Quick recap: I received an email from one of my son’s 10th grade teachers, wanting to know why only 8% of his homework had been turned in from the start of the year. Turns out, Dominic’s staying after school to do homework in the library was apparently code for “I’m going to sit and stare at the clock until you come pick me up.” (Click here for part one)
The shock of such a discovery was enough to make me do something drastic; I called his school and asked to shadow him for the day.
Realizing that I had just volunteered to go back to high school clearly was a sign of a stroke, wasn’t it? I couldn’t back down. If I did, my son would know that he could walk away, with no real consequences other than a few bad grades.
The five stages of grief are eerily similar to a 16-year-old sophomore who has just been told his mother is about to go to school with him.
Denial: “Mom, you’re not really going to go to school with me.”
Anger: “MOM! STOP ACTING LIKE THIS!”
Bargaining: “Mom, give me another chance. I swear I won’t let you down again.”
Anger: “MOM! THIS ISN’T FUNNY ANYMORE!”
Depression: (no real words, just a lot of sad looks.)
Acceptance. “Fine. Whatever.”
The next morning he stood by the car, albeit begrudgingly, hat pulled low, and slowly slid into a deep dark silence. He perked up a little when he thought we would be turned away by the guard at the “faculty only” parking lot – but slumped again when he realized that parking exceptions were made for parents intent on following through on their threats.
The receptionist, NOT the person I had spoken with the day before, with widened eyes and a smile said, “Oh. We’ve heard about you…”
Dominic bolted from the office and attempted lose himself in the sea of people. It would have worked too, had he not forgotten that he is almost six-feet tall now, was wearing a bright purple shirt and a black hat with neon colored stars and moons all over it…
I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders and did what I never thought I would do: I went back to high school. These are the lessons I learned:
ENGLISH: I have seen Bill Cosby’s writings in a whole new light. I also learned that Dominic is quiet, a good kid and not a part of the ‘rambunctious’ section of class. When called on, he knows the answers.
BIOLOGY: Not unlike Brussel sprouts, Biology sucks just as much now as it did when I was a kid. The teacher refused to leave her desk and held no control in the class. I can’t tell you what I learned about Dominic; the teacher wouldn’t talk to me.
WORLD HISTORY: The good news is I received an 85% on the exam. The bad news is that chances are history hadn’t changed all that much, so maybe I should have gotten a better grade. I also began to sense a theme when I was told that, though a little on the quiet side, Dominic is a smart kid who knows the answers when called on, he just has trouble turning in his homework.
GEOMETRY: Uh, yeah. My paper from that class is covered in doodles. When the teacher said that she had seen Dominic do more work that day than she had any other, I lost it a little and reminded her that this was her job. Clearly I’m not afraid to make him pay attention, she shouldn’t be either. Call on him, make him give her answers. She seemed shocked, but agreed. Dominic will now be tutored every day after school by Mr. B, a retired Master Sargent. 🙂
LUNCH: Well, there was no ‘parents only’ table available, so I found a teacher who let me back into the building I had managed to lock myself out of. During our walk and talk, she stopped, smiled and said, “You know, you’ve inspired me. I think I’ll go visit my own kid next week.” Oh yeah, I’m a trendsetter.
CULINARY ARTS: I learned that in my day, it was home economics. I also learned that Dominic is hit or miss with his focus. Some days he’s on it, and other days he’s a chatty Cathy.
By the time I left campus, every teacher but one had shaken my hand, said they’d never seen anything like this before, and were impressed that I had taken the time to check on my kid. Assignments that were considered late were turned in anyway. When questioned about it, I responded honestly. “You took the time to teach and assign the project; he owes you the respect of completing it and turning it in. If he doesn’t get credit for it, that’s his fault.”
I think my job there has been done. Dominic will be more productive in class, and I assured him that starting this next quarter, the next time he receives an F, I would be more than happy to visit the school again – and I won’t be anywhere near as quiet about who I am.
We’re parents; not part-timers. School is not a daycare to where you forget about your kids for a few hours a day. I taught Dominic that I am there, I see, I hear and I know. I also taught him that I’m not afraid to do my job. It is on me to make sure he becomes a giving, productive member of society. If that means I miss a day of work to go back to high school, so be it. I can’t not try.
I have to be the best I know how to be; I’ll spring for a good therapist should the school visit have done any real damage. I don’t think it did though and I’ll bet his homework assignments won’t be late again!
Wendy Syler Woodward, 37, has been a single parent for 10 years, with two boys ages 11 and 16. Originally from southern California, Wendy moved her family seven years ago to Phoenix where she manages a law firm for work, writes for fun, and is preparing to go back to college before the end of the year.