Dana Faletti

Dana Faletti

Contributor

Dear school,

I would like my children back.

My real children.

Not the phantom girl with the dark circles beneath her eyes and the pout that has blossomed on her lips.

Not the hormonally-augmented twelve year-old who huffs at me over the phone when I tell her I cannot bring her curling iron to school at the last minute for picture day because I’m already volunteering at her sister’s school.

Not the kid who apologizes through perplexed tears for the slice of attitude she’s served up.

Not the little one who says she’s sad but doesn’t know why.

I know why.

These girls are exhausted and overworked and cracking under the pressure of being in 1st, 5th, and 7th grade.

Since school started in August, I’ve seen a marked change in my kids. They’re moody, stressed out, whiny and just plain grumpy a lot of the time. I credit part of this change to the fact that they are just so tired. My oldest catches her bus at 6:30 in the morning, which means she has to be up by 5:30 in order to get dressed and eat a breakfast on the run. She, like most kids her age, is involved in activities that sometimes don’t end until 9:00 p.m. This means she is lucky to get into bed by 10:00 and fall asleep before 11:00. Studies show that kids her age need 9-10 hours of sleep, and she’s hardly getting that.

Photograph via Carlos Martinez

It’s not only the schedule that is killing my kids but also the expectations. I’m dumbfounded by what schools expect of not only kids but also of parents.

The homework is brutal. Some nights she will come home with nothing, and then all on the same night she has 3-4 hours of assignments and studying. Some teachers don’t give study guides out until the night before a test, which teaches kids to cram. Much of the work is expected to be completed online, which causes a problem anytime there is a technical hiccup in my house, or God forbid, my daughter forgets one of the ninety bazillion passwords she needs to log in to the online system. It’s a lot to ask of a twelve year old.

It’s also a lot to ask of a first grader.

My first grader’s teacher sends home the spelling words on paper thank goodness, but several classrooms in our district use an online letter to inform parents of their child’s spelling words. When my ten-year-old was in first grade, I had a real problem with this. Not only was I expected to print the list and approach my daughter with the words, but the assignments were online as well. Instead of good old-fashioned spelling homework (word searches, write the word three times pages, etc…) my first grader was expected to go online to a spelling website to practice her words. Most kids are pretty web-savvy these days, but this site was complicated enough and required an amount of reading that would hinder any first grader’s ability to navigate it independently, which meant I had to hover over the computer to get my daughter from page to page.

In my opinion, first grade is the time when young children learn how to bring their work home, take it out, and complete it independently. Homework should be independent. With everything online, the district was taking the ownership of the spelling assignment away from the student and putting into the parents’ hands.

No thank you.

When I was in school, if I missed a day, I was expected to go to my teachers and get the work I missed. When my 7th grade daughter was absent during a class, she was asked to go online and actually take the class she missed when she was out sick. Some of my friends’ children had to go online and take a class on a day when school was not in session – on an inservice day.

NO VACATION FOR YOU, YOU CRAZY KIDS!

This year, my 7th grader came home with instructions to perform an online test over the weekend. It was a classroom assignment and not just for my daughter. Parents and students were asked to sign a paper that basically said we promised the students wouldn’t cheat or use any study materials while taking the test.

So, now I’m an exam proctor.

The test was for social studies. My daughter had to fill in a map of the countries and capitals in the Middle East from memory. Interestingly enough, she really can’t identify the states and capitals of her own country for memory, but I digress. I was irked mostly because weekends are for chilling with family, not for taking tests online. This is elementary school. Keep the tests in the classrooms until college, please.

Speaking of tests…

Our kids and teachers spend an insane amount of instructional time preparing for state assessments as per district administration policy and because of the pressure to perform.

This is baloney, and I am tired of it.

My middle child takes an extra math class at school. It’s not graded; it’s just a support class. She was placed into this class last year to provide her with extra instruction, because she was having trouble in the regular math class. Last year, the teacher in extra math worked closely with the regular classroom math teacher. They used the same curriculum and language, and he pre-taught, retaught and reviewed all of the material that was covered in regular math.

My daughter excelled in this program. It really worked for her. It made sense.

This year, instead of using the philosophy that was successful, the district used test scores to assess the extra math students’ “holes” and teach to these “holes.” Sometimes the extra math instruction aligns with the classroom material, and sometimes it does not. Needless to say, this extra math is not helping my daughter achieve success in regular math class, which actually is graded. Last year, she earned A’s in math, because the system worked for her. This year, she is earning C’s.

I have a strong suspicion that the extra math students are being prepped for statewide math assessments rather than being supported in their regular math classes. No one has said as much, but this is what I see when I read between the lines. When I complained to the school that my daughter received a service that worked for her last year, and now, it’s basically been ripped away, they suggested outside tutoring.

