Excuses

“At the end of the day, let there be no explanations, no excuses, no regrets.”

-Steve Maraboli

 

It's ironic that today's topic is excuses because I believe all three of us have good excuses as to why we wouldn't have time to write this today. I am currently packing to move next week, and I had to pause to write this piece. I’m sitting here with my apartment in a complete state of disarray, choosing to be okay with it because I this is something I have made a commitment to do every week.

 

It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that we are so busy that we don’t have the capacity to take on more projects, or social outings, or fill in the blank. At the end of the day, the reality is that most of us are really busy. There will always be something to be done or something that will keep you busy. As we enter more demanding times of our life, it is easier to make excuses as to why we cannot do certain things.

 

Whether it be social, work-related, or otherwise, it is incredibly easy for me to think of reasons why I cannot do something. For me, this typically falls in the category of social outings and friendships. I have a good number of friends, but when I have to pick between work/school and my social life, the latter is always disregarded. This makes it easier for me to excuse myself from social situations when I just don’t feel like going out or leaving my house as well. After a while, people start to expect this from you and stop inviting you to things.

 

The same thing can be said for excusing yourself from work/school work. If you are the first one to excuse yourself any time your boss asks someone to stay late and work on a project, you might be overlooked when it comes time for a promotion. Similarly, if you disregard chances to get ahead in school by doing extra credit assignments or being involved in extracurriculars because of excuses, you might miss out on opportunities that your peers receive.

 

There are also times when we excuse ourselves on more serious terms, like when we miss a deadline or forget to complete a task. People are generally forgiving when this happens occasionally because they understand that things happen. When this is a regular occurrence, the consequences and the stakes are higher. Failure to complete tasks or assignments on a regular basis might result in a job loss or a failed class. At that point, no excuse will be able to undo the damage done.


Excuses are a slippery slope. Using them occasionally to allow yourself a break from an obligation is okay, but it can be dangerous to use them regularly. People who habitually make excuses develop a reputation for themselves professionally and personally. Looking at the situation as a whole, it is okay to make excuses occasionally when you really won’t benefit from what you are trying to get out of, but overall establishing a pattern of excuse-making is going to negatively affect the relationships in all areas of your life.

-          Bria

Excuse… the act of being pardoned or released from an obligation.  This is an act that is all too common in school life.  The change I have perceived over the years is the increased amount of parent willingness to accept full responsibility for a child’s failures in expected behaviors and/or tasks.

            I actually had one first grade student give his excuse for failing to return something to school with this quip, “My mom made me!”   I delved further by saying, “You are telling me she actually kept the required paper from you and wouldn’t let you return it?”  His answer: “No, I mean she ‘made’ me…I was born!”  So, from his perspective, everything was his mother’s fault!

            Teaching students to have responsibility is a very difficult task.  Parents want their children to be good citizens, but they often prevent that outcome by offering excuses for the child’s lack of ownership of the problem at hand.  In fact, such constantly excused children soon become master manipulators in the same way Eddie Haskell was on the old “Leave It to Beaver” TV series.

            I find, however, that I am more perturbed with schools making excuses for not meeting the needs of students…especially the gifted and talented students.  Many times I have been visiting schools on business when the topic of my helping get the gifted law passed in Oklahoma by working with then Representative Penny Williams and Senator Bernice Shedrick comes to the forefront.  Immediately, I am told all kinds of excuses about why their particular school can’t spend money to help gifted education. I listen patiently (I asked for no such information), even though I am very aware of the Shiny Greyhound- type touring bus(es) provided for the sports teams.  Why make excuses?  Almost everyone knows that Oklahoma sports are the number one priority and other programs must yield to them. Don’t get me wrong, I love to watch sports and I know valuable team skills are developed through them.

            We are suffering a budget shortfall in our state.  Educators are screaming about how they must cut budgets to survive.  They usually include fine arts in that threat.  No one talks of cutting sports expenditures.  So, when it comes to a vote of the people for bond money, often the public is told, “We may lose our sports program if this fails.”  That is when the people speak, and sports win again!

            Lest I cause a great outpouring of negative rebuttals from sports fans, I also take issue with the excuses given by the education establishments for riding a dead horse into the ground.  We have known for at least two decades now that human learning requires more than rote memorization of facts.  We have learned about circadian rhythms and learning styles as well as the processing done by the brain.  Yet, we still find classrooms where every child is on the same page at the same time working at the same pace as everyone else.

            In this age of the “J Curve” (I am amazed so few people are aware of even this development), it is becoming increasingly important for excuse-making to stop.  Learners must be able to think and process at an alarming rate brought about by the speed of technological breakthroughs.  I may be 73 years old, but I am doing my part to help our students accept responsibility for learning and for producing some positive accomplishment in this world of ours!    

                                                                                                     - Kay

Ask any kid who’s been in my middle or high school classes in the last ten years, and he will tell you one of my favorite quotes is Excuses only satisfy the person who makes them.  There’s a fine line between an excuse and a reason.  For example, I cannot give blood because I have had thrombocytopenia during my pregnancies, and there’s too much risk it might come back and I’d bleed out during the donation.  That is the reason I cannot give.  I have no excuse, though, for not participating in this life-saving activity.  For that reason, my secondary students and I host a blood drive every year.  This is my way of contributing.

            There are many reasons kids are the way they are.  When those reasons become excuses, however, the child’s performance is less than adequate.  Unfortunately for many kids, the excuses come via a parent.  I can work with kids with challenging issues… until Mom convinces them that they “can’t” do something because of that challenging condition.  I am all for identifying limitations, but come on, Mom, let your child at least attempt to overcome. 

