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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Tales From The Classroom

("Tales from the Classroom" is a feature posted occasionally here at this blog.  All tales are true and present matters about which I have personal knowledge.  The following tale helps to explain why I love working with classes of homeschoolers. The parental support I typically receive is the antithesis of the reactions my public school and private school colleagues often encounter in a similar situation.

The students in my high school Advanced Composition classes write timed essays once a month.  These timed essays are completed in class within 25-30 minutes and are handwritten drafts of approximately 300 words; I mark these essays and provide "suggestions" for improvement.  Five weeks later, the students must submit revisions which require expansion (450-600 words).

On the first day of class this 2015-2016, the students received this timed-essay prompt, used by College Board on January 2015 SAT:
Think carefully about the issue presented in the following excerpt and the assignment below.

We are often told to "put on a brave face" or to be strong.  To do this, we often have to hide, or at least minimize, whatever fears, flaws, and vulnerabilities we possess.  However, such an emphasis on strength is misguided.  What truly takes courage is to show our imperfections, not to show our strengths, because it is only when we are able to show vulnerability — or the capacity to be hurt — that we are genuinely able to connect with other people.

Assignment: Is it more courageous to show vulnerability than it is to show strength?  Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.
The rewrite which one student submitted was poor and needed more revision, particularly expansion.

Here is the email exchange mentioned in the introduction at the beginning of this blog post....
AOW: "The rewrite which [your son] submitted on October 13 is inadequate (F) because he did not fulfill the minimum word requirement. This, in spite of all the suggestions I gave him on his handwritten draft.  On October 20, [your son] will receive the essay back to try again and to resubmit on October 27....He will also need to get a parent signature on the chart page where I wrote the F grade."
On October 17, I received the parent's reply.
Parent: "Thank you for the email and for giving [my son] another chance at the essay."
This parents of the student referenced in this blog post immigrated from China approximately three decades ago, and their reaction to their child's inadequate essay is typical of the homeschool parents as a whole.

The Chinese and Korean parents with whom I come into contact are particularly supportive of the teacher's evaluation of their children's schoolwork and less inclined to make excuses for their children's inadequate submissions. Why is this the case?

Note: the parent referenced in this blog post does not qualify as a tiger mother.  She is, however, heavily invested in the education of her five children.


  1. Melting Pot immigration should bring with it qualities like that to be assimilated by the host culture, to the benefit of all.

    Sometime I crack myself up.

  2. Would many parents respond differently?

    1. Jez,
      Many? No, not in the homeschool group. But some parents in the group do react to "protect" their babies from the mean ol' teacher.

      A few years ago, a parent (an English teacher, too) came whining to me after I gave back her son's paper with a D on it. She told me how hard he had worked -- then said, "Don't you think that he deserves a different grade?"

      I responded: "You're right. He does deserve a different grade." I then snatched the paper from her hands and put an F on it. "There," I said. "Now the paper has the grade it deserves."

      To her credit, the parent accepted my verdict and kept the boy enrolled in my writing classes through 12th grade.

      When he took his SAT's a few years later, he got an 800 on the Writing portion of the test. In fact, the university told him that his application essay was among the best they'd ever seen. His SAT Reading score was outstanding, too. He was admitted to the college of his choice, UVA, and is now a writer in some technology firm.

      His mother and I have laughed over what happened that happen, and she has actually expressed her gratitude for my having held the line on writing standards.

    2. You should be proud of such students, and the parents should be showering you with gifts, gourmet coffees, some nice scotch to irish it up with... ;-)

    3. SF,
      I do get cash gifts for Christmas and at the end of the term and, occasionally, during the summer.

      Last year, I had a big Christmas surprise at the Christmas party. A mini iPad! It was given anonymously, but I have a good idea as to who gave me that gift. I use my iPad as part of my teaching. So convenient!

      I also get food gifts during the school year -- sometimes an entire meal delivered here to the house.

      You mentioned gourmet coffees. In fact, today one of the parents asked me which gourmet coffee I would like.

      I don't get scotch, but I do get the occasional bottle of expensive wine.

      One Chinese family -- privately tutored on Saturday -- provide us with a meal every week and also invite us to their home for real Chinese food.

  3. Coddling children is a form of child abuse.

    Interactions with others and all the issues surrounding school, including social and academic, are good introductions to the vicissitudes of life. It is a horrible form of abuse for parents to roar out of their house and slay every dragon for their child. Those who do that are raising adult babies, and we already have enough of those worthless creatures roaming around our nation right now.

    The job of a parent is to instill values and teach critical thinking skill and pass on life lessons. You don't go slay your child's dragons, you help your child process what is happening, critically analyze it, and formulate a strategy.

    And guess what? Often there is no 'solution,' but rather strategies to cope with or ameliorate the situation, just like in real life...

    Most often, the hardest conclusion, after exhausting every other avenue, is to simply put your head down and work harder, and it is a blessing when you see your son or daughter reach that conclusion (almost always grudgingly)on his or her own.

    1. SF,
      Coddling children is a form of child abuse. It is a horrible form of abuse for parents to roar out of their house and slay every dragon for their child.

      HEAR! HEAR!

      Good article on the topic of coddling: Coddled Kids Crumble: Colleges see big lack of resilience among students.

  4. It's a concern I have for my grand niece.

    Right now she's excited about learning and is achieving.
    It's going to be important to let her deal with some failures. Won't be for a few years yet but the emphasis is on letting her enjoy learning but not become spoiled.


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