Our First Grade

Educational standards have long been an issue, and it’s certainly understandable why. In a system that offers free public education to a large population of students between the ages of 5 and 18, there will be a wide range of abilities and attitudes (on both the part of pupil and parent). With such a big system, it seems only logical that there would be big problems. Such big problems, in fact, that a number of parents are looking for alternatives. I know many, for example, who have opted to school their children at home. I know still others who have placed their kids in a private school. And for those parents who cannot afford the time or tuition, there are other options available as well.

Educational standards are extremely important in my household. Raised by an educator, I and my siblings were expected to do well in school. Homework came before everything else. We could not watch television until our homework was completed. And if we wanted to participate in any extracurricular activities, we could do so only if our schoolwork was not affected. Holding their children to these standards certainly paid off for my parents. All three of us graduated from high school and college. One even went on to receive a graduate degree. And now, all three of us are educators, two at the high school level and one at a community college.

I am proud to say that I hold my daughter to these same standards. And I am delighted that her public elementary school is exceeding the standards of many others. In kindergarten and first grade, she is already learning much more than simple letters and numbers. One day last year, for example, I heard her singing a kindergarten tune that listed the seven continents. (Having traveled and lived outside the U.S., I was thrilled to hear her name places beyond her own borders.) When I told my brother, who teaches at a public high school, that she could correctly pronounce and name our world’s major landmasses, he shook his head and said this was more than many of his freshman could do.

Yesterday, I received a reminder of the high standards to which my first grader (and her parents) will be held accountable this year. In her backpack, I found the homework packet we had diligently worked on the previous week. Each day, we had come home, eaten a snack, and gotten right down to work. My part was to read the directions and note where she needed to make corrections. And, though tempted, I refrained from giving her the correct answer. As my parents would have done (and as the teacher expected), I made her figure it out on her own.

Part of the homework packet is a daily reading log. Each night, parent and child are expected to read together for 20 minutes. It is the parent’s responsibility to keep track of these sessions. He or she notes the number of minutes read and then signs off on that day. Last week, I signed off on the first three days, and my ex was supposed to sign off for the other two. And he forgot to do so. I know that he read to her on those nights. It was just a simple matter that he forgot to sign. Yet, it was those two missing signatures that earned our daughter her very first B.

When I pulled the packet out of her folder and saw the grade, I first checked to make sure we hadn’t gotten any answers wrong. None were marked. Confused, I thought that maybe the teacher had made a mistake. That’s when I saw that there were two parental signatures missing from the reading log.

My first instinct was to be offended. How dare the teacher grade my daughter down when she did everything right? But I knew the teacher was justified in giving a B because the packet was, in fact, incomplete. I would have done the same. And in a system where many schools don’t give homework or even grades, I was impressed that a first grade teacher would hold both student and parent accountable.

We definitely need more of that.

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7 Responses to Our First Grade

  1. It’s a good practice, I think. During those first years of school, it’s really important that parents are involved in the child’s school work. I remember having to get my homework signed off on when I was in elementary (primary) school. It was one way of making sure my parents were paying attention and had a hand in my education (aside from paying fees and dropping me off).

    That B should be a good reminder for dad. 🙂

    • zomelie says:

      He also has high standards for our daughter and her education, so I know it was just a simple oversight. However, I do agree that the B is a great reminder that, as her parents, we are accountable as well.

  2. How much homework is your daughter getting? I ask because more and more I read that homework in early elementary grades has no real impact on education. Personally, I can see how very short assignments–say, a few more math problems–can be helpful as additional practice, but many schools seem to be giving lots of homework to very young students.

    Also, is there any flexibility for things like the reading assignment? By the first grade, I’d been reading on my own for a couple of years–I can’t imagine spending time every night reading with my parents. Does the teacher provide any customization for advanced readers? (I suppose my question would apply to other subject areas, but your example and my experience are both centered on reading.)

    • zomelie says:

      The packet has a page to do on each day (Monday-Thursday) and takes about 10-15 minutes to complete. (The homework rule I have heard is that the child should have 10 minutes of homework for the number of the grade he or she is in. 1st grade = 10 minutes, 2nd grade = 20 minutes, and so on.) As an educator, I would say the value of homework at an early age is that it puts them in the habit of doing it.

      As for your question about the flexibility of the reading assignment, one of the options is to have the child read to the parents, but even with the more advanced readers, parent and child are supposed to participate together. I think the whole point is to have the parents involved in the child’s education and to have the child see that.

      • That does seem like a reasonable amount of homework. I’ve heard from a lot of moms that their children get an hour or more in early grades, which seems really excessive. 10-15 minutes a day seems like it gives a bit more practice while still leaving time for plenty of childhood!

  3. No Drama Momma says:

    Hear, hear! Parents need to know that sometimes the repercussions from their actions fall on their children. No parent wants to be the one to blame for their own child’s lower grade, and hopefully this will ensure that they actually do the work. Glad her dad did the reading, though–some parents don’t even do that!

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