I’m excited to announce that I’ve opened a small online business aimed at helping teenagers from all over the world improve their writing skills. If you happen to know of any families seeking supplemental writing instruction because their teen is being home schooled or learning remotely, I hope you’ll share Advanced Writing, LLC, with them.
I started my teaching career in the year 2000. This happened to also be around the time that No Child Left Behind was implemented. Generally speaking, No Child Left Behind said that every child would be prepared to enter college. Schools would be held more accountable. Students would be held more accountable. Academics would become more rigorous. Thus, every student would be academically fortified to flourish in college.
Now, that sounds wonderful on paper, but as with most things, there were unforeseen consequences. (At least, I hope the consequences were unforeseen and not actually premeditated.) Furthermore, from my own experiences in high school, I knew brilliant people who simply did not want to go to college. I also knew people who were very capable at life with no interest in college for many different reasons–primarily the debt they would accumulate. Even as a young novice teacher I knew that No Child Left Behind seemed to lack perspective because not everyone wants to go to college.
Here we are, twenty years later, and I’m witnessing the unintended effects of No Child Left Behind. In the interest of keeping this short, I’ll summarize by saying that if our students don’t play school very well, they are being left behind in a completely different way.
Imagine that you don’t particularly like English, math, history, or science. Now imagine that day after day, you have to sit through those classes for four straight years scraping by with Ds and Cs. You’ve been told college is the only option. You sign up for a local community college, and after struggling to pass your first year, you give up on post-secondary education.
What do you do?
What skills do you have?
What sustaining opportunities exist for you?
I’ve seen this happen time and again and it breaks my heart.
The unintended consequence of No Child Left Behind is that, in an effort to meet all the rigorous requirements set forth by various bureaucratic entities, we lost a lot of classes that didn’t fall under the “core curriculum” category. Most of these classes involved working with the hands. I’m not going to run through them all, but a few that immediately spring to mind are shop class, art, music, and automotive. These were all sacrificed in order to devote more time and teachers to the college-bound material.
I can think of dozens of students who would have thrived in classes where they got to utilize those skills related to working with their hands. And it’s true that some schools still have industrial arts and vocational classes, but I think in most cases they are not offered to just any general student. There’s a selection process involved due to limited space.
Remember that class you were super excited to attend because it addressed your specific interests? Maybe it was British literature, or physics, or chemistry. What if you didn’t like any of those subjects? What if, throughout your entire high school tenure, you didn’t take a single class that interested you? What if you never had the opportunity to discover you like the culinary arts, or fire safety, or automotive technology, or carpentry, or plumbing?
I absolutely believe that every American citizen needs a baseline understanding of the core curricula. Math, English, science, history–these are important things, for sure. However, why do we force a student who has no interest in college to sit through four years of English or math? Why not require two years of English, and then allow that student to take vocational classes related to a field they’d like to enter? They could also use that time to serve as apprentices or interns, get on-the-job training, and graduate from high school with real leads connecting them to a full-time job.
Of course, the great irony is that many of those in the trades are faring better than those with college degrees in today’s world because of scarcity. A plumber can charge whatever he or she wants because toilets have to work and not many people know how to fix them (myself included).
You’re the taxpayer. You know what your kids need. At the risk of sounding controversial, I maintain that most of the bureaucrats and politicians at the highest levels making the decisions influencing public schools neither attended public schools themselves nor send their own children to public schools. They are dictating the outcome of your child’s life with little to no vested interest in the welfare of your child.
How do you get vocational classes that are widely available to all students back into the public schools? I honestly don’t know. It probably starts with contacting your local representative or school administrator.
But a student exited to go to school in order to learn about things tied to the vocations that will have a positive impact on his or her professional life? I think it’s time for that change to occur.
By now your student understands they aren’t going to see their school friends or teachers for a long time. No matter how old they are, this is a devastating realization. Make sure that you talk to them today. Hug them. Tell them you love them, and it’s okay to be upset.
Have a student at home? Keep them writing. 20 minutes a day is sufficient. I’m having my oldest daughter journal about her day-to-day life during this historical moment. In 30 years, I’m sure she’ll find it fascinating. My youngest is doing the same, but mostly in picture format.
Let your kids read. Notice the word “let.” Don’t “make” them read material they will hate. Let them pick out their own reading. Yes, Stephen King is okay for certain ages. Yes, graphic novels are wonderful. Use common sense, but a student reading what they want will KEEP reading.
If you’ll indulge me …
My wife is the absolute best. She goes so far above and beyond in thanking our children’s teachers during “Teacher Appreciation Week” — it’s amazing. Classroom teachers, librarians, administrators, office support staff, coaches, Girl Scout troop leaders, Sunday school teachers — everyone gets a little token of appreciation. Furthermore, she develops a cute theme to go along with the gift. This year everyone got an Amazon gift card decorated as though it was a special delivery by our girls. I asked her to count up how many gift cards she doled out. I wasn’t upset, just curious. The number? About twenty-two (at last count).
By the way … my wife is a teacher.
She gets it.
