Good parents don’t cover for their kids

Now that we are well into the school year, I’m sure you’ve asked yourself some questions. How involved should I be in my kids’ homework? How should I handle Johnny’s dislike for his algebra teacher? What will I do when Susie wants to skip school “just this once” to hang with her friends? Your answers to these questions might depend on the precedent set by your own parents, your relative exhaustion over fighting your kids, your concerns about how your kids feel about you, and your own priorities. All understandable, but will these reasons lead to the best approach? Probably not.

So I’ll begin by saying this: Good parents don’t cover for their kids. What good parents do is warn their kids of landmines and impending doom, help their kids avoid both, but accept that if their kids choose those paths, they must face the consequences. Good parents educate and facilitate; they don’t berate or dictate. Good parents hold kids accountable for their responsibilities and refuse to save the day when their kids fall short. They understand that we learn best when we think through our problems, strategize, and overcome adversity, not when well-meaning people carry us across the finish line.

What parents do the best job of helping their kids be successful?

  1. Parents who insist kids do their own homework. Sure, you can help your kids work through a problem or quiz them on their history facts, but your involvement should end there. Never, ever do your kids’ homework, rewrite their essays, or write a note to the teacher that Chrissy couldn’t do her assignment because she didn’t understand it. Chrissy can tell the teacher that herself and get the help she needs. Teenagers, especially, should advocate for themselves.
  2. Parents who form alliances with teachers to strengthen the school experience. Never create an “us versus them” mentality. Never agree with your kids that their teacher is stupid, careless, or ineffective. Instead, remind your kids that they will always have bosses with varying personalities and expectations and it’s one of life’s most important skills to learn how to work with them. Get to know your kids’ teachers, share important information with them, and speak respectfully with them and about them. It will make a huge difference in how your kids view their teachers.
  3. Parents who view regular attendance as crucial to school success. Your kids will not be successful in school if they are chronically absent. Therefore, you should send a consistent message that their job is school, it’s not an option, they will be there every day, and they will be there on time. Do not believe your kids when they say everyone is skipping school. It’s simply not true. And besides, how many times have you told them you don’t care what everyone else is doing? Mean it when you say it.
  4. Parents who refuse to lie for their kids. I’m sorry, but lying for your kids is one of the worst parental infractions I’ve seen as a teacher. Don’t think for a minute that we’re buying the story that Matt didn’t know what plagiarism was. Don’t think we don’t know about your family ski trip to Colorado even though you claimed Amy was out with the flu. Think about what you are teaching your kids when you lie for them. Instead, do what you tell them to do – tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may. Will there be consequences, some of them painful? Of course. Don’t you want your kids to learn that?

Make sure your parental decisions reflect a belief that your kids are both capable and resilient. Capable to make choices and face consequences, and resilient enough to bounce back and move forward with a little more wisdom and maturity.

Father Helping Daughter with Homework

Let’s retire the “why I’m leaving teaching” posts forever

As my former pastor used to say, “I’m an equal opportunity offender.” Get ready, because it’s about to be a bumpy ride as I set out not to offend, but to plead with my fellow teachers to please, please get off the “life sucks being a teacher” bandwagon.

It’s everywhere. I see it on Facebook almost daily. On Twitter. Forwarded in emails. Diatribe after bullet point after screaming headline that bemoans the state of education, lists the many ways in which teachers are fighting a losing battle, and worst of all, tells young adults who are considering teaching to run as fast as they can in the opposite direction. Don’t think I don’t get it. After almost two decades in education, I know all about it. But I’m not going to scream it from the rooftops, and I’m about to tell you why. All I ask is that after you get mad at me, you take a breath and just think about this.

You’re not frustrated because of low pay, unruly kids, uninformed government decisions, and discursive meetings. Okay, you are, but that’s not what really gets under your skin. What bothers you is that you love what you do, and other people keep making it harder to do what you love doing. Period. Now that we’ve identified the problem, allow me to make some humble suggestions. As someone who’s been a happy teacher my entire career, let me tell you how you’re hurting yourself and making your job harder than it has to be.

1. When you share angry teacher letters, highlights about the myriad problems in education, and yet another blog on why a great teacher has decided to leave the classroom, you merely perpetuate the problem. You feed into the talk about town that teaching sucks. You agree with it, publicly, to everyone who knows you. You spread the word that teaching is a horrible career and those who are considering it must be deluded. You keep promising college students from following their calling by sounding the trumpets that their calling is garbage.

