I hate doing my kid's homework, a mom's blog

What are the best ways to deal with bullying?

March 20, 2018

My family has a dinnertime tradition of asking each other to talk about a “rose” and a “thorn” from our day. Sometimes our kids talk about how hard a test was (thorn) or how boring their accounting class was (thorn). Sometimes they talk about making good food in home economics (rose) or how much they enjoyed track practice (rose). It is not a lot of information, but it does help me talk to my kids about their day.

One of my kids has a recurring thorn. She frequently mentions problems that she has with another student. The problems usually happen on the playground, and they are usually minor. Her older siblings always respond by telling their sister that her “friend” is mean, and that she needs to play with someone else. I also encouraged her to play with different kids or to communicate her feelings (ie. “when you do ___, it hurts my feelings”). It hasn’t been a daily problem, or a very serious problem, so I haven’t worried too much about it.

Last week her thorn was much worse. My daughter was embarrassed as she told us the details of how two kids had physically hurt her. Her two “friends” had made sure that they were out of sight from the recess duty before they bullied her. My daughter was eventually able to run away, but she didn’t tell anyone until dinnertime.

This time I didn’t ask my daughter to find different friends, or to communicate more effectively. This time I wrote an email to her teacher and the school principal. I told them all of the details of the event at recess. I told them how my daughter felt and that I hoped that they could help remediate the situation.

Later that night I sat with my daughter and asked her about every bullying incident that had occurred this school year. I wrote each incident down, so I could give it to the principal. I was shocked to learn all of the names that she had been called (I didn’t even know she had been called names), and the little things that were stolen from her desk when she was away, in addition to the physical bullying. Once I saw it all on paper, I realized how much she had been bullied, and my heart hurt. I had thought the other kids were just kids being kids or that my daughter was overreacting. No, she was being bullied.

I got an email from the principal before school the next day. She began by assuring me that bullying behavior was not acceptable. She meet with me, and my daughter, to ask her about all of the times she had been bullied (she was grateful for the notes I had taken the night before). The principal apologized for my daughter’s mistreatment and promised to appropriately deal with the bullies and to prevent it from recurring. She even promised to make sure my daughter would not be in the same classroom as her bullies next year.

I want to tell you what I have learned from this experience:

  1. Ask your kids about their day — every day. Make sure you ask them about what they liked about their day, as well as didn’t like. Tell them about your day, too.
  2. Ask them about their friends. Sometimes “friends” can be the worst bullies.
  3. If your child seems uneasy with something that happened (on the playground, in the classroom, after school, etc), ask them how they felt about that situation, and why.
  4. Understand that your child might downplay a bullying incident because they were told (or they think) it is their fault.
  5. Make sure your kids understand that it’s never OK for others to physically hurt them or call them names.
  6. If your child is bullied, be empathetic and understanding (not questioning and blaming). Compliment them for showing bravery and courage (it is scary to talk about others hurting you).
  7. Inform the teacher and the principal of any bullying (email, call or make an appointment).
  8. Follow up with your child regularly, to make sure the bullying does not recur.

Bullying is serious. It can cause immeasurable damage. I am glad that my daughter had the courage to tell me about being bullied. I am glad that the school took my daughter’s safety seriously. Not everyone is as lucky. Just this morning, the Idaho Statesman reported a little girl (nearly the same age as my daughter) who tried to take her own life because of constant bullying.

Has your child been bullied? What do you think are the best ways to deal with bullying?

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Let’s not rush to pull books from shelves

March 15, 2018

Last week, a parent contacted the Galileo Middle School in the West Ada School District after noticing “inappropriate” material in the book, Looking for Alaska, by John Green. The school district reviewed the book and decided to remove it from all of the middle schools… without asking or informing parents.  I’m in West Ada, and I did not receive an email or notification about the book being pulled … and I get emails about everything.

This is not your average book. It has won several awards, including the American Library Association Printz Award for young adult fiction. I understand parents who get upset when students are assigned a controversial book. But this book was not part of a class assignment, it was just a school library book.

I’ll be honest, I have not read this book — yet. I know that it references drugs and alcohol and that it deals with mature themes like grief and forgiveness. Maybe some find it inappropriate for younger kids (sixth graders), but it might be a powerful book for older kids (eighth graders). Our middle school kids need to have access to books that are both immature and mature.

