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The storm’s been brewing for a year. I’ve seen it off in the distance. I’ve felt its presence every day. It’s the storm of change. Most days I’ve ignored it, but now it’s overhead, ready to blow the past away forcing me to start anew.

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Not long ago my son texted me asking if I could add money to his account because he was in Gainesville where it was quite a bit cooler than Cape Coral, and he had spent what was left in his bank account on a jacket. Like most kids he knew which parent to text. His dad would’ve let him learn a budgeting and packing lesson. I laughed thinking, well he finally got cold enough to wear a coat. His text brought me back eight years earlier to a time when I was teaching fourth grade. Kai, my son, was in the fourth-grade class next door to mine. My friend was his teacher. We had planned to take all the students to St. Augustine, Florida for a weekend field trip.

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Long ago when I was in my early twenties, I saw a show (possibly 20/20) about children living in an orphanage overseas. What I saw was horrific. I felt in my heart that I needed to make a difference for children in need.

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For the past two days I’ve had no voice. I woke up and it was gone followed by my energy level. My first reaction was to fight it. There’s too much to get done! Then when simply walking around my house caused me to feel as though I had just taken two spin classes I decided to look on the bright side…I get to sit and read. That’s exactly what I did.

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I was at Target the other day waiting in line when I struck up a conversation with a three-year old. She was telling me about her new red dress and her upcoming visit with Santa. Her father was busy entertaining her one year old sister. Every once in a while he would look back at his older daughter and make a comment. “You’re not a baby. Stop sucking your thumb.” “Keep an eye on our stuff.” When I mentioned how well the little girl could carry on a conversation he replied, “We’ve been working on it.”

To me this three-year old was still just a baby but to her father she was the “big sister.” Suddenly, I could clearly see how birth order affects our personalities and outlook on life. At three years old this girl was already taking on responsibilities. Her father needed her to because the younger sister was demanding his time and attention. To one child his message was you’re capable, be responsible and help out, and to the other, if you misbehave you get all my attention.

I don’t think it’s something you realize when you’re parenting young children. How differently you treat them and what messages you’re sending when you’re just trying to get through the day as peacefully as possible. I can say as a people watcher I notice often how parents admonish the oldest for misbehaving when it’s the younger sibling who initiates a squabble. From the parent’s point of view the oldest should know better. The only thing is the oldest may be three, still a baby themselves, their parents just don’t realize it because they’re the “big brother or big sister.” How many times did I expect excellent behavior from Arielle and make excuses for her younger brother when he threw a tantrum? Oh, it’s the Italian in him or the boy in him. Silly.

However, the best parenting advice I was ever given was “Let your no be no.” In other words once you say no you better hold to it and not give in no matter how big the tantrum. Because if you give in your child will consistently search for boundaries. Test you over and over because they feel insecure with having gotten their way. We held to that advice. We had one child that easily accepted the no and another who had screaming, fist pounding, toy throwing tantrums…until he was three and half…and then it subsided. He knew no was no.

I’m sure we treated our children differently based on birth order and probably, though, I hate to admit it, gender. It’s possible I put more expectations on Arielle while letting Kai get away with less responsibility as the youngest. One thing I can say with certainty is that part of the reason we were able to take so many trips as a family, and bring our kids wherever we went was because they were well-behaved and enjoyable to be around. Why? Because someone long ago told me, “Let your no be no.”

I was perusing Facebook when I found this post: 6 Telling Signs Your Child Has a Bad Teacher I became immediately annoyed. Really? If your child’s bored or disinterested with school let’s blame it on the teacher? No. That’s not taking responsibility for your child’s education. That’s a blame game.

Imagine spending hours on a weekend preparing lessons you’re excited to share in the classroom. You’re standing in front of the room, ready to teach your incredible lesson, and eighty percent of the class is sitting, listening, ready to begin. Just as the other twenty percent settle down, a student lets one rip, sending the class into hysterics and four of his teammates up out of their chairs waving their hands in front of their noses.

You take a deep breath, on the opposite side of the room, and stay calm. More time wasted. When you finally get them settled down and begin teaching, the phone rings and a student has to pack up and leave. Everyone shouts goodbye. You begin again and get really pumped because hands are in the air and they must be engaged, but when you call on a student to answer a question, they say they don’t feel well and want to go to the nurse. You stop and write a pass. The class takes it as an opportunity to socialize. Now, you have to pickup where you left off and try again.