2. This demeans our profession and you as a teacher. You create the very problem you are fighting. If you want to be treated like a professional, act like a professional, not a petulant child. Furthermore, you are announcing to the world that you don’t like your job. And seeing as your clients are innocent kids and parents who are entrusting their prized possessions to your care, that’s not such a great message to send out into the universe. If you want everyone to respect you, have enough respect for yourself to stand up for your profession.

3. You make yourself a victim of bureaucracy and idiocy. There is plenty of that in education, and to a certain extent, you must play along. But you have a certain amount of autonomy in your classroom. You are free to love your kids and teach them to love learning. Your hands aren’t tied. Regardless of what test kids need to pass or what new math methods come around the corner, you still get to teach and watch light dawn on growing minds. You get to be responsible for that and take some credit for it. You are not a victim.

4. Anyone can point out what is wrong, but if you really care, do something about it. Get involved in your community and in local politics, vote for the right people, lobby, speak out. Take on a leadership position that allows you to effect change. Do any of the things you are free to do as American citizens, whatever might be in your comfort zone, but do something. It’s hard to respect someone who moans and groans their way through their career. You have a choice to embrace it or to denigrate it. Your call. Your consequences.

5. If you are really, truly unhappy being a teacher, please, for the love of all things holy, quit. No child deserves to have a teacher who doesn’t want to be there. Children should not be surrounded by bitterness and frustration when all they want to do is learn. If you’re unhappy with your current situation, change it. You owe it to yourself and to all of your students.

If you know me, you know I’m not some “pie in the sky” teacher who is naive to the problems in education. But as far as my students know, I love coming to school every day, I’m excited about what I teach, and I have a passion for my subject. It’s not put on, not fake, not a big show. I just happen to believe that teachers should be proud to be teachers, that they should laugh with their students every day, they should care enough about them to give them everything they have, and  they should leave school knowing that no one, anywhere, kept them from teaching their kids.

When my daughter graduated from college and got her first teaching job, it was one of my most proud moments as a parent and a teacher. But it doesn’t hold a candle to seeing her face as she tells me stories about her students, falls into bed after an insanely busy day, and exuberantly reads her kids’ test scores (from the very standardized test she is opposed to) as she discovers that she taught them, really taught them. Ask my daughter’s students if she was deluded for going into education. For that matter, teachers, ask your own students. Their answers may get you to drop the negativity once and for all.

Senior retreat 4

Know your students, teach them, love them. What happens next in education is up to you.

Your brain on multitasking

brain on multitaskingTake a look at your teenagers at any given time. Chances are, you’ll find them tapping or scrolling on their cell phone, half-watching TV, and giving you one-word answers to your questions about school. Teens pride themselves on their multitasking capabilities, but they shouldn’t, because as it turns out, multitasking rarely produces quality.

A new study coming out of Stanford University confirms what most of us already suspected: Multitasking may allow kids to keep a lot of balls in the air, but none of them will spin gracefully. Even scarier, “… people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information cannot pay attention, recall information, or switch from one job to another as well as those who complete one task at a time.” So multitasking doesn’t just produce shoddy work, it also negatively affects kids long-term.

We teachers see this all the time. With each passing year, kids are less able to focus for any length of time. After clear directions are given, it’s not uncommon for three hands to shoot up, all three kids asking for directions. Left alone to their own devices – to write a paper, for instance – they frequently check their phones, seek out social interaction, surf the web, or ask to use the restroom. Anything to prevent focus on the subject at hand. Since students haven’t learned to give their full attention to one task at a time, they don’t know what to do when distractions are eliminated, so they often create their own distractions. They plug into music, tap through apps, or talk to the person next to them. They can’t handle quiet, and they have a hard time being alone with their thoughts.

Parents can help their kids by eliminating distractions and setting rules about cell phone and computer use. For instance, dinner is for dining and conversation, not for cell phones. We look at each other when we talk, always, not at our cell phones. When we study, the cell phone is turned off or in another room, where its incessant beeping and vibrating can’t entice us to leave the task at hand.

And here’s an idea – how about insisting that kids turn off their phones at 10:00 pm? Why? Because the vast majority of teens stay up late and sleep intermittently because their phones are on, lighting up with texts and sounding off with Instagram notifications. The next day, they are listless and even more unfocused. You know how you feel after a poor night’s sleep. Imagine a teenager who is already easily distracted further hindered by lack of sleep.

When you see your kids doing three things at once, stop them. Teach them to focus their energies on one task at a time, to be in the moment and to give it the attention it deserves. They won’t just see an improvement in their grades, they’ll learn to take life in, one moment at a time.