Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Growing Pains: Third Grade Edition

The two older boys’ first month of school is almost complete.  J is especially excited because he got the teacher he wanted for third grade.  I’ll admit it; this was the teacher I was hoping he’d get, too, because she has high expectations for her students – she sets the bar high, and then helps the kids strive to reach it.

The first two weeks of school were, well, anticlimactic.  No homework was assigned, and the boys settled into their new routines rather quickly.  Their afterschool activities began gradually, so we eased into our new routine.

And then came the homework.

To provide some context, last year, J’s homework consisted of writing fifteen spelling words five times each and three worksheets.  Per week.  That’s it.  Seriously.  Second grade was a joke as far as homework was concerned.

Third grade is a whole. new. world. 

Monday night means a language arts worksheet and some math.  Tuesday and Wednesday mean some more math.  Thursday means still more math.  Every Friday, there is a spelling test.  This Friday there is also a science test.  Last week, J had to bring in pictures of plants, herbivores, and carnivores to create a food web at school.  There will also be four book projects throughout the year.

In principle, I have absolutely no issue with the amount of homework that J has.  What I do  take issue with is the crying, whining, and hyperventilating that precedes the completion of said homework.  Specifically, this spectacle is reserved solely for the language arts homework.

Last night, J had to read a story called The Fire on the Mountain (or something like that).  The story in brief:  Haptom is a rich guy who has a servant named Arha.  Haptom asks Arha if he thinks it’s possible to survive a night on the mountain without shelter, blankets, or fire, and then suggest a friendly wager to prove it.  Arha declines since he has nothing to offer.  Haptom says that’s okay, if Arha can survive a night on the mountain, he’ll give him land, a house, and cattle.  Arha visits Hairu, the village wise man, for advice.  Hairu tells Arha that he’ll light a fire in the valley, and Arha can see the fire and imagine that he’s being warmed by it.

…I just had to interject here.  I get that the United States is no longer a Eurocentric society, and I support the whole diversity and multiculturalism thrust in education, but if I had a hard time keeping track of these characters’ names (I kept calling Haptom Hampton), how on earth is an eight-year-old supposed to?  But I digress…

Haptom is impressed that Arha has survived the frigid night and asks how he did it.  Arha says that he saw the fire in the valley and imagined that it kept him warm.  Haptom accuses Arha of cheating and refuses to pay up.  Heartbroken, Arha visits Hairu, who decides to help.  Hairu hosts a banquet and invites Haptom.  He prepares but does not serve the food.  Haptom asks when the food will be served.  Hairu asks if Haptom can smell the food; Haptom can.  Hairu says that if he can smell the food, then he must be full since Arhu was kept warm by seeing the fire.  Haptom is ashamed and decides to make good on his end of the wager.

Reads a little bit like a Biblical parable, don’t you think?  I don’t know about you, but I’m an adult and I have a hard time making heads or tails of Biblical parables.  Imagine how an eight-year-old feels.  Cue the waterworks...
The students then have to answer some questions about comparison and contrast.  Like:  How are Haptom and Arhu different at the beginning of the story?  How are they alike at the end?  (this wasn’t too hard for J to figure out; he’s a bright kid, fortunately, but I still had to talk him through the process… he kept getting hung up on the character names)  Where did Arhu’s test take place?  Where did Haptom’s test take place?  (J didn’t make the connection that the banquet was a test for Haptom…  did many other students?  If they are unfamiliar with parables, will most third graders make that connection?  Did they discuss this, or similar stories, in class?
I think my frustration is this:  yes, let’s challenge our kids.  No, we don’t expect enough of them academically.  But if we’re going to present students with challenging material, which this language arts homework clearly is (for a third grader), teachers must teach children the critical thinking skills necessary to move towards mastery of that material.  Simple repeat exposure is not sufficient.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

In Memoriam

I guess today is as appropriate a day as any to start blogging again.  But in honor of the horrific events that happened eleven years ago today, I just can’t do snark right now.  It doesn’t feel right.  In fact, it feels sacrilegious.

In 2001, I worked for a small software developer in New York City.  I was a project manager, where I was responsible for determining what features our clients wanted, writing the engineering specifications for them, designing the graphic interface for the new features, testing those features to ensure that they work properly, writing the user documentation, and then training our clients to use the new features.  Initially, I loved my job.  I loved the combination of techno-geekery and creativity.  I got to design software features and the elements of the graphic interface, contribute to the user guide, and play with software.  But by the fall of that year, the software application I was originally working on and had redesigned was abandoned, my boss and I weren’t getting along very well, and the company was slashing employees left and right.  Oh, and I was also rather preoccupied with my impending wedding.  It was a recipe for near complete job dissatisfaction.
The morning of September 11, 2001 started out pretty much like any other.  I took the train into work, to a job that I no longer enjoyed.  I remember wanting to call in sick, to work from home, but I didn’t because I was supposed to accompany one of our sales reps on a sales call.  Needless to say, that call never happened.  Life as we all knew it changed forever.

Eleven days later, the Hubster officially became the Hubster.  We were married, and were grateful to be surrounded by our friends and family.  Those who couldn’t fly in to join us were missed terribly, but no absence was felt as much as that of Hubster’s friend, the Firefighter.  While everyone who could make it to the ground floor of the towers ran to safety, the Firefighter ran in to help.  He never made it out.

While the Hubster and I started a new life together, others struggled with their horrific losses. 

When I think about September 11, 2001, and watch the television shows honoring the fallen, and read the articles about those who perished, I am immediately ripped back to that gorgeous fall morning.  My stomach clenches, my eyes fill with tears, and then I remember the amazing things that happened in the aftereffect of unfathomable tragedy:  the sense of community, the willingness to reach out to one another and make sure we were safe, and gratitude that I came home safely.