Archive for the 'Education' Category


letter to Only Daughter’s teacher


I would like to start by introducing myself. I’m “Only Daughter’s” mom, and regret that I am unable to come to conferences for the 27 1/2 minutes each semester they are offered, as those minutes fall during the hours of my job. Please don’t cause that to make you think I don’t care about my child or about her education. Exactly the opposite, in fact.

I would like also to thank you for your hard work with Only Daughter in learning her parts of speech. Despite the fact that these are, apparently, the same grammar lessons she had last year, she reports that you are “not as bad of a teacher” as the one she had last year, so I suppose that the review is worthwhile.

I can’t help but wonder whether your lessons on grammar and effective writing might not be better taught using samples of beautiful writing from actual literature, but I’m “just” a layperson who has only read something like 500 books, so I probably don’t actually know what I’m talking about, so will defer to your expertise.

I was wondering, though, whether you were under some kind of misapprehension that led you to believe that I, too, was enrolled in your freshman English class, as I keep getting emails updating me about the class content, homework assignments, online reviews, and upcoming quizzes.

See, the thing is, I’m actually done with high school. In fact, I graduated in 1982. (I’m going to guess, given your teaching style, this was many years before you were even born.) And from college in 1986, masters in 1988, and a doctorate in 2005. Now granted, none of those degrees required that I knew the difference between a linking verb and a helping verb, but nonetheless, I am no longer a student.

My daughter, on the other hand, is. And while I recognize the importance of a parent encouraging and supporting their child, including making sure that their day is well structured, they have adequate sleep and healthful meals, I don’t believe that it is the parent’s responsibility to be checking that every single bit of homework is done. See, I believe that is the child’s responsibility. And the sooner we let the CHILD know that, the better off everyone would be. That includes them, you, me, their future boss(es), their future spouse(s), their child(ren), etc. etc.

They have a job to do, and that is to be a student. You have a job to do, which is to teach them, and to stimulate and engage them enough that they want to do the work and do it as well as possible. And I have a job to do, which IS NOT TO DO THE WORK FOR THEM.

See, this is how it goes. Only Daughter gets home from school. I ask her how her day was, listen, give her a hug, watch her get her snack, ask her if she has homework, if she says yes, ask her when she plans to do it, ask her if she needs me to take her phone for a while to help her keep from getting distracted, and then I sit at my desk and do MY WORK while she goes and does HERS. And if she doesn’t do her work, she doesn’t get a good grade, and then she realizes that it might affect her dream of getting into medical school some day, and the next time it comes around she tries harder. AND I DIDN’T REALLY HAVE TO DO ANYTHING. It’s a beautiful system. And from what I read from the latest in child development research, probably the best one out there.

I’m actually surprised you haven’t read it.

Let me help.

Click here

And here.

And here.

I could go on. But I won’t.

The thing is, you’re the “expert” in this field — shouldn’t you have read them already?

Maybe you were too busy sending parents emails about the next review: Indefinite Pronouns!



oh, THAT’s what I’m doing

better pay

Getting them jobs.

I thought I was teaching them stuff.



education and equality

An interesting article about a school system (Finland’s) that seems to be much more effective than the American one.

Knock three times if this description sounds familiar:

“Instead, the public school system’s teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using independent tests they create themselves. All children receive a report card at the end of each semester, but these reports are based on individualized grading by each teacher. Periodically, the Ministry of Education tracks national progress by testing a few sample groups across a range of different schools.”

And we decided this wasn’t working because. . .  ??? (Seemed to work pretty well for me. And I’m not THAT old.)

Probably can’t make that fly here, though, because, despite everyone’s recognition that money gives other people’s children advantages we can’t necessarily give our own, we must preserve that right, just in case someday we’re one of the people with money.

(Apologies for the circular argument.)




the email I can’t send, to the student who really needs to read it

Dear ________,

Hello. It’s been a semester since I’ve seen you. I hope you’re well.

I’m writing because I’ve heard through the grapevine that you thought I was a “tough, hard, (maybe even) mean” teacher, and I’m realizing that I did you a disservice by not making my intentions and frustrations clearer last semester. I thought that I should try to make amends for this, so here I am.

Yes, I’m “tough” — I’ve worked really hard to get where I am, and don’t actually believe that a person can “make it” as a professional musician if they’re not talented, disciplined, and willing to work. I guess you could also say that I’m a “tough” teacher because I believe that a great deal of my responsibility is to motivate my students to be disciplined and hard working.

