Fear and Loathing at Back to School Night

I guess it is my previous blogs about Chuck E. Cheese and amusement parks that have got me in the mind set of reflecting on what other heinous rights of passage one must partake in as a parent. I think probably chief among these would be school functions. Just the mention of the words PTA meeting, school orientation, back to school night, or open house is enough to send me into an apoplectic fit wherein I may go to such lengths as hiding under the sink or even denying that I have children. But it never seems to work. So, off I go to yet another loathsome affair all the while thinking of why I don’t want to be there.

1. I have to leave my house. I hate to admit it, but as a working mother of two children, I really need two solid hours a night of sitting on the couch and watching sitcoms in a vegetative state. If I am deprived of these two hours, it better be for a damned compelling reason. I guess there’s not much question in your mind as to whether I find these functions compelling but if there’s any question in your mind as to why I feel this way, read on.

2. Attendance is mandatory? Okay, it’s not really mandatory, it’s just kind of highly recommended in that this is a preventative measure for teacher’s to take so that they are not assaulted by a barrage of questions later in the year. Therefore, it is upon pain of death that you don’t attend. Punishment could possibly result in being the mother responsible for there not being a pizza party at the end of the month, loss of an extra credit point for your child, or being spoken about in the following way:

“I heard Mrs. Bergen did not attend Back to School Night last Thursday. Do you know that she also serves her children frozen dinners and doesn’t recycle her soup cans??”

Well I am here to tell you that I have missed an occasional Back to School function and it is not the end of the world. You bring them to school on time, you have them do their homework, the report cards come, you figure it out.

3…. And we’re back at school. I don’t know what it is, maybe the fact that I am now seated in a tiny chair wherein my knees are positioned somewhere close to my ear lobes, but I suddenly feel as if I am now the world’s oldest kindergartener. This in turn makes me feel very rebellious towards the teacher, so watch out for the various circumstances in which…

4. The teacher pisses me off. This could, and has included teachers using improper grammar such as the misuse of the word ‘like’ as in “I was like…” Please, if you can not use proper grammar when meeting your student’s parents, you should not be teaching my child. Also, the use of the collective we, as in’ “How are we doing today” begs the answer, “I don’t know about you but I feel like killing someone”. And any hint that you are going to be a hard ass on my kid may give me the idea that we are not going to be buddies.

5. We’re all in the together. Now parents, I know that we are all here for our children, learning about their education, with one common goal in mind…to get the hell out of here as quickly as possible. This is why I dread the time when the teacher is done talking and I am hopeful that I will get maybe one hour of couch potato time, when 50 hands spring into the air. I know you may have questions. Even I may have had one or two in my time. But let’s try to eliminate the obvious, (If my child is sick should I keep her at home? what if it’s just a cold?) are relevant only to your child (Little Lucinda gets a little stuffy if the temperature is over 73.5 degrees, is it possible to adjust the school thermostats accordingly?) and the downright stupid (So the kids have to be on time every day??).

Okay, so now that we’ve laid the ground rules, please tune in for my next blog, “Why You Really Don’t Want Me To Join the PTA”.

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Sometimes You Just Gotta Say Phuket

Watching the Amazing Race last night, it occurred to me that I really need to grow up.The contestants in this leg were in a capital city in Indonesia called Bandung and I couldn’t stop thinking of it as Bad Dung! I mean, now that I’m a mother and all, it really doesn’t do for me to be giggling every time a word or name sounds remotely inappropriate, does it? I am writing this blog as a fond farewell to all the times I have exhibited this shameful behavior and brought embarrassment to my family and the people I love.

 
Like really!…How about the time when my son had that 1st grade teacher named Ms. Quesada and I just could NOT stop calling her Ms. Quesadilla! I mean, bad enough that I had to expose my son to this kind of nonsense, but things were really awkward when a slip of the tongue caused me to refer to that nice teacher as such when speaking to the school principal (true story, no lie).
 
And if this wasn’t enough to make me see the error of my ways, imagine the plight of poor Ms. Naples who had the misfortune of teaching my son in the 2nd grade. (For those of you who don’t see this one coming, just substitute the ‘a’ sound for an ‘i’).
 
This just progressed when my son switched schools and there was a teacher there named Ms. Doody. (Yes really her name, I mean at that point you just really ought to NOT be teaching kids, am I right?). And the same for you (this going back to my elementary science teacher) Ms. Lipschitz or the shop teacher Harry Kirshner (Kirshner, Kirshner, Harry, Harry!).
 
It even got in the way of my professional relationships. For instance, in my brilliant career in the administrative field, I have come across many domestic and foreign shipping responsibilities (notice how I don’t use the word ‘duties’?). I would often giggle at these poor people’s last names as well. So I want to put in an open apology to all the times I laughed at you Ms. Wiener, and especially you Mr Takashito.
 
Now, I don’t know if I can just change my ways overnight. It’s been a long road and obviously I need to masticate on all of this a little while. I will definitely keep you abreast of the situation. Until then, I bid a fond farewell to laughing at you, Bangkok; and you, Lake Titicaca; as I kiss Uranus goodbye!

