Thursday, April 25, 2013

Letter To The Teacher... Read 'Em & Weep Style (Updated Version)

Dear Teacher,

My heart is heavy as I sit down to write this.  Please know that none of this is said lightly or without much consideration.

After the Civil War test, in February, we had several lengthy discussions.  I thought, that while tense and sometimes frustrating for both of us, we had come to an understanding.  You acknowledged that you have a defensive response when parents come in and challenge a grading question, but that you were willing to work on that.  You said that you were willing to thoughtfully reconsider, not immediately react and dismiss, a request for you to review a question we felt was unfairly graded.  You said that if we felt Ruby's answer showed equal understanding of the topic and was an accurate alternate response to the question, that you would reconsider how you had graded that answer.  Yet, the first opportunity you have had to do so, you chose to respond in the same defensive and dismissive manner as before.  Either you did not mean what you said, or you have forgotten your promise, or you have changed your mind.  We do not bring in Ruby's work to contest her grades every day, or every week, or every month.  There have been a very few number of times when we have felt that your grading of a certain question, due to the ambiguous wording of a test question, was not fair to the students because it was open to interpretation.  In those instances we have felt that it was important to contest those specific questions. 

We show you respect every single day when we send our daughter in to your classroom with her work diligently and thoughtfully completed.  We show you respect when she is well prepared for your tests. We show you respect by having our daughter show you respect in the classroom.

We do not feel that you show us the same level of respect.  This is not about one question or one grade.  This is about the way you communicate with us.  Shushing me, as you did more than once during our conversation about the Civil War test, or asking my husband if he understands the material is condescending and feels disrespectful to us as parents.  Insinuating, and verbalizing, your belief that this is "our" concern and problem, and that you don't believe Ruby is upset about her grades, is overstepping your bounds as her teacher and is inappropriate.  You do not have the knowledge of our family, or of Ruby's feelings and motivations, to pass that kind of judgment on us.  Taking Ruby aside, after our discussions with you, to reiterate why her answer is wrong and yours is in fact correct, after we have come in to challenge that, is undermining our authority as her parents.  I specifically asked you not to do that again, and made it clear that we felt that action was inappropriate.  We are incredibly disappointed that you felt you needed to assert yourself in that way with her again.  She feels uncomfortable and intimidated by you when you do, and is not comfortable standing up for herself.  We do not feel that she needs to, nor do we want her to.  I thought I had made that clear.  Please respect our parenting decisions.  If we come to you to discuss a grading question we are having that discussion with you, not Ruby.

This whole situation has been quite devastating to us as a family.  This has been an incredibly stressful year. I do not believe you have any idea how much stress your academic requirements and communication style have placed on our family and others.  I know of many parents who have given up, or let their year in your classroom go, but that is not our academic standard.  We have shown you the respect of doing our best work, but to do that Ruby has had to give up all free time and extracurriculars, family down time, and sibling play time.  As have we all.  This is not an isolated sacrifice, this disrupts our entire life from 4PM on.  She has easily 2 hours of homework on a typical night and if there is a test she will be studying from the time she gets home until bedtime.  Does that sound right to you? For a fourth grader to put in 5 hours of studying after a full day of school? It doesn't feel right to us.  It doesn't feel appropriate for a 10 year old, and yet I know she is hardly alone in this experience.  When she puts in the time it takes to do well in your class, with your grading standards, it seems only fair and just that you would show her effort and commitment the same level of respect when we come in to question your grading.  I think that is a reasonable request.  I think that is a respectful request.    

This year has been a very sad year for us, because we had looked forward to our daughters having a wonderful, nurturing, academic environment.  We had truly believed that St. Paul would provide that for them.  Despite an absolutely wonderful kindergarten experience, fourth grade has been so emotionally challenging that we are not sure we want to continue on at St. Paul.  It is a shame that this experience has been so unnecessarily trying. 

Why do you feel you need to be so unforgiving in your grading?  And I don't mean the few questions we have challenged... I mean your everyday grading.  You consistently mark off correct math answers for labeling that is not worded exactly the way you want, and we do not contest that. If we did, we'd be at it every single day.  It is defeating to a child, to spend a couple of hours carefully doing her work, to completely understand the topics and have correct answers, and still get those answers knocked down on some kind of technicality.  A technicality that changes every single day. Your expectations are not consistent, or clearly communicated. I read every single lesson, every single chapter of every book, every note in the notebooks, I do extra research online, and I still can't figure out what you are looking for.  How can you expect these children to? What constitutes a correct label in math seems to change at your whim. "Miles/hour" is the correct label one day, whereas "miles in an hour" is considered correct the next. It feels arbitrary, and at no time does it actually assess their mathematical understanding.  

