Tag Archives: education

Bells Will Be Ringing…


Back to school new


…school bells, that is.  Yes, it’s August 1st and that means that the start of the 2014 – 2015 school year is just around the corner.  This time last year I wrote a series of blog posts called “Back to School Basics”  that covered 4 different areas: getting organized, parent/teacher relationships, back to school shopping and sending your baby off to Kindergarten.  Obviously with 5 kids – three of them now adults – I have a little experience with getting kids and myself ready for heading back to class.  I decided to share some of my observations in hopes that I might be of some help to you.  Because they were so well received last year, I’m going to post them again in my next couple of blog posts.  Today, we will start by talking about getting ourselves organized (Back to School Basics: Let’s Get Organized) and the importance of the parent/teacher relationship (Back to School Basics: The Parent/Teacher Partnership).

Feel free to share these (PLEASE DO!) with others.  As always, I welcome your comments and questions. I love hearing from you!



Some Brief Thoughts on: Education, Gwyneth Paltrow and World Vision


Things were very quiet here on the blog last week.  I was around but, I was quite crazy from a lack of sleep due to my 7 – year – old’s month-long bout with insomnia.  As you can imagine, when your child can’t get to sleep or stay asleep, you don’t get to sleep much either.  Some nights we slept a total of two hours and by last week it had all caught up with me.  I was pretty much incapable of carrying on a conversation for longer than five minutes so, obviously writing blog posts was out of the question.  However, I did keep up on things as they happened in social media and there were a few (just a few) that captured my attention, albeit briefly.  I’m not going to pretend that this post is going to eloquently tie all of my thoughts together because it’s not. You’re just going to have to go along for the ride, But first, a little more on Thing 1’s insomnia.

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I have to say that it is extremely frightening when a child is begging for sleep, but simply can’t get there, or stay there, night after night and week after week. My husband and I had never dealt with this before with any of our other children and were at a loss as to how to help her get some rest.  Thing 1 is an extremely active girl who dances two hours a night, three days a week and does gymnastics two days a week.  We limited sugar in her diet, changed her eating patterns and her bed time routing to help soothe her.  She would sit up and read for hours in her bed.   None of this worked.  Finally, while taking her to the doctor for her asthma check up, I found out the real source of the problem: school.  The girl was stressing out about school – in second grade.  She admitted to waking up in the middle of the night worried that she hadn’t double checked her math work.  She worried about not having enough time to finish an assignment.  She didn’t want any of her grades to suffer because of silly mistakes.  She’s a stressed out seven-year-old and I am heart-broken.  School isn’t supposed to be this way for a child so young.  Don’t worry, I’m not about to go on a tirade about Common Core, the problem with education (although I do have a few thoughts on both of those subjects) blah, blah, blah.  I will do that another time, but, what I will say is that there is less of a focus on how well students are learning and instead more of a focus on learning the right things to perform well on standardized testing.  We are pushing, pushing, pushing, pushing to the detriment of our children’s peace of mind.  And, for what? So that they can regurgitate math facts in record time.  Tell me this, when in your life (after elementary school) are you hard pressed to recite your multiplication tables up to the 12’s in less than 2 minutes?  I’ll tell you when…NEVER!  Isn’t it just more important that the student understands what she’s doing, how she get’s to the answer and how it all relates to the next level of math or science, or geography, or whatever?  Do we really need to express to their little fertile minds how important it is for them to do well on a standardized test or they may be held back in the same grade the next year?   The fact that this could be true is completely ridiculous.  Learning is supposed to be fun!  School is supposed to be an adventure!  I said as much to Thing 1 and made it clear that nothing she is doing could make me any less proud of her.  Even if she did forget to check her math before she turned it in, there’s always tomorrow to get it right.  The important thing is that we work hard and in return you get to see the fruits of your hard work.  Our efforts may not always result in an “A” or even a “B”, however we will LEARN something, which is the goal of education.  Thing 1 took it all in and relaxed a bit, then that night she slept.  She has slept all night every night for the past week.  So have I and I’m finally almost human again. Almost.