School districts leaders should ask for parent feedback before they remove a book from all of the middle schools. They asked for parent feedback in 2014, when they removed Sherman Alexie’s novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Why didn’t they hold a special meeting to discuss Looking for Alaska?

Besides, let’s not rush to pull books from shelves. Let’s lean on the side of letting families decide what’s the best reading materials for their kids.

I plan on getting the book (from the public library) and reading it with my 13-year-old.

Have you read the book? What do you think?

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Let’s overwhelm fear and sadness with love and kindness

March 9, 2018

A terrible tragedy occurred last month, when another school shooting happened in Florida. Several people were killed and the nation was wounded … again.

We all wish this would stop happening. We wish that we could send our kids to school and not have to worry about their safety. We want teachers to spend their time teaching, instead of learning evasive maneuvers (last week my child’s kindergarten class learned how to hide behind the teacher’s desk). We want our kids to be able to carry a backpack around school.

I ran the Boston Marathon the year before the bombings.

I walked the street in Spain one week before a terrorist drove his car over crowds of people.

The terrible truth is that bad things happen to good people. What can we do?

On March 14, students around the state (and nation) plan on walking out of school. It will be the one month anniversary of the Florida school shooting. They want to remember the lives of those who died. They want to spur Congress to take action. They want more gun laws. They want less school shootings. They want safer schools.

I wish that enacting stricter gun control laws could keep bad people from doing bad things. I wish that an act of Congress could prevent future pain and suffering. I would support a law if I thought it would help. I would support an action if I thought it would make a difference.

But what would make a difference?

Our kids want to walk out of school next week. I admire that they are interested and care about safety. I am proud that they want to exercise their right to free speech. But how does walking out of school help? Wouldn’t it be better to take positive action? Wouldn’t it make a bigger impact if kids stayed in school and practiced 17 acts of kindness, to honor those who died in Florida?

Let’s take action. Let’s overwhelm fear and sadness with love and kindness.

What are your ideas?

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Do your homework and be an informed voter

March 8, 2018

This Tuesday, many of us will be voting on bonds and/or levies for our local school district. I have received numerous emails and flyers from all my kids’ schools (elementary, middle and high school) with information about the election. I have been told to support education, support the teachers and to support the children. I have been told that my vote will help our schools run effectively and avoid future overcrowding. I have been told that the bonds and levies will help pay teacher salaries, remodel older schools and build new schools.

I love my kids and I care about their education. I want my kids (and yours) to have a great education. I support the teachers. I support building new schools to avoid overcrowding and I support remodeling old schools. I want all of it.

If I vote “no” does that mean that I don’t care about education? Does it mean that I don’t care about Idaho’s future? If I vote “yes” does it mean that I care more about the education of Idaho’s children?

It’s important we support our kids and their education. It’s also important to do your homework. So before you vote, take the time to study your school district’s budget and how much the state allocates to fund education. Take the time to review the campaign flyers so you know what’s at stake and what it costs.

Be an informed voter.

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What I learned about career planning for our kids

March 6, 2018

If you have an eighth grader, I hope you already know about the four-year learning plan. If you haven’t, you should talk to your school counselor. Idaho set aside millions (literally; $5 million in 2016 and an additional $2 million in 2017) to help our eighth-grade students plan their high school classes and beyond. The ultimate goal is to increase Idaho’s graduation rate and encourage graduates to continue their education after high school.

Today I attended a parent information meeting about my daughter’s learning plan. I had to sign up online so I could attend the meeting. I met with 88 other parents who had kids entering Eagle High or Rocky Mountain High schools. We were given high school course information and a four-year planner to fill out.

Here are some highlights of what I learned about the West Ada School District’s program:

  • The learning plan is meant to be a ‘road map’ for students entering high school.
  • The high school graduation requirements are listed, along with the necessary courses.
  • Students pick their classes early, so schools can hire the necessary teachers.
  • It can be revised annually (if the student changes their mind).
  • Eagle High expects student plans to be completed in about two weeks. (Rocky Mountain High plans are due in April).
  • The learning plan must be signed by a parent before it can be turned in.
  • Filling out the learning plan is not the same thing as registering for classes. Your child still needs to register for ninth grade classes, seperate to filling out a learning plan.
  • You may have to look online, or talk to the school counselor, to see the available elective courses and their descriptions (here is a link to West Ada course descriptions).
  • Some out-of-state colleges require more classes than Idaho high schools require for graduation. For example, two or more years of a foreign language or four years of lab science — so check with the college(s).
  • The high school counselor is supposed to go over each student’s learning plan again, before they start their junior year (I am still waiting for this to happen with my sophomore. … I may call the counselor next week).
  • If students lack credits to graduate, or they want to graduate early, or they don’t want to take P.E. during the school year, they can take online classes through IDLA ($75 per class) or take classes during the summer.
  • If an incoming senior has met the required credits (and required courses), they can take less than eight credits their senior year. This means they can skip a class…I’m not sure why Idaho does this. How does this help seniors prepare for college?

