Thursday, September 20, 2007

Middle School Reality

My son Ben came home today and told me he has been given half credit for both his social studies and science homework.

I forgot to finish it, he said.

But I asked you last night if your homework was done…

I know, I know, don’t have a fit!

I was not having a fit. I was incredulous that he lied to me the night before, but I was being very calm.

I need you to go do your homework now.

OKAY OKAY, IT’S NOT A BIG DEAL, Ben shouted. It is clearly a big deal to him.

Ben is a kid who wants to do well but doesn’t want to work at it. He wants to be famous but won’t try out for a theater club. He wants to be rich but doesn’t save his allowance- ever. He wants to get great grades but he doesn’t put any time in the work. He is, without question, a kid who could get straight A’s. It would not be easy, but he could do it.

Newton is a very competitive public school district. The level of intensity has been written about in the New York Times (ttp:// Most parents in this high-pressure suburban school want their kid to get A’s. to be first chair in the band, to get the solo part and to be class president. Problem is, not everyone can be the best.

But I feel it creeping up for me now my son is in Middle School. Before when he did a school project and it came out looking less than stellar, I was proud of myself for not helping, except to buy the supplies. I wasn’t going to be one of those pushy parents who created a perfect to scale version of the pentagon for the monuments of Washington, DC project. Instead, when Ben said, I want to build the Jefferson Memorial out of marshmallows, I went and bought marshmallows. Tooth picks and glue.

Walking around the classroom, you could see who helped their 4th grader and who did not. I loved Ben’s project even though it was leaning to one side and the play dough covered action figure turned Jefferson was not even close to the right scale, it was his work.

As I reviewed his social studies project, I heard come out of my mouth- this isn’t very good. I think you could try a little harder in your drawings. It doesn’t look like an island, and what’s with the squiggly pen lines?

Oh god. Should I shut up and let his teacher give him a C? It’s not good work. He can do better. Is that my place to say something to him?

More importantly, when did I get this competitive? I’ve never wanted any of my kids to go to Harvard- too close to home- but I do want them to have the option. I want them to be able to choose their colleges and careers without any boundaries of academic performance holding them back.

Yes, I realize I am talking about a twelve-year-old child in sixth grade.

I also realize he’s not a child anymore. He’s transitioning into a young man. His sarcasm at age four was cute- it’s not anymore. Building projects with marshmallows was fun but scribbling a poorly shaped palm tree on a small circle of yellow isn’t going to cut it anymore. I’ve never wanted to be a high-pressure parent but the reality is I have high expectations.

Is that because I live in a school district where kids routinely get perfect scores on SAT’s? Or is it because I want them to have choices in their lives.

I told Ben he could not go out and meet his friends today. He needed to do his homework and then practice his clarinet. Another parent was picking him up for soccer practice.

There are consequences for your behavior, I said. If you don’t do your homework, you don’t get to go out. You can’t like to me and say it’s done and still get to go hang out.

I stopped there. I wanted to say something about how poorly he had done his assignment but I had once already. It’s only the second full week of classes. I know I have to let him make some bad choices and learn from them.

He sulked away but didn’t offer any arguments. He knows better. I believe, or maybe want to believe, he feels badly about not getting full credit. He doesn’t like to lose, and he doesn’t like getting D’s.

Right now we’re both running smack into the reality of middle school. It’s not just about cell phones, bus rides and new friends. It’s about a new level of academic expectations and personal responsibility.

Not only for him, but for me, too.


Blogger Jamie said...

Wow, I just today attended a WebEx seminar through my employer's EPA program on how to help your kid with their homework. The instructor, a former teacher and mother of 5, said that middle school is the hardest on everyone.

Middle-schoolers are going through all the changes in life. Becomes hard for parents and really hard for the kids. She did a poll of the attendees to ask who, of a middle schooler parent, had gone back to school/home to pick up something their kid had forgotten. The results were overwhelming!

She gave some sage advice and wonderful handouts. Would you like for me to email them to you?

10:21 PM  
Blogger Sara said...


11:51 PM  
Blogger Jamie said...

Okay, I just sent three emails w/ attachments. Hope I didn't overwhelm!!!

Sorry, I'm a librarian...information is what I do. :-)

9:50 AM  
Anonymous Bil Browning said...

Would you forward it on to me, please Sarah? As the father of an 8th grade daughter, I can use it. She pulled out the project that's due Monday morning about a half hour ago to start on it suddenly - even though all homework has been done for a week. She's got an hour before she goes to her mom's - where there is no internet - to research all about a certain tribe - and print pictures. When does she come back? The night before the project is due. Will it get half-a$$ed while she's at Mom's? You betcha.


8:31 PM  

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