Top Ten Tips (Let’s just tackle 4)

Sitting in Parent Orientation for the Class of 2017 at Wake Forest University, I had the privilege of hearing an engaging dean speak on the top ten tips for student success and the top ten things parents can do to help. I found myself listening not only with my parent ears ( my daughter is in the freshmen class) but also listening with teacher ears.  What practices do I have in my teaching that are preparing my students to be successful as they rise through high school and head off to college?   I am indebted to Dr. Christy Buchanan, Associate Dean for Academic Advising, who sent me a copy of her speech and allowed me to use some of her points (italicized)  in this post.  I’ve chosen four of her points from “Top Ten Things Parents Can Do”  to think about as a teacher and share with my students’ parents.

  • Don’t be over-involved; try really hard not to do things for them; don’t solve their problems or make decisions for them.  There will be challenges & disappointments. Remember in this that our joint goal is for your student to grow in his/her ability to deal with a complex world and with a variety of personal challenges.

This one point could be an entire post. It is so easy as both a parent and a teacher to just “ do it yourself”.  When I am standing over that student’s desk while he ask a question about how to say something in a piece of writing, how tempting it is just to give him my words instead of helping him find his own by asking good questions.  It’s easier to just give an answer than to risk how many versions there may be if students formulate their own.  It seems more efficient just to explain what a piece of literature means rather than let fourteen youngsters figure it out for awhile.  But…it isn’t good for them.  As Dr. Buchanan says,  “our joint goal is for our student to grow in his/her ability to deal with a complex world.”  Solving their problems and giving them an  easy answer doesn’t stretch  and grow them.

  • Instead of doing the problem-solving …Show interest, support; provide guidance, encouragement.

If college  freshmen need this, how much more so do high school freshmen?  Ask them which subjects they are enjoying, what they are doing in a particular class, which teachers they learn from most easily,  and what good things ( or bad) happened that day.   And know when to back up if you are not getting answers. Sometimes boys have to be fed before they can talk to mom, or they need to be sitting by dad fishing or watching a ballgame, rather than staring across the dinner table face to face. Girls are somewhat more forthcoming, but only if they initiate the conversation and don’t perceive you as nosing in their business.  Give them a chance to ask for advice before you offer it if you possibly can.

  • Listen.

They want to be heard. One of my favorite parts of my job is reading their writing because it’s a rare chance to see what they value, how they think, and to have one-on-one dialogue with them.  Another favorite  part is watching their faces just before the speak in class discussion, that  “aha’ moment when they’ve had a new idea and area about to verbalize it.

  • Normalize expectations:  There are ups and downs and bad times and good times.

As adults, we also have our good days and bad days.  My best teaching early in the year when I’m fresh, rested, healthy and excited may be different from my best on a hot day in May when half my sixth period class checked out to play baseball and I’m worried about a problem at home.  A variety of circumstances in our complex lives contribute to how well we can perform at any given hour of the day.  If it’s true for us, then even more for these growing teens.

Don’t expect perfection; help your child see challenges, problems, and mistakes as normalTell them you’d rather have them get a lower grade than to cheat or plagiarize.

As parents most of us want our children to do better than we did,  but the reality is that none of us was or is perfect.  What wisdom we adults have is borne of experience and some ( if not most) of that, bad.  Encourage them to own their mistakes and learn from them and to always value integrity.

My freshmen have a ways to go before they sit through college orientation; and I suspect as their parents and teachers, we will still be working on all of the above, but let’s start now preparing them for success.

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What I Am Telling Your Children…

The first few days of school always find me talking more than I want to, and that is coming from someone who loves to talk.  Adjusting to being up early in the morning,  being in uniform, and sitting in desks again after the relaxation and fun of summer is enough for my students without having to listen to me prattle for fifty minutes about class polices, course overview, and school rules.  Yet, some conversation about what we are doing and how we will do it in my class is necessary.  Particularly since my students are freshmen, I feel obligated to help orient them not only to my class but also to high school in general.

With that in mind, I wrote a piece for them which I include in the class policy folder entitled “Success in English 9”.   The following is an excerpt of what they’ve heard me teach (  or preach! ) in the first few days of school.

English 9 is the foundational year of high school English studies. Grades this year are part of your official transcript that will accompany your application to college. While you should strive to do your best and aim high, you should also realize that you are now in high school and the level of expectation is rising. An “A” may not come as easily as it once did.  You will find the course to be challenging, but if you work hard and do what is asked of you, you should have success. 

Our school is college- preparatory. This class will run like a college English class, bearing in mind that you are freshmen and we have some training to do.  Primarily, we will read, write, and talk about what we read and write. In doing so we will strengthen our critical thinking skills, reading and writing skills, and speaking and listening skills.  Writing will be process-oriented; therefore, not every assignment will reach a “finished” point, yet others will be revised several times before a final grade is given.

…Critical to this first year of high school English is the ability to manage your time and discipline yourself regarding your academic life. You play the way your practice. Whether in sports or on a musical instrument, you will perform no better than your daily drills.  You should not expect to make an A when your homework average is 75% or your thesis statement was written at break on the day you were to write an in-class essay.  Our class will be process-oriented. Step by step we will accomplish big tasks.  Discipline yourself to do the little things and the big things will take care of themselves.  Limit yourself during the week on TV, gaming, Facebook, and texting.  While these can be fun, they can distract from your studies. Discipline yourself to read and do homework first. Being a student is your vocation. Think of it as your job, just as your parents have jobs. When the work is done, then you play.

(P.S. Your parents have completed ninth grade English. This is YOUR job; not theirs!)