Many parents asked questions about AP classes vs. concurrent credit classes. Here is a comparison:  

Similarities — both courses are intended to be more rigorous than a regular high school class. Both courses (if passed) provide the student with college credits (depending on the college).

Differences — AP classes are graded on one test at the end of the year, vs. concurrent credit classes that are graded throughout the year (like a regular class). AP classes count one point higher for the student’s GPA (although not all colleges look at the adjusted GPA). Concurrent credit courses can be taken from a variety of Idaho colleges. My two high school kids have chosen to take concurrent credit classes instead of AP classes.

Overall, I was really glad that I attended the informational meeting. This was the first year that West Ada School District has held an information meeting for the parents (Enough parents complained about the complexities of filling out the learning plan).

I love the learning plan. I think all high school’s should be required to hold a learning-plan informational meeting for parents (I’m sure the $7 million dollar budget can cover the cost). Fortunately, I have two kids in high school that helped my eighth grader understand what classes she needed to take (and which teachers were the “best”). If you need help for your eighth grader, or who want to know more about the learning plan, contact your high school counselor, email me, comment on this blog post or start the discussion on Facebook.

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CTE program prepares kids for the workforce

February 28, 2018

Last week my eighth grader received a letter inviting her to take CTE elective courses. I didn’t know anything about the CTE program prior to this invitation, so I will share what I have learned.

CTE stands for Career & Technical Education. The goal of the Idaho CTE program is to teach students skills that will help prepare them for the workforce. Six of the programs begin in ninth grade, the other 12 programs do not begin until 10th grade. Most of the students can receive college credits, industry certification or possible internships in each field.

This program has courses in:

  • Automotive Services
  • Health Sciences
  • Protective Services
  • Computer Sciences
  • Plant and Animal Sciences
  • Culinary Arts
  • Construction

I think the program is very innovative. It teaches kids useful and employable skills. It also gives them the opportunity to “try out” a potential career. In some instances, students can even work in the field as part of their education, like the Renaissance Cafe.

One of the amazing benefits of the CTE program, is the high percentage of students (94%) who graduate and get a job or go on to college. With Idaho’s graduation rate at 79 percent programs like this one have the potential to increase graduation rates and prepare students for the workforce.

My daughter is looking into the culinary arts program. I can’t wait for her to start making some amazing dinners!

What are your experiences or thoughts on CTE programs?

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Website helps parents be more involved in their child’s education

February 23, 2018

The Idaho State Department of Education has added a useful link to its website.

This link gives Idahoans the opportunity to look up the professional backgrounds of educators and teachers in our state. You only need to input the first and last name of the educator to gather information about that particular teacher/educator.

The website will tell you:

  1. If their credentials are valid.
  2. Their area of expertise (look for the drop down menu).
  3. Their past and present teaching contracts.

I looked up a few of my children’s teachers and was surprised to learn that an elementary teacher is also a certified bilingual teacher, a high school teacher is certified to teach two different AP classes, and a middle school teacher is certified to teach, 5 different languages (including American Indian), math, science, history, drama, writing, public speaking, dance, theatre, music, art, physical education, computers, journalism and pre-engineering (and several other subjects!). It was very interesting and informative.

The next time I have a child complain about a teacher’s knowledge about a particular subject, I plan on checking their credentials.

Thank you, Idaho State Department of Education, for providing tools that allow parents to be more involved in our children’s education.

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Encourage students to voice their opinions

February 21, 2018

If you and your friends felt strongly about a government bill, would you drive nearly 300 miles to speak with your senators?

That is exactly what students from the University of Idaho did this week. They went to the Statehouse to encourage lawmakers to vote for a bill that would allow women to receive a 12-month supply of prescribed birth control and encourage better sex education in college.

