Friday, February 10, 2012

Year 2: Week 21 - What Difference Can 7 Hours Really Do?

Children go to school for about 7 hours. For the other 17 hours of the day their parents or whoever is responsible for raising them controls their lives. Also, there's the weekend so in a week a students will spend 35 hours a week at school and 133 hours away from school. So basically if a child's parents doesn’t agree with what a school is teaching it's a losing battle.

I’ve fought this battle to different degrees and on different fronts. I’ve had high school parents lie on notes to get kids out of band concerts, claiming family emergencies while in reality they were doing homework. I’ve also had parent who disregarded my phone calls about their child being disruptive and made excuses. While these situations are annoying, in the bigger scheme of things, they aren’t huge issues.

If a parent wants to teach a kid to lie and make excuses in the face of authority, that’s there prerogative. That undermines some of what I’m teaching at school, but in other situations, it feels like parents are undoing everything we try to teach.

A couple years ago I worked with a student named Thomas. He was a fourth grader who a really likeable kid who was very creative. At home he was allowed to do anything he wanted to do without any consequence. He went home after school, played video games, ate junk food and feel asleep whenever he felt like it. So when I saw him first thing in the morning he was tired and cranky and didn’t want to be at school because he didn’t get to do anything he wanted at school.

Thomas would throw fits, hide underneath tables, run around the school and do whatever he could to get what he wanted. Slowly but surely as the week would progress Thomas would get better and he would start following rules and get in the groove of school. By the time Friday rolled around, he usually had pretty good days. He would go home for the weekend, live an unstructured life for two days and come back to school Monday a complete disaster.

After a while, I had to ask myself, what’s the point? Thomas’ parents basically undid any work we got done in school

Thomas was put in an impossible situation for a fourth grader. He had to operate completely differently at home as he did in school. Adults do this all the time acting different at work, home, out with friends and in other social situations. Developing children can’t make these distinctions easily. For kids in these situations in order for them to be successful they have to learn how to adjust their behavior to situations earlier than other children.

Was Thomas capable of developing these skills? I don’t know.  Over the year, he made little to no progress academically or with his behavior. But we kept trying with him. Why? Well, because he needed to know that there was an alternative, that life could be different. All you can do sometimes is just show a child that there’s more than one way to live life and eventually, hopefully, they will catch on.

It’s difficult, annoying and aggravating, but this is the gig we as teachers sign up for.  Not every parent will be on the same page as you and you’ve got to make it work. Sometimes like with Thomas’ parents it seems hopeless but for the kids sake you can’t give up.

I love talking to parents who back me up as a teacher. It’s not an ego thing as much as a feeling that we’re a team. This could not be more important. It’s the foundation of successful education because we only get the kids 7 hours a day.  If that time is valued at home and supported there's no limit to what we can do for a child.

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