IT'S USEFUL AT TIMES TO HAVE A FRESH PERSPECTIVE TO “MAKE THE GRADE.” WITH THIS IN MIND WE HERE AT OUTLOOK-12 HAVE CREATED A SPECIAL COLUMN WHERE YOU, OUR READERS, CAN WRITE TO US WITH YOUR PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL QUESTIONS AND GET PERSPECTIVE AND INSIGHTS FROM OUR RESIDENT AWARD-WINNING EDUCATION VETERAN AND CONTRIBUTING COLUMNIST GARY COOPER. AN EDUCATOR FOR MORE THAN 45 YEARS, GARY HAS TAUGHT STUDENTS FROM NURSERY SCHOOL TO COLLEGE AND IS ALSO A GUIDANCE COUNSELOR.
Q: I’m a parent with a little girl in second grade. I’m going to admit something up-front. I’m the type of parent that shelters my kid and probably too much sometimes. She’s my baby, and I can’t help it. Lately, she’s been hearing about all the gun violence in the news, and she’s getting scared about going back to school. Nothing’s ever happened at her school (knock on wood), but she’s still scared. The other day she really broke my heart when she hugged me and said that she didn’t want to die. Alone later that night, I sob for a half an hour just thinking about what she said. I really need your help on this one. What do I do?
A: This is a problem that is reaching alarming rates. Students of all ages living in all locales are experiencing a high level of anxiety about gun violence. Your daughter is far from alone with these troubling emotions. The first step in reducing her fears is to inform both her teacher and her principal. Your daughter’s school hopefully realizes that this is a legitimate concern. If a guidance counselor is available, contact that individual as well. All of the school’s personnel should spend time discussing all the safety measures taken by that school. Many schools are now permitting students to carry cell phones to school for just this set of circumstances, making children and parents more comfortable. If this is not doable, ask the school to permit you to speak to your daughter from time to time. Most schools practice a lockdown drill in case of an intruder in a similar manner to a fire drill. Many police departments will send a spokesperson to a school to address this very issue. In addition, speak to your daughter in a calming fashion to calm her fears. Together your efforts coupled with the local educators and law enforcement can help your child, and I’m sure many others. Knowing that she has many grown ups in her life looking out for her and her classmates with emergency plans, understanding and support will not only help her feel better, but I suspect will also help put your mind more at ease.
Q: I’m the mother of a kindergartener. Getting him up in the morning and ready has become terrible. I’m not talking about whining or tantrums. Suddenly my little angel is screaming at the top of his lungs and hitting and clawing at his dad and me over us taking out clothes for him to wear or getting his shoes from the closet. We have disciplined him, punished him and tried talking with him, but he’s only getting worse. We want to think this is a phase, but our concern is if we don’t nip this in the bud, it will lead to other bad behaviors down the road. And we definitely don’t want him doing this sort of thing at his school this fall. What are we missing? Why can’t we get through to him?
A: We all have had trouble getting out of bed from time to time. The trick is to have your son look forward to something in the morning. A favorite breakfast or treat often is enough to induce many to rise and shine. Permit him to play a game before heading to class or watch a favorite television show. I had a family facing an identical situation. They simply allowed their child to select the clothes to be worn the next day. This was enough motivation for that child to look forward to getting up and getting dressed. Kindergarten can be a difficult transition for many children. Try to identify a classmate that can serve as a friend that your son will look forward to seeing at the school. Consequences rarely accomplish the desired goal. Instead find some small reward to be achieved on a weekly basis. However, don’t treat as a bribe but as an indication of achievement. You may ask your son’s teacher to give him a task or responsibility in the morning to encourage him to get to school on time. I knew of a teacher who taught a class of rebellious teenagers. These teens were bused to school from various locations. His predecessor was unable to encourage students to arrive on time if at all. This enterprising educator changed the first activity of the day to fifteen minutes of dancing. As a result there were very few tardy students or behavioral problems moving forward. Granted your five-year-old is in a different set of circumstances than these teenagers, but hopefully his teacher will offer early morning activities that will encourage all the students to be excited about learning.
Q: Hi, Mr. Cooper. I’m going to be in fourth grade. I’m not a good student. I try really hard. I’m good for my teachers. I don’t shout out or pass notes. But I can’t remember all the stuff they tell us. I feel really stupid sitting in class. All my friends get good grades, but I never do. I always get C’s or D’s or F’s. I really want to do better this year. I don’t want to feel stupid anymore, and I want my mom and dad to be proud of me. How can I get smarter?
A: Anytime is a good time to try to improve, however, if I had to pick an ideal time to go through a positive alteration, fourth grade would be my choice. For both teachers and learners, kindergarten through third grade is primarily a time to learn how to read. Fourth grade and beyond is when students really begin to use reading to learn. Read as much as you can. The more you read, the better you will become with those skills. In mathematics, most fourth, fifth and sixth grade math is centered around the memorization of the times tables. If that is an area of weakness for you, then concentrate all your efforts into putting that knowledge into rote memory. Find yourself a study buddy or two to assist with your progress in all subject matters. Most importantly, get yourself better organized. Make sure you fully understanding your homework assignments (what books are needed, which pages the assignment is on, when the assignment is due, etc.) and don’t be afraid to seek assistance if you need help with your homework. In addition, prepare for every test and try to learn from your mistakes. If allowed, take some useful notes and compare your understanding of the material with your friends. Your parents’ approval is important, but your sense of well-being overshadows all other feelings. Permit yourself to forgive yourself for learning shortcomings. We all feel stupid or behind the pack sometimes, but that doesn’t mean we actually are. Just from reading your letter, I can tell that you are not stupid. That is why it is important to be patient with yourself and try to keep a positive attitude. Remember, almost always things eventually turn around.
If you would like to write to Gary for advice, please email firstname.lastname@example.org