But maybe that’s my first mistake, because, really, if a student isn’t willing to motivate themselves, they should probably be doing something else.

And yes, you’re right, maybe, by the end of the semester, I was a little “mean” to you. And I probably should have explained to you why, although I kind of thought that you would have been able to figure this out for yourself.

You’ll probably recall that at the beginning of the semester I was warm, encouraging, supportive. I was even fairly understanding when you came for your first few lessons and told me about how tough your week was, and how hard it is for you to really figure out what exactly you should be doing in your practice time, and how difficult it is for you to keep your focus. But as this became a regular occurrence — you, not having done really any work at all, but always having your long list of excuses, probably noticed that I became less encouraging and supportive, and more frustrated and perhaps, alas, a bit impatient.

I do regret that you were not prepared for your final, although hopefully you also realize that this was only because you continually neglected to meet with the head of the area and determine what exactly your final requirements were going to be as I had requested.

I also apologize for the fact that I may have actually snorted when you confessed that you wanted to switch into the piano classes because then you wouldn’t “need” to practice. That was very unprofessional of me.

I also noticed that in my student evaluation reports last semester I had positive responses from all students but one. Of course I have no way of knowing if the negative feedback came from you, but everyone else who studied with me last semester is still studying with me, and all seem quite content with my instruction and expectations. It would disappoint me greatly, and remove this circumstance from being a learning opportunity for you altogether, if you saw your failure to progress as only my responsibility.

‘Cuz here’s the thing:

I think it’s really really important for adults to be able to recognize, and take responsibility, for their own failures, rather than to pass them on as someone else’s “fault.” I don’t actually take any offense at all for being known as a “tough” or even a “hard” teacher. I actually kind of sort of always do that on purpose. Because life is hard. Being a musician is hard. Trying to make a living as a musician is really hard. You’re a college student, not a fourth grader. It is time, if not past time, for you to find it within yourself to get motivated, get disciplined, get focused, and if someone who is actually doing this for a living tells you that what they’re asking you to do is important, you should probably believe them.

And you should probably spend at least as much time trying to do something as you do making your list of excuses for why you failed. You might find that increasing the one removes the need for the other.

It might be worth a try.


(Realize as I click on some links at the bottom of this post that I wrote about this before, even more rantingly here. Three years ago even. Some things never change.)


Is that ironic?



now isn’t that special

As if it’s not bad enough that adjuncts are bearing half of the teaching load at most community colleges, at ~ 1/4 of the pay.

Good thing they have unions so that their voices can be heard and they can at least exert SOME kind of power over the. . .

Oh, yeah.


(All of the adjuncts in this country should quit. Or we should at least declare a day of protest, or a week. Let’s see how many colleges and universities are unable to meet their obligations to their tuition-paying students. Let’s see whether THAT collective voice can be heard.)


there but for the grace of music lessons go

Only Daughter had her first “orchestra concert” tonight. She actually asked me not to go. She took some violin lessons as younger youngster, and feels that the exertions of the 6th grade ensemble are, in a way, beneath her.

I went anyway.

(As a pointed aside, they’re not. Beneath her, that is. She had 5 teachers in 4 years because they kept moving away or graduating from college or taking so many out-of-town gigs she would have one lesson a month so she learned 1/4 what she should have, and absolutely nothing about how to read music much less how to understand what she was hearing.)

The orchestra did a fine job, all things considered. It was noted that there were approximately 75 musicians “on stage” and approximately 65 versions of any given note at any given time, but what’s a person to do?

One of the directors stood up at the end to thank all of the parents for going that extra mile (really? it’s “extra” now? shouldn’t it just be part of what everyone should be expected to do if they want to be a living, breathing, feeling member of the universe?) to support their children’s efforts to learn to play a musical instrument.

Okay, fine. Thanks are good. I’m fine. Really, I am.

Then he talks about the benefits — to the brain, to the person, to society, to the importance of students learning to communicate that which cannot be said in words; I start to think, okay, so he’s not a total doofus. But no, I “forgave” him too soon.

Wait for it. . .

“Maybe if more children learn to be thinking, feeling members of society, fewer of them would be flying airplanes into buildings.”

Oh. I had no idea. If only the terrorists had had music lessons.





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