She understands the emotional stamina, the intrinsic motivation, and the sheer patience necessary to be a teacher. She knows that by the end of the year, every teacher needs a little show of appreciation.
By the way, I’m a teacher, too.
I teach about 130 students a day. I received not one “thank-you” from a student’s family during “Teacher Appreciation Week.”
I get it.
Hey, I’m busy, too. I won’t pretend that I’d have taken over thanking my daughters’ teachers if my wife decided to take the year off. I forgot it was “Teacher Appreciation Week” during the actual week — and I am a teacher! Trust me, if you haven’t thanked your child’s teacher, you’re not alone. I’m personally just as guilty.
The point of this is to tell you that it’s not too late.
Yesterday, several of my creative writing students went out of their way to tell me how much the class meant to them. Today, two students came up to shake my hand and tell me “thanks.” It meant the world to me.
Listen, I don’t entirely fall into the “I’d teach for free I love it so much!” category, but I also recognize that teachers make more money than a lot of people, have more vacation time than a lot of people, and enjoy more benefits than a lot of people. But I’m here to tell you, folks — it’s a demanding job. Not physically, but emotionally? You bet. Mentally? Absolutely. There’s no down time when you have a room full of children or teenagers. There’s no mentally checking out. Teachers are constantly monitoring and assessing.
You know how “busy” it can get when your child has friends over? Imagine a room full of that. Imagine coaxing them along through the power of personality. Imagine talking, thinking, managing, and assessing all at the same time while also trying to be interesting enough to capture thirty children’s interest. Let me tell you — it’s tough. I’m sure you can imagine.
So, here’s what I propose — thank your child’s teachers. Right now. Send a little email. Even if you you weren’t all that impressed with them, drop them a little note at least letting them know you appreciate their efforts. If you thought your child had a great year, by all means, tell them as much! It doesn’t have to be in-depth. Just a note.
Trust me, it will make a huge difference to the teacher. What a wonderful way to say goodbye, right?
Thanks for indulging me.
People often ask me how they can get their children interested in reading, which I’m always more than happy to answer. It’s vital we encourage our young people to read. Studies show that reading improves critical thinking skills, vocabulary, comprehension, writing, empathy, and a broader understanding of the world surrounding us. Best of all? Every child wants to be reader. (Granted, some may not know it yet.)
Here are 5 simple steps you can take to entice your reluctant reader. Though I’m not providing citations, I’m basing these steps on fifteen years of teaching experience and my Reading Master’s Degree. These methods have proven effective for me personally, for my own children, and for my students.
1. Read with your child – As a parent, you know that actions speak louder than words. If you want your child to sit and read, I urge you to participate. It’s one thing to tell them to read and then walk away. It’s quite another to carve out time from your own schedule to sit by their side with a book. I’m not saying you have to read to them, though that’s not a bad thing. But when they actually see you believe in reading so strongly that you are also taking the time to do it with them, well, don’t underestimate the power of that action. Get the whole family involved for some bonding time!
2. Let them read what they want – This one will be tough for some parents. Your child will never learn to love reading if you force them to read something they hate. The quickest way to get your child to want to read is to let that child read about whatever it is that they love. I guarantee you that once you’ve established a reading routine with them and they look forward to it, they will be open to your suggestions. But, in the beginning, it has to be about their interests. If they love Pokemon, let them read about Pokemon. If they love volleyball, let them read about volleyball. Fiction, nonfiction, poetry, graphic novels, drama – it doesn’t matter. In my eyes, nothing bad has ever happened by letting a child read. (Of course, use common sense. I’m not suggesting you allow your children to read vulgar material.)
3. Take them to the library – The library is one of the single most important facilities in your community. Not only will they have virtually any book your child may be interested in reading, but your child will be able to check out as many books as they wish. Grabbing armfuls of books can be a euphoric experience, trust me. Furthermore, allow your child to take advantage of the available up-to-date movies, music, and video games. Maybe the kids will be a little more excited to go to the library if you promise them a movie and game as well. Furthermore, your library will probably have all kinds of events in which your child could participate. Personally, I love that it’s all free.
4. Spoil them a little – When I was a kid, comic books were available at my local grocery store. When my parents shopped, they’d drop me off at the newsstand and would always buy me two or three comics a week. Though that amount totaled less than three dollars, it meant the world to me. I looked so forward to those trips. We all love to get a little something now and again. If financially able, take a monthly trip to your local book store and spoil your child with a book. Trust me, it’s a wise investment, and I know your child will count the days until that next trip.
5. Connect it to TV and movies – You know how people always say the book is better than the movie? They say that because it’s true. Since the advent of movies, books have provided their source material. If your child is interested in a new movie coming out that’s based on a book, offer to get the book for them to read before the movie’s release. Then, after experiencing both, have them tell you about the similarities and differences. I’m in no way suggesting a quiz or test (that will send them running away quicker than anything), but conduct a conversation. Chances are, the child will love showing off what they know, and you’ll enjoy witnessing their critical thinking and comprehension skills.
There are dozens of more possibilities to entice your child to read, but these are a few that I personally believe in quite strongly. I hope they are helpful to you!