Wednesday, February 26, 2014

I did not sign up for this.

In my last Day in the Life I complained about how Delaney was sitting down to homework for what felt like forever every night, and it was getting to be very frustrating for us both. I was nagging her from the minute she got off the bus until sometimes long after the dinner dishes had been cleared away, and it was not fun.  I decided something had to change.

I finally met with Delaney's teacher a few weeks ago, and we had a nice long talk.  I needed to share my concerns, which were: 1) It was taking her about an hour-and-a-half to complete homework, which typically includes a math worksheet, spelling worksheet, 20 minutes of reading, filling out the reading log, and answering the comprehension question of her choice.  2) I was worried that she would be turned off to the fun of reading and journaling, since the comprehension questions were like torture to get her to do.  3) All the time spent doing homework was leaving her no time to play, and it was stressing me out.  Particularly painful were the nights we had our one and only extracurricular -- at the moment, gymnastics for her and Annie.  Then it was even harder to figure out how to get everything done and still get her to bed at a reasonable hour, which in our house is before 8.  I did my best to convey all this to Miss D without sounding too negative.  That was a hard line to walk.  Believe me, I stressed out about this meeting for days in advance because I needed to let her know about these issues we were having, but I did not want to be demanding or hostile or anything like that.  I think in my email asking for the meeting, I asked if we could maybe try to "find solutions together."

Meanwhile I researched to the best of my ability how much homework should be expected for a first grader (more as a reassurance to me than anything).  A Google search turned up a lot of expert opinions that validated my feeling that she was getting too much.   The "rule of 10" -- 10 minutes per grade level -- came up repeatedly.  I found this great blog post that made me feel a whole lot less crazy.  That post, along with all the comments on it, articulated so well the irksomeness of a heavy homework load for a young kid, and why it is not a good thing.  But again, I had no plans to storm her classroom and tell her all my Internet findings, and demand change.  Tim and I talked at length about what the goal of this meeting should be, what I should ask for, what could make the homework go better -- because we're not going to change her policy.  So I showed up to our meeting with all of that in the back of my mind, and also just praying, please God, don't let me mess this up, don't let this conversation be awkward and horrible, and please, let it be productive.

I am so glad I sat down with Miss D.  I was already impressed with how much Delaney was learning in her class, and I could already see how hard she (the teacher) was working.  But as we were talking I really saw how much heart she puts into her job of teaching these kids.  She works with each student wherever they happen to be and tries to push them to the next level.  Delaney currently reads at level 'k', which I think is third grade, so she wants her at 'l' by the end of the year.  To get there Delaney needs to get better at those comprehension questions, which at the time she would only stare at like a deer in headlights.  Those things really threw me for a loop, so we dedicated several minutes to talking about them in this meeting.  There are about 50 of them at various levels, and I believe one of them incorporates the phrase "critical thinking", which I'm sure I didn't see until at least 8th or 9th grade.  But I guess those were dumber times!  I learned that Miss D and the other teachers had had to make the questions up as a way to comply with the new standards.  I honestly didn't understand half of what she told me because she talked quickly and used a lot of big words.  But I could appreciate how much pressure she was under from people way above her pay grade and how hard she was working to get the kids to where the state is telling her they need to be.  She suggested we could have her do three questions a week instead of four, and maybe nudge her up to four when she was ready.  I was happy with that plan.  Not super happy, but I knew it would relieve the pressure a little bit.  I explained to her that I too wanted to see Delaney pushed and challenged. I am just trying to find some balance between that and family life, play time, and other activities.  As it is, we hardly do any activities, and I'm amazed at the families who are juggling multiple kids with their extracurriculars, two parents working, and still managing to get their kids through this marathon of 1st grade homework every night!  But I did not say that last part, only the part about wanting to have balance.  She definitely seemed to understand that and she agreed that homework should not be a burden for first graders and their families.  She was more than willing to work with me and it was far from being an awkward conversation.

I won't go too much more into the nitty-gritty of what we talked about, because this is already turning into a wordy post.  I proposed to her the idea that Tim and I had come up with, which is we get a kitchen timer and everything has a limit.  When the timer goes off everything gets put away whether it's done or not.  I said, "And if we have to put it away without it being done, then she has to face the consequences.  Speaking of which..?"  And that led to a discussion about what, if any, repercussions there were for incomplete assignments.  Miss D explained that since not all students have a home environment where adults are on hand for help, she doesn't believe it would be fair for her to have consequences.  A-ha!  This must have been a huge part of my frustration all along.  I'M the enforcer!  I remember as a kid the biggest reason to get it done was because I knew I'd have to face the music the next day otherwise.  Oh, the guilt!  The disappointment in my teacher's eyes because she expects better from me!  And having to stand next to her at recess instead of playing.  Any one of these things was more than enough reason for me to get everything done without much prompting from my mother.  She might remember it differently, of course.  Miss D was in full agreement with my plan, as she's a big believer in timers herself.  She also encouraged me to update her regularly on how it was going, and let her know any other suggestions I might have.  She said, "When a kid is always getting it all done, and done well every day, I never know there are any problems."  Good point.

