May 6-10) is national Teacher Appreciation Week and I want to explain what this week is all about. I served as a teacher of various subjects and ages for twelve years. Those years were some of the most rewarding yet exhausting of my entire life. Teaching isn't something I went into for the money or career potential. Teaching is a calling that I, along with many men and women find rewarding. Watching students experience that "ah ha" moment was the most exciting part of my job. I would spend countless nights creating lesson plans, buying supplies, and crafting a classroom dynamic which would all seem worth it when a student went, "Oh! I get it! That's so cool!"
Many teachers love their jobs and the "ah ha" moments are special, but all that work can lead to burn out. We are seeing significant burnout, particularly among new teachers. According to a 2014 study, 41% of teachers leave the profession after the first five years. Corporations run on billion dollar budgets while schools bicker over petty cash. In one preschool I worked in I had to defend my crayon usage to the director because of cost savings. Read that again. I had to defend my crayon usage. For three-year-olds. Who liked to color. Many teachers get tired of this nonsense and leave. Others can't provide for themselves on the salary offered due to student loans (all those increased needs for certification cost tens of thousands of dollars) and cost of living increases.
Also, teachers purchase many of their classroom supplies. Look around your child's classroom. Chances are that the posters hanging all over the walls, the fun, and fancy post-it-notes the students receive notes on, the colored dry-erase markers to help explain concepts, and the books in their classroom library have all been purchased by their teacher. The average spends $500 per year on school supplies.
Okay, those last couple of paragraphs were bleak. I apologize, but you must know the group you are talking about when I am making a case for really demonstrating appreciation. So how can you help? You can't fix the educational system by yourself, but you can help by celebrating the teachers around you. Search for "teacher appreciation ideas" on Pinterest and you will be overwhelmed with suggestions. Each teacher is different, but I would like to offer a few suggestions from a teacher's perspective on how to demonstrate thankfulness for your child's teachers. The following are some suggestions for things to do or gifts to give to teachers:
Influence is something I think about quite often. I thing about those who have influenced my life and the people I've influenced. We most often we use this word to describe the positive things that people add to our lives but really, influence is just having an effect on something.
The mind-boggling thing about influence is that you never know where it will go. If you let someone in during a traffic jam and give them a friendly wave, they just relaxed and smiled. That altered their day slightly and maybe they were a bit more forgiving when someone needed to cut in on them. Liberty Mutual Insurance made a series of commercials about kindness and showing care for others. In the commercials someone does something nice and is observed by someone else who then passes it on.
Unfortunately, this influence can also go in the opposite direction. If I start my day yelling at Logan, he goes off to school feeling defeated and frustrated. He may act unkindly towards a classmate passing on my bad mood and spreading it around his community like a virus that slowly eats away at the fabric of kindness and compassion the teachers attempt to build.
Knowing this, I try very hard to show kindness and compassion to all those I come in contact with. Believe me. I fail regularly, but I do make a concentrated effort to do so. This is part of intentional living. Knowing that I will influence the day of my cashier at the grocery store, I ask, "How are you?" and listen to the response. I might ask if the store is busy or if they've had a good day. One day the store was slow enough we had time to talk about Bible studies and I invited her to church. I may or may not ever see this person again, but I know that by showing kindness I have represented my faith, my life, and my being in a fashion that honor's God. Not everyone is receptive. Sometimes people are already having a bad day or they are distracted. That's okay. If you see this just behave politely and respectfully (both are forms of kindness) and move on.
Showing kindness in small ways usually has small results. Giving someone a smile you get a smile in return, but sometimes these kindness can compound and grow. Smiles can lead to greetings, which can lead to meetings, which can lead to friendships, which can lead anywhere. Opening your home to friends, giving to strangers, supporting the efforts of those you love, these can compound in major ways.
I'm currently reading Ron Chernow's biography of George Washington. Although I am in the very beginning of this massive work, I can already see the power of influence in Chernow's story. The first anecdote that caught my attention was one about Washington's mother, Mary Ball. She became an orphan at age twelve. A dangerous thing for a young girl in the fledgling colonies. She was taken in and gently cared for by a kind family friend, George Eskridge. She recorded that she named her first son in his honor. So George Eskridge and his life may be resigned to the oblivion of historical record, but his namesake George Washington is a testament to the power of kindness. Another example from the life of Washington is the influence of a British admiral upon his elder brother Lawrence, who owned an estate known then as Little Hunting Creek. Lawrence was so taken with affection for Admiral Vernon that he re-named his estate after him. Admiral Vernon may not be recognized in the history books, but visitors to Mount Vernon will remember his name as gracing what became the younger brother's beloved estate.