About this time, a student enters the room with a late pass, crying, because whatever happened in the last class sent him into a hormonal tantrum. He’s yelling about what a loser he is, and suddenly the lesson isn’t as important as trying to piece together the student’s fractured self-esteem. With a silent audience you take off your teacher hat, put on your counselor hat and tell the student he’s not horrible, he’s beautiful, everyone makes mistakes. Your heart aches because he’s in pain. But wait…were’t you teaching a lesson?

You begin yet again. And when you finally finish, and ninety-nine percent of the class has gotten to work there will always be that one child who raises their hand and says, “What are we supposed to do?” It doesn’t matter if you had it written on the board, across your forehead or repeated it ten times. It happens–making you want to jump up and down screaming at the top of your lungs like a lunatic. You may even begin to think you’re losing your mind because five minutes ago your heart ached for one of the little angels and now you want to scream obscenities at another. Imagine this is happening on a Thursday and all week you’ve been up since 4:45 am. losing approximately three hours of sleep each day because family responsibilities prevent you from going to bed at 8 pm. You’re exhausted.

This is a normal day for a teacher.

It’s crushing–soul sucking because in your mind the lesson you created was going to be met with wide-eyed, amazed, students, excited to drink in the knowledge you’re gifting them with. Instead, you’re dealing with a plethora of behaviors, learning styles, and children who are more worried about whether they’ll have enough to eat when they go home than your assignment. Still, you go home and evaluate the day, learn from the experience and try harder the next day because you care about the students and you want to share your passion with them. Tomorrow’s another day. Another opportunity to make a difference, unless you have to prepare them for a standardized test. Well, then your awesome lessons will have to wait.

To the parent of the child who is bored and wants to blame the teacher, please spend some time in your child’s classroom. See what it’s like to keep twenty to thirty children engaged in a lesson before you begin judging a teacher for not meeting your teaching expectations.

Now, the parent’s point of view…because I’m both.

Your child comes home complaining again. His grade reflects his attitude towards the teacher. The teacher lost his work; the teacher didn’t grade his paper because she couldn’t read it or it wasn’t perfectly organized. He says she’s mean. He gets a detention for a reason you think is silly. You email the teacher only to be met with silence. Now you feel invisible which fuels your anger. Maybe life would be easier if you homeschooled. You know your child isn’t doing their homework, so you take away their cell phone but now your child is angrier and the little time you have together at home is filled with unrest. Why all because of that ### teacher! If she’d just make her lessons more engaging, your child would enjoy learning, and your home would be happy.

Well, I can honestly say in all the years I’ve been a teacher and a substitute I’ve only met one teacher that I felt needed to find another career path. It was obvious she was unhappy, and she brought that atmosphere into her classroom. She had bully like tendencies and a terrible habit of belittling the children. On more than one occasion I spoke up in defense of the students. Still, I understood her. I understood the difficulty of the job and how her need to control was preventing her from seeing the big picture. Students need to feel safe and cared for in order to learn. You can make a child sit quietly, but you can’t make them enjoy learning. Yes, there are some teachers that need to find a different career, but there are a lot more really great teachers than the few who give teachers a bad name.

The problem lies in the system, not in the teachers. Testing, taking away the arts and blaming teachers are three major problems within the system. The ridiculous testing needs to stop, and teachers must be allowed to create lessons they are passionate about. Testing turns teachers into frustrated babysitters. How can someone model a love of learning when they are forced to teach children exactly how to pass a standardized test?

It takes great skill not only to develop good lesson plans but also to keep a classroom of children engaged and interested in the lesson. When FCAT came along, most of that was thrown out the window, for lessons on how to bubble (don’t go outside the lines!) and exactly how to answer a four point question on a three paragraph passage. Remember to restate the question! God forbid if a student forgets to underline and number throughout the passage…. Testing bores teachers and takes away their freedom to do what they love. Find the main idea and author’s purpose and bubble it in? That’s why I’m here? I think the author’s purpose was to have the student develop a joy of reading and I don’t see that option under A. B. C. or D.

Parents, before you blame your child’s teacher for not having engaging lessons ask yourself what you’ve done to let your district know that testing is taking opportunities away from your child. Have you volunteered at your child’s school, teaching your child that education is important? What are you doing at home to teach your child a love of learning? Ultimately, as parents, we are the ones responsible for our child’s education. You can choose to teach your child to blame others for their lack of effort in school, or you can teach your child to understand different points of view and how to work with others to problem solve. Choose wisely, your child is learning.

My books: MYSTIC and ELLE & BUDDY