As an educator, part of my responsibility is to act as a parent in your absence. In my daily interactions with your children I must ensure, not only their academic success, but also their emotional, social, and psychological well being. I must reinforce good habits, like perseverance and risk-taking. I must help students to build their moral character and take responsibility for their behavior.
But, I can’t do this alone; you and I are supposed to be a team. But, sometimes (too often) it feels like I’m the only one holding up my end of the bargain.
Now, I am not a parent, your response to which (I imagine) must be: “Well, then, you can’t know how difficult it is! How dare you judge me?”
You are right. I don’t know the intricacies and difficulties involved in parenting, and it is not my intention to judge you.
I imagine that, indeed, it must sometimes feel like you’re juggling 20 leaden objects in your two hands. You’ve got work, dinner, doctor’s appointments, housecleaning, bills, soccer practices, dog walking, family functions, arguments between siblings, trips to the mall–the list never ends! I get it. There are only so many hours in a week, and there’s only so much you can give. I have similarly outlined some of the difficulties of being a teacher.
But, this isn’t about whose job is more difficult. This is about your children, and why their education should not end with the afternoon dismissal bell.
You may, perhaps, be surprised to learn that your children do not always behave in school, as they (perhaps) do at home. They may tell you everything you want to hear, but it isn’t always the truth. On the other hand, if you have trouble getting your teenage son or daughter to do chores at home, to respect your wishes and follow your directives, to speak to you in a respectful manner, and to earn everything you give them, please don’t expect that any of this will be different at school.
It is difficult for adults to understand the difficulties teenagers experience. Somehow, we forget the feeling that the world is against us, once we have surpassed it. And, yes, adolescence is a time when people make their best mistakes. But, that doesn’t mean that we should abandon teens to their selfish despair. We must do our best to guide them, urge them along, contain their reckless urges, and resist them when they attempt to assert their will upon us.
But, there’s only so much a teacher can do in one class period. This is why I need your help.
Your Children Are Comfortably Lazy
We could all argue that since the dawn of time, teens have been lazy. That’s not what we’re talking about here. Teenagers today, whose time and attention is consumed by Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, and Netflix, have little motivation to do anything other than watch images dance across their screens. Their brains have been lulled into a permanent sleep from which they refuse to wake, and there are real consequences.
According to Common Sense Media, teens today spend nine hours of their day using their cellular devices. Social media seems to take priority over all other responsibilities, but when students are held accountable for not having completed assignments, invariably their excuse is, “I didn’t have time,” as if somehow, the time they waste online serves as a legitimate excuse for having done nothing else of value.
Some students hang their heads in shame, as I visit each desk to check for homework and will whisper, “I don’t have it.” Alarmingly, however, a large portion of them seem to believe I’m the villain in the story of their lives. They scowl at me, as if to say, “How dare you assign homework? Don’t you know I have better things to do with my time?”
(And, some people have been duped. An administrator once told me that if students weren’t doing homework, I should stop assigning homework. I wonder if the government would take the same tactic if we all stopped paying taxes. But, I’m just an educator; what do I know about teaching children how to be upstanding citizens? Please, forgive my digression.)
In my experience, the students who are most involved in time-consuming extra curricular activities and have other responsibilities at home are also the highest academic achievers. And, if they have time to get everything done, why doesn’t everyone else? The truth is that the majority of the students who claim they don’t have time to do their homework are simply managing their time poorly. Even worse, they believe that if something they need or want to do takes too much work (or time), it’s not worth the trouble.
Your Children Don’t Always Care About Learning; They Just Want to Pass
Students want to “earn” (be handed) a diploma because they’ve been convinced that it will lead them to a lucrative job, but this doesn’t meant that they actually want to learn anything–especially if it involves homework.
It’s difficult for me to express how disappointing it is to find that, of 30 students in a given class, only three thought it important to complete the homework. That means I’ll spend the class period teaching the three students who actually have some idea of what I’m talking about.
What’s even scarier, though, is when I see that more than 50% of my students across multiple class sections are turning in the exact same answers to homework questions, word for word–answers they undoubtedly received as a text or tweet from the one “friend” who actually attempted the homework (or looked up the answers online). Students will present their plagiarized work, boldfaced, expecting full marks. Yet, when class discussion begins, it is obvious that these students have no idea what the words they copied onto their notebooks even mean.
But, here’s where it all breaks down: teenagers today expect that their mere presence in the classroom is enough to “earn” them a passing grade, even if they’ve completed no homework. They don’t actually care about learning. They simply want to pass. (There are many arguments to be made about why this is the case, and it’s due in large part to the the way in which the educational system is structured).
Because learning is not important to them, they expect big rewards for little effort. And, when they don’t get their way, they pout, whine and claim that “this is unfair.” This is when they’ll turn to you, because they know that instead of having them suffer the consequences of their actions, you’ll probably defend them.
Your Children Know You’ll Take Their Side
Often, I call parents to discuss their children’s progress in my class. “Ricky didn’t turn in his analytical essay,” I’ll say. “We worked on it in class for three weeks,” I’ll add. “Ricky will probably fail this marking period–perhaps the year–because he is not turning in his work,” I’ll predict.
Way too often, parents will jump to their child’s defense. They’ll make excuses for their child. They’ll ask me if their son or daughter can make up the work. They’ll say, “My son told me that the students in your class can be chatty,” trying to project the blame onto me. They’ll say anything to alleviate their child of responsibility for his or her own mistakes.
Parents who do this are teaching their children that they don’t need to hold themselves responsible for anything. When things don’t go well, it’s always someone else’s fault–someone else’s problem. Students know that when they fall short, their parents will fix everything, so why even bother in the first place?
Your Children Know You’re Too Busy To Keep Tabs
Yet, never do I feel more anguish than when parents say things like, “He’s failing? How can this be? I had NO IDEA! He always says he has no homework.”
