Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Dear Seventh Grader, (Epistolary Wednesday, September 3)

Learning is Required from Flickr via Wylio
© 2011 Enokson, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio
It's a bit overwhelming, all of the flyers we are handed at Back-To-School-Night for parents, as we race through a two-hour version of your day--no time to introduce ourselves to your teachers, just enough for them to get halfway through their presentation on Expectations and Rules and Late Work. It seems, at times (maybe because of the lengthy lists of homework assignments sorted by date on their slide shows) that they are expecting us to do this work, to keep track and get things handed in. You'll want to make sure. You'll want to check. These are phrases I hear over and over throughout these first two weeks of junior high when teachers and administrators talk to us parents and I think, I don't have time to manage the full-time job of a seventh grader who is also in cross country practice for an hour and a half after school. Who has time for that? Also, I'm not sure I want to sign up for the texting service that will remind me of Global Studies projects and science assignments. 

I know that some of your classmates' parents have to, in order to help their kids succeed. That's a hard, hard job. So I'm thankful that, in so many ways, you are prepared for all of this responsibility. You know how to keep track, make lists. Your upbringing has cultivated in you just the right amount of anxiety by which you're driven to fill out worksheets on time, hand in two-paragraph "essays" (Although, newsflash: two paragraphs does not a real essay make!).

Still, this Junior High is a New World where it doesn't necessarily matter how diligent you are or how responsible. What matters is your score. What matters is the "work." No more points for just doing homework. Points are for getting homework right. The difference between an A and a B on math homework might be that when you carried the "one" you forgot to add it into the other numbers in the column. Boom. B.

While grade school was so full of mercy, this New World is not. And I sometimes wish you'd been a bit better prepared in other areas--in sentence mechanics, for example: run-on sentences and missing periods never cost you so much as a point or a missed recess in sixth grade. Now you get As for periods in the right places and you get points taken away in their absence. (Finally, finally, someone is going to convince you to take the sentence seriously even though I've been trying since you were eight. Thank God. Thank God. Thank God.)

While it's a all bit overwhelming for you, I must confess I find myself swimming in a small pool of relief  All those skills I've been watching you develop and waiting for you to master--to be motivated to master--are within mastery's reach. Think: typing! Think: practicing the trombone with more regularity. Think: taking the long way when deconstructing a book plot rather than short-cutting through worksheets. So much is on the horizon. All because of Seventh Grade. The whole world has opened up to you, taking you quite seriously for the first time: hard practices, hard drills, missing points, consequences. I've always taken you seriously, of course, but like grade school, I've been brimming with mercy, shielding you when I could from Discomfort and Unpleasantness and, as parents are sometimes guilty of doing, shielding myself from the Unpleasantness of your displeasure.

Now you have all these other adults in your life who will work with me to expose you to rigor and discipline, which will result in your broadening your horizons and your scope for critical thought. I could have wept with gratitude--your Language Arts teacher talking about the greatly detailed feedback you will get on your writing ability this fall, your Literacy teacher saying she is going to push you to "prove" your interpretations now with textual evidence. This is so good. It's the stuff I live for. I'm a little bit of a language arts nerd, as you know, and I'm so glad we can share this now.  And I'm secretly as delighted as you are that you got an A+ on that "essay" I helped you with.

That's my daughter-of-an-English-major girl. 

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