I’ve never understood why in the world so many teachers create assignments that clearly require an adult to participate. You see it all the time at Science Fairs or Open House nights where we get to peruse projects from different classrooms. There’s always the one project that sticks out – and not because it was hideous, but because it looks like a Michelangelo work of art. Last year, The Hare was asked to create an Encyclopedia of birds. Our task, and yes I meant our, was to find three birds or characteristics of birds for each letter of the alphabet. We were to type or print neatly the information along with a picture (either drawn or pasted). I don’t know about you, but I don’t know too many 7-year-olds that can complete this size of a project on their own. Every night for weeks and weeks, DW and I sat at the computer helping her research. Besides the fact that it was extremely time-consuming, I really didn’t think it was a well-thought out project. Do you think she remembered anything specific about 78 birds? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to create an Encyclopedia about a specific region or country? We could have researched the people who live there, the culture and agriculture. The Hare could have learned about the wildlife and weather. But no, instead we had to look up three birds beginning with the letter “z”. And now that The Tortoise is in Middle School, we have entered a season of math that I care not to revisit. I barely made it through math the first time, I definitely have no desire to learn it all over again.
I’ve paid my dues. Now it’s my kids turn to suffer.
Friday The Tortoise brought home a sheet of paper from her teachers. Now let’s not forget last week was our first week of school. We hardly made it to school on time. The paper read:
We are very interested in getting to know as much as possible about your 7th grade students, but we need your help. We are requesting you to submit a letter telling us everything you’d like us to know about your child: the good, the bad, and yes the ugly! Not to worry, spelling and grammar do not count!
Really? You mean besides the pound of paper I had to sift through filling out numerous school forms and emergency forms, you gave me a homework assignment? What happened to the sheet I filled out last year about my child? I was under the impression that the 6th grade team communicated with the 7th grade team when they were sizing up the classrooms.
Well, here is what you get when you ask a writer to write a letter:
September 12, 2010
Dear 7th Grade Team:
I’ve spent most of this weekend trying to think of what I really want to put into this letter that would give you a clear picture of my daughter, but what I keep coming back to is the reality that the older she gets, the less I feel like I know her. I don’t really worry about academics because all I have to do is keep on top of her grades, check her assignment pad or parent connect and stay in contact with her teachers. Academics are fairly tangible and easy to see where she stands. But what I don’t know is what boy she might have a crush on or which group of girls she really hangs out with during lunch or which girls she wishes she hung out with during lunch. I can’t tell you what her real fears are or how she sees herself compared to her peers. Those are things that you have opportunities to witness. Perhaps I should be asking you, at the end of the year, to write me a letter.
Besides, this letter is sort of a double-edged sword, isn’t it? I mean, truthfully, what parent is going to write that their child is a trouble-maker or as dumb as a box of rocks? If I praise and sing her accolades, then I’m boastful and your expectations are going to run high and yet, if I point out all of her weaknesses I worry that you will form a very biased opinion before she gets an opportunity to prove herself. There is no doubt that I think she is bright and capable of any task that you put in front of her, but then there are days that she struggles endlessly with organization and focus. She is shy at heart and yet seems to make friends with anyone within arm’s-length. She is a pleaser and will believe you unconditionally. Her heart knows how to forgive, and she will always be the first one to apologize. She never holds a grudge or pre-judges. She would be the first one to stop and help a stranger and I’ve witnessed her pass on dessert so that her sister could have the last piece of cake. My daughter never wants to be first in line, pick sides or to have the most of anything. She is embarrassed easily and avoids being the center of attention. Yet, if given the opportunity, she will sing her soul in front of the world to hear with the most amazing and sweet voice. I think that she is a perfect example of gentleness, kindness and unconditional love.
However, at an attempt to focus on the information that you’re probably looking for, and be completely honest, she really doesn’t like school. She struggles with anxiety, focus, organization and at times, depression. Sometimes these traits are mistaken for defiance, sarcasm, or laziness but I believe in my heart of hearts that she is none of those things. Over the years we have given her ample tools to combat each of these hurdles, and continue to try and help build her skills as well as her self-esteem. I wish it only affected her school work, because that I can see when it starts to fall apart and throw her a life-preserver to help keep her afloat the rest of the year. But unfortunately these struggles bleed into her relationships and self-esteem, things that are much harder to monitor, things that she tries to hide from us. Each school day for my daughter is one day closer to summer. Ironically, or perhaps optimistically, she does see a future for herself that requires college. She thinks she would like to be a special education teacher and work with special needs children. I’ve never known a child who is as comfortable around children and adults with disabilities or the elderly as my daughter. At times it even seems that these individuals gravitate to her as much as she does to them. That is one of the things that I admire the most about her.
My daughter is a tactile learner as well as a visual learner. I’ve tried for years to understand why I could ask her to complete a task a dozen times and it would never get done, but the minute I wrote it down for her it would get finished almost immediately. If I show her how I want something done, then she usually jumps in and gets to work with no confusion or frustration. Sometimes I even ask her to repeat what it is that I’ve asked of her to be sure that we are on the same page. I can do these things because I am her mother and there are only two children in my home. You, on the other hand, have a classroom of many. I understand it is unrealistic to expect you to teach her in the same way that I parent. However, be aware that because she is generally shy, she won’t ask a lot of questions – even if she is completely lost. My daughter has been known to sit at her desk quietly for an entire period, seemingly focused on the task at hand, and yet have nothing to turn in because she couldn’t decide where to begin.
My hope is that my daughter starts to enjoy school more, and see it as a burden less. She has always held her teachers in high regards over the years, but I don’t know if she has ever really felt inspired.
So there it is, exactly what your assignment asked for, a letter including “the good, the bad, and yes the ugly” and it was even under a million words. I am available anytime for a conference if there are concerns about her performance. In fact, I am that parent that comes to every conference available even if not required. Email is also a great way to contact me, and I am pretty flexible if ever you need some volunteer work done in any of the classrooms.
Thank you for wanting to get to know my daughter better so that you can better teach her.