Study until it hurts then keep on until it is a joy

The perfect child does not exist, so why is it always a surprise when we discover that our wonderful children have failed? I don’t know, but the day it happened to my daughter she called to ventilate her shock. Her son Eli reported a very low grade on a paper. “The teacher said that most everyone got an A.” His eyes teared, “and I didn’t.” In fact, his grade fell far, far short of an A.

My daughter talked with the teacher, saw the paper and learned he had blatantly not made an effort. She set about to remedy the situation as soon as she got passed her astonishment at his attitude. She wrote me, “I LOVED school. I loved going. I loved learning. I loved tests. I loved telling others about what I had learned. My son does not. He likes to hate it. He screams at math corrections.”

When I told him he had to re-write an entire 12-page research project on ocean animals, he was aghast! Did I really mean it?

Yes, I meant it. He would re-write every bit of it. He had made a 60 on that paper. One tiny point away from failing.

The grade had been recorded weeks ago, but not until I saw his sloppy, careless work did I realize how much work his writing needed. So, every day for the next six days he had to correct and re-write a two-page section of the paper.

The first couple of days were very difficult. Each time I asked him to look at the next correction, he thrashed around at the idea of re-writing the essay and capitalizing words correctly.

“Look at this word. It’s after a period. Is it capitalized?” And the table-shaking spasms began.

The first day, the 100-word paragraph took an hour and a half to correct.

The second day was much the same. I had to sit by Eli the entire 90 minutes each day to make sure he stayed on task.

I was annoyed and infuriated by his reaction. Didn’t he know I was HELPING him? Did he think I WANTED to make him do this? Seriously, did I want to spend more than six hours with him re-writing basic facts about sea animals?

No! So why did I do it?

Because my love and determination are fierce.

I want to be consistent in the way I treat the importance of school, learning and doing things in an excellent way. To me, this ‘stupid’ research paper was putting him on a path of homelessness. If he couldn’t muster the energy to write basic facts carefully, how could he possibly get a job? Ok, that’s a reach. I know he just finished first grade and a lot can happen between now and then, but I can’t help it. That’s how my mind works. I can’t help but see the future implications of my child’s poor choices.

By the third day of revisions, he had resigned himself to the torture and participated with less fuss. The last two days, he came home and told me he had to get his homework done. I was even able to leave him to his re-writes after a joint editing session.

I emailed his teacher so that she could expect to see the revised research project. I knew Eli’s work would not be re-graded, but he needed the catharsis of seeing his teacher’s reaction.

His concerned teacher wanted to make sure I remembered that Eli’s grades do not affect his entrance into medical school…not even remotely. No one but us sees his grades.

What is important for elementary and middle school students is to learn ‘how’ to learn and study. Elementary is the time when students learn how to be in a classroom, learning alongside 20 to 25 of their peers (and all the distractions that entails).

I know all that. After all, my background is in education, but I wanted Eli to be very sure that his efforts do matter. He tried to convince me that this ‘junk’ doesn’t matter, and he doesn’t care.

As his mom, I need him to understand that if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing with excellence: if I care, he will care.

So Eli finished the re-writes and showed his work to his teacher.

The last few weeks of school, his class worked for days on the solar system: learning, writing, and drawing about it.

When he brought home his completed work, he was positively beaming.

He had done an awesome job! All the right capital letters and periods. Sentences naturally flowed from one to the next with coherent thoughts. I read each sentence, making sure to notice all the correct punctuation and capitalizations. His content illuminated interesting facts about each of the planets. His illustrations were detailed. This was indeed his very best work, and the “A+” he earned was proof.

He grinned at his success and I breathed a sigh of relief. Yes, this boy will indeed be employed. He will not live in our attic. He can finish an assignment and do it with flare.

My hope is restored – until we get to cursive handwriting and long-division.”

(Sharon Joy Schulte writes with her mother, Joan Hershberger – a staff writer at the News-Times and author of “Twenty Gallons of Milk and Other Columns from the El Dorado News-Times.” Email her at joanh@everybody.org)

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