I contemplated writing on another topic this week, but that will have to wait. This past week, I attended some parent/teacher/assistant principal conferences with a few of my students. Every year, there are a handful of kids that are not where they need to be academically and are at risk of being retained if they don’t progress enough by the end of the year. By law, we have to notify the parents of this in a formal conference (in addition to our regular parent/teacher conferences) at each trimester, before the final decision is made. Luckily, this year’s kids are pretty close to where they need to be, and the conferences I had were more of a wake up call to both the parents and kids of what they need to do to end the year as readers. All of these conferences were reminders that reading will only get better with practice, and that practice can’t just be at school. Also, some of the kids needed to be told that if they did not put forth their best effort at school, they would not be moving on with their class to 3rd grade. The majority of the parents are concerned and promise they will do what they can at home.
One conference was a bit different though. J, who is one of my best behaved students, is at risk this year. She has all the foundational phonics skills she needs for decoding new words, but her reading fluency is limited which means her reading is very slow because she’s sounding everything out. What she needs is PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE. When we told this to the parents, who had a two year old and a new born in tow, they showed concern and agreed with everything we said. But then the mom, who is maybe 25, told us that she tells J to practice reading at home, but J refuses. “She refuses?” the AP and I asked. Yes, she refuses and tells her mom “no”. Both the AP and I looked at J and told her that if her mom tells her to practice, she needs to practice to get better. Then I remembered that I met with Dad earlier in the year, and he told me the same thing. At that conference, the dad brought J with him and wanted me to tell her to listen to her mom. I did, J smiled and nodded, and continued being a good citizen in class. Well, in the midst of the conference, we find out that J doesn’t listen to her mom about homework, chores, or helping with her brother and sisters either. She also gets mad when she’s told that she can’t go play until her homework is done and storms out of the house to go play anyways. Both our mouths dropped. We told J how appalled we were in hearing that, and that if she wanted to go to 3rd grade she’d better get it together and start listening to her mom. This was so shocking to me. I’ve had parents of poorly behaved students in my class tell me that their child doesn’t listen to them at home, but never one of my best behaved students. This little girl is such a good citizen at school, I would never have guessed this was going on at home.
Every time I’m told, “He/she just doesn’t listen to me,” at a parent meeting, it irritates me. I’m no parent, but I think as the adult, the parent is the one who is supposed to be in charge! But for some that’s hard to do, especially when there are no consequences for not listening. Some kids are, by nature, good listeners, but for others they need some type of motivation whether it be a positive reward or negative consequence. That may mean that the video games are taken away, or the tv is taken out of his/her bedroom, or you fly out the door after her and bring her back by her ear.
From personal experience, I know that having some sense of fear about breaking the rules was really all I needed to be fairly well behaved. I knew, up front, that if my behavior was not up to par I’d be punished. That could range from being grounded or spanked when I was little to losing the horse or not being allowed to drive the car when I was a teenager. Some of these kids think they have the rights to all of these things, and as soon as that happens, of course the parents lose control. This little girl, at 7, already has the control. I’m nervous to think what she’ll be like as a teenager. Thank goodness I don’t teach teenagers!