Tag Archives: Education

Elementary School: Six Years of Growth

My son finishes elementary school this week. Six years ago, I cried as I sent him through those doors and down the hall into a classroom with a wonderful woman who took him under her wing and taught him everything he needed to know about getting along in the world.

Back then, he was waist high and when he smiled, his cheeks were still round with baby fat. His chubby hands grasped a pencil the right way to practice letters and write sentences about field trips, his hermit crab, and how much he loved his family. I used to smile at his primitive spelling and stick-figure crayon drawings, filing every writing away to brighten up a later day.

He told me stories of the pill bugs that escaped the classrooms and were found all over the school. Or the boy who put his foot in the toilet in the bathroom.

He moved on down the hall. He made new friends. He struggled. He discovered the joy of a really good book. He learned that he loved math and science and that all someone had to do was talk about it and he absorbed it like a sponge. He learned that sometimes he had to work hard at something and it wasn’t always easy. And even if he threw his pencil across the room and broke it, even if he said a cuss word in the process, his mother loved him anyway.

He learned that sometimes his mother said a cuss word in the process too. Damn homework.homework mominthemuddle.com

He told me stories about the kid who hid under his desk every day and the teacher who chased them on the playground at recess as they laughed and screamed.

As he moved on down the big kid hall, he learned that sometimes kids are mean. He learned that he didn’t want to be the bad guy, but he didn’t want rocks thrown at him either. He can’t always be a pleaser. Sometimes friends aren’t good at their job. Sometimes he found they could make him feel bad about himself, like when he got new glasses. Sometimes friends challenged him though. If they read a book, he wanted to read it too. He discovered a love for J.R.R. Tolkien and Roald Dahl.

He told me stories about the boys’ bathroom and the boy who licked the urinal. He told me all about the first overnight field trip he went on—he had the time of his life while I stayed home unable to breathe.

Now in fifth grade, he jokes with his teachers. He doesn’t need to be coddled. He does his homework in his room and I see it only when he needs help or when it is returned home graded. His writings are about fighters and his friends, no longer sappy and sweet. He takes pleasure in trying to teach me new math lessons he has learned, thinking he’ll stump me. And he has.

He tells me stories about kickball and monkey ball and the things I would not believe the boys do at lunch. He tells me about the science experiments with tea bags and the mock stock exchange they’re doing in math that he loves.

Now in the last week of his elementary school career, he walks down the hall confident, smiling, knowing many friends. He stands at my shoulders, lean and broad, baby fat long gone.

Six years ago when he entered that school, he was a quiet, funny, scared kid. When he walks out those doors for the last time, I’ll still recognize that little boy somewhere inside. But I couldn’t be more proud of the countless ways he’s grown.

mominthemuddle.com note

A note my son gave me in first grade.

Advertisements

33 Comments

Filed under Family

A Tribute to My Favorite Teacher: The One Who Opened the Door

I had one teacher who I was pretty sure hated me for breathing. I wasn’t one of her pets, one of those good students who got physics the minute the words rolled off her tongue. If you weren’t one of the great students in her class, forget it. Never mind that you made As or Bs most everywhere else. I looked at my final exam, rolled my eyes, scrawled some numbers on it, and walked out. It was my last “screw you” to her. I had already been accepted to college, and I wouldn’t be getting any science degree. She taught me that not every teacher’s agenda includes every student.

Of course, I’m ashamed to say there were teachers on the receiving end of my own crooked attitude. Some I made fun of within earshot. How could my chemistry teacher not see she was the spitting image of Peter Pan in that outfit? It absolutely demanded a high-pitched chorus of “You Can Fly” every time she stood before the room in those tan pants and that green collared shirt. Had I been braver, maybe I would have cut a felt hat for her and left it on her desk. Rude as I was, I had my limits. The truth was, science didn’t fascinate me. Neither did her lectures.

Looking back, I’ve felt some teachers did a disservice to me by not pushing me, by letting me slide by on what I knew I could get by with. They didn’t challenge me. They gave me the A. They never encouraged me to read really great books. They never got to know me. They never asked to see something I wrote or gave me pointers. Some teachers were there to go through the motions and collect their paychecks. And I was there to turn in half-assed work and collect my As and Bs. I always did OK and I was always lost in a crowd of really great kids and troublemakers. If you asked any of my teachers now, I bet they wouldn’t even know me.

