Hey Parents, Please Care about Your Kids’ Grades

If you follow my blog, you know that the first school I taught at is night-and-day from where I teach now. At my first school, the students came to school each day (usually escorted by one parent or both) with their backpacks, full to the brim with books and last night’s homework. While students were turning their homework in and putting their materials at their desks, parents would talk to me about homework, upcoming tests, and their students’ achievement. Students would also come up to me and candidly discuss homework and tests. I really related to these students because they were similar to me when I was a student…always the do-gooder type, trying to please my teachers and parents by doing my work, studying, and maintaining high grades. I could really relate to those kids and I love being able to relate to my students.

After a few years in that charter school, I decided to switch gears and teach in an urban under-performing school because I kept hearing the need for “great teachers” in those types of schools. Although I wouldn’t classify myself as “great” yet, I was trying to get there, and I would say that I am hard-working and passionate about the content I teach. And I felt that my passion for math and my compassion for the students in these dire neighborhoods would be all the motivation those students needed to achieve.

Ha. Yeah, right.

I realized quickly that I don’t relate to my urban students at all. Not only is there a huge difference culturally, there is a huge difference in academic mindset. I began to think to myself: Why didn’t these kids care about completing their homework? Why does an “F” not seem like that big of a deal? 

I had a conversation with my mom, who was extremely involved in my education, about it. And in the middle of our conversation, a light bulb went off.

I was discussing my students’ first quarter grades with her. A majority of my students received F’s. This is not my proudest admittance as a teacher, because when my student earns an F, so do I. But a majority of my students received failing grades, which just boggled my mind. Do you want to hear something even more mind-boggling? Of all those failing grades, which there were many, do you know how many parents contacted me out of concern?

Two.

Two parents contacted me in the first 3 weeks after report cards were sent home. Whoa. Only two parents were concerned that their child received an F in a core subject class? That doesn’t add up.

And then another light bulb went off. Do students work hard to learn the material because they want to learn, or because their parents want and expect them to learn? Do half of my students’ parents even know that their child is failing their math class? Do they know and just don’t care? Is this why my students seem to lack concern?

Looking back, I’m not sure I would have worked as hard if my parents did not care as much as they did. They instilled in me my hard work ethic, I didn’t develop that on my own. If they hadn’t checked every homework assignment and asked to see test scores, would I have been the straight-A student I was, or would I have earned failing grades, too? I’m not sure, but my guess is no, I would not have been a great student.

In my dream world, students are born with an innate desire to learn and do well in school and don’t need parents’ expectations to lead them to greatness. And some kids are wired that way; but I think those special kids are the exception, not the rule. We need parents – the first teachers in children’s lives – to model the importance of hard work and good grades. If parents don’t care, students won’t care. If students don’t care, they won’t learn in the process.

So, this blog post is for parents: please care about your kids’ grades. Model for them that grades – the result of effort put into an assignment or assessment – matter, and when students work hard to earn good grades, they learn a great deal as a result. If parents don’t get involved, that achievement gap is only going to grow between the students whose parents care, and those who don’t.

The Continuous Learning Calendar

I am sitting here, at the beach, at the tail-end of my 2-week break in the school year.

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I can hear you say, “A break? In October? Already?”

Yup. Teachers and students who work and learn on a year-round, or “continuous learning,” schedule get a break in the fall.  And a much-needed break it was, indeed.

This is my second year working on a continuous learning calendar (CLC) and I really like it. I enjoy teaching 199 days, instead of the state-required 180 days in North Carolina, but it makes these infrequent breaks much more necessary and desirable. By the beginning of October, I was starting to feel the impending burn-out that teachers sense around Thanksgiving (and definitely by the winter-holiday break), thus begging for some mercy and time away from school. Our students stepped foot inside our school to begin learning on July 21st and we’ve been going strong, ever since. With the exception of Labor Day, we’ve been working HARD every day for the past 11 weeks. And for every day that we work hard with our students, the next break gains an exponential amount of power.

A lot of people outside of the education industry don’t understand the power that these week-long breaks give teachers. Let’s get the superficial (yet, important) and tangible reasons out of the way, first. I was able to schedule a doctor’s appointment. (As most teachers know, doctors’ offices book up fast during Christmas break, spring break, and summer break, and if you work sun-up to sun-down like me, going in to see the doc isn’t that easy during a normal work day, hence the “big deal” I am making this.) Secondly, I was able to visit past students at their cross-country meets. I was able to run errands in the middle of the day and actually peruse the grocery aisles without running into people. I practiced vinyasa yoga. I exercised when it was light outside. I got my house painted. I watched daytime TV. (Eh, still not that crazy about it.) Finally, I went to the beach for a long weekend with my husband and some friends. I did so many things that the luxury of time do not allow during a normal work week.

