Friday, October 12, 2012

Rant: Helicopter Parent (Part III)

I haven't looked, but I'll bet there are at least two other entries in my blog's history that sound a bit like this and I had considered not posting it it all (I sometimes write rants like this and then decide that they are really more like diary fodder than anything and then delete them). But then I read Ray Veen's blog entry entitled, "Boys Don't Read" and decided that I'd share this one, if nothing else to draw attention to Ray's (go read it--you won't be disappointed). I am a writer as well as the mother of four boys and I'm growing concerned that not only will there be fewer boys reading in the future, but that there will be fewer of them writing as well.

I think I may know why fewer boys are reading. As well as the reason that girls (on the average) are making better grades in school than boys are and that more of them are going to college. And, correspondingly, more are writing and reading. My English classes are dominated by girls (this semester, in my British Lit class, there are twenty-five girls and five guys. That's it--five).

Our institutions of learning are in the process of creating an atmosphere that is friendlier to girls and their learning style than boys. I've seen it in action in the elementary school classroom: a 4th grade teacher told me that shortly after I met her that this was the worst class she'd ever had. Shortly afterwards I saw what her "problem" was. The class had thirteen boys and three girls. She didn't have a bad class at all. She had boys and they were being--well--boys. She wanted children who would enter the classroom in an orderly fashion without touching anything, go to their seats and get out their books without making any sounds. She wanted children who wouldn't call each other names like "butt-face" or have contests to see who could bounce an eraser off the whiteboard, if left unattended for more than five minutes. She wanted children who were clean and never wiggled. In full, she wanted girls. And I've heard it in college classes; like the professor who told a classroom full of young teachers in training that girls aren't as good at math as boys are and boys aren't good readers. Strangely though. he insisted that in the long run boys become better students than girls do. Evidence does NOT bear this out. In most graduating classes, most of the top ten positions held are by girls. Having taught four boys to not only be competent readers but taught them to love books and storytelling, I can comfortably assure you that boys can do this just as well as girls can. While I do love teaching I'm not an exceptional teacher and, while I think my boys are brilliant and wonderful, I'm fairly sure they're not THAT brilliant.

In short, we're giving boys fewer and fewer reasons to love learning, to seek out books, and enjoy being students and we'd better realize this before it's too late.

Today, I am fairly sure there is at least one teacher who has decided that I am one of these dreaded parents--the kind that doesn't want their child to ever receive a grade that doesn't reflect the huge worth of that child.

Do I care? Yes. And No.

I don't want to be the parent that teachers hate to see coming. And I really don't want my kid to get a grade they didn't earn. For the most part, early on in high school, I help them keep up with assignments and bug them to study when I suspect they're not doing enough of it. Generally after their freshman year, my goal is to fade out and be a nearly non-entity by the time they graduate. I respect the position that teachers hold and recognize that my sons are not the center of their universe, and that they are busy people with a lot on their plate. I am okay with my kid getting a bad grade when they should have studied for a test or didn't do their homework. I am also okay when they get a 0 when they don't turn something in on time. And I'm usually good with a bad grade for sloppy work when it is clear that the kid didn't even try (but sometimes, as below, it is difficult to discern this from the results). I do try to create a sense of partnership when it's possible, that way when a boy attempts an end run around one of us, the other is in the know and can head it off.

Most teachers genuinely appreciate hearing from me and make it plain that I am welcome to email them whenever I have a question or concern (on average I probably ask questions once or twice a semester). A very few teachers see me as the enemy. No matter how hard I try, these teachers will never, ever welcome my input or questions. But guess what? I email them anyway, show up for parent-teacher conferences with a ton of questions, and basically--just never go away. For those who aren't interested in treating me as a stakeholder in my child's education, I am contented to be the tack in their chair.

Joseph is a Junior this year and, true to form, I've stayed out of sight, largely because he doesn't need me and in part because he needs to do this on his own as much as possible. He signed himself up for a pile of advanced classes this year--Advanced English Composition, Geometry, a college level history class, Anatomy and Physiology, Government, and a business class. He plays bass for the school show choir and he's also on student council. So, all in all, he's a busy guy. His evenings and part of his weekends are spent doing homework. He also has extra band practice on Sunday afternoons.

He's holding his own, but is frustrated that he doesn't have straight As, though he does have an A in Geometry, Anatomy and Physiology, and the business class. All three should be the toughest classes he's got and though he's really having work at it, he's getting it. I'm okay with lack of straight As because I can see him really pouring it on. If anything, I've actually encouraged him to relax a little bit and BE okay with Bs in these tougher classes because there's so many of them.

