Kids and homework: Backing off is best

IMG_8237(I promise I was only hovering to take this picture!)

A recent study has been released that says helicopter parenting, especially in schoolwork, might backfire when it comes to promoting student success. You might think the most involved parents have the best students, but it’s not necessarily the case. Kids who never have to create their own task list and prioritize their assignments don’t develop the skills to do so. Kids who aren’t used to being held accountable don’t learn responsibility. Our best intentions in helping our kids stay on track can fall short.

I’ve been teaching for ten years now, and I have a few cases every year of students whose families I am begging to get more involved. The main thing I ask is that they give their children the time and routine to sit down each night and do their homework.

The issue I see far more commonly is parents taking over their kids’ school lives. I’ve had parents drive to school to drop off a paper that was forgotten at home. I’ve had kids whose parents make them flashcards or fill out maps instead of telling their children to do their own work. And worst of all, I’ve had parents berate me for punishing kids who cheated because it was “too harsh” to give them a failing grade on an assignment.

Being a parent and watching your kid struggle is heartbreaking; believe me, I get it. There are so many times I want to step in and somehow fix a situation, but I know that doing so is not helping my children in the long run. I have a special advantage as a teacher of seeing kids at all stages of development and this long view helps me realize that calling another parent to try to get a copy of a workbook page my fifth grader forgot at school is not going to help him pack his homework properly at school tomorrow because there was no consequence today.

These are the suggestions I offer at parent-teacher night (this is advice for kids in middle school and high school, not very young children):

  1. Make sure kids have a time and a place to do homework each day. Even if there’s no written homework, tell your children they will sit down for a few minutes to study new material. The routine is important, just like you need for any good habits in your own life.
  2. Don’t “rescue” them when they screw up. Trust me that forgetting a homework assignment provides a learning opportunity of small consequence that may prevent a much larger mishap later.
  3. If your child has a problem with a teacher, please encourage your child to talk to the teacher. I always tell my students to talk to me directly first. If that doesn’t solve the problem, their parents can talk to me. If it’s still not resolved, they should go to my boss.
  4. If your child is overwhelmed, take out an index card. Tell him to write down everything he has to do. Then number the list from soonest due date to farthest out. If there’s a lot to do at once, alternate between fifteen minutes of a “hard” activity with longer periods of easier work.
  5. Let your child know you love her just as much even when she goofs up. When parents try to prevent their children from making mistakes, it can make them fearful to try anything outside their comfort zone. It stifles creativity and bravery.

I do my best to think like a teacher rather than a mom when it comes to my kids and their homework. That doesn’t mean we never have nights of frustration and tears, but I do hope that keeping professional objectivity will pay off in the long run.

As always, please let me know what you think by commenting, and thank you for reading!

 

 

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

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A thoughtful article about drone parenting (and you thought helicopter parenting was bad)

I just read this article by a parent who realized she was getting overly involved in her kids’ lives, especially their school work, and I shuddered when she said that often her first question to her sons after school was “What’s your homework today?”

Starting the after-school conversation with homework sounds cold and impersonal compared to “How are you?” or “How was your day?” which I always say first, but the second question I usually ask is “What’s your homework today?”

This mom said she micromanaged not because she was pushing her kids to excel, but because she realized her children were in that gray area of needing but not needing their parents so much anymore and she did not want to fail at parenting during this most critical time.

Like these parents, I could choose to look at my sons’ grades online every day if I want to (I don’t). She called this constant monitoring of her children “drone parenting,” and she gives some tips at the end of the article for how she stepped back and got back to being a more relaxed parent.

Since I’m a teacher, I sometimes feel an extra pressure for my kids to do well in school. After all, if I can’t help them stay organized, do their work on time, and get good grades, who can? I often advise parents to let their children become more independent and for kids to stop asking their parents to study with them, so I need to set the example by treating my own kids that way.

For the most part, I’m pretty hands-off when it comes to schoolwork, but every now and then I have that mini-breakdown where I fear I’m not doing enough (whatever enough is) and I start looking at my kids’ planners or their teachers’ websites to try to glean insight into what they’re doing every day in school.

I noticed I get more stressed out when I go into this mode and it doesn’t do anything helpful for my kids. Therefore, I vow not to be a drone parent!

[Image courtesy of public domain images on http://www.pixabay.com]

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

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How to Have a Meaningful Parent-Teacher Conference

I’ve been on both sides of the desk for conferences. Some have been more successful than others, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the preparation beforehand that makes the difference. I’d like to offer a few tips on how you, as a parent, can get the most helpful information from your child’s teachers on parent-teacher conference day.

