I felt like a broken record this morning. N’s work screams “I don’t care about any of this.” His writing looks like he could barely be bothered to hold onto his pencil; I suspect many trained animals could do better. He’s accustomed to his teachers giving up in the face of his silent and polite resistance. I, on the other hand, have very few other students and (apparently) nothing better to do than ensure his future scholastic success.
“Here, Eema.” He thrusts his workbook at me. The sentences don’t start with capital letters, half the words run together, and the letters themselves vary widely in size.
“I can’t read this. It looks terrible. Erase it and do it again.” And he does.
“Here you go, Eema. I’m done.” Slightly better, but not good enough.
“Are you aware that there should be spaces separating the words?” Now he’s avoiding eye contact. “Go back and do it again.”
The third time he has made his corrections by writing over top of his previous work; it’s illegible. The fourth time we review the fact that certain letters should dip below the line, while some should stretch above. “Go back and do it again.”
This is exhausting, even though he’s the one doing the work. All I know is that the time to set expectations is right at the outset, so here I am, holding firm.
Later in the afternoon I’m helping R with her violin practice; she’s working on a Bach minuet. “Wait!” I interject. “That’s a C natural — Low 2. Not high 2. Go back and do it again.”
She rolls her eyes and huffs. Then she keeps right on playing.
“That’s not practicing, you know,” I inform her. “It’s just you bulldozing your way through mistakes. Your daily chart says ‘practice’, not ‘bulldoze.'”
“Fine,” she huffs, “I’ll do it correctly five times.”
“That’s all I ask. Just go back and do it again. And again. And then three more times.” And she did.
Lest I make myself sound like a tiger mom, I have to tell you that I still let some measure (read: a lot) of mediocrity slide. But if they don’t learn how to achieve excellence (or, let’s face it, basic competence) in something now, then they won’t be able to do so even when they want to.
I’m not sure if my kids believe me when I say, “Believe me, I’d rather be outside gardening than in here policing your work,” but it’s true. Not that I don’t want to spend time with them, but I’d rather not have all our interactions be adversarial.
And yet… I want them to learn how to do things well. So I’ll go to bed now. Tomorrow I’ll wake up bright and early — and do it again.