I had no idea I had so much to say about Delaney and her homework, but it's good that I put it all down so that I have it for future reference.  Since the meeting, that portion of the day still takes awhile but it is less frustrating, and not because we've been sticking 100% to the timer.  I think Delaney's attitude may have improved, but I can't pinpoint why.  She doesn't drag her feet as much.  My attitude is different too.  I feel better having had the talk with her teacher, and I also know that since it's the end of February, we are on the downhill side of this school year.  Next year will be something new and hopefully different.  More on that another time.  I am still inwardly shaking my head at math assignments that are more like art assignments to my detail-oriented little girl.  She will patiently draw 25 little cats with eyes and whiskers when instructed to "show her work."  The spelling word pyramids drive Delaney nuts, and who can blame her now that she's spelling words like educate and sentence.  At Miss D's suggestion, I wrote all her comprehension questions on craft sticks and placed them in a little cup for Delaney to draw one and then set her timer.  I have some misgivings about Delaney having to "beat the clock" as she writes out her answer.  But I remind myself that this IS working, and the object here is for her to prove in writing that she understands what she read.  It doesn't need to be a masterpiece.  She'll get more proficient as time goes on, but this really jump-starts her into doing it as opposed to staring at it for 15 minutes.

Delaney still needs me to stay close by, usually sitting right next to her while she completes assignments.  She needs help understanding questions sometimes, and she needs me to refocus her when her attention starts to wander.  If my attention wanders, hers does too.  I can't help but continue to think of it as OUR homework instead of hers.  This requires me to be proactive with dinner planning and prep, and to be adept at finding ways to keep the other kids occupied and out of our hair.  Lately Annie's been wanting to work on phonics workbooks (which is awesome), but she needs a lot of help with that too, so it's back-and-forth between the two of them, and then Annie's work sounds a lot more interesting to Delaney than her own, she gets distracted again, so it's always interesting.  Then Timmy's at the table, then on the table, and it's a three-ring circus.  Sometimes I can fend him off, other times not.  On a good day there is still enough daylight left when her homework is done for all of them to spend outside playing in the ditches.  (Are anyone else's kids not happy unless they're covered in dirt?)  The daylight hours are getting longer again too, and that will be a good thing.  This is the reality I live with, which although far from what I consider to be ideal, is manageable.  Somewhat.


  1. We still haven't entered the years of homework, but I will definitely keep this in mind in the future. I'm already sort of dreading long school days with activities afterward, followed by homework. It's so nice when the kids are in school for just a few hours so you can do an activity in early afternoon. I find 4 pm to bedtime to be crazy enough as it is. I know a lot of people aren't even home from their activities until after 5! Then you have to fend off the kids while making dinner, etc… craziness!
    And I guess it truly never hurts to voice concerns with your kids teachers - I think they genuinely appreciate an involved parent. Hope your new plan works out great for you all :)

    1. I'm probably scaring you to death, making you think, 'Oh no, this is me in 2 years!' It's new to me, it's frustrating, and often a bit much, but I mostly have it under control. Life was was simpler when they were all preschool and younger, but I knew they couldn't stay that way forever. I don't think the homework is this bad everywhere. My SIL in MA says her daughters have the 10 minutes per grade level rule at their school. That sounds so reasonable to me. I can't even imagine, since it takes her about 10 minutes to do one side of a worksheet.
      The teacher did tell me at least a couple times that she is so glad that I am such an involved parent, and even went so far as to say I'm the kind of mom she wants to be one day. I appreciated that, but I can't help but also wonder if when she's parenting a first grader, will she wish she'd cut us a little more slack?:)

  2. We're in the NC area too and having to adjust our 3rd grader with the new reading requirements too. Our guy struggles mainly with the questions too but his active imagination likes to carry him away while he reads & he has no idea what he has just read. I am thankful for a very involved teacher & sitting down us to come up with a plan for him. I'm hoping he learns the comprehension part soon because I do see it affect his math skills when it comes to word problems. And yay for summer school option if we don't pass the EOG's....

    Your little ones are very blessed to have an involved mom to stick up for them!

    1. Thank you, Amanda. It's so nice to know I'm not alone in my difficulties. Delaney has an active imagination too, and that's a great thing to have, and it can also make it tough to stay focused on a task. I just had to Google what EOGs were. I have so much to learn!