  1. Don’t bring your child with you (unless the teacher requests it): There are times it’s helpful to have a parent/teacher/student meeting, such as when strategizing study skills, organization, or other things where direct communication will facilitate a solution. However, unless you are meeting with that purpose, it doesn’t allow for as much information to be shared between parent and teacher. The dynamic is totally different because when there’s a student in the room, the teacher tends to talk to the student. There may be things I want to say to the parent that I wouldn’t say in front of their child.

 

  1. Ask the teacher how your child is doing socially: A big advantage of attending a school as opposed to home schooling or cyber-school is the social skills that students begin to master only by being forced to interact daily with their peers. For some children, the main stress of school has nothing to do with academics. By middle school, kids aren’t telling you much about their social lives, but their teachers may be able to give you some insight.

 

  1. Come with an open mind: As a parent, I have to remind myself of this often, but my children’s grades and behavior are not a reflection of who I am as a person. They have free will and will make mistakes and decisions that I don’t approve of. It doesn’t make me a bad parent. As a teacher, I remember this too. My goal in working with parents is to be a problem-solver, not a judge. If you are not willing to be open-minded about your child’s challenges, you may walk away from the conference feeling defeated instead of empowered.

 

  1. Bring specific questions or concerns: The toughest opening for a teacher is, “So how’s my kid doing in your class?” Since we only have a few minutes to talk, I’d like to know right away which areas are of concern to you.

 

  1. Share personal information when you can: There are times parents have called to report that a grandparent or a beloved pet recently passed away, there has been a change in home environment for a child, or they are overcoming a serious illness. All of this information helps teachers because students often look or act different in the classroom without explaining what’s bothering them. It’s especially important to tell teachers if your child has been evaluated for learning disabilities or health issues. As a teacher, I have worked as a partner with parents in monitoring kids with food allergies, asthma, and changes in ADHD medication. We are the eyes and ears when you can’t be and can often provide information that will aid you and your child’s health care provider.

 

  1. If your child’s teacher doesn’t provide some positive feedback, please ask for it: The last thing you want is to walk away from a conference feeling sad or hopeless about your child’s school experience. Even kids with the toughest behavioral or academic challenges have redeeming characteristics and good days that we as teachers can point out. If your child is unhappy in school, you may be the emotional dump at home who hears about all the things that went wrong during the day. You didn’t get to witness your children having fun with their friends at lunch or delivering a great presentation to their peers or answering a question that stumped everyone else in the class. We need to focus and build on these little victories together.

 

  1. Tell your teacher what works well at home and what you need help with: You may feel like you’re on your own once your child gets home, but teachers often have tips that may help studying and getting organized at home go more smoothly too. If getting out the door in the morning is an issue, or getting homework done before ten p.m., please ask. Many of your children’s teachers were or are currently raising children. I feel fortunate to have that “insider’s perspective” on how best to work with my children academically and I’m more than happy to share my thoughts because happy, well-prepared students make my workdays pleasant.

 

  1. Take notes: Especially if you are meeting with more than one teacher, you will be hit with a lot of information, too much to process all at once. Taking notes gives you an opportunity to look back on what you learned, possible areas to follow up with the teacher on later, and a chance to see patterns (maybe your child always forgets homework that’s due on Monday, or something else that you may be able to adjust).

 

  1. Tell us what your child loves to do at home: Parents have told me about non-academic skills their children have, unusual hobbies, or passions that lie outside the classroom. When I know these things, I can work to connect them to what I teach, making school more interesting for students and helping them feel like they are essential people in the classroom.

 

  1. Ask your child if he or she thinks there is something you should ask or address: Teachers encourage their students to be advocates for themselves, but there are times kids feel intimidated to talk to a teacher about something. A parent can be the intermediary, at least to get the conversation started.

 

If you like reading about families, please check out my novel Giving Myself Away, available now.

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Photo credit: stock photo by patrisyu http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

 

10 Things I Learned About Teaching From My Kids’ Coaches

As a teacher and a parent, I’m always looking for role models on how to do my job better, and some of the best examples I’ve seen have been my kids’ coaches. My children have had the privilege of trying many activities ranging from kung fu to horseback riding, and I love to watch the grace of a skilled coach bringing out their best effort. Here are some tips any teacher can take away from best coaching practices.