Do not be discouraged when your kindness is not returned immediately. You don't know the impact your gesture will make so just do the right thing and move on. I've sent encouraging letters and gifts to people and never heard back regarding their thoughts. (This really doesn't bother me. Once a gift is sent or given it is no longer mine to control.) Years later, when talking to the recipient of the letter, I discover that my letter is hanging in their room as an encouragement to them. That knowledge is immensely encouraging and shows me that God will use my work without me having to intervene or control the situation. When you do what you are supposed to do, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you," you make room for God doing the work.
I don't know how my small kindnesses will be used in the life of a letter recipient or the cashier at the grocery store, but I do know that God is working and he's called me to show kindness, so I will. Can you think of a time when someone's kindness directly impacted your life in a compounding way? Honor them by passing it on.
Lately, I’ve been trying to define some goals and gain some focus. I'm living digital, but there must be more. As I’ve said before defining my interests has always been a struggle, but nevertheless, I’m trying. I still want to explore other topics, but why? Why is bouncing all around and being random so prevalent in my life? The more I think about it the more one word comes to mind. Experience.
I love to experience things AND I savor opportunities to engage others in new experiences.
Experience is crucial to understanding. This is true of everything. How can someone understand the need for kindness? By experiencing kindness. How can someone understand the delicious flavors and sensations of a home cooked meal? By eating a home cooked meal. How can someone appreciate the joy of receiving a letter in the mail? By receiving a letter in the mail.
Imagine this: You want a friend to visit your favorite restaurant with you. Which of the following activities would most likely get them to understand and appreciate your love for the restaurant?
Understandably, it would be difficult for our kids to experience everything they learn about in the classroom during school hours. Complications would be numerous and be challenging to overcome. My experience in the classroom tells me that this isn’t a practical expectation for teachers or administrators to organize.
Proving children with experience cannot be one more thing thrust upon the classroom teacher to complete. Students need to spend time outside with their friends, with their families, and with their community. Visit an area museum, walk through a forest, tour a city. Many of these activities are free and require only small amounts of preparation but pay off in the opening of the child’s world with experiences that add value and depth of understanding.
As I walk through schools, stores, and restaurants, I cringe to see the large numbers of children hovering over their cell phones or iPad with their heads down looking into a screen. I worry that their worlds are shrinking. Experts tell us that being able to look up anything on the internet makes us less likely to do so. What’s that capital of Turkey? Who cares? I can look it up when I need to. (Read: The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains) That intellectual procrastination inhibits the curiosity that would stimulate the brain with the knowledge that Istanbul is a fascinating city with a intriguing history that would totally be worth looking up and remembering.
Why are we so willing to allow our children to become absorbed in screens? They are safe. They are quiet. They are under control. I hear you. When we are out to dinner it is very easy to hand over a screen to quiet the child with me. They become absorbed in a game or video and I can enjoy my meal and time with friends. I get it. Sometimes it can be necessary, but we take advantage of it.
Walks through the forest are messy. A virtual exploration of a Minecraft world is clean and tidy and leaves me with zero extra laundry. Trips to museums take time away from my time to work, clean, and relax. A day spent watching TV leaves me plenty of time to get my stuff done.
So what am I saying? Live in some screen free world and exhaust yourself entertaining your kids? NO!!! We need to live a life of intention that allows time for enriching activities.
Find a forest and explore. You don’t need to know what to look for. Just play. Dig. Look for bugs. Listen for birds. Then go home. Later, when their teacher is trying to teach them about a forest ecosystem they will hook the information onto their previous experiences and grasp the material that much easier. Go to a museum. Find a free one so you don’t feel compelled to get your money’s worth. Ask questions. Use your imagination. Laugh at something if it looks silly. Later, those experiences will provide a framework for your child's teachers to build upon and develop.
This link will connect you with places I’ve visited and recommend. If you have any questions or would like more information on something please comment below. Let’s enrich our lives and the lives of those around us with experiences that provide depth and meaning.
If you enjoyed this post, please "like" it and consider subscribing to my blog. You can read my post about collecting experiences here.
Yes, okay. It is very unprofessional and definitely not grammatically correct to use all those exclamation points but this is a whole month dedicated to reading. A whole month! Dedicated to reading and books!!!! That deserves the use of gratuitous exclamation points if ever anything did. Every March, reading month is celebrated in schools across the country. Why March? Well, it's because Ted Geisel, Dr. Seuss, was born on March 2, 1904, and he made significant strides in encouraging children to read. If you want to know more about his contributions I would recommend Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel by Judith Morgan and Neil Morgan.