I am impressed these students took action.

I am delighted these students care deeply about their health, and the health of their peers.

I am hopeful that our government officials want to listen to the voice of the people, and represent them accurately.

Several senators listened to the students, even though they disagreed.

Unfortunately, not every senator was respectful to the students. Sen. Dan Foreman was unwilling to meet with the students and canceled their meeting last minute. Instead, he confronted them in the Statehouse hallway and said “I think what you guys do stinks.”

How unfortunate.

The students came to the Statehouse to voice their opinion. They didn’t expect everyone to agree with them. They came to say this bill affects them.

These students were a great example of how to be involved citizens:

  • They learn about the issues that concern them.
  • They talk to their elected officials.
  • They speak up.

We all have different opinions and beliefs. We all come from different backgrounds, different educations and different families. We know we are different. We need to voice our opinion and listen to the opinion of others. Representatives and senators represent the people of Idaho. Their job is to listen to our voice and vote accordingly.

How can we teach our kids to be involved in government if government officials tell them that their opinions and beliefs stink?

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Let’s continue to talk about surveying students

February 15, 2018

I wrote a blog last week in support of using student surveys to help improve their education.

Students should regularly be asked (surveyed) how they feel about the education they receive. They should have ample opportunity to leave feedback and reviews. The schools and educators, in turn, should use those reviews to replicate successes and make changes accordingly.

These reviews not only have the potential to help schools and educators improve, they can also greatly benefit other consumers. If families have access to the reviews, the results will help them make more informed decisions about the schools available to their children.

Educators and lawmakers are debating the value of a student survey and the best choice of vendor. The State Board of Education has released a 44-page packet that includes public comments about surveying students.

In my previous blog, I called out Rep. John McCrostie for his written comments. He voiced concerns over the weekend on Facebook and in an email to me that I misrepresented his words.

I did not intend to misrepresent his words, so in this blog, I want to set the record straight.

I originally wrote:

​“Rep. John McCrostie, a Garden City Democrat and music teacher, said the tone of the AdvancED survey came across as jaded, or overenthusiastic. ‘I question how honest students could be with this survey.’

Rep. McCrostie took offense that I (Mom Blogger) would imply he believes “every student would lie in a survey about their teachers and education” since he said “I question how honest students could be with this survey.”

He said he was speaking to the tone of the questions in the AdvancED survey, which he believed were leading. He questioned how honest the students could be, with questions such as the following:

  • How often do your teachers seem excited to be teaching your class?
  • How often do you worry about violence at your school?
  • How often do you stay focused on the same goal for several months at a time?

He continued to say, “My point on the tone of the questions, if taken to their absurd conclusion, might as well ask: ‘How long has it been since your teacher was mean to you?’ That type of clearly leading question has no place in a student survey designed to provide a measure of evaluation on Idaho schools and classrooms. Even if I allowed for argument that such a point was not clearly expressed, it was also clearly not expressed that I believe that every student lies on a survey.”

I don’t want to make any inaccurate implications. His exact wording can be found on page 19 in this link in the State Board packet:

“I’m a bigger fan of the Panorama survey. I think the use of the Likert scale is better in a survey format. It allows for a neutral response as well as two or three options for agreement/disagreement. The eProve survey comes across a bit either jaded or over-enthusiastic and I question how honest students could be with this survey. I think the survey taker may have to think too long on a particular answer instead of giving a ‘gut’ reaction. I could go more in depth if necessary, but for now I’ll leave it at that. Thank you, John McCrostie.”

I am glad lawmakers are talking about student surveys. I want to encourage lawmakers and educators to survey students, because student opinion matters. And I hope they find a survey that meets the needs of our education community.

We all can improve, and feedback makes that possible.

Our students will be surveyed this spring and I am looking forward to the results of that survey. If our schools and educators use this survey to look for strengths, then our teachers and schools can model that success. If they use the survey to pinpoint the weakness or flaws in education, then change and improvement becomes possible. This survey has the potential to make education in Idaho better for everyone.

I appreciate feedback from people who read my blog, including state lawmakers, educators and students.

And I hope our state continues to have a conversation about surveying students.

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Let’s see what kids have to say

February 14, 2018

I think it is interesting how often I encounter surveys.

After I visit the doctor, I get a survey in the mail asking me about the care I received.

In airports, I notice survey buttons asking consumers to rate the cleanliness of the bathrooms.

