Friday, February 21, 2014

Do We Expect Children to Be Perfect?

The lessons my children teach me. . .

My older son is in sixth grade.  Like most moms, I have a hard time believing how quickly time has passed to change my sweet little boy into a preteen.  In many ways I don't feel ready to be the mother of a middle schooler, but since I don't have a choice in the matter, I'm learning to accept it.  Although he's not perfect, I can honestly say he's a good kid. He doesn't cause any serious trouble, and overall he does well in school.

Every week, Jared's teacher sends home a progress report via email, listing the assignments and grades earned so far for the trimester.  As I scanned the list yesterday I noticed a few low grades, including a couple that were 50%.  She noted that the grades had been reduced because the assignments were turned in late.

I immediately felt a lecture coming on.

This has been an issue with him before, and it was discussed at his parent-teacher conference in the fall and has been many times since.  He is horribly unorganized and quite forgetful, a nightmare for both teacher and parent.  Just this morning, right after telling me he had band today, he walked out the door without his clarinet.  He does this kind of stuff all. the. time.  As you have probably guessed, it drives me crazy.

The lecture never came though, as a funny little thought popped in my head:  "So what?"  He got a C on a paragraph about some randomly assigned "Person of the Week."  So what?  He earned a B or better on the others.  He earned a score of 50% on a science assignment that he turned in late.  So what?  He later earned an A on the test.  As I said earlier, overall he does well in school.  He always has.  I know that he is a bright kid.  It suddenly occurred to me that what I was upset about was the fact that he wasn't doing everything perfectly.

My husband and I took a Love and Logic parenting class last year and one of the ideas that really stood out to me was to let your children make small mistakes now when the consequences aren't too serious.  Making mistakes is how we learn.  If children are micromanaged and never allowed to make mistakes, and experience the consequences, they won't know how to operate in the adult world.  I can't someday send my child off to college if he has never learned to be in charge of his own learning.  He doesn't need to have his mother hover over him, making sure that everything is done just right so he can earn a bunch of A's on his report card.  Instead, he needs to learn that if he doesn't organize his materials, complete assignments, and turn them in on time, he is not going to be successful.  This is the life lesson that will have lasting meaning. Straight A's aren't always an indication of learning.  Sometimes the C's, D's, and F's represent a much more valuable lesson learned.

As I thought about my own children and my expectations for them, I wondered how often we teachers expect the children in our classrooms to be perfect.  And what do we look at to determine their level of perfection?  A bunch of numbers dutifully recorded in our grade books?  Score reports from standardized tests?  Do we demand that they do everything perfectly every time?   Is this truly what education is all about?  Undeniably the pressure is there for us to ensure our students are successful.  But is that what the data really illustrate?

The fact is my son is not a collection of data.  He is a complete human being.  He goes out of his way to thank a ride operator at Disneyland for letting us ride twice after a mix-up when getting on.  He holds doors open for others.  If he has a question, he confidently asks those who might have an answer.  He doesn't understand why the kids at his school can't play tag, so he is questioning those in charge and has started a petition to get the rule changed.  He worries about our cat who was just diagnosed with diabetes and makes sure we have given her her insulin.  He cares about his elderly grandparents and truly enjoys visiting them.  He fights like crazy with his little brother, then holds his hand when walking through parking lots.  He reads and reads and reads, sometimes needing to be reminded to get out of the car because he is lost inside another story.

No, he isn't perfect.  He's wonderful.

When my students walk into class Monday morning, I will welcome each and every wonderfully imperfect one of them.  And I will remind myself that every mistake they make (or I make, for that matter) is not a failure but a lesson that points the way to future success.

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