Dealing with difficult teachers

Written on July 26, 2011 at 6:35 pm , by

It seems like every school has them: The coach who blames a championship loss on the kid who missed the last shot. The drama teacher who plays favorites and relegates the rest to the chorus line every time. The guidance counselor who tells students they’ll never get into a good college.

In “Adult Ed,” from Family Circle’s September issue, teen parenting expert Rosalind Wiseman shares her advice on dealing with your kid’s teachers and coaches—and their questionable behavior. She’ll help you figure out when it’s appropriate to interfere and how to do it without losing your temper. First step: Decide on your role in your child’s conflict—is this his responsibility or yours?—while considering the type of adult you’re dealing with. Don’t forget that your child’s perspective may not be 100 percent accurate. (Teens and tweens can be overly sensitive, after all.)

Knowing how to have these confrontations is increasingly important as your kids get older. They’ll spend more time at school and practice with teachers and coaches and less time at home with you. They will find adults who will write them college recommendations and be their mentors. And they need your example now to learn how to navigate conflict with authority figures in the future—without damaging these relationships.

Have you ever had to confront a teacher or coach? Did it go as you’d hoped it would? Or, if you’ve never had these conversations, has this story inspired you to speak up next time? Share in the comments below.

—Corinne Chin

Should Homework Count for Less?

Written on July 15, 2011 at 1:20 pm , by

The L.A. Unified School District recently passed a policy in which homework can’t count for more than 10 percent of a student’s grade. The idea is to give students a break—especially those who need to shoulder real-life responsibilities outside the realm of reading, writing and math assignments, like working long hours or caring for younger siblings.

But many critics balk at this policy. What if some students don’t do homework at all? They can still get a 90 percent in the class, and that’s unfair, they say.

As a student (and recent former teen) I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. Homework, after all, is meant to reinforce learning, not be the teacher. According to the article, research shows that students who do their homework perform better than those who don’t, because they’ve gone over the concepts again and again. But what about students—the “smart” kids—who can score a 90 percent in a class without doing homework?

Limiting the percentage homework counts for grades gives students more power to take charge of their educations. If they’re confident in their knowledge—and okay being docked points for not completing assignments—they can skip the hours of busy work that teachers often assign. With the ridiculous amount of homework given in accelerated and Advanced Placement classes, it’s hard for a high school student—and his or her parents—to balance other valuable learning experiences like sports, jobs and other extracurriculars. In high school, I would often be at rehearsals and club meetings until late at night, leaving me little time to tackle pre-calculus problem sets at home. (It cost me a letter grade—I never made it to calculus.)

Concerned about college readiness? Limiting homework as a grading factor is actually much closer to the higher ed model, where assignments don’t receive letters and numbers, but knowledge is reflected in results of papers and exams. Not having time to do all my homework in high school was actually a blessing in disguise—it gave me the opportunity to learn how to manage my time and balance schoolwork with extracurricular responsibilities, which helped me transition to campus life. Instead of squandering the free time I have between classes like many co-eds, I prioritize the tasks on my to-do list—a skill I learned from juggling that pre-calc class with musical theater rehearsals.

But I’m also aware not every student is like me, and some teens may need assignments in order to be productive, stay out of trouble or reinforce the concepts that really give them trouble.

What do you think? Is 10 percent too little or too much? Do high school students need the structure of homework, or should they take responsibility for their own education?

—Corinne Chin