But one teacher gave me the push I needed. One teacher told me I was good at something. She was hard and strict and she gave me—a quiet, mousy girl when it came down to it—a chance. She taught journalism and AP English. She helped me get out there and get stories, actually talk to people—upperclassmen and adults. She helped me get in front of a camera for our student news show when I wanted to crawl under a table and hide. She talked about the world outside of our high school and introduced me to Edgar Allan Poe. She gave me a camera and made me get out in the community and see it from behind the lens. I never felt like her pet. But she let me know that I had a little bit of talent and that I would have to believe in myself. And it was all that I needed.

When I graduated, I was so moved by the two years I’d had in her classes that I wrote her a letter. It took all the courage I had to give it to her in person. I’m sure it was cheesy and dramatic, covered in the emotion of leaving home and starting anew. But I do remember that I told her she was the best teacher I had ever had. Without a doubt she was.

She was the teacher who ignited my curiosity and unveiled a layer of confidence I never knew I had. And though that kind of learning will never be complete, she is the one who opened the door.

Here’s to Ms. Purdy, in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week.

calculator

We all know I hated math too.

32 Comments

Filed under Inspiration

Can You Still Teach This Old Mom New Math Tricks?

If you read my blog regularly, you may know that math is a bad word to me. Just when I think I’m done with it, it rears its ugly head. So how on earth could I have spawned a child who by some miracle is really starting to get it? A child who not only gets it, but was so excited about something new he learned recently that he wanted to teach it to me?

You may read about that episode, where I may or may not have squirmed a little, here. (It’s a guest post for a great local—to me—moms’ site.) And you may find out whether I am or am not smarter than my fifth grader. In math anyway.

It's deceiving, I say.

It’s deceiving, I say.

22 Comments

Filed under About Mom

Science Fair Is No Picnic

I dread the beginning of school for many reasons. Homework and all of its pencil throwing and tears. A dozen checks to the school’s PTA. And of course, my babies are growing up.

But every September what I dread more than any of it is science fair.

My kids have barely made friends in their new classes when they bring home science fair planners. Due dates loom. Having my kids choose a project that makes sense is like trying to give a cat a bath. Every year my son wants to throw eggs at something and see if they’ll break. Since my kids attend a science and technology school, the standard moldy bread or using a lemon to charge a battery just doesn’t cut it. Smashing eggs is kind of on that list too. Students actually have to test a theory and prove or disprove it. They need controls and variables, reasons the results would turn out differently during each trial of the procedure. I can barely understand it all myself, much less explain it to my kids apparently.

Last year’s thirteen weeks of due dates, arguments, testing, and scrambling made me swear we would get ahead of the game this year. Yet here we are with only days left to decide the kids’ projects. Parents and children in this house can never agree on a project. From the start, the experience is doomed.

My stubborn son didn’t take our advice last year on one of the many projects we suggested, something easily tested, something that could be backed up with research. His only requirement for a project: smashing something. I somehow doubt that is how scientists go about proving the link between how flu germs spread and the way we cover our coughs. He chose to build a Lego car and see whether an egg is safer in the back or front seat. Then he thoroughly enjoyed smashing up eggs as he tested his hypothesis.

egg car

What an eggy mess.

His project simply didn’t work. And there was little research to be found.

Meanwhile, my daughter had her first project and tested the permanence of permanent markers on various surfaces. This project met our approval because it was easy to prove and test, though I didn’t realize how many loads of wash this project would require from me.

permanent marker project

Guess what? It stays on fabric, washes off plastic.

Honestly, I think the kids would benefit from a project that would reveal useful information. How much soap is necessary to remove the odor from feet that have never been properly washed? Or which hand-washing method is more effective: putting soap on your palm and blasting it away as soon as you turn the water on, or running your hands quickly through a drip of water with no soap? I think the kids may be surprised at those results.

And really, wouldn’t parents want to know if the tone of their voice has any effect on the results when asking their kids to do something? Or how much repetition is necessary before a child really gets it through his thick skull that you are not doing the science fair project for him?

38 Comments

Filed under Can't Get a Break

I Never Said I Was Good at Math

Of all the hurdles I thought I’d have to face as a parent, I never thought homework would be the one to trip me up the most, causing so many tears and leaving some of us flat-faced on the floor. When will this nightmare be over?

When I was a kid, I came home from school and did my homework. It wasn’t until high school that I remember writhing in pain as my dad tried to teach me formulas and pre-calculus while my eyes rolled back in my head and I bit my tongue hard to keep bad words from spilling out.

