What Can I Do?

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We heard about, and wanted to share, this piece by Wayne Drummond, AIG Specialist at Black Mountain Elementary & Owen Middle. He shared this at the start of the school year, but the point is timeless.

What Can I Do?

Meet The Teacher or Open House events are upon us. Once again we teachers will roll out the red carpet and treat the parents of our pupils to an evening of Q & A. The first question is always: “How is my child doing?” Our answer is: “Just fine,” which in teacher-speak means: “It is too early to tell and if I did have a brilliant observation, it would be best to tell you in person rather than share what I really think about your kid with the other people in line behind you.”

The end of many Meet the Teacher conversations is often, and wonderfully, “Whatever I can do, just let me know!” Which, in parent-speak probably means thank you for your time and call me if there is a problem with my kid. Well, for what is usually an after-thought for me, I have decided to actually write down the real answer to “What Can I Do?” as a hand-out.

What can you do? As a parent or guardian, you can do plenty. And don’t get me wrong here. This is not a negative note. I have told numerous parents over the years that I would gladly purchase their book on parenting, should they ever write one. I am not the perfect parent either. But I will share my revelation that being a parent has made me a better teacher, and being a teacher has made me a better parent. So with that disclaimer, I proceed.

What can I do as a parent or guardian to help my child with school?

  1. Help them set worthwhile goals. On the first day of class, I told them I think my job is to help make them more successful. We then developed a definition of success that became: continually accomplishing worthwhile, personal goals.
  2. Sell them on the value of striving for those goals. If goals are not personal, motivation is miniscule.
  3. Encourage and model frequent reading. There is a very high connection between reading often and academic success.
  4. Practice saying “No” and mean it. You are the parent.
  5. Practice saying “Yes”. Then if their decision turns out badly, ask them: “So what did you learn from that experience?” (never “I told you so”) Or if their decision turns out well, ask yourself: “What did I learn from this experience?”
  6. Before saying “No” or “Yes”, listen.
  7. Communicate with teachers. I prefer email because it gives me time to craft a thoughtful response.
  8. Help them discover their truest interests. Encourage them to try new things. Support them if they are really into studying the stars, or wars, or royal families, or whatever.
  9. You are the Chief Health and Safety Officer of the household. Monitor and manage what they feed their minds and mouths.
  10. Don’t overschedule them. Sleep is good. Down-time is good. Boredom is not a disease you must cure or vaccinate against.
  11. Consider the difference between “teaching” and “helping someone learn”. You and I can teach our hearts out, but if they do not learn and grow and prosper then it is all for naught. The ultimate responsibility for their success is with them.
  12. Motivating a donkey with harshness works at first but not for long because an immunity will build. Motivating a donkey with rewards works at first, but then the treats must be given more frequently and abundantly. All people can be like donkeys. Punishments and rewards are motivating, yet limiting at the same time. I don’t think parents and leaders should rely too heavily on a system of punishments and rewards as a system of motivation. Wouldn’t it be nice if all humans were like thoroughbred racehorses and all you had to do was give them room to run and the proper direction to the finish line? Our ultimate goal as teachers and parents is to eventually kick them out of the nest and watch them soar, is it not? Well some sort of internal motivation must learn to kick in eventually. I submit that this type of motivation comes from the self-satisfaction of achieving many short-term goals that lead to major long term goals. And I add that unless there is some pain or challenge along the way, then the satisfaction will not feel as sweet. Learning some things the hard way is alright. Let them learn some things the hard way.
  13. And for a baker’s dozen, here is number thirteen. Limits come with love, yet love comes with no limits. Our job as adults is to lovingly set limits for the children under our care. These limits should not be too stringent, nor too open. The real trick is to know where on that spectrum limits should be. The answers will be given to us by the kids themselves and be measured in terms of trust. Children need to know that too. The more we trust them, the more open their limits will be. They also need to hear from us that trust is earned, and once lost, is hard to regain. They also need to believe that we will, and do trust them to make good decisions, plus that we will be therefor them with unconditional love should they fall.

So there is the long answer. What is the short answer? Be a parent. What will I promise? To treat them like my own.

About Wayne Drummond

"I've been teaching 23 years. My wife Angela and I have been lucky parents to Sam for one month shy of 18 years.  Sam is a good guy and star on the Owen High Math team. He also plays a little baseball and football at Owen. (His passes have made the WLOS Top 5 Plays of the Week for several weeks this year.) My current position with Buncombe County Schools is one I call Special Ed for Brainiacs. I teach enrichment classes for fourth through eighth graders in the Owen District. Topics in my classrooms this week and last included the ancient Egyptian number system, infinitive phrases and dependent clauses in grammar, Midsummer Nights Dream by Shakespeare, chinese multiplication, and number systems other than base 10. I love my job. Except tomorrow I have to go to a boring meeting with a bunch of adults. For fun, I enjoy camping, sporting events, and public speaking. Attached is a picture of me. I'm in the horse costume, not on the horse. The Student Council I have sponsored for years bought the costume, so I am in charge of taking care of it."

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