If you are busy parent, your child may have grown to expect that he or she will not be held accountable for doing well in school. You child may not communicate with you about what’s going on in school. He or she may hide report cards and progress reports from you.
But here’s the deal, having no idea about your child’s progress in school is equivalent to them “having no idea that there was homework.” It’s no good!
Teachers call home. In most schools, teachers’ grade books can be accessed online. Schools send progress reports and report cards each marking period. If you haven’t received any indication (good or bad) about your child’s progress in school, that’s usually a sign that your child is hiding something. If it’s December, and you haven’t seen a single report card, log onto the grade book. Call the school. Email your child’s teachers.
You are busy; I get it. But, to be boldly frank, this is part of your homework–it is your child, after all. Find out how they’re doing in school. Ask your child to show you his/her completed homework. Set clear expectations, rewards, and consequences.
A child who hopes to be educated cannot hope to learn everything at school. Yes, sometimes, homework is overwhelming, and while there should be opportunities for relaxation, there is also value in wrestling with, and overcoming, difficulty. Managing homework, among other responsibilities, teaches your children the value of diligence and grit.
Your Children Have Too Much & They Feel Entitled to Everything
Part of the reason why teenagers today have difficulty accepting the idea that they have to work to earn a passing grade is because they’ve never had to work for anything in their lives–and they have SO MUCH!
When they wanted a teddy bear, you got it for them. When they wanted walkie-talkies, “Santa” brought them. You got them Xboxes, PlayStations, iPads, iPods, $300 sneakers, headphones, expensive jeans, and tickets to the Drake concert. You gave them their own rooms with flatscreen TVs and laptops. And then, you got them smartphones, unleashing them unsupervised unto the dangerous world of social media.
Now, rewarding children when they complete their chores, do well in school, and treat others with respect is great! Your child should be encouraged to continue working hard to become a good student and a good person. That’s not to say that your children should have everything. Teaching them the value of humility will take them far. People who work for what they have, and learn to make do with what they don’t, are stronger, happier people.
But, when your children have everything they could ever want, without feeling that they’ve had to work for it, there’s little anyone can do to reverse their feeling of entitlement.
Often, when I call parents, they will make a desperate plea: “I don’t know what to do anymore. Kim won’t listen to me.” I sit in silence, and listen with as much compassion as I can muster. “Kim was showing her friends her new iPhone 7 this morning,” I won’t tell her mother. “Kim missed two-week’s worth of work because you took her on vacation to Costa Rica,” I’ll withhold. “When Kim failed English class last semester, why did you buy her expensive, new Nikes,” I’ll wonder in silence?
I understand the urge to give your children everything you think they deserve–everything, perhaps, that you never had. But, unless you’re teaching your children that they are earning these rewards–and that the availability of these rewards is contingent upon their continued cooperation with you and their teachers–you are debilitating your children. You are teaching them that these comforts are automatic–that they require no effort or exertion. When they become adults, life without you will crush them.
Your Children Can Be Unapologetically Rude
Once upon a time, people said “please” and “thank you.” Once upon a time, people responded to “Good morning,” and wished each other a wonderful day, as they parted ways. Once upon a time, people pledged allegiance to the flag (or at least stood quietly as others pledged allegiance). Once upon a time, people looked you in the face (instead of at their phones) when they were having a conversation with you. Once upon a time, children knew that speaking to an adult–speaking to a teacher–was different from speaking to a peer.
Ah, the good old days. More than anything else, what debilitates my soul more than any of the issues outlined above are the disappearance of manners and the absence of respect.
I expect to write a blog post dedicated entirely, and in detail, to this problem, but here’s what I’ll say now. Your children are convinced that they have just as much power and authority as any adult that surrounds them. They challenge us, curse at us, tell us what’s what. “You’re the only teacher that cares I don’t have my ID,” they’ll tell me. “Just leave me a lone and teach your class.”
Granted, teens have always attempted to challenge authority–that’s nothing new. The problem is, now more than ever, they are actually succeeding. Instead of standing strong, adults are succumbing to the whims of teenagers, afraid to anger them or make them upset.
Often, I’ll politely ask a student to be quiet. He’ll stop talking for a second, then turn around and do it again. Often, I’ll greet an entire class and hear two students whisper a greeting in return. Often, I’ll ask a student in the hallway to take off her headphones, and hear, “You’re not my teacher,” in response.
With all due respect, manners and respect are learned at home. If your children curse at home (or hear you cursing at home), they will curse at school (anywhere really) regardless of the presence of adults. If your children talk back to you at home, they will talk back to their teachers. If your children learn that you don’t value teachers, they won’t value teachers. If your children break the rules at home, they will break the rules in school.
As a teacher, I can do my best to reinforce manners and cultivate a culture of respect. However, these values begin at home. If you give me the flour, sugar and butter, I can bake the pie. But, without the ingredients, there’s nothing I can do.
We Need You
So you see, teachers need you, because, in spite of what you may believe, education doesn’t just happen at school. Education begins and ends with you.
Take the time to talk with your children. Teach them to value and love learning. Communicate with teachers. Don’t give your children EVERYTHING. Make them work for what they want, and make them work to keep what they already have.
Make “Good morning!” a required phrase in your household. Prompt your children always to greet you and other adults. Teach them to treat the cashier at McDonald’s with dignity and respect. “Thank you,” goes a long way. Show them how to write a note of appreciation for grandma.
Make them apologize when they make a mistake. Demand excellent grades. Cheer them on when things get difficult, but also allow them to learn from failure–don’t rescue them every time.
Limit TV time. Monitor cell phone use. Be a constant presence in all aspects of your child’s life.
Yes, it’s difficult work, but so is everything worth having.