I would really like to know what you feel this type of critical grading is instilling in these children?  What kind of effect do you expect for it to carry over onto their families?  It creates undue stress.  It does not cultivate a love of learning.  It doesn't even cultivate a better understanding of the material.  After 9 months, it has created an apathy in our daughter.  She doesn't even want to try anymore, or come to school in the morning.  What is the point in her putting this time and energy in? What is the point of the daily sacrifice we have had to make to our family time? It is a question we have had to ask ourselves nearly everyday. It is heartbreaking to watch your child study so long that they are mentally and physically exhausted.  It is heartbreaking to contemplate the few childhood hours she has left to play and enjoy her tender age... wasted night after night... for no valid academic reason.  Your academic demands are too high, and ironically don't even accurately measure their academic understanding.  They are higher than what is expected from the fifth grade in this same school.  It doesn't make sense. It isn't necessary. Why would you wish these children to lose any part of the joy they could be having as children?  If 20 spelling words a week is acceptable for fifth grade, why do you demand 25?  

We are paying for an education, and I don't feel that the type of education you are providing has been in Ruby's best interest.  She is learning something in your classroom, but it isn't the material. She is learning that she isn't good enough, that effort and understanding aren't enough.  She is learning that anything less than your particular day's definition of a "perfect" answer is worthless.  You are demanding a level of arbitrary perfection from the kids that is both unreasonable and undefinable. She is learning to hate school.  She is learning that learning itself is rewardless work and not a joy. Why can't learning be joyful in your classroom?  Why can't a correct math question just be left that way without you nitpicking how it is labeled? Why can't you give them that satisfaction?  I really don't understand. Why isn't correct enough?  Why isn't understanding the material the goal? Why aren't you building these children up, instead of tearing them down? I don't know you, and I do not know or understand your motivations.  I believe you are a well meaning woman, but it feels like you sometimes lose sight of the forest for the trees.

When I came in to challenge the Civil War test grade, you accused me of being a perfectionist; you have misjudged my motives. I don't need my daughter to have a perfect score or perfect grades, I care only that she does her best, and I beam with pride at the success she has had despite the hardships of your classroom. She is a truly amazing girl, and it is devastating to see what this year has done to her spirit. We come in, not to raise her grade, but to challenge your grading.  We come in to defend her effort, because she deserves that.  Her effort is, at minimum, worthy of that.   

I don't know where to go from here. This situation has had both my husband and I in tears.  How do we make the best decision for our daughter?  How do we show her respect for the work and sacrifice she has put in this year? How do we respectfully work with someone who has repeatedly shown that they are not interested in seeing someone else's point of view?  If you were in our shoes what would you do?  Would you show your child that even in the face of adversity you should stand up for your beliefs?  When you feel in your heart and mind that your cause is just and right, what would you do?  Would you show your child that no matter how difficult someone is to work with, that you keep trying? That is what we have chosen, but at what cost?  The stress of confronting you, and the disappointment at your continued rigidity and dismissal of our concerns, has created a family stress that is breaking us down.  Fourth grade shouldn't do this to families.  We have known tremendous stress as a family... life threatening childhood epilepsy, repeated eye surgeries, 4 job changes, 3 moves, witnessing an armed robbery, losing loved ones, car accidents, being hit by a tornado... we know stressful life events... and yet, this has been the most stressful year of our lives.  Your academic standards and rigid grading, even for a smart top performing student with parental support, has caused an unbearable amount of stress.  We may be alone in expressing this, but, sadly, I know we are not alone in feeling it. 

I don't know how this letter will be received.  We hope and pray that you are able to read it with an open heart and an open mind.  We have tried our best to work with you, and have tried to communicate openly and clearly with you about our concerns throughout the year.  Disappointingly, it has had no effect. We do not have a set outcome in mind in writing this; the truth is we are just exhausted and heartbroken.  Our only hope is that you might thoughtfully consider how your words and actions are perceived and experienced by others.  The next time we approach you, we pray that you might be willing to show us a little more empathy and a little less defensiveness.  We are just two parents who love our daughters and want what is best for them.

We wish you peace. 


Mrs & Mr F

P.S. Suck it.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

One stupid update, a bunch of depressing ones, followed by one insightful one... You are welcome

#1  I made some really fantastic french toast late Sunday night, and the girls and I have been reaping the rewards ever since.  Last week, I was talking with my friend who asked about our morning routine (because these things are infinitely fascinating, I know) and I said I make my girls a hot breakfast every single school day.  I also make Kid a hot lunch (or reheat one)... so I pretty much stand at the stove for 45 minutes every single morning.  BUT this is how I do it:  I try to take one day and pound out a huge batch of french toast, or muffins, or waffles, etc and freeze them so I can just reheat that portion of breakfast.  Kid has to go 4+ hours until she eats again, so I do try and make a pretty filling balanced breakfast.  I also, don't have to leave the house when they do, so I don't have to take time out to get myself dressed which makes all this possible.  I get up first and then wake up the kids & Mr F.  They have 35 minutes to get dressed and eat and get in the car.  Because they have to leave so early in the AM we try to keep them sleeping until the last minute possible.  My kids do not do any chores or anything like that in the morning.  Their clothes are laid out (we have no time to spare), they get dressed, eat, brush teeth & hair and walk out the door.  All backpacks are checked and stuffed the night before.

