In another one of those "Where has the time gone?" moments, my youngest daughter, Zoe, turned 8 last week. For the past month she’d been bouncing off the walls, counting the seconds until her special day.
“I can’t wait for my birthday, daddy!”
Through the rear view mirror I could see her squirm with excitement, looking out the window and mouthing the lyrics to a Lizzo track. My wife and I aren’t quite sure what planet she’s from but we’re grateful to have her.
“I can’t wait until I’m 10!”
What about 9? I thought. Then it hit me: Zoe couldn’t wait to be the same age as her sister, Ava, and enjoy some of the perceived benefits of being older.
Fast Forwarding to the Good Parts
I can totally relate. As the second oldest of five boys I had to watch my older brother, Steve, experience the cool things first. I remember the day he got to ride shotgun for the first time, leaving me solo in the backseat. He got to actually touch the radio. And I just sat behind him in awe, envious at how the turn of a knob could wield so much power.
When I’m old enough I’m going to hear MY music!
Riding in the old station wagon, I was at the mercy of where my parents took me. Nobody ever asked me where I wanted to eat or what I was in the mood for. If my dad wanted Chinese than so did I and that was that.
I can’t wait until I can drive.
Im not exactly sure why but there was always a sense of urgency surrounding me during my formative years. Perhaps it was a subconscious need to escape a packed house but I was always rushing, wanting to grow up faster, be taller, get my driver’s license on my 16th birthday and not a day past (missed it by four days, stupid parallel parking). Back then I put way too much pressure on myself (most of it unnecessary).
Like, what sane person takes 18 hours in his final spring semester because he would have considered it a failure to graduate in more than four years? Yours truly. Between working two jobs and taking on a max load of classes, it's amazing I didn't burn out. Maybe this was why I recently told a group of high schoolers to make having fun in their final years before college just as much of a priority as getting into it.
Looking back, I must have been envisioning the possibilities of what could make up my future life. In my mind's eye I was most-likely thinking about the “TV Sitcom Life” (awesome career, hot wife, incredible children, a couple of dogs, an audience laugh track after my every witty comment). And my dad would often tell me, "Son, you can see two years ahead of you but it doesn't mean squat if you can't see two inches in front of your nose."
I suppose this was my dad's way of telling me that I was too busy thinking about the finished product, my life’s masterpiece, when I should have been finding satisfaction and joy in each careful brushstroke along the way.
It's a trap I see my daughters fall into; a lot of kids do. Heck, it’s what us parents and teachers do. We think about where we want to be tomorrow, this weekend, when we retire, etc. but we stop enjoying the now - the moment. This reminds me of what one of my favorite columnists, Rick Reilly, once wrote back in 1999.
"I don't think the meaning of life is gnashing our bicuspids over what comes after death but tasting all the tiny moments that come before it..."
We can apply this school of thought to the classroom. For many teachers, the state-mandated assessment test has become an albatross, adding extra weight to an already intense career. One of the biggest complaints I hear from teachers is that these tests are taking the fun out of teaching. While the lion's share of attention in the classroom is geared towards core subject areas, other crucial aspects to teaching kids are taking a back seat. As I heard one principal say to a group other educators, more and more teachers are leaving the profession - while those who stick around around are focused on becoming 21st century educators.
For students, they also know what's at stake when it comes to The Big Test. It doesn't matter how many pep rallies they attend or t-shirts they're given, I visit many schools and ask every group I am in front of the same question: How many of you are afraid of the test? The number of arms that quickly raise are so great that even the teachers in the room are surprised.
The last thing we want to do is have both teachers and students think that the school experience has been reduced to showing up for 182 days in order to prep for a test. Sadly, some actually do (and it's no wonder why kids feel like fast-forwarding past this part of their lives or even dropping out, potentially missing out on important social emotional learning and other 21st century skills).
So what can we do, especially for those of us outside of the classroom environment, to provide the best support for our kids? While officials in various states continue to debate the changes that need to be made to these assessment tests - some would argue that they need to be eliminated entirely - here are some ideas to consider for parents in order to support what schools are doing to educate our children:
1. Talk to your child's teacher regularly - You'd be surprised at how many parents do not attend scheduled parent-teacher conferences. It's gotten to the point where students are getting free dress as an incentive to getting their parents to show up. Having a regular dialogue with your child's teacher could help us understand what challenges they face beyond the classroom. They might not always need it, but teachers definitely appreciate support from parents as much as a student would.
2. Emphasize the Effort - Rather than stressing on the letter or number grade, maybe we should place more of an emphasis on the effort behind that final outcome? How can I get bent out of shape If my child gets a C in Math but tried her hardest and put the work in day in and day out? Maybe this is where I have to look at myself? Am I helping her enough? Am I making it worse for her? A good way to find out is to see Idea#1.
3. Enjoy The Moment - What if our students looked forward to Mondays as much as they did Fridays? Okay, maybe that sounds far-fetched, but what if we could at least get them to stop dwelling on the next holiday or three-day weekend? We can do that by helping them appreciate the Now. The old sports cliche of taking it one day at a time rings true in this case. Each day is going to be different and there will be ups and downs, but if we can be Better Than Good and string together some quality days, those days will turn into weeks. Next thing you know, we're putting together consecutive, confident-filled months of wins. But we have to slow down first. We have to have them focus on the process rather than the results.
4. Come Up For Air - We have to be able to take time out and do something other than school, studying and STEM. I have to remind myself that even though they're growing up way too fast, they're still kids. And kids need to be having fun (as long as it's constructive, of course). Adults have to hit the reset button and take a deep breath from time to time - our child learners are no different. Taking these well-timed breaks are good for their social and emotional development.
Let's face it, parents everywhere are going to continue to wonder where the time has gone, wishing their kids didn't grow up so fast. But we can help them slow down just a bit...
"Daddy, when I'm 12 can I learn to drive?"
At least when it comes to the classroom.
For more information on easy strategies that we can employ to help our kids succeed inside and out of the classroom, check out the book, TheHappyManifesto – Three Rules For Happier Students. It’s an easier-than-easy-to-read resource designed to help us parents and teachers navigate a world in which we were given no instruction manuals.