Tuesday, August 26, 2008

School Daze

By Kelly

I know for many families in the United States, school is already underway.

Which leads me to ask, "Seriously? School on August 9? Who does that?"

Here in Minnesota, school doesn’t start until the day after Labor Day. (It’s the law.) And while I don’t want to sound all high and mighty, I’m pretty sure that’s the day God intended kids to go back to school. Memorial Day is the beginning of summer. Labor Day is the end. Those holidays are divinely appointed bookends to keep summer from being spirited away by miserly gremlins who worry more about "testing" and "brain drain" than giving our children a chance to actually relax and sit in the grass and watch the clouds dance across the sky.

(Sorry about the slobber. I’ll get off my soapbox now.)

I guess I'm also personally thankful to have some extra time to prepare. This will only be the second year I've been the parent of a school-aged child, and the whole school experience is a minefield for newbies to navigate.

Case in point:

Last year, my oldest child, Natalie, started first grade. The second week of school, Natalie brought home a list of 10 words and announced there would be spelling tests each Friday.

“Fabulous!” I smiled to myself. “My little girl is really growing up. We’re on Learning Lane now.”

I was a little concerned about the difficulty of the words, considering she was still struggling to grasp basic phonics. But I figured the teachers must know what they are doing. After all, they are the experts.

Imagine my shock when she came home that first Friday, carrying a test with a big +3 on the top in red ink. She, being blissfully na├»ve, was thrilled. “I only got seven wrong, Mom! That’s three right!”

I, however, was horrified. How did my daughter end up with such a low score?

I inquired of her teacher. She gently pointed out that it might help if Natalie studied her spelling words at home during the week.

Apparently, it’s called homework (insert air quotes here), and I, being a Mom, am now responsible for such matters.

Humbling? Yes. But it was a good lesson. I'm a rookie in the Big Leagues now. I should keep my eyes open and my mouth shut.

Through trial and error, I learned that I'm responsible for spelling words and the "suggested" reading that is sent home each week.

But overall, I'm still really green.

I don't know if it's OK to request the second-grade teacher I'd like Natalie to have. (Is that obnoxious? Or normal?) I don't know if I should continue to walk her to her classroom each morning. (Overbearing? Or caring?) I don't know how much I should help her when she's doing her homework, or how often I should remind her to clean out her folder, or if I should make excuses for the days she'll miss school for family trips.

It's just a whole lot of new -- for both of us.

Any suggestions from veteran Moms? I have six days until Labor Day.

Unless I can find a state that believes school shouldn't start until Columbus Day. Sounds educational to me.

Kelly also blogs at Love Well, although she's currently taking a short hiatus to enjoy the last full week of summer. She'll return after Labor Day. Of course.

11 comments:

  1. Hooray, Minnesota! Growing up we always went to Grand Marais for Labor Day weekend, and stopped in Duluth for school shopping on the way home. It is definitely as God intended. I have my first this year -- we're going to kindergarten! I mean she. She's going. I'll stay home. Because I can see the school from my house!

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  2. It's crazy how many people I read about starting school so early! I think it's mostly a southern thing from what I can tell...
    Here in Washington we usually start the last Wednesday in August, but this year they don't start until next Tuesday... the day after Labor Day! That's the way it was when I was a kid in Oregon, too.
    I'm not a parent of a school aged child, but I am a teacher.
    It's probably too late now to request your child's teacher for the year, but it can't hurt to ask - especially if you have a really good reason.
    Also, once you find out who her teacher is, just give them a friendly call or email. Let them know you don't really know all the ropes so any help they can give is appreciated. Most teachers will be happy to answer any questions or give more specific instructions rather than have an angry parent down the line for whatever reason.
    Help her clean out her folder at least once a week - I bet this is how the teacher will communicate with you and you don't want to miss anything!
    Definitely let the teacher know at least a week in advance about your family trips. This will give him/her a nice heads up and you can ask again a few days before if there is anything she can take with her or anything that she can maybe bring back to share with the class if it's from an interesting place.
    I'm not sure I can help you with the walking to class bit, that will probably depend on your child and the school's policy! Just ask!
    Sorry this is so long, but I hope it helps!

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  3. Exactly why I homeschool! Because I can't handle the pressure of "homework." :)

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  4. I'm right there with you! I know I never started school until the day after Labor Day, until high school when we moved to NC. Here in NC, they started School on Aug 14th. Crazy!

    Anyway, my daughter is in the 1st Grade this year & I'm experiencing many of the same anxieties that you are. She has her first spelling test this Friday & I never thought about the fact that "I" should be helping her practice. Yikes! We have math & reading every night, so now I better add spelling on to that!

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  5. Here in Virginia (most parts anyway), we also start after Labor Day. I WISH we got out at Memorial Day, but it's closer to mid-June.

    In 2nd grade, my girl (now 5th) still wanted me to walk her in. If your girl doesn't object, do it. All too soon, you'll be banished from appearing in public with her anywhere (we're starting to get to that point!)

    I requested a teacher for my girl in 2nd grade, and this year. Both years, I had cause for educational concerns and not just personal preference. I've found that administrators are willing to help, if you'll explain your request without offending anyone (a delicate balance!)

