do your best

My son took his third-grade teacher literally. She set-up a self-paced program of packets of lessons for reading and arithmetic and told the students they had to complete at least one page in math every day.

My son did just that – and spent the rest of his time reading books and magazine several grades above him. By March, he had fallen way behind his capability and his grade level in both subjects – but boy! he had read some good books.
I was not too worried about his reading. From conversations about magazine articles he had read I knew his comprehension level, but mathematics – that was a different story.

Math builds one skill on another and competency increases with daily practices.
When my husband and I realized how little he had done with the self-paced program, we decided we needed to supervise a bit more.

We sat done with our nine-year-old and told him he was to bring his arithmetic book home every night to work on until he caught up. We challenged him to do more than necessary and aim to complete the book. Looking over the book, we figured he would need to do at least six units every day. We promised him a big prize if he completed the book before the end of the school year. And then we stepped back.
In April and March, he tore into math with a vengeance. With very little other input he handed the teacher bundles of completed chapters in March and April.
She changed the rules and told him, “You have to do the work at school.”
We cheered him on to keep up the good work in class.

Near the end of the school year, I wrote about his learning adventures to my grandmother – a former teacher, “He did four pages at school on Monday, seven the next day and nine yesterday and was disappointed that he wasn’t allowed to skip recess in order to finish up the last five in the chapter.”

Ahead of our suggested goal for the week, he whizzed through the lessons and absorbed the math skills like a sponge.

About that time he attended a Father and Son Banquet with his dad and brothers. The speaker that evening evidently emphasized James 4:17 (NIV): “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.”

As my son reported his math progress the next day, he added, “I’ve been sinning. In James it says ‘if you can do something and know how, but don’t, that’s sinning.”
“I was impressed that he took that principle for himself,” I added in my letter to my grandmother,

He kept on applying the principle. By the end of the school year, he had completed the entire book and earned the big prize – a balloon bouquet with enough balloons to share one with each member of his class.

He continued to excel in mathematics through school, breezing through some complicated mathematics courses in college.

These days, as a home-based computer contractor he paces himself every day – with a much bigger incentive than a balloon bouquet to share – he supports his family – keeping them fed, clothed and housed very adequately.

(Joan Hershberger is a reporter at the News-Times. E-mail her at