            Can you imagine where we would be if Frederick Douglas hadn’t learned to read, escaped slavery, and written about it, risking his own life to expose this atrocity in the process?  Or what if after the first fire Thomas Edison set in his father’s barn, or the second fire he set in a railroad car, he had decided to quit experimenting ever again because of his proclivity to fire?  History is full of stories of individuals overcoming challenges to create and conquer and liberate and prosper.  Some tell me that the problem with today’s youth is that they are required to do nothing hard.  One part of me says, “That’s what every generation says about the generation following theirs.”  Another side of me agrees, though.  Everything from shoes with Velcro straps to the high frequency of students telling me they’re allergic to mosquito bites because they get a raised, itchy spot when bitten supports this theory.  (Sorry to break it to you, kid, but we all get that reaction.)

            I encourage you strongly, Mom and Dad, don’t let any reason become an excuse.  You are not protecting your child when you excuse poor performance; you are weakening your child. 

            Every Sunday morning at 6:00 a.m., I watch On the Money, a news show about emerging business trends.  The host was interviewing Andy Puzder about the growing trend of automated restaurants and grocery stores where you just scan the food you want as you go with your phone, and the store charges your credit card.  He was not concerned about the automation, in fact declaring it inevitable due to the way society purchases items nowadays and the increasing labor costs.  Instead, he was advocating not rushing the automation so that we have time to train our labor force to change with the times. 

            I always joke with students when they let their grades dip, “You better start practicing the phrase, ‘Would you like fries with that?’”  If those jobs are gone, what exactly will we be training our labor force to do?  Well, if everything is going automated, I guess the entry-level job may become mechanic.  It takes a lot more brains to rebuild a motor or reprogram a computer than it does to take a dinner order, though. 

            We live in a time in which it has become very hard to distinguish oneself from others.  College entrance exams have aligned with a set of facts so more people will score well, and college is no longer limited to the best and the brightest.  What does a young adult have to do to stand out from the rest?   I propose that he or she must stand out all along the way

            The difference between my good students and my great students has never been the intelligence with which they were born.  It has always been how the parents have chosen to guide.  Pushing too hard makes resentful kids who get really good at hiding bad behavior.  Doing everything for and making excuses for makes entitled kids who fail to launch.  The best parents are the ones who inspire their children to try new things, who encourage them to set goals and then give them the tools to reach those goals, who never let them cower behind an excuse but instead teach them to reach within the depths of their souls and find the strength to overcome.   

            One last thought, and I’ll get off my soapbox:  I had a teacher once who told kids, “Don’t come to me with your problem; instead, come tell me your intended solution to your problem.”  Genius!

-          Michelle

How Much is Too Much?

It depends.  Who’s asking?  Ironically, both of my kids started new jobs this week.  As my daughter moves from interning to a career, naturally questions about her hours are of big concern.  As I listened to her reason her way through what would be acceptable in terms of overtime, I was forced to examine my own feelings on the amount of time I’m willing to give my career.  My husband and I both get up early and get to work well before time for school to start.  We both stay at the school till almost 6:00, and then after dinner, sit down to grade and plan classes until we drag ourselves to bed.  We work on Saturdays and Sundays, and we do big work projects at least a portion of our vacation days.  Were we always like this, or is this just because we no longer have kids at home?

   I remember working on weekends early in my career, and I know I stayed up grading quite a lot.  But, I think I did a whole lot less than I do now.  I had kids; they had lives.  I didn’t put their lives on hold for my job.  Truth be told, I had a whole lot less to do back then.  I only taught then.  I was not a part owner and a principal as well as a full-time teacher back then. 

   That made the stakes different.  I put my time into that which I was building.  When my children were home, I was helping them build a successful future.  Therefore, much of my time went into that, including my first years at Lawton Academy.  There was no intent for a high school at LAAS when we came.  It was because my son and one other faculty member’s son wanted to continue into high school that we ever began offering high school.  I suppose that’s about when I started really putting in long hours at Lawton Academy.  My children were as well, though.  We were building a program together, so I guess I was combining the two.

    Now that my kids are adults, I have many hours that were previously spoken for open for development.  I have chosen to put them into building this school into a highly efficient model of what gifted education should look like.  Why?  Oh, I don’t know.  Maybe it’s partly because I hated school.  I vowed to change it.  Learning is fun; why then is school so boring?  I never felt it had to be, and I think we are proving that daily.  Maybe it’s because I see this school as a ministry.  We ask God to bring the ones we can help and take the ones who don’t need us.   Because I feel God does this, it’s very intriguing to me to watch how God uses us in a life, and I love what I learn in the process.  Maybe it’s because watching these kids create and connect and succeed is so highly rewarding that I just have to have more! All I know is that, until there are grandkids to tempt me to be away more often, I do not see my hours lessening, and I am okay with that.

-          Michelle

How much is too much?  I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve asked or been asked for the answer to that question during my lifetime.  It simply is not an easy question…no matter what subject may be the pressing matter at hand.

            I’ve already addressed this question concerning homework for students.  But the first thought that comes to my mind is the information load being thrust upon all of us today.  “TMI” has become the byword for much of TV with its plethora of advertising.  Bodily functions of every sort have become the subject matter of commercials all day long.  My students are much more aware of constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (thanks to the animations and silly characters portraying body parts), and the use of sleep aides.