#2  Fascinating, right?!!!

#3  I still have terrible migraines.  One reason I don't blog as much, is because I spend about 200 hours a month in intense pain with extreme light sensitivity which makes looking at a computer excruciating.  In the past year my migraines have changed (not for the better!!!) and now involve my eyes for extended periods (days) on either side of the 4 migraines I typically get each month.  My light sensitivity has intensified and now also includes sporadic partial blindness in my left eye (fun!  and yes, they've been checked it is neurological) and just an overall intense eye pressure that is omnipresent during these episodes.  I can no longer drive at night (or even ride in a car at night) without crazy eye pain from my light sensitivity... that is EVERY day.  Typically, any kind of big light disparity (TV in dark room.... to my horror I discovered movie theaters are now out for me... headlights at night... etc) causes excruciating eye pain.  So, yeah, it's a problem.  I have to live with it every day and there isn't anything I can do.  So there is that.

#4  All of this kind of plays into the depression I was mentioning the other day.  Obviously.  It's kind of depressing to have to live with pain all the time.... and when it is your eyes... it is impossible to avoid.  I can't just try to avoid using them or favor one leg over another type solutions... and the worst part is I can't sleep when they hurt.  At all.  Which is not helping with any part of my life.

#5  God, this all sounds terrible.  See? That's why I try not to blog about it.

#6  The really depressing part is that I'm know that it isn't going away until menopause (if I'm lucky) and, people, that's quite a few years off.  That's depressing... let's not think about it.

#7  Plus, the migraines make me act like an angry drunk for about 2 hours before the pain hits... I am usually a very patient parent, and I HATE that I can't control this and that my kids have to witness it.  We all know what is going on, and I always apologize, but it is the worst part of all of this.  I can take the pain, I just can't take that I lose my cool with my kids.  It isn't fair to them... it isn't in keeping with my character and so it is hard and confusing for them when I have such a sudden mood change.  (And, no, I can't help it, or predict it, or stop it)  Unfortunately, due to the timing of my migraines this moodiness is ALWAYS when Mr F is at work, so I can't just excuse myself to my room.  I tend to shame myself over this a lot.  It is hard.

#8  Try to stick to any kind of eating or workout regime with this level of shit going on in your brain.  It has been impossible.  I might have a great day and workout and think "I'm back on this!"  only to wake up the next day completely lethargic and get sidelined by a migraine for 3 days.  It just keeps knocking the wind out of my sails and while, YES, I know if I could stick with it, regular exercise might actually help... try that when your brain is trying to explode your skull and making you dry heave and making you blind in one eye.  It is kind of a deterrent.  So, the slowly converting to fat over the past two years is frustrating and makes me mad at myself but I'm battling something bigger than will power this time around.  I really yearn to be back where I was, physically before we moved here... before the migraines... and I can be very hard on myself (a theme).  I tell myself that I'm just sabotaging myself (and sure that plays a role), but the real deal is, I live with chronic migraines and it is debilitating.

#9  So, long story short.... I do what I need to do:  cook, shop, clean, errand, drive, take Baby to extracurriculars, help with homework, tutor the Korean friend, cram for over the top tests, read to the girls, keep up on current events, pay the taxes, manage the bills, pick out outfits and do hair, stain treat, fight the teacher, take the girls on vacation, pull weeds, never with any help or babysitters (ever)... you know... I do everything I need to.... I just can't also have 15% body fat .... and maybe the thing I need to stop beating myself up about... is that.  You know?  Maybe being middle aged and average weight is good enough.  Why does that one thing mean more than everything else I do manage to do?

#10  So, yeah, the 5:2 fast diet, which was successful while I did it, is over.  I just don't want to exert judgment about my worth based on how well I am losing (or gaining) weight.  I mean I'm functioning... truthfully in many arenas I still over function... despite chronic pain and I'm sick of having one thing I am not doing negate all that.  So fuck you, society.  If I have an extra hour in the morning (which is rare) I need SLEEP (desperately) and I need to not have that be a decision that implies failure.

#11 And now I will take a shower and judge myself for not working out (some habits are hard to break).

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