But this break gave me more than time to do my errands and play in the sand.

I had time to rest. I can be pretty lazy from time to time,but when it comes to my job, I am on autopilot and I just go, go, and go some more. Sometimes, I forget to breathe. I didn’t forget to breathe during this break. I rested my mind, my body, and my mind some more. Rest is so crucial, yet it is something educators put off because we are required to do so much ALL THE TIME. Get some rest. The result of a few days of rest is amazing.

I had time to reflect. Reflection is such a huge part of learning and becoming a better fill-in-the-blank. I spent a vast majority of my break reflecting on my teaching practice, Tweeting with other educators and continuing to learn from their best practices and clearly think about what I need to change in my classroom and what is going well. I feel like such a stronger teacher going into these next few weeks just based on my reflections.

I had time to reevaluate. With that reflection, came reevaluation (like I mentioned before). I reevaluated my classroom management, my student interactions, and my priorities at work. Reevaluating is necessary to grow, and I firmly believe in maintaining a growth mindset.

I had time to read! I lovereading. Let me say that again, I lovereading. Yet I don’t get to do it enough. I read several great books – fiction and nonfiction – during my break and it was bliss. Pure bliss.

I had time to plan. Oh, boy, did I plan! I planned the next 5 weeks and the next 5 years!

Finally, I had time to blog. I love blogging. I have always liked to write, so I am thrilled I have found this hobby and have introduced my students to it.

I am so excited to start this next chapter of the school year tomorrow! It will be a long day, I’m sure, but I feel rejuvenated, rested, and ready to

(The last picture is a selfie I took of my husband and me right after we finished our half marathon in Myrtle Beach this morning!)

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My Time Machine

Daniel Cardle, 2003

I love these Daily Prompts that The Daily Post delivers to its fellow bloggers. Sometimes they are mundane and boring, basic enough to get juices flowing, but I really liked the blogaday post from yesterday:

Congrats! You’re the owner of a new time machine. The catch? It comes in two models, each traveling one way only: the past OR the future. Which do you choose, and why?

Hmm…a time machine?! That sounds nifty, with a twist. The curiosity in me screams, “Duh! Go to the future!” And while getting a glimpse into the future does sound enticing, I think I’d rather take a closer look at history, and travel into various points of the past. (Plus, who wants spoiler alerts to how this fabulous story called “LIFE” turns out?!)

Now, I’m not sure how time machines work, but I am considering that when you step into this time machine, you are not removing yourself from the present, and therefore can witness events from one minute ago all the way back to the beginning of time (without altering those events, of course). There are so many moments in history I would travel to, that I have narrowed my extremely broad list of over 100 historical moments – including some personal ones – to just six. Bear with me.

1. My wedding day in 2011. Best. Day. Ever. Who wouldn’t want to travel back to the best day of their lives?!

2. My first day of teaching in 2007. I would go back and watch a terrified twenty-something meet her very first students for the first time and wonder how in the world she was ever going to impart knowledge on these aspiring, impressionable fourth graders.

3. January 20, 1981, Ronald Reagan’s Presidential Inauguration and Inaugural Address. “It is time for us to realize that we’re too great a nation to limit ourselves to small dreams…We have every right to dream heroic dreams.” The Great Communicator had great plans for this great nation and with his leadership, got the U.S. out of many jams (only for future presidents and wars to restore in the future, sadly).

4. February 9, 1964, the day the Beatles rocked out on the Ed Sullivan Show. I’ve heard of Beatle Mania and I really would want to witness that day (and compare it to the boy band craze of the 2000’s and today). Plus, I’d love to travel back to the 60’s…it seemed like such a gas!

5. The Roaring Twenties. Yup, thanks to the glorification of dancing, drinking and debauchery in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” and the Broadway musical, “Chicago,” I have always been curious about what it must have been like to be a flapper living in “All That Jazz.”

6. Moving out west in the 1870’s. Being raised in the suburbs of Detroit, I think I’m a city girl at heart; but I would have loved to meet Laura Ingalls Wilder and experience living out west on a prairie (or in the Big Woods) during the mid-1800’s. I loved all of her “Little House…” books and think I could have actually been a country girl if that is where I had been raised. Give me some open land, a few goats and a couple pigs, and I’d be a happy camper.

This is the short list, obviously, of moments and places in history I would travel. Where would you go if you could travel to another place and moment in time? Would you go to the past or journey into the future?