Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Hey parents...put those helicopter blades away...

I am a high school English teacher. I am sure I have mentioned that here before, but this piece of knowledge is critical to this post. Every year, beginning in April, we (us English teachers) sit down and decide how to construct summer reading. We consider a few things when deciding what the reading will be: 1. the curriculum, 2. what we need students to know, 3. what might interest the students, and 4. skills needed for the class.

For my AP classes I try to choose 2 non-fiction books, plus 2 chapters from a textbook on rhetoric, and a rhetoric handbook with terms they MUST know for the class. For honors, I try to pick books that deal with identity in a global society (10th grade is World Literature). These books have varied, but are always suitable for young adult reading. Along with the reading, we do different writing activities. For AP, the work is due on the first day of school. Honors and standard have until the end of September to complete their work. That is, count it, 4 months...to read 2 books.

We expect kids to complain..."it's summer...why do I have to read?"...but the number of parents who complain has become increasingly alarming (yes, alarming, no hyperbole).

As far back as I can remember, I had to do summer reading. I didn't love every book, but reading every book felt like an accomplishment. I can say I read Jane Eyre, and Jazz, and Brave New World, and countless other novels that I was introduced to through my summer reading. I suppose I was a rare student; I would have read regardless of assignments. I participated in Sneaks. I did Book It! I read, and read, and read.

My parents didn't have to tell me to read. They didn't complain about work that the school sent home. In fact, they supported. They knew that summer reading, summer work was good. Educationally, it was vital to my learning and my retention of skills and concepts learned the year prior.

If you don't read, don't do any work over the summer, you lose what you have gained. Plain and simple.

In my six years as a teacher parents have become more and more involved. And not involved in a "I attend my kid's sporting event". This involvement goes beyond sports or PTA or boosters. It goes into the classroom. It is a daily email or phone call. It is a complaint when a grade drops below a B because "my child doesn't get Cs". It is questioning assignments. Or books. Or lessons. It is questioning summer reading.

I am not sure when teachers become the least knowledgeable people in their field because most parents think they know better. They know how to lesson plan. They know how to teach. They know the books that should be assigned. They know how to grade.

The truth?

They don't.

My advice: be an advocate for your child when it is warranted. Put the helicopter blades away. Don't ask for an A. Don't ask for the easy way out. You are doing a disservice to your child. Let them learn. Let it be hard. Let them work.

As teachers we aren't out to get your child. We don't have time for that. We want your child to be curious. To seek knowledge. To be challenged. Let us do that for them, with them.

You want to know why I became a teacher? Honestly? Because I wanted to light something within my students. Find what makes them spark, and light that on fire. I want to give them the gifts of intellect and knowledge and curiosity. I want to challenge them. I want to help them find the words to give them voice.

So land the helicopter. Come back to earth. And show your child that you support them in their education by your example. Pick up the book I assigned and read with them. Ask them questions. Journey together. Don't just yell at me. Or question me. Show your child that education is important. Not the grade. But the actual learning. Because once your child understands that, no one can take it from them. And that is what is important. That is what I want for my kids.

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