Monday, November 07, 2005

No Rest for the Weary

Recently the Washington Post Magazine did a "teen" issue that focused on issues affecting local teenagers. One factoid I gleaned from this came from a telephone survey of DC area teens: 56% said that school was the biggest stress in their daily lives.

I can believe it. If school is your job (and we all know how stressful jobs can be), then it stands to reason that it would be the cause of major headaches. They did not specify which aspects of school (academic, social,etc.) was stressing more than half of these kids out, but whatever the case, for some school outweighed family, societal pressures, and friends as a main source of worry for some.

Yesterday's Post Magazine had a group of articles that looked at the teacher-student relationship, including a series of vignettes in which teachers reminisced about students who changed their lives. There was also a piece from a father who felt that grades don't count before high school. (The article was about handling conflict with your child's teacher.)

If only someone had told me that. Grades always mattered in my house. And since grammar school grades affected the high school you'd enter and the high school you entered and the grades you got there would determine the college you got into, there was never a time when grades didn't matter.

So I was concerned the other night when I baby-sat my niece, a first grader, and she was herself stressing out about homework. As I was tucking her into bed she suddenly remembered that she had not done her homework. I tried to reassure her that it was Friday night and she had two whole days to get it done, but she would not be comforted. She really felt that the homework had to be done on the day it was assigned and that she had too much to do on Saturday and Sunday to finish it by the time Monday rolled around. Nothing I said seemed to help, but the need to sleep won out over the need to contemplate the impending doom of arriving to school on a Monday with unfinished homework...

at least until about 2 a.m. After already playing musical beds earlier in the night (my niece deciding that it was much better to sleep in the guest bed with me, than in her own), I awoke to find her standing over me.

"Auntie, will you help me with my spelling words?"

In my sleepy haze, I told her to go back to bed, but found I was unable to move. Yet, I was still awake after the grogginess passed. I tried to remember why I was awake in the first place. Oh yeah, something about spelling words. I went into my niece's room (she had returned there) to find her under the covers, with one eye half open and the spelling list in her hand. I took the list away and told her to go to sleep.

When I told her parents about this, they were not to alarmed. They seemed to be glad that she takes school so seriously. As a reforming overacheiver, I can see the value in that, but I also see the danger. I did not get so serious about school until much later. In the first grade I came home and did my homework, but it did not have a big place in my life. I slept soundly; I doubt thoughts of spelling would have roused me from sleep.

She woke me up again later and when I asked her what time it was, she said, "The big hand is on the five and the little hand is on the five." She cannot tell time, but she already knows that the weekends slip past you quickly and that Monday morning is lurking around the next corner waiting to club you over the head, reminding you of all the things you didn't get done.


quincee said...

Welcome to the Blogosphere!

And a thought provoking blog to boot. As you know I'm in schools every day and I do advise students and parents to keep a balance. Too much in either extreme causes problems. Children need to learn to value education but they also need to learn to protect their down time too. Parents must not only model a balanced life, but also help their children maintain one. My niece is a gifted thirteen-year-old, a Girl Scout, a musician, an artist, an athlete, and big sister to my three-year-old nephew. That's a lot for her to balance but I stress to her daily that she can always put one activity or the other on hold. The only rule: until she gets through college, school comes first. Most days she handles it well. Other days she needs guidance and encouragement. Balance and parent invlovement are the keys.


MissSheika said...

first of all WELCOME!
thirdly- I hope this does the trick for your writing. It helped me a lot...and as I went back to my novel...the blogs stopped. LOL. You're motivating me to go back bloggin
Fourthly- You were home???!!!! :-(
Yeah Jada, I know what you mean. I can honestly say that ironically as the generations go by they result in increasingly complacent teens; but as youngsters don't know what its like to be a kid. I can only contribute it to (in my opionion) a lack of (need or opportunity to) indulge in creative thinking/play, over-indulgence, and a need for a complete re-assesment of Western approach to the eductional system. I firmly believe that if/when we share the joy of learning with our children or even adults, education becomes not a pressure-induced labor to simply briefly memorize, repeat, and then forget, just to move up a grade and repeat the process; but a gift thats cherished for a lifetime. As a result, the kids also become better students. Doesn't this make you cherish (a bit more) our experiences?

fingersinink said...

WOW! it is refreshing to know that there are kids that want to learn after working in a school system where you had to light the fire within each child and keep it burning. i guess with anything you need the balance of work and fun, AT ANY AGE!

i truly enjoyed reading your work. you have an amazing gift.