  1. They emphasize that team effort is what really counts. Good coaches know they need the whole team to win games and keep morale high, rather than relying on a star player. In the classroom, there are always going to be a few students who excel and know all the answers, but you quickly see the class become passive and disinterested if you only pay attention to those top students. It’s important to make sure all students know they are expected to be contributors to the class’s success.
  2.  They praise more than they criticize. I’ve noticed that my kids’ coaches hand out far more compliments than reprimands, and it’s not just a general “great job,” but more like, “Your form was excellent in that kick” or “I love the way you remember all the parts of the bridle.” When kids feel confident, they are more ready to accept redirection. It may be easier to hand out grades with little feedback or to point out only what needs to be fixed, but after watching coaches, I’ve realized that my students thrive on pep talks, both individually and as a whole class.
  3.  They find a gift or skill in every child. Great coaches set the bar high with ever-increasing expectations, and the kids meet them. They do this by looking at each child as an individual and rewarding that child’s skill set. We don’t have offense and defense in the classroom, but there are still many ways to utilize kids’ particular talents. I can be forgetful, but I know I always have a student who will remember what I was talking about if I get interrupted. I have students who keep me on the ball with class planning by asking what’s due two weeks from now. I have students who love to organize my bookshelves and ones who enjoy collecting forms. Some lead discussions and some motivate a group during teamwork. Everyone brings something to the table.
  4.  They employ other kids to help coach. Sometimes kids make the best teachers because they are more relatable and use kid-friendly language to explain a concept. I’ve noticed that kids are awesome at sharing tips on how to review for tests and how to keep organized. Some students are visual, some are auditory, and some are kinesthetic learners. It’s like giving kids a whole toolbox of skills to choose from.
  5.  They recognize that good sportsmanship is more important than winning the game. Great coaches emphasize the fact that effort counts more than achievement. In the classroom, we are encouraged to promote a growth mindset. For example, instead of saying, “You got all of the answers correct on that test,” you might say, “You did a great job of showing all your work for these word problems.” Kids who label themselves as poor students (or who have been labeled by others as such) tend to look at a grade as an indicator of who they are as a person. Likewise, strong students are sometimes afraid to try new things because it might show them as a failure.
  6.  They explain and repeat. Coaches do not say things once and assume they will be remembered. In fact, you will hear them give the same directions week after week. At any given time, some kids are not listening because they got distracted, some had a bad day and can’t take in much more, and some didn’t have enough sleep or nutritious food and they’re not at their best. By repeating key information, it gives more chances for those kids to remember what they need for success on an assignment.
  7.  They warm up and cool down. Coaches never start practice with a new skill. First they follow a warm-up routine and they practice skills that are already familiar before adding new ones. In teaching, we call that scaffolding, where we are adding more onto an already solid base. It takes kids a little bit of transition time to ease into practice or class, and after working at a new skill, they need a little time to decompress at the end as well. A mini-game or other reward after some new skills reinforces the fact that it’s fun to try hard and learn new things.
  8.  They know when to back off. I’ve seen coaches let a tired or frustrated kid sit on the sidelines for a few minutes or take a walk around the field to get re-centered. Sometimes a student isn’t going to get the most out of class no matter what. I’ve learned by watching coaches to say, “Okay, you’re having a bad day; you can sit this one out, but I’m expecting your best again tomorrow.”
  9. They are genuinely happy to see each child. Most years, I have more than a hundred students, and it’s easy to lapse into viewing each class as one amorphous group. But great coaches notice who skipped practice or who’s not bringing their all and they comment on it. They tell those kids they were missed and offer some encouragement to get back into the game. Sometimes you might be the one person in a child’s whole day who notices they need some extra attention.
  10. They use routine to make everyone comfortable. Coaches use predictability to build good habits and ease anxiety about what happens next. We all thrive on routines, but it’s even more important for kids, who have less control over their day than we do as adults. Routine helps us build good habits.

 

If you like reading about families, please check out my novel Giving Myself Away, available now.

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Amazon  Barnes & Noble Apple iBooks |

Kobo Books | BAM | IndieBound | Powell’s

 

 

Photo credit: “Soccer Ball” by Satit Srihin http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

 

Why I teach

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I don’t do it for the money. So many students tell me, “I don’t know what I want to do, but I want to make a lot of money.” Well, the money won’t mean much if there’s no meaning in what you do.

I don’t do it for the recognition. A lot of days, I only get recognized for being a taskmaster. My students have straight-out asked me, “If you have a master’s degree from a great school, what are you doing teaching?”