I despise math. I could not sit in a chair long enough to listen to anyone explain it because I did not care about it. Yet, somehow, I managed to survive it. I thought with the repeat of my college algebra course that was the end of it. No more. Hallelujah! The only math I’d see was for simple household measuring, grocery shopping. My word, someone has put a curse on me and given me children who sometimes need help with math. And I have to be the calm one.

Occasionally I check my son’s homework. Not always. I look at those long division problems and three-digit multiplication and know it would take me all night to work it out in my head. I don’t have time for that. My son does well in math. I glance and figure it’s OK.

Yesterday I got out the calculator to check up on him, just to make sure he wasn’t struggling. He got four of those big multiplication problems wrong. He redid the first one—992 x 91—and got the same answer. He did it again, same answer.

“Well this is the answer the calculator says. You’re not doing it right,” I told him.

Mind you, I didn’t take away his dinner or tell him he couldn’t have candy for a year, but the rolling on the floor and fussing that ensued would have made you think so.

He did the problem again and he got the same answer. His mechanical pencil mysteriously “fell apart.” I worked the problem on the calculator again. It had the same different answer I got before. Then I worked the problem on paper and got an entirely different answer from any of them, but it was closer to his.

“Hmmm.”

Quiet.

This was not looking good. Are calculators sometimes wrong? I use this calculator for work, for important things. I’ve used this calculator since college. This calculator gave us an answer that was nearly 60,000 off. I thought the answer seemed strange but who am I to question a calculator?

We went to the computer and got the same answer I got on paper. The calculator was wrong. My son was wrong. I was right. What is wrong with this world when you can’t rely on a calculator to check your math?

My son had only missed two problems and not four. Our calculator could not be trusted. And I guess that meant that I could not be trusted in my son’s eyes. I guess it also meant I’m going to have to start working all those problems out the long way. Or maybe he has this multiplication thing down good enough.

calculators make quick work

Am I smarter than a calculator?

 

43 Comments

Filed under Family

Redshirting: There Will Always Be What-Ifs

Nearly a year ago, I wrote about our family’s decision to send our daughter to kindergarten on time, to not hold her back a year and give her an academic cushion. That practice, called redshirting, caused a lot of sleepless nights.

When I wrote the post, I thought only a handful of parents like me would read it, parents searching for someone else’s story. A few days later, “60 Minutes” aired a segment on redshirting and WordPress featured my post on Freshly Pressed. Then and ever since I have been getting feedback. I wish I had read those experiences and thoughts years ago when I was searching the Internet for answers. I thought some readers would want a follow-up now that my daughter is in second grade.

My daughter’s late August birthday, days before the August 31 cutoff, means she is nearly a full year younger than some of her classmates, kids with fall birthdays and others who were held back. The thing is, she was always going to be on the line, the youngest or the oldest. My husband and I had a decision to make when she was four: Could she handle kindergarten now? Yes, we absolutely thought she could.

Without sounding like a bragging momma, my daughter does really well in school. She aces her spelling tests. She reads chapter books and understands the content. She can add triple digits and do math in her head almost as well as I can, which probably isn’t saying much. She’s not the smartest kid in her class but she doesn’t have a hard time.

If we had held her back, I don’t think she would be challenged at all. My daughter doesn’t struggle with her work, but she sometimes has to think about it. Since I have an older son, I know this is appropriate.

She certainly feels more outside pressure this year to do well. She’s starting to notice the nasty world of ridicule and shame when kids giggle at others for performing poorly on schoolwork. There’s a fear of being made fun of if she makes a bad grade. I tell her it’s OK to miss things and that she will. Honestly, I don’t know how this pressure she puts on herself will translate as she gets older.redshirtpic

I’ll never know the what-ifs. What if we had held her back? Would she be more relaxed? Would she worry less? If we had held her back, I’d always think her progress was due to her advantage in age. But right now I have nothing but pride in every single thing that she does. She proves that she doesn’t need an edge to get by.

When every new school year begins, I’ll wonder whether she’ll struggle. I’ll always wonder whether this will be the year that her young age catches up to her. I’ll wonder whether every problem she has is connected to her age. I’m not sure whether I’ll ever stop wondering a little, but she proves to me that she’s developmentally on track every time.