            I run into trouble with the “too much information” situation when part of my first grade class talk freely about Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.  For every child who still looks forward to meeting these characters, I have a handful who are called by a “noble” cause to set the record straight for these poor misguided individuals.  “Silly…there’s no such thing!  It’s just your parents!”  Then I spend uncomfortable moments trying to soothe over the situation without “giving out too much information” myself. 

            I know other areas of concern include how much we give of ourselves on the job, in our family responsibilities, our church and social lives.  If you’re a workaholic like me, it becomes a juggling act of mammoth proportions.  As a young administrator, I chose to teach a full day of classes and completed my administrative responsibilities before I awakened the family for the day’s beginning.  I finished them up in the night hours after I put them all to bed.  I survived upon four to five hours of sleep a night.  It worked for me…but I don’t recommend it to anyone.

            Now that I am one of the owners of our school corporation, I still put in the hours and teach a full load.  I can’t make do on less than six hours of sleep anymore, but I do a lot of extra work all weekends.  It’s the same story for my family members who work in this business.  However, each of us has to judge for ourselves what we are willing to give in order to make this school successful.

            The lessons I’ve learned over 50 years are these: nothing is more important than your family relationships, so keep them a top priority; learn to put some things aside undone – they won’t be well-done anyway if you aren’t in the best of moods or attention spans; learn to say “no” when you know in your heart that you are covered up in work; and set aside time now and then to get away from work, home, etc. and refresh yourself. 

            I once asked my computer tech if I should have students turn computers off each day, or if I should leave them on always.  She said, “Like motors, they need rest now and then.  Eventually, the toll on the parts will cause sudden death.  Nothing lasts forever.  Besides, just because no one is working on that computer at the moment, it doesn’t mean the internal parts aren’t working and heating up.”  The same is true of the brain and involuntary muscles of our bodies.  Give them a rest!       

-          Kay

Does anyone else feel like they are racing towards a finish line? Right now, I have a demanding full time job (plus evenings when there is an event), full time night school, an energetic puppy and I'm moving in the next two weeks. Life if throwing a lot at me right now and I'm trying to find a balance.

I know I'm not the only one who is busy right now. I have friends in similar situations that also have children to take care of. Everyone has something going on to keep them busy; it's all about managing your priorities and setting boundaries.

For me, my problem is that I am a ‘“yes man.” Basically, this means that if you ask me to do something, I'm probably going to do it even if I don't have time. I'm having to learn how to set better boundaries because my job is all-consuming and the company will take as much as you are willing to give.

This is a problem that students often find themselves in as well. Being in school alone is already time consuming, but on top of that, many students take on extracurricular activities, lessons and youth groups. Even for a young person, this can be incredibly overwhelming. When I was in school, I wanted to be a part of everything and it was a lot to handle. Luckily, I was able to start learning my limits at a young age.

Now, I am able to step back and look at my priorities in life and divide my time according to what matters most to me. Right now, I don't have children or a family, and I am able to give more attention to my career. If someone needs to stay late to close down, I am often willing and able to do so. I will not want to do this for very long, but right now I have the capacity to do this and I'm not taking that time away from a family. Because I am establishing that now, I will think twice before I agree to a lot of extra work once I no longer have the time.


The earlier you can learn your limits and the capacity of work that you are able to take on, the earlier you can make priorities and divide your time and attention accordingly. Everyone is busy; some things are worth your time, but ultimately it is up to you to decide how much is too much. Work hard, but don't say “yes” to everyone because you think you can. It is important to remember to take care of yourself and leave some time for rest and relaxation.

                                                                                                Bria

Spring "Cleaning"

Spring cleaning…brings assorted thought “sweeping” through my mind!  First of all, my daughter and I have two different viewpoints on the subject.  As a former military wife, change and cleaning for a new duty assignment are as natural as daylight and dark for her.  In fact, I often got worried when she would announce, I’m getting the feeling that it’s time to move on to a new place.  I was afraid she would never be able to settle in once and for all.  However, she’s done pretty well at being content.

            I, on the other hand, consider the subject of spring cleaning as drudgery and hard work.  That may be a result of my mother’s spring cleaning rituals which included her and me sitting on the windowsills of our second floor flat and washing the windows on the outside.  She also managed to throw in stripping wallpaper off the walls to repaper or to paint and texture the walls of her rental flat.  These are not things teenagers look forward to with great anticipation!

            My reasoning power tells me that it is difficult to know when it is the right time to take on this monumental task.  I teach my students to consider March 21 as the typical first day of spring since the spring equinox occurs on or about that date each year.  However, if you live in Oklahoma, spring may not show up until much later…or better yet, it may have sprung up with warm sunshine, buds, and stormy weather in February.  I have seen snow in April also.  This is why I laugh at folks who say, “Don’t wear white until Easter, and put the white away after Labor Day.  How silly we can be!  I’ve enjoyed seventy and eighty degree weather in Oklahoma during the middle of winter.  In fact, I’m sure the composer of the song, “Oh Susanna!” lived in Oklahoma when he wrote “the sun’s so hot I froze to death, Susanna don’t you cry!”

            On the positive side, I love to be outdoors after a spring rain.  The air feels clean and crisp.  All around me I see a “clean” landscape while smelling the pungent smells of pine trees, sweet aroma of newly-budding flowers, and the fertile “earth” smell of wet ground.  It makes me happy that I am alive to enjoy it.  My thoughts usually immediately think of the blind and deaf people who are missing this most wonderful blessing.  And, I say, “Thank you, God, for giving me these wonderful senses to take in all this beauty.

