Moms (and Dads) on a Mission–Edible Projects (Part 2)

Before the day was over, the mom in yesterday’s blog post received a phone call from the principal telling her no parent had ever before complained about the project. And then the mom received an email from the teacher. Below is an excerpt:

The Teacher Responds to a Parent’s Concerns about Edible Art Projects

…I hear and will take every point you made into consideration. You certainly make valid arguments about parents being overly-involved in student work.

Having said that, I think you had a very limited perspective on today’s event and blew it out of proportion.

First of all, the “offering” was secondary to the viewing of the Iliad poster projects that lined the hallway on the way to the classroom. These were done entirely by students, and almost all completed at school.. There was NO parental involvement whatsoever. These projects will be graded. Were you aware of these?

I assigned the UNGRADED food project to allow the kids to have snacks during the day at school. It was a celebration of the end of a unit of study. I assigned this project because some of my students don’t get great grades on tests and homework. They don’t feel good about their classwork, but they feel great having a party and being creative in other ways.

When I said in my previous email that I thought the project would be fun for parents and students, I meant that the VIEWING would be fun. As I said before, I didn’t intend for parents to be heavily involved. And I think with the exception of a very few projects, parents were not overly involved.

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12 thoughts on “Moms (and Dads) on a Mission–Edible Projects (Part 2)

  1. So, for all the effort the mother put in to writing a respectful, thoughtful letter, she gets told she has “a limited perspective” and “blew everything out of proportion”, and the principal gives her the classic line “no-one else has complained!” (I think what the principal really means is, “I haven’t heard any complaints”, and that’s a true statement because she isn’t listening.)

    And the real purpose of the party was to celebrate the “Iliad poster projects”? What does any child learn from making a poster? It’s not reading, it’s not writing, it’s not art, it’s not discussion. It’s a completely fake make-work assignment whose only purpose is to generate a gradable object. Ugh.

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  2. I had the exact same reaction. So much for all the flattery. Talk about being dismissed and well, bullied. The principal used that classic tired old worn line, meant to intimidate, “no one has ever complained before.” Well, guess what, buddy? Now someone has!

    It is mind boggling how educators are really so out of touch with reality. Believe me, the scene the mother recounted as the boy attempted to craft this art project is repeated in many many homes. Lots of parents pull their hair out the moment the art assignment comes home.

    The teacher was defensive. She didn’t even bother acknowledging the kind words of the parent. She ignored all those gushing compliments, the positive effect she was having on the boy.

    She was defensive, dismissive, curt, almost disrespectful. Gone was the warmth the mother had highlighted in her article.

    Mother who wrote the letter, don’t back down. I attended Back to School Night where one teacher was on her best behavior, full of conviviality, love of her subject, joy of teaching. I met with her a few weeks later, requesting extra time for a project. The reasons for the request were extremely valid, unarguable. Yet she argued anyway.

    Gone was the warmth, the joy, I saw a different side, a defensive one. She’d brought the syllabus in, I smiled and told her I check it often. I stood my ground. Calmly, gently but very firmly. That was my approach. I did not back down. It’s taken me years to reach that full level of confidence.And it worked.

    Don’t back down. The next time you (er, your son) gets a project like this, if you don’t want to do it, don’t do it. Just write lovely teacher another very nice note telling her why, end of story. Your home, your rules. What’s the worst that will happen? Not like the grade’s going on his high school transcript. Don’t put yourself through that and don’t be intimidated. Both educators tried to intimidate you, don’t fall for it.

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  3. Teacher wrote:

    I assigned the UNGRADED food project to allow the kids to have snacks during the day at school. It was a celebration of the end of a unit of study. I assigned this project because some of my students don’t get great grades on tests and homework. They don’t feel good about their classwork, but they feel great having a party and being creative in other ways.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    So the “reward” for lousy grades is to to be given an UNGRADED complicated project to make them feel better about their grades. O K A Y…

    I don’t like grades at all. I’m all for schools who do narrative comments in lieu of grades. But the above is a nice little twist on the whole grading thing.

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  4. If I wrote correspondence with that tone at my place of business, especially to my clients, I’d be seriously reprimanded.

    Clearly, she feels empowered to treat parents with disrespect. Which always seems to be a top-down effect — the principal in this case seems to be a peach as well.

    I think the mom should forward the response to the principal as an example of the disrespectful attitude of the teacher.

    We also had to do an edible project last year. We do way too many projects (I hate them and don’t think they do much to reinforce the actual lesson — you simply learn to build a project if that and it takes away from family time — we do so many projects with my older son that the younger one is discouraged by them and hasn’t even been assigned any yet!), but the edible one just bothered me. My son worked very hard, and no one would eat his. His feelings were hurt.

