Monday, November 18, 2013

Going too far: One parent's confession about helping too much

When my son was in 8th grade he earned a "C" on his first English paper.

I reassured my son that was OK. He could review the comments from the teacher, make the necessary corrections, and do better next time.

I will never forget his response.

"That won't happen Dad," he said. "Whatever you get on the first paper you get the rest of the year."

I was stunned. How could that be? That's not fair I thought to myself. It also obviously cannot be true I reasoned. A teacher would never do that to a child.

So I did something that I am not proud of. I wrote my son's next paper.

I rationalized that I was doing it to prove a point. I was going to show my son that he was wrong. A teacher would not take the easy way out and give grades based on the first assignment of the year.

Now, with the wisdom that time instills, I realize I went too far.

Why didn't I just call the teacher and relay what I had been told?

If I was worried about the teacher's reaction I could have gone to the principal and shared what my son had said.

I also could have reviewed the paper he wrote to see if it was a "C" paper. Perhaps I could have helped him see how the teacher was right and he could improve his writing.

No, instead of doing those proactive and positive things, I determined the right thing to do was show my son that he was wrong.

My son could have learned lessons about review and revision. Lessons about working hard, reflecting on current performance to improve future performance, and taking the time to do your best were lessons that I short-circuited for my son.

Immediately after he took the paper to school I realized how foolish I had been. He was supposed to learn in 8th grade. He did not need me to write his papers.

Let's say that he was right. Let's say that teacher really did base the entire year's assessment on the quality of the first assignment.

Instead of writing the paper I could have taught my son to advocate for himself with the teacher. I could have helped him learn how to discuss his writing and talk with the teacher about how he had improved.

Instead, I took the easy way out. I decided I would write the paper and show him that he was wrong or at least ill-informed about this teacher.

He let me, of course. Why would an 8th grader reject a father's offer to write the next English paper?

Technically I was the adult in that situation. I should have known better. I could have taught my son lessons that would prepare him as he grew about taking ownership for his work, advocating for himself, and standing up to those who were being unfair.

But, I didn't.

Parents make mistakes. This was one of mine. Thankfully I never wrote another paper for my son. It was a lesson I needed to learn.

By the way, I earned a "C" on the paper I wrote as well.

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