When I make an online purchase, I am immediately presented with a survey, asking me how I felt about the website and checkout process. I am given ample opportunity to rate the products and the performance of the customer service representative. If I am unhappy with the product or the service, I am given the opportunity to return the product.

When I want to purchase something, I consider the customer reviews. I want to know how others feel about the product before I waste my time or money on something that is not valuable.

Businesses depend on customer satisfaction. Businesses that succeed know how their customers feel about their product and they make changes based on customer reviews.

The education system is a business. We, the taxpayers, pay for the product (education) and our children are the consumers. The students should regularly be asked (surveyed) how they feel about the education they receive. They should have ample opportunity to leave feedback and reviews. The schools and educators, in turn, should use those reviews to replicate successes and make changes accordingly.

This spring, our students will be surveyed. These reviews not only have the potential to help schools and educators improve, it can also greatly benefit other consumers. If families have access to the reviews, the results will help them make more informed decisions about the schools available to their children.  

In a recent article, lawmakers and educators debated the value of a student survey and the choice of vendors for the survey. I know a lot of elementary through high school age kids, and I believe they will be honest when surveyed about their teachers and schools.

We all can improve, and feedback makes that possible. I am looking forward to the student survey. If our schools and educators use this survey to look for strengths, then our teachers and schools can model that success. If they use the survey to pinpoint the weakness or flaws in education, then change and improvement becomes possible.

This survey has the potential to make education in Idaho better for everyone.

How do you think the student survey will benefit Idaho’s education system?

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Do smartphones enhance or inhibit education?

February 9, 2018

I received an email informing me of the high school’s new “phone vault” program. Here’s how it is supposed to work:  Classrooms have numbered pouches in the front of the room. When the students arrive in class, they are to place their phone (and smartwatch) into the pouch. Unless directed by the teacher, the students are not allowed to access their phone during class. When the class is over, they can collect their phones.

If a student does not put the phone in the vault, and the teacher sees the student’s phone, it is immediately confiscated and given to the vice principal. The student can retrieve the phone from the vice principal at the end of the day.

My senior thinks this “phone vault” program is very childish. He does not agree with the phone vault pouches, and instead chooses to keep his phone in his pocket during class.

Yesterday, he took his phone out of his pocket … during the last five minutes of the day … while the sociology teacher was showing YouTube prank videos (seriously). His phone was immediately taken away and placed on the teacher’s desk. When the class ended, he took his phone from the teacher’s desk and came home. He assumed, that because it was the end of the day, he could have his phone back without going to the vice principal’s office.

He was wrong.

I got an email after school from both the teacher and the VP. I was informed that, because he broke the rule and took his phone from the teacher’s desk, he was being punished. He was asked to report to the VP’s office first thing in the morning.

In the morning, the VP informed him of his punishment. He is required to turn in his phone every morning for the next three days. He can not use it during school hours. He can pick it up at the end of each school day.  

Needless to say, he is livid. Today he was unable to access his notes (on his phone) to study for his math test. He was also unable to look at the research he is doing for his senior project (also on his phone). Not having his phone during school limits his ability to take notes, study and work on school projects.

I do not naively think that his phone is only used for educational purposes, I know he also uses his phone for entertainment and communication.

I feel bad for my son. I understand his frustration and anger.

I am also a responsible adult, so I understand rules and consequences. Because the rules were stated clearly, I agree that it was my son’s fault for looking at his phone during class. He was in the wrong and he broke the class rule … but the punishment seems a bit extreme.

Besides the school policy and subsequent punishments, let’s stop for a moment and recognize the importance of smartphones in our lives. Technology is going to continue to advance and be an integral part of our lives. It is how we learn and interact with the world. Removing smartphones from the classroom does not teach students how to use smartphones to learn. It does not teach responsibility or respect.

The issues that needs to be addressed are:

  • How do we balance our use of technology and smartphones while also teaching respect and responsibility?
  • Do phones make it harder for kids to learn, or easier?
  • Can smartphones enhance our kids education, or do they inhibit it?

What do you think?

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How do you make Valentine’s Day special for your family?

February 7, 2018

I know I am supposed to blog about education. I know I am supposed to share my feelings about schools and homework and grades. But today, I want to talk about love. Today is Valentine’s Day and I love Valentine’s Day (and so do my girls).