He HAD an A in his Advanced Composition Class. And then his teacher assigned a poster that centered around a book they all read over the summer.Some obscure book entitled "Mizrah" that none of the students like and few understood. Last time she mentioned it, the teacher herself hadn't been able to finish it. By the way, this book is so very obscure that I can't even find it in Google or Amazon to show it to you. But that's neither here nor there.

For any one of the other boys, this project would have been a breeze. Not this one. It doesn't matter how hard he tries, or how many hours he spends on it--it's not going to look the way the instructor wants it to look. I promise you, he'll get glue in places it's not supposed to get, his scissors will slip, and even if he has a good reason for all the items he puts on it--it's not going to translate to that visually. Joe is arts-and-crafts challenged. It's a genetic immunodeficiency disorder inherited from his parents (both of whom possess this disorder). Unfortunately Gary and I both passed along this recessive gene that makes him incapable of drawing anything recognizable outside of a stick-man,  holding a pair of scissors correctly, or squeezing out the proper amount of glue. We already knew this because he had French his freshman year. (What does French have to do with arts and crafts? We wondered that too. He made As on all the tests, and all the homework and loved to speak it. He would have had an A in the class--all except the numerous craft projects the teacher assigned. When I asked her about it, she assured me that it was a hands on approach to teaching the language. Really? So if he ever goes to France he can show them his posters and they can tell him how bad they are and he'll understand them? When she finally stopped assigning these projects, his grade shot up to an A. The second year--advanced French--he not only made As in the class, he became her best student).

This advanced comp instructor has a long-lived, well-earned reputation for being an excellent, but tough teacher. Jeremiah had this teacher and he adored her, but he had to work hard to earn his grades in her class. Jeremiah's classes with her were all business--papers, tests, literature, etc. I'm not sure what's changed, but I miss that all business-like atmosphere.

So when Joe got a C- on his poster, I wasn't surprised. Although I saw it and I didn't think it looked THAT bad, but I didn't know what she wanted either. I can tell you that he spent several hours with it at my dining room table.

However when this C- dragged his very strong A down to a C, I was confused. So I contacted her, asking some questions. Her response? The poster is 30% of his grade. Let me repeat that:  a poster is 30% of the grade in an advanced English class. I don't know that I've ever openly told a teacher that I thought she was being unfair before (I've probably hinted at it). But I did this time. (In my defenseI also stated that I recognized that my objection was immaterial and asked her to please send me a copy of the rubric she's using so I can make sure that the next arts and crafts project that leaves this house will be up to her standards.). He's earned the right to be in this class (he had to write a paper to get into pre-advanced last year and had to make As all year in order to qualify for this class). And he's made As in all his other assignments (except for a test on poetry, which just dumbfounds me).

Her point of view on this?

(Summarizing mightily) "I'm preparing him for college."

I'm there right now, and no she's not. I'm a senior with many, many college hours behind me. I've sat through nine English classes over the years with more to come. Not a single professor asked to see my poster making skills (thank God). On the other hand, I've had to write a lot of papers. I'm grateful I had an English teacher in high school who made sure I knew how.

My suspicion with respect to the English teacher is that she wanted to assign something that would be easy to grade, that she wouldn't have to spend hours reading. I think she believed this would be an easy assignment for the students as well. But she didn't take students like Joseph into account and she probably should have. And guess what? There are four boys and eight girls in this class. Can you guess which ones got the best scores on this project?

Joe, not easily discouraged, is beginning to hate this class. It's going to take all the support we can muster at home to remind him of what he's good at. Unfortunately he has her next year too (at least I hope so--another C like this could mean his being shipped back to basic English Comp), so I guess we're going to have to get through this

By the way, this teacher didn't thank me or invite me to get back in touch with her again.

Message received. But I'm not going anywhere.


Hal Johnson said...

Thirty percent? A poster in an English class counts for THIRTY PERCENT? That's just bizarre.

Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

I thought it was odd, too. For a high school level class no less. :/

Ray Veen said...

You know, this all makes sense. I've seen it in my my own educational career, and now that you've pointed it out, I can see it in my own kid's schools.

Thanks for making this topic more of a discussion, Mary. Too many people are content to shrug their shoulders these days.

Ray Veen said...

Did you get my comment? Something weird just happened with Blogger.

Mary O. Paddock said...

Hi Ray--Yes, I got it. I set my blog to moderate comments sometime back because I got tired of being spammed.
Our society needs to consider what it demands from the men--especially the young men.

HEM--It is quite odd.

Hal--We have parent teacher conferences this coming week. Gary tells me HE'S going to talk to her (which is just as well, he's remarkably good at making his point without being rude and people often listen to him when the wouldn't others).