Waving the White Flag?

Well it’s been a long hard road, but I may have finally come to an impasse in my battle with homework, teachers, and all things related. I would like to be able to conclude, to seal things off with a nice little bow, where there is, if not a victory, then maybe a sense of closure. But instead of this nice neat little bow, I’m afraid it’s more of a fraying cable and my neat little package is, in fact kind of bulging all over the place, it’s contents threatening to come tumbling out everywhere.

I did have a meeting with the Principal, the Showdown at High Noon which was more of a “What do you want me to do about it? Talk to the teachers.” I explained to him that the teachers were no longer returning my emails and he did, at least, open a line of communication, I think…

Anyway, I should give him some credit because he did actually meet with the teachers who did nothing more than blame my son and his habits, most of which he has since corrected, for their own shortcomings. It is sad that they feel the need to defend themselves at the expense of their students. I think it is appropriate here for me to include the letter I sent to my son’s math teacher last night:

Dear Ms. Teacher,

I believe the last time we communicated was when you made a recommendation that Jesse leave your class to take Math 6. (her answer to my complaint of over-homeworking – take a simpler math class-Ed.) I was grateful for your communication. It made me realize that perhaps Jesse was weak when it came to his multiplication tables and that he was taking a challenging class.

 

I asked Jesse at that point if he wanted to continue on in your class and he did. This meant that Jesse, with the help of myself and his father, needed to concentrate more on what he was being taught. I grilled Jesse on his multiplication tables and he got out of math boot camp and his grades have come up in your class and I hope they will continue to do so.

 

Jesse also needed to hunker down more as far as his work habits go. He is now beginning his assignments in class when given the opportunity to do so and I know this because I see the work he has done. (This in response to a false accusation she made about my son.-Ed.)

 

I do want you to know that although Jesse’s work habits have improved along with his comprehension, the homework assignments continue to take him a minimum of 45 minutes, and often an hour. When I check his homework, although I use a calculator, and have Jesse’s homework for reference, it can take me anywhere from 20 minutes to a half an hour.

 

Thank you for your time.

This letter, by the way, is a completely watered down version of what I would have liked to say, but I felt the need to hold my ‘tongue’. It is, after all, a long hard road that leads to end of my son’s semester. And, by the way, I did not get a response from Ms. Math Teacher, so perhaps the roads of communication are still hopelessly blocked. But then again, what was she supposed to say?

I’ll tell you what she was supposed to say! How about “I’m so sorry Mrs, Bergen, that I love to torture 11 year olds with an inappropriate amount of homework and potentially ruin their young lives and I’ll never do it again!!” But she did not. So I guess we will just agree to disagree. #peoplesuck

My Mom Will Probably Kill Me

Another one from my son Jesse saving rock and protesting homework…one kid at a time!

So Then This Happened…

So while I,  Rock N’ Roll Supermom was out trying to stop Homework from eating up our children, other Super Villians were taking advantage of my situation and attacking from the other side. I was blindsided by… The Teachers.

First came… The Math Teacher. My son had an assignment and, because he was able to figure out certain problems in his head, and didn’t show his work, he was deducted 50% from his assignment. 50%?? Really?? Come on!! I wrote to the teacher to tell her that I happened to know my son was able to figure out these assignments in his head but was met with stony silence. I guess I am fast becoming one of her least favorite customers after accusing her of doling out excessive homework assignments. Anyway, I know ‘Not Showing Work’ is a big one, and choose your battles, right? I guessed I would leave sleeping dogs lie as far as that was concerned. But then…
The Science Teacher cometh!! So on this occasion, Mrs. Science Teacher decided to deduct an entire 10 points on my son’s test score because he forgot to write his last name on the test bringing him from a 90 to an 80. Really?? 10 pts?? Come on!! He’s an 11 year old boy! That’s what 11 year old boys do!! I’m sure when he’s 30 and a CEO of a huge company signing contracts he will be including his last name, and if he’s 30 and forgetting to sign his name on welfare applications, we have bigger fish to fry.
Anyway, the thing is, I am meant to understand that school funding, which is so precious in this economic climate, is based on student’s grades. I am constantly being bombarded by letters and emails asking parents to help bring student’s grades up. So how can we do this?…how?…how? Oh here’s a good one…how about we tell the teachers TO STOP BEING SUCH HARD ASSES ON OUR CHILDREN…HUH? Anyway, excuse me for losing my temper a bit on this one. Where was I? Oh, yes.
Anyway, an update on the homework front..
I wrote again to the man at the school district who did not respond to my second letter asking him how we can enforce homework guidelines when teachers are underestimating the homework load.This time he did write back. One thing he advised is that I have a face to face with the principal. I’m not sure if this will do any good since the principal is already aware of my problems, but I did email him to ask him what he thought, and if we do meet and anything interesting comes of it, you will be first to know.
Slightly more interesting though, is that he recommended an article to me that had recently been published in Atlantic Monthly on homework. There is a lot on it I have already seen and read but a good read none the less. However, one thing it discussed was how one of the reasons the U.S. assigns so much homework is to be competitive with other countries as far as student grades go. First of all, this is stupid because study after study proves that giving students more homework doesn’t improve grades but beyond that… Isn’t it enough that our children can be sent out to war when they are 18? Isn’t it enough that the U.S. is a superpower who can blow most countries to Timbuktu? Isn’t enough that America is the land of the free, home of the brave, give us your tired, your poor? Fuck the other countries! Let their children be miserable!