Second grade was a trying year for my son, socially and emotionally. He had meltdowns and a total transformation from a sweet, loving kid to a near monster every afternoon. He’s back to being a sweetheart. If I hadn’t known this, I’d be much more worried now about my daughter during this transitional year filled with moodiness, attitude, and tears. Turns out she’s normal.

Having an older child has helped me see her future. I know that if she doesn’t test into the academically gifted program next year, I’ll wonder if it’s because of her age. I’ll wonder if holding her back would have helped. I’ll know some other kids who maybe had an advantage because of their age, and I’ll hate that for her. I’ll know it’s not a big deal if she doesn’t get in. And I’ll know she’ll be hurt anyway—because I know her.

Her age can never be an excuse, for her or for me. Pushing oneself to succeed is something I was never able to pull off. Watching my kid do it is something I’m not sure I’m strong enough to handle. But my daughter shows me her strength every day. Just when I doubt her ability, she’ll do her work with such ease. I marvel at her attitude and wish it would rub off on me. She is capable. She is smart. And I have no regrets about not redshirting her. My only hope is that my fears never stand in her way.

50 Comments

Filed under Parenting

Miscalculating: I Never Thought I’d Need Math Again

“I hate math! I wish it never existed. I’m no good at it. Ugh!”

Though that’s something one of my kids could have shouted over homework, those thoughts actually came from my math-incapable brain while editing a math book last week.

Always glad to have some freelance work, I shudder when I see pages of fraction multiplication staring at me. Immediately I recall splintered desks, stuffy classrooms, heavy eyes, and groups of numbers that could be anything from a top-secret security code to a phone number to a long division problem crawling across my page. The teacher spoke mumbo jumbo, a complex language that lulled us creative kids right to sleep so all the math whizzes would learn her special secrets.

I have a secret that my own kids don’t know: When my dad tried to show me why I was using the wrong algebraic and geometric formulas, I writhed and squirmed like a child getting a tooth pulled. I just wanted him to do my homework for me too, for it to be done. I didn’t want to learn it. I wanted to be put out of my math misery just like my kids do—and that was in high school.

Miraculously, I made it through algebra, geometry, and pre-calculus. The probability of that has to be one in a million, or something. In college I majored in journalism, never to look back at math again, but I failed my one college math course and had to repeat it. My parents started doing some math of their own. I figured that equation out just fine: no pass equaled serious trouble.

So who knew that in a career focused on words, the copy editor job I took before I had my son would require me to know math? Who knew that? In some sick, twisted joke, I worked for an educational publisher. I had to not only edit worksheets for elementary kids, but also make sure everything was right. Someone has to check answer keys, you know.

calculators make quick workLast week’s fractions have been quite the refresher. Quick, what’s 2/3 + 5/8? You can bet I know the answer. What’s 8 x 1/5? I am convinced the sole reason I had that job was in preparation for helping my kids with their homework. While they squirm and say, “I don’t get it,” I do. Even my husband, one of those math people, says, “Multiplying fractions, I’m not sure I remember how to do that.”

Sometimes what I edit is harder than fractions. Sometimes I’m thankful I’m not a fifth-grader anymore. I edit. I squirm. I think, “How are kids supposed to figure this out if a nearly 40-year-old woman can’t do it?” I walk around. I try again. I scribble all over scraps of paper. Nasty thoughts swim through my head. I sigh. I rethink the problem. Maybe the editor did it wrong, not me. No, I’m sure it’s me. “How in the flip flyin’ floo do they come up with this stuff? Grrrrr!” I ask my husband to do the problem. Of course he gets it.

Sometimes I have to cheat, working backward from the answer key. These people pay me by the hour. Surely they can’t afford me being slow to grasp a concept. And I am so happy to get problems that can be done with a calculator. I’m not sure fraction calculators existed when I was in school, but there they are on the Internet. Hallelujah!

One thing is certain: One day my kids will realize my math limits and for homework at least, I’ll be off the hook.

Problems to ponder:

1. It takes Muddled Mom 8 days to nibble a 6-inch chocolate bar. How much of the chocolate bar does she sneak each day when her kids aren’t looking? Ah, to hell with it. Eat the 6 inches in 8 minutes. That’s more likely, right?

2. Muddled Mom spends 4 hours a day editing a math book. Two-thirds of each hour is spent pulling out her hair. How many hours does Muddled Mom spend pulling out her hair? The bigger question: Does Muddled Mom have any hair left?

41 Comments

Filed under About Mom