Today, let’s take a moment to ignore our kids’ messy rooms, their yellow unbrushed teeth, their grouchy mornings, their dirty socks, their less than perfect grades, and the fact that they never make their bed, and just appreciate our kids. They need our love. They need our acceptance. They need our understanding.

Let’s spend today just giving love.

Let’s say, “I love you” to our kids, our friends and our family.

Compliment a teacher, a stranger, a child.

Be nice. Smile. And spend some time dancing with your kids in the kitchen.

Be grateful. Be happy.

Tomorrow we can get back to the challenges and trials in life. Today, just love.

Share with me how you make today special for your family?


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Idaho’s dual credit program is fantastic

February 6, 2018

Two years ago, I didn’t even know what dual credits were. Now I love what the state offers our kids, and my kids love it.

Dual credit classes (also known as concurrent credit classes) are college level courses, taken in high school. The state pays for the classes in the hopes of encouraging students to go on and get a college degree. Both my senior and sophomore are currently enrolled in several dual credit classes, all for free (the state pays up to $4,125 worth of college classes a year). My kids are not the only ones to reap the benefits of the dual credit program. Last year, high school students more than doubled what the state expected to pay for dual credit classes.

College can be very expensive. My kids have not been able to get scholarships, so this program is very important to us. My oldest is currently a freshman at Boise State University and it costs him about $9,000 per semester (for tuition, books, on-campus housing and a meal plan).

My senior has been able to use the dual credit program to help alleviate his future college expenses. In two years, he has taken classes in a variety of subjects, including history, government, accounting, speech and composition. He has been able to accumulate a total of 15 college credits, or one semester of college, for free!

The cost of college can be daunting, but I am glad my kids can take college courses in high school. Not only does it help defray the high cost of college, but it helps prepare my kids for the rigors of college level courses.

Thank you, Idaho!

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Great teachers share these attributes

January 26, 2018

I volunteer for my daughter’s elementary class every week. I work with each student for a few minutes out in the hallway. As I sit with the students, I hear the surrounding four classrooms. I listen to the teachers teach, interact and respond to their students. Sometimes the classrooms sound boring and monotonous, and sometimes they sound energetic and fun.

This week, as I worked with the students, I couldn’t help but notice how happy the kids were. They were sad when I pulled them out of the class, and excited and eager to return. I listened to the teacher tell funny stories and examples as she taught her class math. Every few minutes, the students would burst out in joyful laughter. It was infectious. It was like listening to a comedian at a nightclub, only the comedian was teaching math, and the audience was a bunch of small children.

When my daughter came home from school, she was full of stories and smiles about her day. Because of her teacher, she loves learning and school.

What if all students felt that way about school? How different would our schools be, if our kids looked forward to learning? I don’t pretend to know all of the intricacies of teaching, but I’ll share what I have noticed as a parent of seven kids (with a collective 58 years of schooling);

Great teachers seem to share these attributes:

  1. It is obvious that the teacher cares about the students (they know each student personally).
  2. The teacher loves to teach (he/she is organized, prepared, and not boring).
  3. The teacher has a vision, with clear rules and expectations for the class.
  4. The teacher modifies the lessons according to the needs of his/her students (accelerating or decelerating).
  5. The teacher communicates with the parents (for both concerns and accomplishments).
  6. The teacher is flexible and understanding (every student and every home is different).

I am grateful for all the teachers who model this behavior. I know that each new day has its challenges. I am glad there is a workforce willing to take on such an important role in our society. Thank you to all the great teachers out there.

What great qualities have you noticed in exceptional teachers?

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Let’s be informed, be involved and be heard

January 23, 2018

Have you seen the “Don’t Fail Idaho” posts? The first one I saw said Idaho’s education ranked 48th in the nation, and 50th in average weekly wages.

Wow, how depressing. And what do we do about it?

I followed the link to the Don’t Fail Idaho website so I could learn more. I was worried that the entire campaign was going to be devoted to complaining about Idaho’s education system. Now, I don’t mind recognizing problems and talking about them — those are the first steps towards changing a problem. But complaining, without providing suggestions or ideas, can lead to discouragement rather than change.

I was relieved to see the “what can I do?” tab. It suggested three things we can do to improve education in Idaho; be informed, be involved and be heard (with several useful links).

I clicked around some more and read the state comparisons. The math and reading scores of neighboring states are listed, side-by-side, along with one thing that each state does differently (than Idaho).