Awkward transition…I told you this wasn’t go to be easy.

I was saddened, but not necessarily surprised to hear that actress Gwyneth Paltrow and musician Chris Martin are “consciously uncoupling” (i.e divorcing). Honestly, initially I thought that the term “consciously uncoupling” meant that they had really made an extraordinary and thoughtful effort to maintain their parental and familial devotion to their children while no longer staying in their marriage.  Then I read the real explaination and was like “Huh!  Okay.”  Anyway, shortly after the announcement of their split, Paltrow gave an interview to E!  in which she bemoans the difficulties of being a celebrity/actress parent.
She so eloquently (I’m being very sarcastic here) explains how moms who work the regular 9 to 5 grind have it easier than folks like her.  Okay, I’m pausing right now to let you stop laughing – especially those of you moms who are at your 9 to 5 reading this while you make your grocery list.  You see, to her it’s most stressful to have your family uprooted and relocated to the location of her latest movie for weeks or months at a time.  Or even, if the family doesn’t have to accompany her, she is separated from her loved ones.  Yes, I get that the separation part can be unpleasant, but really Gwyneth?  You think that your life with all of your nannies, personal chefs, private jets, personal assistants and the like is harder? Cause I know when I travel and I take our nanny and my personal assistant with us it makes things so much easier!  Wait, what am I talking about? I don’t have a nanny and personal assistant and most people don’t  either!  We do all of that $%#& ourselves! When we move for a job, we get our neighbors to pack our U-Haul, drive our selves to our new location and pray that we can afford a house in a decent school district. Come on Gwyneth, step out of that privilege that you’ve spent your life surround by and get a grip!  Working a “regular” job, with “regular” pay doesn’t provide any of the perks that you live with on a daily basis.  Before and after work (and sometimes during) we are being moms and the scheduling of our lives to accommodate our jobs is simply out of necessity.  We need these “regular” jobs to pay our “regular” bills and just a few indulgences.  Like an evening at the movies to possibly watch you…but probably not.  Gwyneth, I think that I speak for a lot of non-actress/celebrity moms when I say just stop it!

Another awkward transition…sorry this is getting long, but I have to make sure that you get me.

Last week the Christian relief agency World Vision International announced that in a dramatic change of policy, it would begin hiring Christians in same-sex marriages. The organization said (and I’m paraphrasing here) that it really wasn’t stepping into the fray of whether same-sex marriage was right or wrong.  It was simply accepting the help of homosexual, committed believers who wanted to be of service in this manner.  What happened next is what I want to talk about.  In the face of the policy shift, reportedly thousands of donors who supported children in need through World Vision cancelled their sponsorship.  Just one day later, World Vision reversed its decision and rescinded its welcome to the LGBT community and apologized to any current or former donors that may have been hurt by their (brief) change in policy.  Again, my comments here are not about World Vision itself, but about the thousands of people (Christians) who dropped their sponsorship.  I have to wonder what the motivation was behind your donations in the first place if these children in need could be treated like collateral damage.  If you are unfamiliar with the term collateral damage it is damage or destruction to things that are incidental to the intended target.  Let me just be clear here, I am a Jesus lover.  A Christian. A woman after God’s own heart.  I am not ashamed to identify myself as a follower of Christ, but I am embarrassed to align myself with those who could be so callous and thoughtless that dropping the child seemed like a good idea. Nelson Mandela was a master at partnering with people with whom he may have openly disagreed with on  several issues, however, he found the one thing that they agreed on to work toward a common goal.   That’s what this is about – a humanitarian effort to work toward a common goal for people in need.  What this is NOT is a flagpole for Christianity.  You don’t participate to make yourself look good, you participate to help someone in need.