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  6. Oh the joys of school. I don't know how qualified I am to offer advice because we homeschool, but I know that when I was in 2nd grade my mom requested a teacher because of some past issues with other family members. The administration understood and put me in the class mom wanted. I think that if you have a preference you should see what you can do, you never know.

    Also, as long as she wants you around, walk her to the door.

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  7. As a former second grade teacher here's my 2 cents.
    1. Most parents request teachers. IT's when you weep and wail and grip at the principal if you don't get the requested teacher that is obnoxious.
    2. Many of my parents still walked their kids in. If you go into the room and unpack her books for her, that's overbearing.
    3. Please still help with homework. Please. Make her do it, but if you check it and review it with her then it gives her so much more reinforcement of topics taught in class. By the end of the year she should be doing most of it independently, but right now she still needs the help.
    Talk to the teacher about any concerns you have. Good teachers love it. We want to see your kids succeed and we need your help to do it.

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  8. I'm only a mom to a one year old but since I taught 1st grade for 6 years, I thought I could help. First, I suggest you just ask the teacher all those questions. He/She will appreciate the fact that you care and that you value their position as the professional. However, in case you still don't want to do that, here is my opinion (and most every teacher I've ever worked with). Usually as far as requests, there is a school policy... just ask. If the school's policy allows it, then do it. Walk her to her classroom the first few mornings but talk to her about going down on her own. She'll probably want to b/c so many of her friends will. It is okay though to walk her just don't try to use the time to discuss her progress with the teacher. The teacher is usually very busy as students are arriving. She/He is greeting students, helping them get the day started, completing morning preparations, etc. If you have an urgent need to talk, make it quick. If it is taking long, ask what a good time to call would be. Usually, any homework a teacher sends should just be a practice of what the students already know. It shouldn't require much parental help. If it does, help her with it and then let the teacher know by attaching a note. This will help the teacher to know if your daughter needs a little extra help with something and won't lead the teacher to think your daughter has mastered it b/c mommy helped. I would suggest cleaning the folder out daily. This is usually a teachers main method of communication and you wouldn't want to miss anything. One last thing I would suggest you ask the teacher is whether the work he/she is sending home (and the scores) is reflective of your daughter's grades and mastery or if in fact the teacher (like a parent) teaches the student on the spot if they see struggles. Almost everything I sent home was completed correctly since I provided immediate feedback and assistance to students who were not understanding the lesson. As far as spelling tests, use times that are not necessarily homework time to practice the words (i.e. in the car, during dinner, etc.). You will want to do a little practice at a set evening time everyday, but she'll definitely benefit from the spur of the moment practices.

    I appreciate you posting this. I hope teachers read it and realize that parents are often just as green as the students.

    And, you don't start until after Labor Day... maybe I should consider teaching in Minnesota.

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  9. I have 3 kids all at school ( UK though!!) Our school year starts on Sept 4th and give or take the vacations in the middles for Xmas and Easter we break for summer around 22 July!!
    I recall walking my youngest into school for his first year (age 5). But now at the grand old age of 8 i am being asked to "wait" with the other Mums. I am officially on the drop off and pick up sidelines! My older two are both at Senior school (11 - 16 years) from this week, i will drop them at the bottom of the hill so no-one can see me take them to school! I guess i should be pleased the are all happy to go off alone and are independent enough to feel they can go it alone! I still check their homework - daily! I hear my son read every evening andwe make a game of the spellings! We have to make up a story using the words he needs to know. When one of the words is used we have to spell it out and then carry on wit hthe story! It's not for veryone but works for us and can be done while he is in the bath!!
    Good Luck sending your little one off to school again. She will fine!!

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  10. I am a teacher and a mom of older kids (one a soph in high school and one going off to college-yikes)! I still don't know how I got here.

    As far as homework--it is your child's work. Help when h/she asks, give suggestions when needed, provide whatever she needs to get the work done. But it is her work. If homework becomes too much, talk with the teacher. There is no reason to have any more than 15 minutes a night of homework in first grade--except reading. Personally, I think that is even too much. Read with your child every night--no matter what.

    As for requesting teachers--find out the school policy. But remember--a teacher that is great for one child may not be great for another. A teacher who is calm and patient one year might be moody and impatient the next (why I am glad I did not request my son's 1st grade teacher--the one so many of my friends requested was a disaster that year). If you feel your child needs a specific teacher--talk with the principal. We were not allowed to request, but my son had a horrible 4th grade year and really needed a particular teacher for fifth grade. I went to the principal--she knew my son had a really tough year. I told her why it was important the 5th grade be good for him and what kind of teacher I thought he would need. Then I went on to describe all the attributes that this particular teacher had. But I phrased it in terms of what my son needed, not who I wanted him to have.

    Schools generally do not like it when parents request teachers just because they have a preference. However, if you have a child who falls apart if things get too noisy, or a child who has a great deal of difficulty with teachers who require excessive sitting still--then tell the school how your child learns best and give good reasons for the request.

    There was a teacher at my sons' school that everyone loved and praised and exhalted. I couldn't stand her and knew that my son would fall apart in her classroom. My daughter, did just fine with her (although I still did not like the teacher).

    Good Luck!

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  11. I know I'm really late w/this, but wanted to say that I totally agree that school should not start before September! After Labour Day is best, but at least wait until September, people!

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