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Kids Are People Too!


Laurie Stenehjem, a graduate of North Dakota State University and a teacher with more than 25 years experience, is a mentor in the Grand Forks Middle School Resident Teacher Program. Laurie and first-year teacher Kimberly Johnson share their journal entries with Education World readers in alternating weeks.

I'm guessing that Kim might think I'm a bad parent. My youngest son is a senior in high school who carries a C average. He missed two days of school last week to go snowboarding with a friend and his parents. He will miss three days of school this coming week because of his job. When I was at Kim's stage in life, I would have thought that those were signs of poor parenting too.

In her last entry, Kim wrote about parents who appear not to care about their children's education. I certainly agree with her that parents' involvement in children's lives makes a difference. I wish all children had parents who loved them dearly and were able to provide all the support they needed. I'm well aware that children who don't have that love and support do have a more difficult time succeeding. But teachers and parents have to stop blaming one another for the weaknesses children show and work together to help them grow.

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Does the fact that all three of my sons have gone through periods of their education when they haven't given a hoot about their grades mean that I'm a bad parent? On the contrary, I think it has made me a better teacher. I myself have always been a student who needed to earn an A in the class. That served me well ... I did my homework, behaved in school, graduated second in my class, and earned a scholarship to college. For me, earning an A was the goal of going to school. My sons have taught me that learning should be the goal -- and that "doing school" is not necessarily the same as learning.

I'm a very concrete sequential learner. My youngest son is not. The classes he has struggled with are the ones taught by concrete sequential teachers and organized in a concrete sequential way. That type of organization has always made perfect sense to me. Now, because I love Dan, I understand that it doesn't work for lots of kids. Now, I struggle in my own teaching to try to better meet the needs of the Dans in my classroom. Am I always successful? I wish! It's not easy to get my concrete sequential mind to think in a different way, but the effort has given me empathy for what the Dans in our classes experience trying to force themselves to think like I do!

The eye-opener for me was the day my then-young son put his arm around me and very sincerely said, "Oh, Mom! Life must not be very fun if you have to spend all your time worrying about all those little things!" And that is a weakness of my concrete sequential thinking . . . and that's why he's off snowboarding with someone else's parents this weekend. So I work to think more like he does, and he forces himself to write down all the steps of his Algebra II problems.

As parents, my husband and I need to support Dan in the best way we can. Employers say they want employees who can learn on the job, solve problems, anticipate needs, collaborate with others, think independently, and behave ethically. Most of those are real strengths of my right-brained son. They also want a solid core of knowledge and a strong work ethic. We've had to work harder to give Dan the support he has needed to finish school with those qualities because he doesn't fit the mold of school as well as we did.

We allowed him to go snowboarding because, as Kim said, we haven't had a weekday off from school since January 2, and we know that it's even harder for him to maintain that routine than it is for us. We will allow him to miss the three days next week because we believe it's an incredible opportunity for him to get real life, intensive training in his job at a local printing shop. We hope his teachers don't think our decisions are a result of our not supporting Dan in his education -- after all, my husband is the principal of his school! -- and we hope they respect that we are taking very seriously our responsibility to be involved in his life and his education. We certainly appreciate all they do to support his learning. I hope we can continue to work together as partners to help him be the best he can be.

Click here for biographical information and previous entries.

Article by Laurie Stenehjem
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