Let me ask you, if your loved one were dying and the only doctor who could provide the cure was gay, would you refuse his or her help?  If your child was in need of a blood transfusion or an organ transplant, would you say only heterosexual donors need apply?  I’ve got to tell you, there are probably already members of the LGBT community quietly working for World Vision and other organizations that we, Christians, support.  That’s the thing, gay people are human and they live and work right next to us and often, we have no idea.  I found it interesting that while World Vision was apologizing for any hurt that they may have caused to their Christian supporters by the brief change in policy, they didn’t apologize to the LGBT community for the hurt that they caused them. This is so ugly.  We are behaving so very ugly.  There has to be a better way.  I could go on and on about this, but I think you get where I’m coming from.

 “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”    John 13:35



Back to School Basics: The Parent/Teacher Partnership



Back to school new


Every year, just about this time right before school starts, I reach out to my child’s teacher for the upcoming school year with an email or hand written letter that reads something like this:

My name is Lisa Owen and my child, ____________, will be one of your students for this coming school year. I just want to touch base with you to introduce myself and to tell you a few things about my son/daughter that you may find useful.

___________ is a very curious child with tons of energy and a vivid imagination. He/she enjoys reading, being physically active (tennis, soccer, dance, etc.), is a hands-on learner and benefits from being given responsibilities in the classroom. While _________can be very sensitive, he/she is also a very independent thinker and student, He/she is a very capable student, but also may need to be encouraged to ask questions.  Please keep your expectations of him/her high because we do here at home.  [Here is where you can insert any information about learning disabilities or health issues that you feel are important for the teacher to know.]

Please feel free to contact me at the following telephone numbers (h)__________, (c)__________, (w)_________, and this email address, with any questions, concerns, compliments (I especially like those) or anything else as the need arises.  Now that you have all of my contact information, I expect to be notified of any problems or concerns BEFORE they make it to my child’s report card or permanent record, so that it may be addressed accordingly.  

Thank you so much and I look forward to working with you over this next school year!

In my 23 years of parenting, this letter has always set the tone for a successful parent/teacher partnership.  By “successful”, I don’t mean that there have never been some tense moments or disagreements between the teacher, my child and myself. However, these situations have always been handled effectively with mutual respect and with the common goal of serving the best interests of my son or daughter.  That right there, my friends, is the single most important purpose of the parent/teacher partnership – successfully educating your child.  In my previous post, Back to School Basics: Let’s Get Organized! , I talked about the need for parents to focus on their goals for their child’s education.  What is it that you want your child to gain from this school year? To become a better reader? To develop independent thinking skills? To create a desire to dig deeper into subjects?  I also wanted you to think about your role in achieving your goals.  Obviously, I want you to be comfortable with your role as a parent, but try to keep an open mind as you read along because sometimes it requires us to step outside of our comfort zone to achieve what we need and want for our children.

Increasingly there seems to be a growing sense of acrimony between teachers and parents with each side openly, and often unfairly, criticizing the other for failures in education.  Let me tell you something: education, whether it be public or private; charter or magnet; at the local, state or national levels belongs to ALL OF US.   Parents, teachers, administrators, aunts, uncles, grandparents, neighbors, social workers, cousins, community activists, politicians, religious leaders…Black, White, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, etc….ALL OF US! I have to say that I am beyond tired of everyone trying to pass the buck when it comes to educating our children.  Each of us has a role to play and it’s our own responsibility to fulfill it.  Having said that, I really do believe that the road to effectively educating our children starts with parents. By the time children enter Kindergarten, parents have had a good five to six years to start their child on a learning path and to instill a foundation for their core values.