            I am sitting in my classroom right now, looking around and seeing all the “spring cleaning” I need to be doing.  Books need rearranging, old papers need tossing, and carpets are about ready for a new bath!  However, I also see the stack of papers needing grading before tomorrow’s school day begins.  So, no matter how nice it is outside, no matter what date the calendar shows, my spring cleaning will take place in the coming month in bits and pieces as I find an hour here and there that can be devoted to each task.  I WILL get it done…if I don’t, my daughter will come in behind me while I take a break and do it for me!  If I want to keep some of my treasures…I best get to them quickly!  Seriously, she does have a gift of organization…and it usually turns out to be quite helpful.    

                                                                                         - Kay

It's official: spring has sprung. The birds are chirping, the flowers are blooming and it's time to clean out that box of junk in the back of your closet. Regardless of whether or not you ascribe to the notion of spring cleaning, spring is in a way a fresh start. We once again have survived winter and now we can move happily towards the summer time and all that encompasses.

 

As we begin to think about spring cleaning, I encourage you to broaden your definition of spring cleaning. Not only should we be organizing our house, we should also be organizing our thoughts, goals and desires. Take this time to clean your house, but recognize it as a fresh start in many aspects of your life.

 

For many of us, we are finishing up a school year. Deadlines and expectations can weigh you down in ways that you don't expect. As part of your spring cleaning, do a self-check. How are you feeling mentally, physically, emotionally? This is a time to start over and seek happiness.

 

One of the most important things you can do for yourself is to understand the importance of self-care. Work, school and other obligations are important, but remember to take care of yourself as well.

 

Fans of the show Parks and Rec will be familiar with the phrase “Treat Yo Self.” Two of the show’s main characters have a day each year in which they treat themselves to things that make them happy. For these characters, that is shopping. While you don't have to set aside a personal holiday, it is important to occasionally do something just because it makes you happy. Maybe after a hard week at school or work, you can take yourself out to a nice dinner or buy yourself that new video game you have been wanting. This practice can and will improve your mental wellbeing.

 

I encourage you to reflect on other ways you can have a fresh start this spring. Maybe adding exercise to your weekly routine could improve your mood and self-esteem. Or maybe you could join a book club if reading more would make you happier. Think of ways to take care of yourself as you move into a busy time of your life. Small changes and practices can make a huge difference in your daily attitude.


Spring cleaning is important for your house and your belongings. I would argue that it is even more important for your wellbeing. It's time to clear out the crud - whether that be the trash under your couch or the stress caused by neglecting to take breaks. Winter is over, spring is here, and with it comes opportunity.

-          Bria

I always enjoy the spring because it’s when I start looking at the changes I plan for next year.  The year is about to end, and several of the changes we made last year are working well.  But there is always room for improvement.  By this time of year, I can usually even give a couple of the ideas a “trial run,” so to say. 

Sure, there are downsides to spring at school, not the least of which (for the kids) is still being in school!  The elementary kids are dying to play outside, and the secondary are beginning the conversion to their summer nocturnal selves – a real problem when they still must get up and come to school after those precious two hours of sleep! But some of the greatest catharses come in the spring of the school year. 

Regional and state competitions all occur in spring.  Champions meet to compete against other champions, and wins and losses are totaled. Still, everyone’s happy just to have made it to the championship, and all have strategies for making it further next year.  The malaise often attributed to seasonal depression is lifting, and teens usually cloaked in all black don shorts and sun dresses.  And grade schoolers try incredibly hard to focus on the event that keeps interrupting their recesses!

I think whoever decided that resolutions should come on New Year’s Day really didn’t understand the human psyche.  In the middle of winter, we’re not ready to change anything.  We’re hunkered down in our softest jammies, waiting out the bitter cold.  My greatest resolutions – and they are the greatest because I actually keep them – come the first days of spring.  That’s when I feel like creating something new.  Happy Spring everybody!

-          Michelle

 

           

Homework

     Ahhh, the two sided-argument where both sides are actually right because the answer is really just an opinion.  If I had a dime for every parent who comes to me complaining of too much homework… I’d have a matching dime for those who complain we do not give enough.  And all have stories of “when they were a child.”  That just tells me that these two conflicting philosophies have been conflicting for a long time!  In an attempt to root out the perfect answer, let’s explore the origins of school and homework in the first place.

     Upon choosing education as my major in college, one of the first things I was taught was that horses had rights in America before children did.  Shocking, I know!  Animal rights activists looked at how people were using their workhorses and demanded rules to prevent working them to death.  Getting those protective laws passed was much easier than protecting our children.  Congress passed a couple of bills, but the Supreme Court threw them out as unconstitutional.  Eventually, fair labor laws were put in place that prohibited children under 16 from working, but a side effort that came out of this campaign was the Compulsory Attendance Law.  (Yes, I know, historians.  It wasn’t only due to fighting child labor.)  I get a kick out of pointing out to kids that school actually saved them from working 70 hours a week in a factory with very bad living conditions and all the money going to their parents!

   From these humble beginnings, America’s education system grew as a way to make its citizens the best and the brightest in the world.  Somewhere along the way, we have kind of lost sight of this initiative.

   Today some schools tout “no homework,” while others build their reputations on the hard work required outside of school as well as in.  Some districts require a certain number of grades per week, while other educational philosophies shun written work for exploratory learning.  What’s a teacher to do?

    And therein lies the answer:  the teacher must decide what cannot be done in class and send that as homework. 

    To the parents who ask for extra work so their child can be ahead of the class, I recommend Mardels.  Mardels is an Oklahoma-based Christian bookstore with a huge home-schooling section.  The books even come with teacher’s guides.  Assign to your hearts content!