I love Idaho. I want my kids to be well-educated — in Idaho. I want my kids to learn the tools needed to be successful adults. I want education in Idaho to improve. Let’s all work towards change. Let’s be informed, let’s be involved and let’s be heard.

(The Don’t Fail Idaho campaign and Idaho Education News are both supported by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation.) 

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Do our kids spend enough time in school?

January 19, 2018

My kids just had 17 days off for winter break. It was a long break. Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time with my family and not having the demands of homework and lunches, but 17 days?  We came up with plenty of ways to keep busy (my high school kids got part-time jobs). But I worry that long breaks like this one will be detrimental to my kids’ education. The longer my kids are out of school, the more knowledge they can lose (ie.- summer sliding).

When I sent my kids back to school, I was surprised to learn that their second week back they had Monday off (MLK day), one late start and two early release days. I’m starting to feel the need to supplement their education because they are out of school so frequently.  

I wasn’t sure if it was normal for kids to be out of school this often, so decided to do a little research. I went to our district’s calendar and added up the number of school days for the 2017-2018 high school year. If there are no snow days, there will be a total of 166 full school days (35 of those are late starts) and eight early release days; that’s a total of 1,019 hours and 42 minutes in the classroom (I subtracted lunch and passing time).

Last year Idaho Education news wrote this article about the number of day/hours Idaho kids are in school. The article also had the 2014 Education Commission of the States report that I found to be very helpful. I was able to find the required days/hours that each state in the nation required for their students. This is what I discovered:

Idaho requires 990 hours (no day requirement)

(the average school day is 6 hours long, so 990 hours is equal to 165 days of school)

Every state requires more than 990 hours except:

  • Georgia — 990 hours (but 180 days)
  • Massachusetts — 990 hours (but 180 days)
  • New Hampshire — 990 hours (but 180 days)
  • Oregon — 990 hours
  • Pennsylvania — 990 hours
  • Alaska — 900 hours (but 180 days)
  • Connecticut — 900 hours (but 180 days)
  • Florida — 900 hours (but 180 days)
  • South Dakota — 962.5 hours

If my high school kids go to school every day (and never get sick), then they will only be in school for roughly 170 days or 1,020 hours. Only Oregon and Pennsylvania have the same low 990 hour requirements and only one sate (South Dakota) allows fewer hours or days in the classroom than Idaho.

Is this what we want for our students? How can our kids get a good education if they aren’t in school?

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What do we expect public schools to teach our children?

January 17, 2018

I expect the public school to teach my kids math, science, English, and history. I expect teachers to teach my kids how to analyze what they read and how to write clearly and effectively. I expect my children to be respected and safe when they are at school.

Is the public school system also responsible for teaching our kids about morality and ethics? Do we, as parents, expect schools to teach our kids about puberty and sexuality? Are public schools in charge of feeding our kids healthy meals? Are we okay with our kids being taught about personal political and religious beliefs?

Before the holiday break, one of my kids came home to tell me that the teacher had been talking about the importance of Christmas. She had told my child that the Bible was the best gift. It was a simple statement of her religious convictions, but it confused my young child. My child came home and asked me if our family held the same beliefs and if she should have told the teacher of our family’s beliefs. I was able to explain that there are many different religions and beliefs and that we should try to understand and respect everyone.

I want to teach my kids about puberty, morality, ethics and sexuality. I want to explain the many different political and religious views to my children, so they can decide for themselves. I want to be the person responsible for feeding my kids healthy meals and teaching them about the importance of eating right and exercising.

What do you expect?

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I appreciate grades and regular progress reports

January 15, 2018

I care about my kids’ grades. I know that grades do not represent all that my kids learn or don’t learn, but they do represent how well they have been performing on assignments and tests.

I get a progress report emailed to me every other week so I can applaud their good work and discuss any visible problem areas. I encourage them to study and turn in their assignments and I work with them when they are struggling or when they ask for my help. I do not pay or reward my kids for good grades, and I do not punish them for poor grades.

Over the past few months, I noticed a problem area. One of my children was struggling in math. With almost every progress report, I noticed missing assignments or poor grades on quizzes or exams. When I pulled him aside to show him the progress report and ask him about his grades, he acted surprised. We would look for his missing assignments (they were usually somewhere in his binder) and discuss when he could retake quizzes (the teacher allows and encourages retakes). I talked to my child about the class and asked him if he understood what he was learning, or if he felt like he needed more assistance. I assumed that he was just getting used to the rigors of an advanced math class, a new school and new teachers, so I was not too worried.

