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A few years ago I found myself confronted by two brand new texts titled: Essentials in Mathematics Grade 7 and Essentials in Mathematics Grade 8.
My hair was not quite standing on end but the prospect of teaching the “New Math” to my 26 scholars had me gibbering like a chimp. On paper at least, the letters behind my name would have qualified me for any position (except secretary) in the Frontenac County Schools but my most recent encounter with math (Grade 10 Algebra) had been somewhat less than inpiring. I scored a D-minus only because our teacher could not access D-minus- minus and he had no desire make me re-take his class. In Grade 9 Geometry I had been “given” a D-minus.
The year before, Gary White, as the newly minted principal at the public school in Plevna, had been sufficiently desperate to fill his staff that he hired me over the phone, sight unseen, mostly on the “He’ll be okay,” recommendation of Mrs. Sproule, the grade 5-6 teacher. My second year I was given “the big kids” and, if that was not worrisome enough, I had to teach them “The New Math”.
My own teachers had been very comfortable with the subject. Their university degrees were in Mathematics. They were not prodigies and may not have had any aspirations toward pioneering new mathamatical theory nor becoming famous, but they knew their stuff. I clearly recall Mr. Richards, chalk in hand, turning to his class and asking “Are there any questions?” Some of the kids had questions …. but not me. I never did figure out what the heck he was talking about. Never.
So, when it came time to teach the young people at Plevna I told them the whole story, “My most recent math was Grade 10. I got a D-minus. Mr. Richards was a great teacher and he always asked if we had any questions. I never had a single question because I never figured out what he was on about.”
It was no use in pretending to them I was smarter in math than they were but, I assured the class, I’d stay at least a couple days ahead and would NEVER ask them if they had a question.
“In this room, if you are not following what we a talking about, yell WHOA! Shout it out!”
Kids would yell, “Whoa!” several times a class some days.
I’d ask: “Okay. Where were we when you did understand?”
And so we would step back and start from where everyone got it and then move ahead again.
“Whoa!” And I’d work it through a third time and usually the second or third variation would be enough and we could go on. But if there was a third whoa I’d give it up.
“Any one else want to try?” And I would take that kid’s seat and she or he would teach the lesson. Sometimes a second student would teach (or 2 or 3 piping up) and when we all “got it” we would carry on together.
There were sevens and eights in that classroom, so I taught from the Grade 8 text our first year and Grade 7 the next. That worked out very well. In multi-grade classrooms all the youngsters are sitting through all the other kid’s lessons in any event and instructing them together was best.
During the first seventeen of my Mom’s fifty-five year teaching career she taught all subjects to all eight grades in Sharkie Elementary School just south of Erie Michigan. She always maintained they were the most productive years in her life even though they spanned the Great Depression and the school board was unable to pay her salary a lot of the time. With upwards to ninety children aged 6 through 17 years they all attended the other’s lessons. Older kids worked with the younger and things went well enough, she said.
At some point … within the first week or three … one of my scholars grumbled “Why are we studying this stuff … anyway?” That was a pertinent question with no obvious answer. I had already assured them that all they would actually need to get along in adult life was addition, subtraction, multiplcation and division. Those everyday skills were the useful tools. The arithmetic problems read to them from my grandfather’s grade 8 text (published in 1888 ) kept us all sharp with regard to the fundamentals.
But New Math? How did it fit in?
That puzzelled us for a while. It was in the curriculum but we were not seeking a faith commitment. We were after reason. Eventually we decided that doing New Math made us smarter. Taking it on as really challenging puzzles was great exercise for the muscles in our brains. Being “smarter” would be useful for repairing cars and other life challenges.
As I remember it, all the students had earned A’s in Mathematics on each report to their parents and also at years end. One of the moms thanked me for, “Giving Steven the A.” It was a pleasure to share his test scores with her. Gary White said I would likely get in trouble for it and, in fact, the Superintendent for our area did quietly dress me down. “You cannot give all A’s. There are one or two A’s a few B’s and mostly C’s and two D’s. That’s how it is in Frontenac County.”
Parenting is a lot of things: It can be fun, rewarding, eye-opening, difficult, challenging and exhausting – off the top of my head. And all of those emotions are usually felt before noon in my house.
Meet Xavier Marat. Born on February 9, 2011, your textbook definition of “spirited child”. While I do not love labeling people, especially children, he fits the description almost perfectly and the truth is, labels can be helpful in locating the right resources.
It wasn’t until I heard the term “spirited” that I began to Google my heart out. Finally I came across a book, THE book, that continues to help our journey be a bit smoother: Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurchinka So many books and articles focus on telling you what NOT to do as parents, while this one gives me the language that I need to know what TO do. (more…)
My Dad wrote this about 17 years ago, just before my daughter was born, as he was wrestling with becoming a grandfather and feeling the need to pass on his wisdom to the next generation of parents in our family… namely, my husband and me.
I’m hoping this is just the first of many of my Dad’s pieces I’ll have the privilege of sharing on this site… (more…)
Years ago, in a particularly frustrating phase of parenthood when it seemed like I would never get my head above water, a wise mentor mama encouraged me with words that I’ve hung on to and passed along over the years:
“It’s not what you do in any given moment, it’s what you’re characterized by.”
I can’t tell you what a load that took off of my heart. We try so hard to do it all “right,” to create perfection for our kids, to be the poster parents we feel pressured to be, to have homes filled with joy and light and creativity at every moment and every turn. And we’re so hard on ourselves when we, inevitably, fail at the task!!