    To the parents who ask for less homework, I advise talking to the teacher about why your child has so much homework.  Is he/she concentrating in class, or is he/she wasting time and then having to do the work at home?  If you believe in family time after school and the district gives so much homework that you cannot have family time, a move is in order.

    Here’s the truth about homework from a teacher’s perspective:  more homework for your child means more homework for us to grade.  I already grade from 6:30 to 10:30 every week night and several hours on the weekend; I don’t want more.   But your child must do the work.  In a school for gifted and talented, I prefer not to send the majority of work home.  I want the child to do it without parental supervision.  Many parents feel they must prove their child is gifted with straight A’s.  You’d be surprised how many parents we’ve had over the years who will not let their kid turn in a paper until it’s perfect.  That sounds great – mastery teaching at its best.  But what it really does is encourage the child to work slowly so he/she can take it home and get a perfect grade with Mom or Dad.  Then when the test comes, he/she cannot do the work because Mom and Dad are not there to help them.

    For this purpose, my math teacher has gone to a different system of grading when it comes to homework.  He has the students do as many problems as they feel they need to master the concept.  He takes no grade on the problems they’ve done.  Instead, they must be ready to do any problem from the text on the board the next day to demonstrate that they know the concept.  To further make it fun, he allows the student who just finished on the board to pick the next student up and which problem he/she should do.  Team points are awarded for correctly done problems, so there’s a lot at stake if one does not do his homework.  Grades are given on a rubric, with timely mastery of the concept being one of the categories. 

    So what do you do as a parent if your child simply does not do homework?  Parents of young children, start training them now.  If you wait to be involved until they’re older or in constant trouble for missing assignments, it’s too late.  Punishment will be required.  We as teachers do not want you to have to be involved in homework (unless your child is too young to read and we’re asking you to read with him/her).  We want the child to independently do what is necessary to make good grades.  You do too, I know.  Sometimes a teacher just gives too much homework.  That’s an issue to address with the principal.  But, if the homework demands are reasonable, and your child simply won’t do work outside of school, there must be a consequence.  To not have a consequence is to insure your child will not move beyond an hourly-wage job with paid overtime.  Those in careers KNOW that there will be extra work and no compensation for it.  Your child will not be prepared for that.  Let your child clearly know your expectations… go so far as to write it down.  Then let him/her know the consequences for not meeting that expectation.  If the child fails to meet the expectation, administer the consequence, but be sure that the child understands that he/she chose this, just as we choose the chance of a ticket when we choose to speed. 

    In my experience, if a child has a goal and the parent says, “You’ll have to work hard to achieve that, but I can help,” the child will do extra work willingly to try to meet that goal.  Also in my experience, I have learned that a child without a goal will NOT, no matter how much you plead, bribe or punish, do extra work to get ahead on his/her own. 

        No matter where you fall in the homework debate, please don’t miss one major reality:  you only get a short time with these kids before they are grown up and moving out.  Homework is a great way to prepare your child for the demands beyond the work day in a career, but life’s too short to spend every evening doing extra work!   

-          Michelle

Homework   - a topic that will always bring about discussion…but one that rarely achieves total agreement.  It can be applied to schooling, work, hobbies, and even relationships.  We often hear the old admonition, “But first you must do your homework.”  In that sense, it is a lot like doing physical exercise: everyone ought to do it, but few find great pleasure in doing it.

            I have found myself dealing with this issue in schooling throughout my fifty-year career, and I have yet to come to a precise answer as to the proper ratio of homework to grades.  I do know that parents from other countries desire more homework for their children than do most from the U.S.  I have seen kindergarten students from India with as many as seven books in which they write in answers and copy words for two hours every evening.  I have also had students from Korea and India who went to school all day, then went to tutoring classes for two more hours each evening.

            Most of our U.S. students have sports practice, dance, or scouting type of activities and some have church activities after school.   Many have activities every evening and weekends, too.  It is a nightmare for a teacher to find the “ideal” time to send home a homework assignment.  So, we are constantly adjusting and readjusting the assignments for homework.

            It has been my belief that homework for its own sake is just wrong.  Why should a child who understands the concept taught, go home and do it many more times?  Homework will definitely eat into family time.   Yet, I have sent home some homework in the past for two reasons: (1) to teach the child the responsibility of returning work to school the next day, and (2) to have the child practice a concept he/she didn’t get in class, so progress will go on the next day, (only after I helped clarify the problem area to be practiced).

            One thing parents don’t consider when they ask for homework to be given so “my child has something to do besides play video games,” is who will grade the extra homework?  The teacher already teaches all day, then grades for hours at night and on weekends.  For instance, I spend about an hour to an hour and a half grading one assignment and recording the grades.  Multiply that by five to six classes per day…and you have countless hours beyond the regular school day.  So, I’ve begun telling parents who ask for more homework, where they can purchase grade level workbooks which they can use with their children…and answer keys are in the back.

            One other difference I have noticed in this issue as regards U.S. vs. other nations’ homework policies is this:  many of the schools in other countries require strict memorization of the facts.  We tend to seek comprehension of concepts rather than rote memorization.  I do think memorization has a place in education, but I want my students to be able to think…not just recite knowledgeable facts.  So, I guess I shall go on without coming to a conclusion about the amount of homework needed for students.

            I always point out to parents how they like to come home and relax and forget about work at the end of the day.  Are their children any different?      

-          Kay

So they tell me the topic is homework this week...I have so many feelings and opinions about homework as a student. First of all, I will say that I am 70 days aways from never having to do homework for a class ever again. I feel the need to repeatedly declare this outloud because as someone who went from high school directly into college and from undergrad directly into grad school, homework has always been a part of my life. Looking back on all of the homework I have completed in my life, I feel that now I can objectively say that homework as a whole is busy work.

