The second grader started school two weeks ago and so far, so good, or so I naively thought until I attended “Back to School” night last week. I swear I left my son’s school that night feeling as stressed out and anxious as I did while studying for the New York State Bar Exam years ago. For I fear that there is going to be a lot of work involved in the second grade. And the second grader is not going to have it so easy, either.
In second grade, each student receives an “agenda”… essentially a day planner to get the kids in the habit of writing down their homework assignments each day. This is an excellent thing to teach kids, for I am a major list maker, calendar keeper and possess a strong affinity for planners, agendas, and the like… But with the second grader’s agenda, I am obliged to attest in ink that I have taken an active and participatory role in his homework-doing by duly executing said agenda every single day in the spaces provided. As his reward for obtaining my daily John Hancocks, my second grader accumulates gold stars or some such which, when a certain level of compliance is reached, have the potential of turning into some sort of cool prize. So it would appear that the second grader’s success in second grade is inextricably woven together with and hinges perilously upon my ability to be an active and participatory parent.
I totally dig the second grader’s teacher. She is soft-spoken and low-key, in fact I think she might have even been wearing Birkenstocks during Back to School Night. She’s into encouraging the students’ independence and told us that she feels it is her job to turn our baby second graders into big strong third graders by year’s end. She also made it clear that the students are responsible for ensuring that their agendas are signed by their parents. I was so relieved….for this took some of the pressure off.
But then she mentioned something I found a bit more troublesome… with each child she was sending home a math textbook expressly for home use so that we (the parents) can teach them (our children) math. Whoa… Wait just a cotton-pickin’ minute! A math textbook? For me to teach my kid math? What the fuck just happened here? I considered this seemingly cool teacher as I was hunched over my second grader’s smallish desk, and thought to myself that this woman had a lot of chutzpah making all sorts of assumptions about my math ability and my ability to be patient for that matter. So while sitting at my second grader’s desk on Back to School night, uncomfortably in his little second grader chair I might add, I sheepishly looked around the classroom at the other parents to see if the emotion of horror had registered on anyone else’s face besides mine. For the last time I opened a math textbook was well over twenty years ago and I think it gave me hives or scabies or scurvy or something. Then sure enough a few days later the second grader ambled off the bus and handed me a large-ish oversized math textbook and said, “Here Mom, this book’s for you.”
No doubt some of you will get the very wrong idea that I am a slacker mother who wants this whole child rearing gig to kinda run on autopilot, and you would not be wrong to a certain degree. However, I really do want to be and am present for assistance in all sorts of homework and projects and chauffeuring. I derailed my career for this very privilege. But where I feel I must draw the line is at what appears to be a dangerously close flirtation with what smacks of homeschooling and in math of all subjects.
As I have mentioned previously, I am not made of the same stuff that teachers are made of. I am surly, impatient, and downright rude if I say so myself, and I hated homework. So fourteen years after I slammed my last textbook shut forever (or so I thought), I find myself the uppity and not at all grateful recipient of this big heavy math textbook and I am bristling at the notion that I have apparently been deputized a de facto math teacher. It has been many many years since I have “done math” and like my parents before me, I am certain that the math my second grader will be doing is that “new math” and since I could barely do the old “new math” of my day there really is nowhere good for this to go. The teacher, who proudly stated she loves math, mentioned something about a revolutionary new approach to teaching math: as opposed to good ol’ rote learning, now the kids will be learning how to “math think.” I am not sure whether my brain can actually “math think” at this stage in my life because I suspect that the section of my brain that once held all the math is now being occupied by song lyrics from the 80s and 90s. But out of a sick curiosity tinged with hints of guilt from my shitty attitude, the other night after everyone was asleep I sat down and flipped through this textbook and breathed a sigh of relief because for now this seems do-able; they are learning how to tell time on an analog clock. After looking up “analog clock” on Wikipedia, I felt reasonably confident that I could handle this.
Finally, in the second grade there will be spelling. Thank g-d because I was getting a little worried that all this school was good for was teaching phonetic spelling and that I would forever have to suffer through homework filled with “kreetshure” and “chawklit” and “appel”…. I am a pretty decent speller despite the fact that I periodically experience vicious flashbacks of my fifth grade spelling bee where I was eliminated during the final round because the winning word was “seize” and not “sees” or “seas”. But last year when I would review my kid’s homework, I would have to bite down hard on a pencil to stifle my screams from his g-d awful spelling. When people spell words incorrectly, to me it is akin to fingernails on a black board and it drives me crazy. But I seem to recall reading somewhere that good spelling is a gift you are either born with or not, which of course begs the question, if you are destined to be a shitty speller by genetics, why even bother trying to fight destiny at all? Anyway, every Friday the class gets a list of words to learn and study during the week, and then they will be tested on the following Friday. Where I come in is in the studying of these words and it seems that once again I have to be V.E.R.Y. VERY involved. We parents were given two single spaced typed sheets with explicit instructions on how all this learning of the spelling words is to go down. The students are to pick an activity every day from a list of over 20 possibilities to help them learn the words on the list… like making a crossword puzzle, or crafting the words using Popsicle sticks, or spelling the words using alphabet pasta, or writing the words in sugar, sand or shaving cream. What happened to good old-fashioned flash cards? This is so very different from the way I used to study for spelling tests, it almost sounds like fun. So this past weekend, in the spirit of being an active and participatory parent, I ate 400 creamsicles, I purchased ten bags of alphabet pasta, and even turned a blind but twitching eye to a nightmare of a shaving cream mess on my new floors all in the name of helping my kid ace the spelling test this week. And I dutifully signed the agenda in the spaces provided, proving to the world and to my second grade teacher that I did so.