Let’s start with the learning path.  When it comes to learning, young children are like sponges because during those first formative years, they absorb information faster than at any other time in their entire life.  Not to mention that kids at that age are fun, too!  They haven’t developed the negativity that often comes along at older ages.  Although I am a strong proponent of formal early childhood education for all, I am realistic and realize that, at least for now, it’s not available to everyone.  Parents, that’s where we come in.  In general, by the time a child enters kindergarten, they should know their alphabet, be able to recognize most upper and lower case letters, count and recognize numbers through 10 (if not 20). They should be able to spell and write their first and last names and know their shapes and colors.  These are the basics and remember, children are sponges!  They are capable of so much more! Some of them can read; can handle more complex concepts such as patterning, addition and subtraction; and their technology capabilities are absolutely amazing.  I realize that many parents work outside of the home, may be single parents or are not in situations where their finances provide a lot of  opportunity for educational activities.  However, exposing our little ones to literature and starting them on a learning path doesn’t really require a lot of time or money.  It can be as simple as heading to the library and spending 15 to 20 minutes a day reading.   Best of all, it’s free and it provides much needed uninterrupted time for parent and child to spend together.  As our children get older, it is our job as parents to make sure that they stay focused on their learning path. Admittedly, this gets harder as they get older (keep them doing school work over the summer; provide real life learning opportunities; and continue to read books with them for discussion) but, it’s still part of a parent’s role in education.

Family core values is a little tougher to discuss because I think that it varies depending on the family. While different people place different degrees of importance on certain issues, I think that it’s safe to say that some things are universally accepted as important for classroom success. The most important of these is respect for the teacher and other students.  Teachers are there to teach. Period.  They are not there to teach children manners or the importance of being cooperative.  They are not there to make sure that kids get fed or that kids have on clean underwear and clothes.  They are not there to provide hardcore discipline for disruptive students.  All of these things should be provided at home.  By the way, this is an issue that affects every school district across the country at every socio-economic level, from children who feel entitled and have too much given to them,  to children who do not have enough and feel disenfranchised and isolated.  It’s simply appalling the behavior displayed in classrooms on a daily basis and worse, the parents that feel like they have no control of their own children.  Now, of course kids do act out every now and again.  It’s all a part of growing up.  However, instilling behavioral expectations in our children is simply part of a parent’s job and right now, teachers are spending entirely too much instructional time disciplining unruly children.  And we all know our children, right?  We all know that they are capable of being unruly?  We all have had to deal with their less than perfect behavior, right?  I’m just sayin’….

Now, before you jump on me for being too hard on parents, I don’t expect anything of anyone else that I don’t expect of myself.  I hold my own feet to the fire over these very issues and am convicted almost daily of something that I feel like I’ve failed at in this area.  I am not, nor have I ever been, an educator. I am a mom and while I have no control over the school’s end of the process, I do have control over mine.  I do have expectations of my children’s teacher’s and school administration, which are:

  • mutual respect for me and my child
  • clear and prompt communication between me and the school
  • purposeful instruction and not simply facilitation
  • honesty and integrity
  • genuine knowledge of and interest in my child

I do not hesitate to contact the school when I think any of these things have been compromised.  I do suggest starting with the teacher because sometimes the problem can be a simple miscommunication.  If that doesn’t yield results, then the next stop is the principal’s office.  Again, the most important thing to focus on is the result for your child.

Finally, I think that I must address the issue of race.  As an African-American parent there have been instances with more than one of my children when I have been forced to confront the fact that the situation at hand was either the direct result of or the bi-product of racial bias.  The result has not always been comfortable for all parties (the teacher, administration or myself), but I did always get what I thought was best for my child.  Not by yelling or screaming “racism” at the top of my lungs or threatening law suits (that’s not to say that it couldn’t come to that), but by purposefully pursuing truth and arguing the facts.    However, minority parents do have to recognize that every situation isn’t always the result of racism.  Alternately, teachers and administrators have to admit that sometimes, it really is the issue.

The bottom line is that teachers and parents must work together for the common good of the students.  When it comes to my children and what I want for them, the truth is that I am a bad-ass mom and my guess is, so are you (or dad for that matter).  We have the power to have a real impact on our children’s education.  Volunteer in the classrooms or do projects for the teachers at home; chaperon field trips; join the PTA and be an active member; and take part in parent/teacher conferences.  Make sure that your child’s teacher knows that you are an involved parent.  Teachers want and need our help, so step into your role and run with it!  Next post we will talk about back to school shopping (trust me, it’s not what you think).