When December rolled around, my son was still getting poor grades in math. He was not having difficulties in any of his other classes, so I decided to email the math teacher and ask her why she thought my son was struggling. We discussed his skills, his classroom participation and his scores. The teacher delicately told me that this particular advanced math class might not be the right fit for my son. She informed me that he could switch to a different class at the semester, without too much trouble. I discussed it with my son, and he decided to switch classes.

It was difficult for my son to tell me that he was struggling. He was ashamed of his poor grades and embarrassed to change classes (he assumed all of the other students would notice). It was hard for me to let him fail (I believe that kids can learn a lot from failure), and hard for me to know when to step in and help.

I really don’t care what grades my kids get, I care that they understand what they are being taught. I appreciate grades and regular progress reports, because it helps me be more aware of my children’s education. Grades help me to know when I need to discuss struggles and failures and when to congratulate hard work and growth.

Do you check your kids grades? Do you have punishments for poor grades or rewards for good grades? How do you help your kids when they are struggling and get poor grades?  Share with me what works for you and your family.

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My first steps to learning more about Idaho politics

January 10, 2018

I got a tour of the Capitol building and I watched the Governor’s State of the State Address on Monday. It was my first step towards having a better understanding of Idaho’s government, and the role it plays in my children’s education. Here’s what I learned:

The Capitol Building is a great place to get a refresher course on how our state government works.  The bottom floor is full of information —  an important reminder for any citizen. The Capitol is also breathtakingly beautiful. The marble floors and columns would make any Idahoan proud. If your elementary student is going on a field trip to the capitol building this year, go with them!

This is a really important year for Idaho and it’s elected government officials. The governor, lieutenant governor and all 105 legislators are all up for election. I noticed that among our elected officials, who filled the House of Representatives chamber to hear Gov. Butch Otter’s last State of the State Address, were predominantly elderly, white, Republican males. Where are all of the racially diverse, female and younger politicians? I hope to see them running for office this year. Find out who represents you in the Idaho Legislature by entering your address here.

Gov. Otter gave a rousing (albeit long) speech about his budget and goals for Idaho in 2018. He talked about his love for the state and his desire for it to continue to prosper. It sounded great… I’ll be interested to see how many of his proposals make it to fruition. I plan on following:

  • His proposal for a ‘chief education officer.’ I would like to see if a new position in the government can help Idaho achieve the goal of 60 percent of Idahoans earning a post-secondary degree. What can a CEO do that will encourage my kids to graduate from college?
  • He budgeted $10 million dollars for students to have more technology in the classroom. Will my kids notice more technology in their classrooms? Where, specifically, will the money go?

Did you listen to the State of the State Address? What stood out to you? What policies and changes in government are you most interested in?

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My New Year’s Resolution: Learn about local politics

January 3, 2018

In all honesty,  I don’t follow local politics. Not even a little bit. Now don’t get me wrong, I vote and I read the news, but I do not spent a great deal of time researching individual candidates and their different platforms. I do care about how our state is run, and who is running it, but I tend to get caught up in my day-to-day life (raising kids and making meals can be very time consuming).

My 2018 New Year’s resolution is to learn and understand more about Idaho politics. I know that if I want to be truly involved in my kids’ education, I need to better understand the politicians and the policies that shape teaching and learning.

I want to understand the candidates so I can vote for the people who care about education as much as I do. I want to know how Idaho’s government officials plan on meeting the issues that I find important. Issues like:

  • Incentives to encourage and attract highly trained and skilled teachers.
  • Classes to better prepare our high school kids to enter the workforce or college.
  • Tactics to make college more affordable.

I want leaders who will push our education system to evolve.

Is Idaho’s public education system preparing our kids for the real world? Are they learning skills that will lead to a job? Do they have the drive and the work ethic to be successful in a 40-hour week? Do they know how to do laundry, balance a checkbook, own a credit card or make a meal? These are the things that I worry about as a mother. Can our education system meet these needs?

I plan to start my resolution on Monday by listening to the Governor’s State of the State Address.

Who wants to join me and my resolution to become more educated in local politics? What are the issues that are important to you in 2018? Let’s talk about it.

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