No More Molasses Classes
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How can parents actively engage their children in education when they're not at school?
A: The most important thing that parents can do is to not lose their temper when they help kids with homework. Most often it's the parents who are the ones becoming frustrated -- not the kids -- and their attitude and negativity is impressed upon the child.
As the parent, you've got to stay positive, happy, and you have to show that you really want to work on a project with your child. You've got to make it fun. If the child is really being difficult, then you've got to find a change of pace. Maybe you take them to a local museum, or to a Starbucks, and sit in a corner and do the work there. Tell him, "You know what, if we work on this assignment for one solid hour, we're going to go out and get banana splits, or I'll let you watch TV for 30 minutes." Or, "If we can work on this for two solid hours, I'll take you to the movies." Show them that if they work really hard and focus, then there will be a reward.
A parent can't cave in and say, "You did okay," when the child really didn't. If a child doesn't work hard, then he can't go to the movies. But the key is that parents need to remain positive. They need to set the tone, be excited and energetic. They can't lose patience but must remain calm.
In terms of doing homework, it helps to have a homework station in your house that is set up with scissors, glue, a calculator, a thesaurus, dictionary, and every possible thing that you think your child might need to do his or her homework. You can even play music. Some parents can't concentrate when there's music playing, but I've learned that some kids enjoy studying more when there's music on, and they retain it more. These days, kids are much more able to multi-task and thrive when they have a lot of things going on simultaneously.
Make every effort to supplement what's going on in the classroom. If you know that your class is about to study the Civil War, and you know there's a movie coming out soon dealing with that, then go see it together. You want to find out what your child is learning in class and make sure that you rent videos, go to museums, or go to hear authors speak on topics that tie in.
School is a 24-hour process. It doesn't end when the child leaves the building. As parents, you can't just say, "That's the school's responsibility." Work with the school.
In "The End of Molasses Classes," you sound as though you're dissuading parents from hiring tutors. Is that accurate?
A: Actually, I'm not saying you shouldn't get a tutor. I'm saying that it's much more effective if the parent is the one that's involved. Parents need to know what's going on in the classroom. If the teacher is willing to let parents come into the classroom and see the content their child is working on, and if the teacher and parent can work together, that's powerful. When a teacher and a parent are working together as a team, that child has no choice but to be successful. That bond is hard to break.
What should parents do when they aren't getting along with their child's teacher?
A: It depends on the situation. In those cases, you still need to support that teacher in front of your child. If a kid comes home with a punishment that you know isn't right, you can't let your child know that you feel that way. You need to go address the issue directly with the teacher.
If there's a classroom situation where your child just isn't learning, that can be harmful. Studies have shown that one year with a bad teacher can take two years with a good teacher for students to catch back up. If it were my child, and I'd talked with the "bad" teacher, and I didn't see that things had improved, I would go to the principal. I would see about getting my child moved to another classroom. Or I might even consider putting my child in another school. You can't allow your child to have a year where the education is going to be detrimental.
Now, if it were a situation where the teacher might not be the best, but they're also not the worst, then that's when you have to work really hard to supplement education in the home. Have study groups with the top-performing students in your child's class. Don't just assume that because your child is making all A's or is on the honor roll that your child is learning all he or she needs to.
I have seen a lot of situations where the instructor is not that great, but their kids are making the honor roll because the teacher knows that as long as the parent sees their child is making honor roll, they'll be happy. Unfortunately what I've seen is that many parents in our country would rather have a kid get all A's than have a kid be pushed by a great teacher and get Cs on their report card. Parents really want that validation.
What can parents in our area glean from the success of The Ron Clark Academy?
A: Parents are the most important teacher in the life of a child. And in The End of Molasses Classes, I have let parents and teachers know 101 ways that we have found to help all of our children be successful, and to have a joy for knowledge. Hopefully through the book parents will be able to see what The Ron Clark Academy did to achieve great success and to help our children have that love of learning, and to incorporate them not only into their own school systems, but into their homes as well.