Well, I’m happy to tell them (and you): I do it for the kids, and for myself.  I have been given the precious gift of spending my days with teenagers.  Yes, I said “the gift.”  I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard, “I could never do what you do,” but I think that’s only because people don’t know what they are missing out on. You might see teenagers as sullen and defiant, skulking around the mall in clothes and piercings you don’t approve of, but I look at them as bundles of potential just waiting to be released into the world.

There is no more significant time of growth and change and wonder than when you’re a teenager. Think of all the firsts you discover in that time. Now imagine getting to partake of those firsts again and again, albeit vicariously. The thrilling highs and devastating lows of your first love, the victory of getting your driver’s license, the satisfaction of earning your first paycheck, the drive toward independence and wanting to go it alone. I would never want to return to those years, but it renews me in a way to see them firsthand up close again and again. I get to go the prom and graduation every year. I get nervous on the first day of school, wondering what my classes will be like and excited for a fresh start.

The American historian Frederick Jackson Turner developed a “frontier thesis” that moving westward continually replenished democracy for the fledgling United States. I believe the same can be said for teaching: watching kids grow up renews my hope and optimism and belief that I can be whatever I want. Being with kids inspired me to write my first novel in my late 30s. When I told them I was going to be published, they clapped for me and told me they want to write books too. It inspires me to try harder every day with my own children to connect with them and understand them. It makes me feel gratitude for all of the teachers who spend more time with my children than I get to some days.

I am so thankful for the young people I work with; they are the toughest audience. Teenagers don’t try to be polite about giving you their attention when they’re really bored. They don’t hesitate to tell you that what you say makes no sense to them. They are keeping it real for me.  And for that, I thank them, because they make me try harder and not be content to be stagnant and set in my ways.  I will always be on the edge of new technology and slang. Some of the best books I ever read were dog-eared copies handed around among students and then passed to me.  Students challenge my beliefs every day on things I thought I was sure of.

People see teachers as selfless, but I am drinking from the fountain of youth. How could I not love my profession?

[Photo: At the prom with two of my fabulous students.]

If you enjoy my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom starting fresh.

Amazon |  Barnes & Noble | Apple iBooks | Kobo Books BAM | IndieBound | Powell’s

 

 

Should you do your kids’ homework with them?

Adriennes blog 22 homework You’ve probably heard the phrase “helicopter parenting” — you know, those moms and dads who hover over their kids and micromanage every move they make, whether it be in academics, sports and activities, or socializing.  Nobody wants to be called a helicopter parent, even if it’s what we do.

 

I can understand why we hover.  We’re told over and over as parents that we “need to be involved” in our children’s education.  What does that mean, exactly?  I think a lot of helicopter parenting comes from the insecurity that parents feel when they hear that vague directive.

 

Sometimes we allow our children’s performance to define who we are or how successful we perceive ourselves to be. We forget that our children are not extensions of ourselves, but independent beings who must grow and learn, just as we did.  We want to protect our kids from failure both because we know it hurts and because we’re afraid of looking like bad parents.

 

We can’t always cushion our children from failure, nor should we try.  I work as a teacher, and I’ve done my best to remove the temptation for parents to get involved in the wrong ways.  I don’t accept papers as “on time” if parents brought a copy to the school office when their children left it on the table at home.  I speak to the child first about late homework or poor performance. We do a lot of writing and projects at school, where I can watch and supervise, but can’t micromanage or “do it for them” as I could at home with my own children.

 

What are the ways we should get involved?  There’s a difference between needing help on a specific assignment and sitting down every evening with your children to monitor all of their homework.  That just allows kids to become complacent and hurts their chances of becoming self-motivated and independent learners.  I’ve taught kids who are accustomed to having a mom or dad literally sitting with them for every minute of homework and then feeling lost when they are asked to do something independently in school.

In my mind, we should strive to be good role models rather than directly supervising every move our kids make.  One thing I admired about my parents is that they pursued their own passions and talents.  They had four children and spent a lot of time teaching us their values, but they did not live through us.  They did not focus on our successes (or our failures).  Instead they showed us that adults are still learning and changing.  Parents aren’t static people whose identity comes solely through their children.  It took a lot of pressure off of me to know that, and it’s made my life as an adult and a parent more fulfilling.

 

I tell my children what my goals are and how I’m achieving them or falling short.  I tell them what my dreams are and I ask them about theirs. This to me is what it means to be an involved parent.  What do you to be involved in your children’s lives?

 

[photo credit: dreamstime.com]