Every young mother has smiled through clenched teeth as some well meaning older woman has delivered that admonishment with misty eyes. I know I did, when I had four under four and going to the bathroom alone was a struggle, never mind accomplishing the herculean task of grocery shopping.
Of course the sentiment is absolutely true, which is probably why it irks us so much. No one knows more than the maxed out mother how hard she’s trying to enjoy it more, or how guilty she sometimes feels not to be living up to that rosy cheeked vision of motherhood she had while expecting her first.
But, it’s impossible to enjoy every second, isn’t it? And if older moms were more honest, or memories of early childhood were less selective, we wouldn’t say things like that to young mothers.
One grandma got it right when she saw me struggling with eight mittens, four hats, and three boys who all had to pee in the entryway of a building one morning. She patted my arm and smiled:
“The days are long, but the years are short.”
And so they are.
Family life. We’ve got it all figured out. We’ve got a firm philosophy of childhood in mind. We know what we want. More importantly, we know what we don’t want as glaring examples of bad parenting surround us at every turn. It will be easy to do better than that, surely. And then… our babies are born.
The realities of parenthood and family life are sobering, aren’t they?
It’s easy to understand why parents get so discouraged and why they trade their dreams of intentional Family Culture for anything that will ensure their survival this day, this hour, this minute.
I remember one particular family that I looked up to when my kids were little. I went so far as to invite them (with their four angelic children) to dinner just before Hannah was born. It makes me laugh now, but with great sincerity and an earnest desire to “get it right” I sat Judy down after dinner and asked her what I could do to replicate the things about them that I so admired in my own family. Graciously, she did not laugh me out of my own living room.
“You see that one?” She pointed at her baby, ten years old, quietly playing solitaire on my carpet, “I really thought he might be possessed when he was a toddler! He never stopped screaming and he fought everything. Every single thing. And he was my fourth, so it’s not like it was my first merry-go-round!”
“My house is a train wreck. It’s never clean. Right now, I have piles of laundry waiting to be done. Don’t even talk to me about dishes. It’s impossible to keep on top of it. But those aren’t the things that matter.”
Years later I visited her house and, indeed, it was a train wreck. She was not much of a housekeeper, but she was a fantastic mother.
“Spend the time on the things that matter. Include the kids in everything, even when it’s harder and takes longer. Spend the time on books and music and art projects. Take walks. Collect things. Talk to them. Just remember to do your best every day. Perfect doesn’t matter, just do your best.”
She could never have known how much her words would mean to me over the coming days, weeks, months and years. She’ll never know how many times I held her family up as the pinnacle of all I hoped to accomplish, “someday,” and how much comfort it gave me that her advice was not a formula for success to follow in her footsteps, but an open window into the real world and hard work of raising great kids and building a beautiful family culture.
You see, a Family Culture is built, it doesn’t arrive gift wrapped upon the delivery of your first child.
Family Culture is the culmination of a million tiny moments, tiny choices, tiny and insignificant seeming motions that we go through over and over without thinking much about them. It’s something that can (and will) develop by accident, or it’s something that you develop very much on purpose.
What matters to you most in family life? Joy? Peace? Education? The Arts? Adventure?
Hopefully it’s not just one thing, but many, that you’re seeking to build into your Family Culture. With those things firmly in mind, it gets easier to lift yourself out of the daily grind of parenting multiple little people and the endless shoe tying, nose wiping, tantrum management and the litany of “Why?” questions to think on a bigger scale, with grander purpose and to do your best on any given day. Your best will vary with the seasons, with your health, with your family situation, and a million other things. That’s okay, and it’s to be expected. Just do your best today.
Our philosophies drive our actions, we all know that. If you’ve purposed to build a Family Culture of Peace, Joy and Adventure, and The Arts then your day with your littles might look exactly the same from the outside, but will be completely transformed on the inside because there will be a very definite “why” to your actions and interactions with your little people.
Do you see the difference? It’s not in the externals at all, it’s in why you’re doing what you are doing. You’ll know that you’re building something, with very tiny bricks.
The first five years of parenting are full of joys, but they’re full of struggles as well. It can be a very difficult and disheartening journey. It is made easier, I think, when one takes the longer view. If you can see, in your sticky faced, naked because he refuses clothing, belligerent because he wants a cookie, little person a self confident teenager with bright eyes filled with passion and purpose, it makes it a little easier to take the time to lay the next tiny tile that becomes the mosaic of a family.
Young mothers need to band together and help each other reach for something higher than the status quo, but in a way that builds up and helps forward, instead of inducing further guilt over perceived failures.
Middle mothers need to keep going, and remember not to count our chickens before they hatch. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and comparison is the enemy of building beautiful Family Cultures.
Older mothers need to reach down and help pull up the mamas struggling so hard in the daily grind. I know one grandma who blesses the socks off of younger families by turning up to help clean, cook, read to little ones and generally ease the mother’s burden, all the while encouraging her that she’ll get there.
The same goes for Daddies, incidentally.
If you have babies and toddlers and are just a few years into this parenthood marathon, take heart. You have years and years ahead of you to build something beautiful with your family and you have all the tools you need within yourself and under your roof. The main thing, it seems to me, is to think about it every day, and purpose in your heart to do the little things that matter. It won’t appear over night, but one day you’ll be the one with the “big kids” and you’ll find that your family is characterized by a very distinct culture… one that you’ve built, from the cradle on up. Make sure it’s the one you want, dig in and build with purpose!
Mothers of littles… weigh in… what are your thoughts on building Family Culture? What are your struggles?