Anyway, schools across America will be doing all kinds of different reading programs to encourage reading among the students. Being a dedicated reader, this is a topic near and dear to my heart. When I was a first year English teacher I required the reading of the text book and possibly one outside book, but other nothing in addition. I was often asked by parents, "How can I get my child to read?" As my teaching progressed and I grew as a teacher, reader, and learner, I discovered that motivating others to read was more about leading by example than finding clever external motivations. Here are some things I learned along the way and have helped me grow reading programs and encourage life long learners.
Never stop learning, Friends!
While in Kennebunkport on a church trip as a high schooler, I purchased a funny puppet. It was Lowly Worm from the Richard Scarry stories. Lowly cracked me up and I was a impulsive kid with disposable funds. We had fun with him on the trip even posing him with sites as we drove across the country. After coming home Lowly went into a box that wasn't opened again until Logan was around two years old.
It was love at first sight. Since Logan was two Lowly has been his favorite companion. Watching Logan cuddle wit his worm has been entertaining to say the least. Logan has stacks of Richard Scarry books which have increased his curiosity and reading skills. Over the years Lowly has become dirty and his cloth has worn thin. Last year, we found the Doll Hospital and Toy Solider Shop in Berkley and had scheduled to bring Lowly in for repairs, but it went out of business before we could have Lowly fixed. Logan was crushed. He was heartbroken about Lowly's seemingly irreversible condition. Jason searched the internet and found a shop out in California. For over year we've talked about sending Lowly out west, but Logan wouldn't hear of it.
Finally after much convincing and confirming that the nice lady who fixes children's beloved stuffed animals wouldn't do anything to hurt Lowly we have sent him off.
This morning my heart ached to see Logan so scared and afraid. He was worried about Lowly getting lost in transit. He's worried about the California wildfires. He worried about earthquakes. He's worried. So we prayed. We prayed that Lowly would return to us safe and sound. We prayed that he would come back good as new and last for many years to come. Then after we prayed, I prayed. I prayed that Logan's prayers would be answered. I know he's just a worm, but if anything happens I'm afraid of how it will impact Logan's faith. He is convinced that God will take care of Lowly, but life experience has taught me that things do not always go the way I want them to. God sometimes chooses not to answer with, "Yes," but how would Logan deal with that loss?
"Trust God," is excellent advise and I believe that is true, but it's also hard. God's way is best, but often there are trials associated with that trust. I remember what it was like to love my stuffed animal friends. I didn't have a house full of siblings or tons of friends. The bond I felt with my stuffed animals was strong enough that I still feel emotionally connected to them. As I pray for Logan, I know that it will be alright. Whatever happens. But that is hard. So tonight I find myself praying for a worm and his cross country journey. Lord, I believe, but help my unbelief.
I envy teachers who have been in the same classroom for decades and never quit improving their craft. That's where I saw myself when I began teaching. I was going to be an amazing history teacher and tell wonderful stories that entranced and inspired my students. When I couldn't find a job as a history teacher and ended up teaching everything from preschool to high school government. It's not that I gave up on history, but rather I threw myself into whatever classroom I was in and fell in love with it. Now, we've moved around the country and for various reasons I've come to accept that I will never be that experienced teacher. This was a difficult realization to accept, but I'm slowly seeing God's wisdom and plan for me. I'm embracing my experiences and learning through travel and substitute teaching. My experiences in a variety of classrooms, as well as my broad reading, have given me a perspective on the world of education that is half insider and half outsider. Throughout the 15+ years spent in classrooms, I've observed student behavior and noticed changes brought about by parenting trends and technology.
I'm never one to say that there is only one problem, nor am I attempting to trivialize a situation by suggesting that changing only one thing would fix everything. That said, there are major failings that complicate the work that teachers are trying to do and they hurt students. Today's word relates to something I consider a cancer in the system. Something that is eating at the heart of our schools and drastically damaging it.
Today's Word: Adversarial
Five syllables. Pronounced [ad-ver-ser-ee-ul] Adjective. Defined in the OAD as involving conflict or opposition. One day, while teaching middle school grammar, I mentioned that what we were doing was so repetitive and seemingly a waste of time. They had learned the same material each year from second grade to sixth grade, but we were still covering it because they couldn't remember the rudimentary parts of grammar. A candid student looked at me and with no disrespect intended said, "I try hard to forget everything at the end of each year. It's my goal to remember nothing." O-kay, umm . . . well, there's our problem. That night, haunted by his comment, I thought about the word adversarial. My classroom was an adversarial place. I worked hard to teach them and they worked hard to avoid my work. They were like lawyers carefully studying loopholes in tax laws. They wouldn't commit fraud, but the goal was to pay as little to the system as possible.