 

I will probably hear some defense against that statement coming from my family of educators, but I stand by it and I have examples. I can think of three ways in which homework has increased my skills or knowledge on a given topic. The first is homework for mastering a concept. This kind of homework is seen in math classes, foreign language studies and grammar lessons. For this application, I understand the purpose of homework. This is mainly the kind of homework I would get throughout elementary school.

    Another type of useful homework I have done is homework that helps me better understand concepts that will be on important exams. This is the kind of homework I had in high school, specifically in AP classes and ACT/SAT prep courses. While some of this type of work felt tedious at the time, it helped me understand the foundations of each subject and it played a huge part in my academic success.

    The last type of useful homework I have done has been in college. What I have appreciated about my college homework, especially for graduate school, is that a lot of the homework and projects I do for my major are things that are directly applicable to my career or can be placed in a portfolio of work for interviews. This kind of homework is highly transmittable to success outside of school.

    While I can understand that those three categories of homework have helped me a lot throughout all of my schooling, I also have done a lot of homework from which I have seen no direct benefit. Typically, this is busy work type homework that oftentimes isn’t even graded. This is the kind of homework that makes me angry because it wasted my time. One thing that I have learned through graduate school is that everyone’s time is valuable and should be respected. When I am given homework that is neither useful nor educational, I believe that teacher/professor is telling me with their actions that my time and effort is less valuable than theirs.

    As students, we cannot refuse to do homework because we don’t see why it’s necessary. We can choose to prioritize homework that will benefit us over busy work and spend more time and effort on the useful homework. This will prove more beneficial because you are investing in what matters, and most of the time there is a better payoff to working hard on the more useful homework because the teacher assigns more weight to that project. These will also be the projects that receive more thoughtful and helpful feedback from teachers/professors. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t care about all of your homework; I just want to tell you to value what will improve your knowledge and skillset and devote more time to that kind of homework.

-          Bria

Winning

I love to win!  Don’t you?  I mean, I’m okay with not winning if I didn’t put the work required into it.  For instance, I have no problem with not winning in a game of chance… like a raffle or bingo or the such.  But if I had to plan a strategy or meet criteria, then I want to win.  And I am disappointed if I don’t.  I have even gone so far as to do an after action report, a term I borrowed from my husband’s years in the Army.  After action reports are begun immediately following the exercise (competition), and they involve identifying strong factors, weak factors, and causes for loss.  Then I plan a future action to prevent those things that caused loss.  I like to ponder on the wound while it’s fresh!  (That’s because I don’t want that wound again.)

     Knowing this about me, it should come as no big surprise that I love it when my own kids and my students win.  I am fresh off a trip to regional speech competition where five of my nine students competing are headed to state competition (and two of the remaining number are alternates).  It felt tremendous to know that all the hard work we did paid off!  Two weeks ago, I took advantage of the spring break entry to brag on my daughter’s win of a coveted PR award.  So, my love of winning extends to those in whom I am invested.

    I know that I am not alone in this.  I think we all love winning.  I know kids do.  Otherwise, they wouldn’t spend recesses playing games in which there can be only one winner… well, at least they do until adults interfere and make them “play nicely.” 

    The desire to win is natural and can be used to your advantage to help train your child in the way he/she should go.  Done correctly, it is a valuable tool.  For instance, racing your meandering child to the car gets you on the road quicker.  Seeing who can brush her teeth longer assures that your child will at least brush a little.  And I have more than once sent home thirty multiplication facts problems and instructed the parent to say, “I bet I can make dinner before you can finish these problems correctly!”

    It is important to keep the word “healthy” in front of the word “competition.”  It is not healthy for the child to always win.  Please don’t neglect teaching your child the feel of losing and how to react.  It will save him tons of embarrassment the first time he loses a race with a classmate at school and then clears a space and pitches a fit. 

    One can tell if the desire to win has become unhealthy:  if there’s a fit involved, if there’s any denigrating of the opposition, or if the joy of the activity is gone. 

     Similarly, one can tell if his child’s reaction to loss has become unhealthy:  if there’s avoidance of competitive activity, if there’s an abundance of analysis and excuse-making, or if there’s no drive to even have a “try, try again” experience.

     But, if your child makes a plan to do better, recognizes why she lost and how to avoid that happening again, and celebrates with the winners, you have truly won.  You’ve got one great kid!                                                                              - Michelle

Winning is an ever-present thought in the minds of people, whether it is in sports, investments, gaming, or social relationships.  When my husband and I spent our free time sailing, he often asked me, “What does it take to make a sailboat race?”  His answer was always, “Two boats on the same tack!”  Yes, and we often ended up in a race with complete strangers…except that both skippers realized they were on the same tack!

            I am a known workaholic, so I can’t even imagine someone without a drive to succeed in life.  But, I don’t always seek to “win.”  Students argue in line after recess concerning a score in a playground game, and I always ask, “So what did you win?  Show me the money or trophy!”  They shrug their shoulders and show me empty hands.  Then I ask them what the argument is about.  The game is over, there is no reward over which to fight…so why quibble?!

            Perhaps it is because God made man to have dominion over the earth.  To have dominion must surely mean “to win.”  I just know it is a strong drive, especially within my male students.  Maybe it’s part of the natural competition of animals to be the head of the herd or pack.

