What Boys and Girls Alike Need to Succeed at School

leave-364178_640
Word on the street is that boys aren’t performing as well as girls at school; as a mother of three boys I feel compelled to tune in to discussions like the ones hosted at the Globe and Mail back in 2010.  I try to glean what I can from them, and I’m more than open to advice on raising sons – yet still I often find these conversations alternately a bit dull or depressing.

Whatever social biases result in girls or boys being under-serviced at school should be rooted out, obviously.  But if we can operate on a slightly higher plane and assume that the playing field ought to be level, then it seems like a generalized failing of a group within an education system would only be possible by failing to see those students as individuals.

Yes, of course, let’s be sensitive to patterns of conduct and performance outcomes, but these things would be less important if, as a point of departure, our education system could recognize and nurture as individuals the students who make up a classroom.  One wouldn’t then have to rely on statistical reports revealing that boys are failing at school, because one would know that Ryan and Jason and Thomas are bored/unmotivated/distracted.  And if we really knew those kids, we could do something about it before the failures began.

I find the discussion about these things distressing because with classrooms of 20 or 30 students grouped exclusively according to age (as opposed to interest, need, affinity, or…?), it is hard for even the best teachers to know and nurture students as individuals.  I remember once talking to a teacher who said that she would trade all the reports, all the new teaching techniques, all of the everything that gets thrown at teachers to improve student achievement for one thing:  more teachers.  Put all of the money poured into these studies and reports and redirect them into salaries, she said, because having a relationship with someone who knows and cares about you, made possible through low teacher to student ratios, is the one thing – and I think she may have said it’s the only thing – that consistently makes a difference.  Her view had, to me, the ring of truth in it, and I’ve never forgotten it.

This individual care and attention would help make school relevant too.  These marks that the boys aren’t now achieving, or that girls were once discouraged from achieving, are they worth striving for?  Kids, like adults, don’t usually tune out things that matter to them, but you can’t know what those things are unless you know the children.    Before we lament the lagging of student achievement at school, maybe we should question whether the education that the children are failing to acquire – the one that prizes a narrow definition of academic success according to strict age  limits and few subjects – deserves the importance that is attributed to it.

I’ve chosen a holistic education for my kids – one that honours equally the contributions of the head, heart, hands and spirit (non-religious) because I’m not at all sure that the academic accomplishments so valued in our education system can serve our children well on their own.  It ought to be coupled with full recognition and appreciation of their whole selves.  When my boys move their bodies naturally, fluidly, in a field of sport or while exploring the depths of the ravine, I don’t see a way to let them let off steam so they can get to the real business of their worksheets:  I see robust and magnificent body (or kinesthetic, if we’re being fancy) intelligence.  And I think that without true development of the many intelligences that grace our world, our education system is quite seriously undermined.

I’m not an educator (and am full of respect for the many committed educators I both know and don’t know) but I have a simple view.  Sometimes I think that what students really need isn’t more than same sex classes or technology or tutoring or studies but more people.  Parents, teachers, mentors, and peers who are engaged with the whole person of the girl or boy before them, willing to see them through an early process of learning so that when adulthood comes, they know how to do this for themselves.  I’m not sure there are any short cuts through the village.

The Honeymoon Is Over: Twenty Things Your Child’s Teacher Wants You To Know

school-216891__180And the survey says . . .  an informal poll of teachers representing various grades, school districts and both the public and private reveal what teachers want parents to know now that school is in full-swing!

The Early Years

Your child is excited to see you at pick-up.  Get off your cell phone.  In a few years time, they won’t want a bear hug and to be smothered with kisses in plain sight of their friends.

Remember, “school clothes” and “play clothes”?  Unless your child wears a uniform to school, school clothes should be play clothes.  Don’t send me a note about how paint splatters stained an expensive shirt.  Learning can be messy!

That includes footwear!  Yes, I know those red-glittery Mary Janes are adorable and that Crocs are a favourite, but appropriate footwear for running around the gym, they are not.

When a four year old has to pee, they have to pee yesterday.  Fiddling with the likes of zippers, toggles and buttons means that there will be an accident that I have to cleanup, while simultaneously teaching 19 additional children.

The same goes for snack containers.

Don’t badger me at drop-off and pick-up.  I know you have concerns.  I read your emails and listened to your phone message but let’s arrange a time to talk without the ears of other parents and children around.

The Tween & Teen Years

I am not calling/emailing/texting/courier-pigeoning you if your child didn’t do his/her homework.  Especially, if they are in grade 12.

It’s okay if your child makes mistakes.  Let them.  That’s how they will learn.

I know when you do their homework.  It’s no great mystery that you did it when their report on Mayans is thirteen pages, double-spaced, APA formatted and bound in a Dou-tang when in-class it’s a miracle if I can get a legible and coherent three paragraph response.

Stop comparing your kid to another’s kid.  Furthermore, stop comparing yourself to the other parents.

Let kids be kids.  They feel enough pressure to grow up quickly.

Stilettos for a grade 8 Graduation are not appropriate.  Neither are skimpy dresses.  Or professionally done make-up.

It’s okay if your kid doesn’t have a boyfriend/girlfriend.  There is a lifetime for relationships like that.  What’s more important is your child being a good friend to others?

Learn to say “no” to your kids! Believe it or not, they want you to!

For All The Years

Teach your child to be independent.  Teach them to put on their own shoes, pack their own packs, return their own forms and manage their own projects.  When you do things for your child that they can do for themselves, you’re doing them a disservice!  Chances are they are capable of a lot more than you are giving them credit for.

Buying your child a new agenda, backpack, iPhone, computer, fancy jacket, boots, running shoes . . . .  the list could go on . . . just because they lost the first doesn’t teach them responsibility.  Did they even check the Lost and Found?  Chances are, no!

Sometimes it is inevitable that you will need to book an appointment for your child during school hours but book these with discretion.  Haircuts are not critical and do not count!

Remember that I am a human being too.  Sometimes I make mistakes.  Don’t trash talk me in front of your kids.  Cut me some slack and I will cut you some too.    

Spend time with your kids.  Turn off the TV, the computers, and the social media and just be together.  Go for a walk, play a game, make dinner together.  Your child will perform better in school

Most Importantly . . .

Your child is not a genius.