Open Letter to The Principal Pt II: The Saga Continues

Well thank you all for your outpouring of support on the ‘too much homework’ subject. I really don’t know how many of you might be chomping at the bit to hear some follow up, which really wasn’t much, or terribly exciting, but I would feel remiss if I didn’t let you in on some of my findings.

1. Well miracles never cease because the principal did respond to me, but only to refer me to someone else, or as the case may be, quite a few someone elses. He told me to talk to someone who worked at my sons school district and also to consult the teachers. So….
2. I wrote to this someone at the school district (same letter pretty much) and maybe miracles never do cease, because he wrote me back as well. He said that the policies of how much homework was being given to the students were recently reviewed and currently, students in my sons school district, should be receiving 4-8 hours of homework a week. He also suggested contacting the teachers re the homework. So…
3. Now actually the teachers for me are a bit of a touchy subject. As I mentioned before, my son was missing some assignments and the teacher’s had been very helpful to me in helping him catch up so I thought it might not be the best time to completely piss them off. However, I could not resist writing one of my famous strongly worded emails to his honor’s math teacher who is a constant culprit of over-homeworking.
This particular letter was brought on by a pre-algebra math sheet that nearly brought my husband and I to tears and took about 2 hours to complete, including corrections, causing my son to stay up 15 minutes past his bedtime completing assignments. The result of  the letter  was a very angry teacher who denied that the homework assignments were so time consuming and suggested that my son request to transfer out of honors math, which he does not want to do.
4. I did also write back to the man at the school district to tell him that I did actually consult one of the teachers regarding the homework policy, and that the teachers seem to be underestimating the homework assignments and I asked him how, exactly the current policy was being enforced. This time the man who seemed so open and helpful to my questions and correspondence did not get back to me, so I guess miracles do cease.
As for me, I will continue fighting the good fight and, if anything interesting comes of it, I will let you know. But what I am really dying to know is, why kids do have to rewrite entire text book questions when all that is needed is the answer? Seems excessive to me. That’s one for the social studies/science teacher, when the time is right, unless any of you know… thanks.

An Open Letter to The Principal

As Queen of the Strongly Worded Emails, I recently wrote the following letter to my son’s principal regarding the excessive amount of homework he has been getting. Anybody want to give a ‘hell-yeah’?

Hello Mr. Principal

 
My son, Jesse Bergen has started his first year in (school) starting in August. First of all, I would like to say that I appreciate Miller’s friendly attitude and all the attention they give to their 6th graders. Because of that, Jesse’s transition into junior high has been an easy one in that respect.
 
What I do want to discuss with you, is the incredible amount of homework my son has been getting.
 
Last Thursday, I had the misfortune of receiving a phone call from Jesse’s counselor letting me know that Jesse did not do several of his homework assignments. Jesse’s actions, in this capacity, were dishonest and irresponsible and I am in no way condoning or excusing his behavior and he was appropriately punished and made to make up these assignments.
 
However, when I saw the amount of homework Jesse would in fact be getting, a lot of my anger turned to sympathy.
 
After a 7 hour day at school, Jesse is doing 2-4 hours of homework (not counting the make up assignments) more than most full time jobs! This hardly gives him time to pursue his extracurricular activities (Jesse has been studying music for about 3 years now and is a multi-instrumentalist), much less play outdoors, or quite frankly, have any time to be a kid. Jesse definitely understands his work, and though he does lose focus at times, he does not do so excessively.
 
I, as a mother, as well as Jesse’s family, are definitely feeling the effects of this excessive work load. After working at a part time job, I come home and spend much of my time on the internet trying to figure out which assignments are due and missing, and emailing the teachers about this, as well as helping Jesse with his homework. I am depressed and anxious, and this puts a strain on my ability to take care of my 6 year old daughter. Furthermore, it is impossible for us to do anything as a family, like even something so simple as eat out for dinner, since my husband works weekends.
 
I have done some research on this topic before emailing you, and experts recommend that children get 10 minutes of homework for every grade year (Jesse gets a minimum of twice that much). They also have found no correlation between children who do more homework getting better grades or being any more intelligent. There is evidence that teacher’s often underestimate the length of the homework assignments. On a personal note, I find some of the homework thought provoking and educational, if lengthy, but some is simply busy work with an excessive amount of writing.
 
I do not blame (school) for this specifically, nor any of it’s staff or teachers. I have spoken to several parents who have children who attend schools all over the L.A. area and many of them have children who are constantly doing homework, and many of them share my opinion. However, since (school) is my son’s school, I think it’s a pretty good place to start.
 
I am looking forward to hearing your opinions and feedback on this matter and would love to go into more detail on this topic if you wish. I hope you can help me out please. I miss my son.
-Marissa Bergen