            Instead of enjoying the process of competition, stress is built up to the point of frustration when a person doesn’t win.  The defeated person becomes depressed and relives the agony over and over in his/her mind.  I can identify with that.  My first basketball team I coached lost in overtime when a half-court shot made by an opponent ended our chance for the city championship.  I still relive my decision to go man to man on that play…and the outcome is always the same.  My team lost!

            I think our emphasis on winning is to blame for a lot of the negativity in our world today.  If we would just concentrate on and emphasize the “what” we are trying to win, and substitute intangible things for the trophies, medals, etc., we might find a more positive world in which to live.  People might then concern themselves with new friendships won, new goals attained, and new memories made which can flood our thoughts in times of depression. 

            In the end, I’ve seen many trophies thrown away, recycled, or just forgotten, but that is usually not the outcome for friends won, goals reached, and memories relived during those quiet moments of meditation and reflection.                              

                                                                                          - Kay

“Winning provides happiness. Losing provides wisdom.”

-Neil Patel

We live in a society driven by personal success. We measure our value, our societal status, and often times our worth on our level of success and achievement. Personal achievement or winning can be very important because in many cases it is a signifier of meeting a predetermined goal. In any case, winning establishes the winner as better than other competitors.

Winning feels great when it is happening, and it can be a great way to boost one’s self-esteem. The problem is, we cannot always be the best all of the time. Winning is an incredible high that can make us feel incredibly happy, but losing can crush our spirit, especially when the stakes are high. As adults we are able to separate our wins and losses from our self-esteem, at least to an extent. Children do not possess this ability naturally.

Throughout school, children will be presented with several opportunities to either succeed or to fail. It will be the natural tendency for the child to be very upset if he does not win something. Some children will take losing harder than others, so it is important to teach your child how to properly manage his emotions and deal with losses. It is okay for a child to be upset when he loses, but temper tantrums or long periods of sadness are not healthy. Show your child that losing is hard but important because it can teach him valuable life lessons.

 

On the other hand, it is important to celebrate your child’s wins as well. Help your child understand why winning is so sweet, because ultimately success is desirable for the child’s future. Celebrating your child’s success can boost his self-esteem and motivate him to continuously pursue success. If your child understands how to learn from failure and pursue success, she will be better equipped to deal with success and failure in adulthood.

-       Bria

 

Rejection

Rejection is something we have all faced and will continue to face in various capacities throughout our life. Although it is a hard thing to manage, it is a necessary part of life and there are certain ways to deal with rejection.  There is a really great TED Talk that addresses the importance of practicing emotional first aid. Throughout the talk the speaker addresses why and how we face rejection and the right way to deal with it.

    Rejection triggers a response in our brain that is an innate survival skill. In early stages of human existence, exclusion from a pack or tribe could mean death. This meant that when we started to feel rejection, we were thrown into fight or flight mode to regain acceptance with others in our group. While the ramifications are less severe for modern day rejection, the implications and the emotional response from our brain is strong.

    Throughout our lives we face rejections on a spectrum of severity. When we are young, we might find someone who does not want to play with us. Moving into adolescence, we might experience romantic rejection. As we enter adulthood, rejection comes with loftier consequences. Rejection from a school or a job or an apartment can leave us in quite a predicament. Because rejection tends to increase in severity as we age, it is important to teach our children to deal with rejection at a young age.

    The TED Talk mentioned above discusses the hurt we feel from rejection and how we can deal with it in a way that is emotionally healthy. The speaker stresses the importance of focusing on the good attributes and qualities you possess. Although you weren’t qualified for the job, you are a great speaker, a skilled artist, a loyal friend and a hard worker. If you focus on what you lack, your brain will continue to spiral into self-pity and self-criticism. As a parent, you can help your child learn these skills by talking through their rejection. If a friend doesn’t want to play with her, remind the child that it is okay for some people to not want to play with her. Encourage the child by telling her what makes her a good friend to others. Similarly, if your teen faces romantic rejection, remind him the desirable attributes that you see in him and assure him that there is someone out there that will value these characteristics as much as you do.

Rejection will always be a part of our lives. We may experience phases without it, but the opportunity for rejection will always exist. Because we know that rejection triggers an emotional response in our brains, it is important to learn ways to cope and manage this response. We should practice emotional first aid in our own lives, but we should also teach these skills to our children. With this capability, they will be more equipped to handle real world rejection.   

-          Bria

Rejection…the very word itself sends goose-bumps all over my body.  It isn’t a four letter word, yet almost everyone avoids it as if it were!  Rejection can be a motivator since most people will work extra hard to prevent its appearance in their lives.  It can be a destroyer as one child tells another on the playground, “I won’t be your friend anymore.”   Rejection can be positive as one rejects an evil act. However, he/she dared to take a stand!

            I am currently transcribing report card grades for my students.  When it comes to these little first grade students, my heart always tugs with my brain.  In our school, we have required letter grades for all students in first through twelfth grades.  I know that many schools refuse to give grades to these little ones.  However, I have wrestled with this for 50 years now…and I’ve concluded that it is a wise thing to assign the grades at this level.

            If I give in and give all my students the “one size fits all” grade, I will be guilty of assuring them that what effort they have put forth in our classroom is “just fine.”  There will be no need for them to expend any greater effort than that which they are giving now.  Well, this simply is NOT true for some of these students.  They must see a need for increased effort, or they may never reach their potential in school or in life.

            Local banks added to this dilemma by offering savings accounts with a donation for students who made all “A”s on their report cards.  Parents immediately wanted “A”s for their child to earn the bank’s rewards.  Yes, I immediately felt the pressure.