In other words, my ten-year-old, who already spends 2 hours a day doing math, is supposed to spend another few hours a week doing math with a tutor.

Because kids don’t need down time, right? They just need to be successful.

And to BEHAVE!

Early elementary school is all about teaching children to toe the line. In my daughter’s Kindergarten and first grade class, there is a behavior system in which every student is publicly rated each day based on their behavior, using a color chart. There are 7 colors to the chart. Each child starts on green and can clip up towards pink or down towards red depending on his or her behavior during the day. At the end of the day, their individual calendars are filled in with the behavior color of that particular day and sent home for the parent to sign. If the child accumulates enough acceptable colors, he/she receives a prize. The color charts are in full view of all students throughout the school day, and they provide endless gossip material for the Kindergarten carpool and the recess field.

“Jackie is on red. She’s so bad. She’ll never get a prize.”

“Did you see that Lily got pink again? No fair! I did the same nice thing she did yesterday, and I stayed on green.”

And the tears ensue at home.

“Everyone got a prize but me!”

Photograph via JJ Thompson

I cannot express the amount of distaste I have for this system of behavior management. I believe it stresses kids out, forces them to focus on their behavior instead of engaging them in instruction, and encourages gossip and unfriendly competition. Also, teachers who are doing their jobs (teaching) cannot possibly rate every child fairly and appropriately – leading to kids feeling slighted and getting angry and jealous with each other.

I refuse to sign the behavior chart. I’ve told my daughter to pay attention and do what the teacher says, to be kind to others and not worry about what color she’s on. Schools don’t like it when you don’t conform, but I can’t be part of that system. I just can’t get on board with its philosophy.

Here is my last beef:

Lord forbid you decide to take a family vacation during the school year. Not only will you be required to provide the reason you’re taking kids out of school for vacay instead of waiting for summer (because your family is overworked and overstressed, not to mention prices are better during the off season,) but your kid will be doing make-up work until Kingdom Come. The value of a family vacation is immeasurably greater than anything my children learn within the walls of their schools. Schools should encourage family vacations and facilitate rather than penalize students who need to make up work they’ve missed for a family vacation. Family vacations boost mental health, and God knows our youth can use a boost in that area.

At some point in the last few years, the line between home life and school life has blurred. School is sneaking its way into home time, and families are suffering because of this. Kids are suffering.

Between the crazy amounts of homework, the pressure to excel on both classroom assignments and standardized tests and the sheer heaviness of the schedule, kids and parents are stressed out.

Dear School,

Take it easier on my kids.

Try teaching them that there is value outside of being the best at math or science.

Try reminding them that they are humans, not robots, and that humans need down time.

Try modeling kindness and empathy and understanding, instead of encouraging competition at every level.

And remember, your presence in my house is welcomed for a period of time, but it’s not a free-for-all. Just because my kids can access you 24/7 doesn’t mean they should. They need to be free of you for a few hours each day. They need to sink into the comfort of home and family and let themselves relax. They need friends and music and movies and quiet and sleep.

And above all, school, remember this.

These girls may spend several hours of their days with you, but – make no mistake.

They’re my kids, not yours.

And I’d like them back.

*Note* I live in a great school district. My kids are blessed to have great teachers, state-of-the-art instructional equipment, and an amazing array of choices when it comes to electives. They have so many opportunities because of where they go to school. Still, the system is broken. I see schools and society in general pushing for achievement, higher scores – bigger, better, more. It’s wearing on our kids’ spirits. I would like to see schools and school-sponsored activities become more conscious of family time. Maybe that means keeping online assignments and interaction to a minimum. Maybe it just means supporting instead of penalizing families who take their kids on a week-long vacation during the school year to spend time together, bonding in a way that they can’t when they’re at home working and going to school. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I am sure there are other parents out there who feel like I do.

Any ideas as to how we can make it better for our kids? I want to hear yours. Please speak up!

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More about Dana Faletti: Dana Faletti is the author of The Whisper Trilogy, a young adult paranormal romance and Beautiful Secret, a sweeping adult drama of family secrets and forbidden love that is set to be released by Pandamoon Publishing in Summer of 2016. Dana blogs about whatever inspires her at, writes poetry as a survival skill and loves to connect with other writers both online and in person. When she’s not writing, Dana can be found reading on her kindle, cooking something delicious, or daydreaming about her upcoming travel destinations. She lives in in a suburb of Pittsburgh with her husband, three young daughters, and a hypo-allergenic Siberian Forest cat named Fluffy G. Check out her website for more information about Dana and her books. You can also find out more about her books on Amazon.