Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. In addition to our traditional advice, every Thursday we feature an assortment of teachers from across the country answering your education questions. Have a question for our teachers? Email email@example.com or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.
Is there any sort of preparation I should encourage my eighth grader to do before they start high school this fall? They’re a dutiful, good student, and really responsible. But I can probably count on one hand the number of homework assignments they’ve had this year (they say they finish it all up at school). I’m worried high school is going to be a complete shock. They’re taking two honors classes next year (though have two this year, too, admittedly), and I feel like high school must be harder and more work? Is there anyone I should reach out to at my kids’ high school to ask about the anticipated workload, even though I’m not even really sure what to do with this information? When they say they’re bored, I just keep saying to enjoy it while it lasts. Right?
Dear Anxious Prepper,
I doubt the workload will change drastically from eighth to ninth grade, particularly if your child isn’t diving into a more difficult courseload. You could reach out to a guidance counselor at the high school as they might be able to provide some insight into the work. Also, pay close attention to prerequisite assignments like summer reading. Anecdotally (I’m an English teacher), I’ve noticed that ELA Departments that assign more summer reading tend to assign more homework throughout the year. But you’re right that there’s not much you can do to prepare your child for a change in the amount of homework they are tasked with completing each night. No matter what, there will be a period of adjustment. While I personally tend to favor letting kids figure things out and encourage student-teacher conferences over parent-teacher ones, I teach mostly upperclassmen. Many of my colleagues who work with freshmen say that there is an almost inevitable and ubiquitous period of adjustment during that first quarter of ninth grade, whether it be flagging grades, social withdrawal, or behavior problems. Freshmen year: parental vigilance is advised.
Seriously though, my real concern is your child’s boredom. Homework or not, being bored means they are unchallenged and most likely not learning. It could also be a sign that they are unmotivated or unengaged. Not to roll the proverbial snowball down the hill, but “dutiful, good student(s)” can often end up making some poor choices when bored.
While attitudes and policies on homework change from one school or teacher to the next, the truth remains that students need to be challenged with rigorous and exciting material. Consider moving your child into more honors classes or even challenging them with an AP course (most high schools offer AP Human Geography in ninth grade). Even if the homework load doesn’t increase, I hope they find a more rewarding experience.
—Mr. Vona (high school teacher, Florida)
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I’m looking for an end-of-year teacher gift for an incredibly important teacher. Due to my kids and our school structure, we’ve had her for the past three years. I really feel like we’ve been through an experience together. I’d love to give her something really meaningful and am looking into it now so that I have time to get it together. I already have plans to give her gift certificates and am writing a heartfelt note.
Dear Thoughtful Parent,
It warms my heart just to hear that you are doing this! Thank you for being such a supportive parent.
Heartfelt notes are the most meaningful and rewarding gift. I keep ALL of them: every gracious note from a parent, every testimony from a student. They bring me the joy and affirmation that I need to keep doing the intangible things that build connections between teacher and student.
That being said, and while the gift cards are always appreciated, if you can think about the things that this teacher personally likes and values, those are the gifts that say I see you. For example, I’m an English teacher and occasionally students or parents will give me a book. Either they thought about me and what kind of book I would like, or they gifted me their own personal favorite, which after a period of me sharing literature with them, shows they view our relationship as not just a one-way treat. When those books also have a heartfelt note written inside the front cover… those have become cherished treasures of my time as an educator.
Whatever you decide, I’m sure your gift will reflect the warmth of your sentiment and will brighten this special’s teacher day. She’ll know how much she meant to your family.
—Mr. Vona (high school teacher, Florida)
As I prepare to send the first of my children to our public high school, I recently discovered that the high school coaches of at least two sports (and I believe more) coach independent travel teams on the side. I don’t see this as an issue on its own—I know that teachers are grossly underpaid, and I understand the need to supplement their income. But these teachers basically pick the high school junior varsity teams from among the players they become familiar with through these independent travel teams. This seems so unfair from an equity perspective—joining these travel teams costs thousands of dollars. Even among those who can pay for them it’s absurd because kids are effectively not allowed to focus on other sports (or even choose another different travel team they’d like to play on) just to ensure they can make their local high school team. I recognize high school teams can be competitive, but this puts a whole new spin on it all for me. I shouldn’t have to fill these coaches’ pockets in the hopes of effectively buying my kid a spot on the (JV!) team.
What is the best recourse here? My child, of course, does not want me to get involved. Should I start investigating it more thoroughly? From what I can tell, the coaches throw in 1-2 players who are not from their team as a sort of CYA move. Should I raise the issue with the administration? Sit by and do nothing? Other parents I’ve raised it to say “it happens everywhere,” but that hardly seems right, and it all makes me so angry.
Dear Sports Nuts,
I am not a coach myself, but I do know that it is very common in many states for high school athletes to play on both a school and a travel team. I don’t think it’s accurate to characterize this system as “buying” a spot on the high school team. The players in travel leagues are typically very athletic and talented at their sport, which is why they’ve made the team. They are also getting a lot of coaching, practice, and game time beyond what kids who only play for their school get, so it’s logical that they will often be better than their peers who aren’t members of such leagues. It’s likely that if there were try-outs for the junior varsity team with a coach who had no affiliation with any private league, the kids on the travel team would make the school team based on their athletic ability.
I’m not saying this is fair, I’m just saying that it probably doesn’t constitute the racket you seem to think it is. I’d characterize travel sports leagues as unfair in the same way so many educational issues are unfair. Some kids have private tutors, violin lessons, and memberships to museums; they participate in enriching summer camps and have shelves full of high-quality books in their homes. Other kids have none of those opportunities. Heck, some kids have no food in their fridge.
Varsity sports are extremely competitive, and maintaining that competitive edge is a high priority for coaches—not to mention the parents of players. If you want to challenge the system in your local high school, steel yourself for the long haul. As passionately you feel about this issue, there will be a host of people with an equal zeal for maintaining the status quo.
But if what you really want is to increase access to sports activities for more kids in the school, consider starting an intramural league or sponsoring a non-varsity sport (something like ultimate frisbee or kayaking). This could meet the needs of kids who want the benefits of joining a team in high school without the high cost and time commitment.
I hope your child has a great freshman year and that they find an activity they enjoy doing with their friends at school.
—Ms. Holbrook (high school teacher, Texas)
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My daughter is a freshman in high school, and she recently got an assignment in life sciences that seems inappropriate. The assignment is for the kids to identify someone in their family who died of cancer, and then students are supposed to research that kind of cancer and create a poster presentation to display for the entire school. This seems like a terrible idea, and an invasion of privacy. Should I talk to the teacher?