            Tonight I am wondering if this is one of those areas we have let slip into our culture, bringing with it problems of entitlement.  We see it all around us as people of all ages refuse to handle rejection.  We have jilted lovers taking innocent lives, disgruntled workers seeking revenge, and college students burning buildings in protest over not getting their way. 

            As I look back over my life, I remember several “rejections” which proved to be the best thing to ever happen.  My husband and I wanted to buy a condo in Tulsa our second year of marriage.  I thought I would be able to get the money we needed from a good source, but my request was rejected.  I soon found that rejection a wonderful thing…I became pregnant the next month…and we found in the small print of the condo contract the rule that “no children are permitted.”

            My husband won a superior service award from the Department of the Army for his work as the religious education director for Ft. Sill one night, only to receive a reduction in forces notice two days later.  We thought it was the end of our world.  However, that rejection for contract renewal led him to a different degree pursuit and a very successful and fulfilling career.  We both felt it was the best thing ever to happen to us.

            So, I sit here again pondering the grades I shall be entering on the report cards before me.  My mind wanders back to my first teaching experience as a classroom teacher.  I had a student whose parents gave him everything he ever wanted.  So, his birthday wish at six years of age was for a motorcycle.  He already had bikes, 3-wheelers, etc.  They argued over grades for him, too.  I am so sad to say, he led an unhappy life…and finally accidently killed himself at a very young age after drug problems.    As hard as it feels, I shall be entering some “C” grades…but perhaps those little ones will accept the challenge to put forth greater effort.          

-          Kay

                                                             

Okay… you’ll get no argument from me:  rejection stinks.  I don’t know of anyone who actively seeks rejection.  It is inevitable, though.  Everyone may get a trophy on your elementary soccer team, but a boss can’t give a single position to multiple applicants.  So how do you successfully help someone process rejection?  I have a couple of ideas.  (What else is new, huh?!)

     The first way to prepare for rejection is to not avoid it.    To not attempt something because of fear of rejection is to limit our possibilities.  My husband gave my daughter a jewelry dish with an inspirational saying on it this week.  It said, “Shoot for the moon.  If you fail, you’ll still be among the stars.”  We have to encourage our kids to take risks, even if rejection is possible.

      To process rejection, we must use hindsight.  When the opportunity for success does come, we must go back and evaluate how things might have worked out differently if we had not been rejected in the first place.  Would we have gotten this new opportunity?  Every time we have a rejection and then a new (and possibly better) opportunity, we need to figuratively build what in the Old Testament they called an ebenezer.  An ebenezer is a stack of stones designed to remind people of what God did at that particular spot.  We need to remind ourselves of those better opportunities that came along.

      It also helps to look at reality as opposed to how we feel.  Rejection feels like the end of the world, but in reality, it is just a temporary setback.  From that rejection will come evaluation and then strength and growth if we can quickly get over the “licking our wounds” part of rejection. 

     Unfortunately, the best way to put rejection into perspective is through repeated opportunities to practice.  Our self-worth CANNOT be decided by rejection or acceptance from others.  We will experience both repeatedly.  We must teach our kids to use the rejection and acceptance to alter their behavioral habits in a way that betters them.

-          Michelle

Spring Break

Somebody forgot to tell Spring, but it is Spring Break in our part of the country! We're taking the week off. Proud Mama and Grandma want to congratulate Bria for winning (along with three teammates) the prestigious Jack Koten Case Study Award from the Arthur W. Page Society. We are so very proud of her!!!! Follow this link to read more about it:

http://www.instituteforpr.org/third-consecutive-year-depaul-university-students-take-top-honors-page-society-case-study-competition

 

    

Keeping it Real

Teaching lessons for life… that should be every teacher’s ultimate goal.  After all, we have the awesome task of preparing our students for a future which none of us have ever seen!  With such a responsibility, I must keep myself updated, knowledgeable, and constantly asking the question, “What if…?”  Personally, I love the challenge.

            At the same time, I have felt the calling to do my part to change or at least have some effect upon the “predicted future” which someone has put forth that casts a negative shadow upon this land I love.  I am speaking specifically about Russia’s prediction by Khrushev at the United Nations when he said, “We will bury you! … You will fall into our hands like a ripe lemon falls off a tree!”  Of course, this means I must make my students aware of the intent of those words first.  Then, I must challenge them not to be a part of the decay from within of which Khrushev spoke.

            My math classes are an example of how I try to make learning a life-long process.  I teach students that the math practice pages are like using the owner’s manual for a new tool.  Once we know how to use the basic operations that are in our math tool chest, there are many uses for solving real life problems.  After all, I explain that everything in life is either an “addition situation” or a “subtraction action.”  We either add to something, or we take something away.  The rest of those pages in the stream of math books are only different illustrations of how these tools can be used.  It sure relieves a lot of their anxiety when they discover that multiplication is only “warp speed addition,” and division is only “warp speed subtraction!”  I have learned that children can learn anything if we put it into terms they can understand.  My fourth and fifth graders are having fun with algebraic equations (not in the standard textbooks for that grade) because we use concrete objects for the variables, and then apply common sense to solve the unknown.  As they say, “This is fun!”

            As my science students have learned to look at “what is” and then ask “what if...,” we have had the good fortune of being the recipients of several national awards.  The creative problem solving was informative and confidence-building for the teacher and the students!  Several have gone on to seek a future in medicine and science research.  Now that’s what I call an education!

            In summary, it is far better for students to be problem solvers while in school…mistakes are not subjected to world-wide ramifications…and there is always the next school day, week, or semester to learn from our mistakes.  Yes, I’ll say it again: “I love what I do!”       

-          Kay