The adversarial system is present in three areas. I see this every day in the students when subbing. I assign something and the students get to work. Then the conflict begins. They get out their iPad for something and I catch them playing a game or searching for nonsense. They are talking to their friends and I catch them chit-chatting instead of working. After dealing with the offenders the class usually settles into a routine of them working to complete their teacher's assigned task, but it's obvious that it's only my vigilance that is keeping them going. I'm not talking about bad kids here. These are good kids with great teachers, but it seems as though this back and forth is part of what school is. The students will do something until they are told not to. The teachers and staff have to catch them and if they aren't caught the students congratulate each other on their avoidance of correction.
I fear I am painting a bleak portrait of these students. Please understand. They are not alone in this behavior. Adults trying to make conversation with kids often ask them if they like their teacher. They ask, "Does she give much homework?" Sometimes their comments about their dislike of homework have more to do with their own school experience than their knowledge of the kid they are talking to. People make comments congratulating kids when they have a day off school. I highly doubt anyone does this to intentionally make kids hate school, but they do it none the less. Parents can add to the adversarial system by getting mad at the teacher when the student is struggling with their grades and/or behavior. Parents are not always supportive of their child's teacher and by making their disagreement obvious they put a wall between the teacher and their student.
Society puts a great deal of focus on those individuals who succeed seemingly effortlessly. Spoiler alert: this is impossible. I won't take the space here today, but look up books like Outliers and Grit to see what it takes to be outstanding. How people get attention is a mind-boggling study into so many different aspects of culture, but I am confident in saying that being a hard-working student isn't in pop culture's idea of "cool."
So how do we end this adversarial system? A huge problem will take a huge solution, but here are a few things that I believe can help.
Students need to be part of their learning. I had a sign on my wall that outlined the responsibilities in my classroom which read, "Teacher's Job: 1. To provide the tools for the students to learn what they need to know. 2. To ensure a safe environment where everyone can learn. Student's Job: `1. To learn what they need to know. 2. To be safe." This is very simple, but it places the responsibility for learning onto the students, not the teachers. If a student doesn't know where the capital of the United States is that isn't the teacher's fault. It is the student's fault and they need to add that info to their bank of knowledge. Students should know that school is their opportunity to prepare for the world. The teachers are there to help them achieve their dreams not to crush them. Students should feel empowered to learn on their own and work for their own success. I am so tired of hearing people say things like, "No one ever taught me to . . ." Hello!!! We live in an age where you can learn about anything and everything from the resources of the internet. Watch a YouTube video, read a book, go to a lecture. It is not the responsibility of school or teachers to teach everything everyone needs to know. It is the teacher's job to teach you how you can learn everything you need to know. The learning is up to you.
Teachers should be careful not to send mixed messages about the benefits of learning and school. Obviously, teachers are pro learning, but sometimes we do things that are counterproductive. In college, my education professor told me something that has really stuck. She said to never reward students with no homework or leaving early because it cemented in their mind that homework and class were bad things that good kids avoided. She said that too many teachers (and parents) give worksheets and reading as punishment. This affected me deeply and to this day I am very careful about how I talk about learning.
Parents and other supportive adults can help by changing the conversations they have with kids. Ask questions like, "What are you studying in school? What have you learned this year?" I make Logan and anybody else I am driving home tell me something they learned that day. If they say they didn't learn anything I say, "Wow, well, I'm paying money for you to be at that school and your teacher didn't teach you anything. I'm going to have to call her when we get home. She should be teaching you something in the eight hours you're at school." At this point, my sarcasm has demonstrated the point and they will quickly come up with some fact or math operation to discuss with me. Discuss what is fun about school and find commonality with kids over that. And please, please, don't buy t-shirts like the ones below. Encourage your child's learning and champion their new knowledge. The benefit of homework is a complicated discussion, but if you are opposed or have issues please talk to your child's teacher rather than criticize the work itself.
Education is a complicated topic with layers and layers, but one thing is clear. No one benefits from an adversarial system of education. I think we would all benefit from working together to make learning something to celebrate and avoiding the slamming of the work that schools do to provide learning experiences.
Seeing kids wearing shirts like these always makes me sad.
"A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one."