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  5. Kat, thank you for validating what we all wrote here. That the teacher was disrespectful and it’s even more inappropriate because the mom wrote such a thoughtful, gracious letter. And I loved how you characterized the principal.

    A response like this leaves a parent feeling deflated and beaten down. Perhaps that’s the intent but it’s very sad. Getting a parent to now dislike and ignore you should never be the goal of any teacher. She approached the principal first, who backed her and that bolstered her to write a rude dismissive letter. What price power and compliance?

    Kat, I agree with you how time consuming and arduous these projects are. And this coming from a mom whose child is actually very artistic and creative. Imagine how we would have felt if she couldn’t handle them. And the flip side to that is perfectionism. My daughter can’t just whip out one of these. They would consume vast amounts of time and had no educational value period. I know parents of children, equally talented in other arenas, just not art, who dreaded these art projects. For the principal to assert that no one has complained (implying they are never a problem for anyone!) shows just how clearly out of touch he is. Or pretending to be clueless.

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  6. This story is a classic example of why “homework” is a bad idea. I am sure the teacher did not intend to cause problems, all she wanted was snacks. She did state that a bag of Oreos would be fine. I am sure she did not expect parents to help create such elaborate projects. (Although my bet is that she probably gushed and ooohed over the more creative projects, which unintentionally made the kid who brought the bag of Oreos feel pretty unworthy.)

    This happens all the time. Teachers give students verbal instructions about a project they are to complete at home. Every kid hears and interprets these instructions differently. The teacher may send home a note to parents. Often what is written on the note is just a little different than what was said in class. Say there are 15 kids in the classroom. You will have 15 different scenarios of what will happen when the child gets home.

    Here is just one example (I know this one from experience)

    The note to 1st grade parents says – Students need to make a paper plate puppet of their favorite character from a book. They can use markers, crayons, buttons, yarn, fabric, etc. The puppet is due by the end of the week.

    In class the teacher says – You need to use markers or crayons, no pencils, you can use things like buttons for eyes or yarn for hair. Your puppet needs to be done by Friday, but you can bring it to share with the class before then, if you get it done.

    She then shows students a puppet she made as an example – It is on a white paper plate and has real googly eyes, a button nose, feathers for hair and a tongue depressor for a stick.

    You can only imagine the homework battles over this one.

    What happens if you only have yellow paper plates? What happens when the parent suggests that they draw the eyes with a pencil and then go over it in marker. How many kids will insist that the eyes have to be made out of buttons. How many will want googly eyes and feathers like the teachers puppet. How many kids will say that they HAVE to have it done by tomorrow so they can share it with the class? And how many parents will be heading to the nearest craft store to buy tongue depressors?

    What started as a simple project, can easily turn into a huge battle because the parents were not in the classroom to hear what the teacher said and they did not see the nice “example” puppet that she made, so they have no idea why their 1st grader is throwing such a fit.

    Having worked as a para in the school system, I have since seen all the puppets – The ones where the eyes, nose and mouth are perfectly even (good job, Mom). The elaborate ones with googly eyes, pom-poms and feathers (good job, Dad), I have even seen dog puppets made with real fur. But the puppets I like the best are the ones on the flimsy paper plates with the crooked eyes, circle nose and one big upturned line for a smile, all drawn with a pencil (good job 1st grader!!)

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  7. First, let me say that if I found out afterwards that my child (and I) put all this effort into an UNGRADED assignment, I’d be livid. If the teacher wants snacks, just ask for them. I’m really tired of projects to make the classroom look pretty disguised as assignements.

    Second, this should be brought up not just to the principal (who appears to side with the teacher anyway), but the district administration and the school board (who have very different roles in my county at least). Too often, schools hide behind the “We’ve never heard this complaint before” line…make sure they hear it at all levels.

    Finally, I want to go off on a tangent based on some of the other comments: teachers who are ineffective at communicating with their students. Yesterday I had a conference at school to disenroll one of my kids from one of his G/T classes and an enrichment class (band) for next year because the workload has been intolerable (this was a very painful decision because he is clearly capable of learning at that level, but only at the expense of giving up his childhood).

    One of the comments I made was that I was frustrated that occasionally there would be long-term assignments (good, because we can plan in advance), but instructions for the work was not given until right before it was due (bad, because the time planning goes to waste). The resource teacher said when that happens I should email the teacher because chances are the teacher has been hinting at the and the students just haven’t been getting it. She then went on to give a couple examples, clearly hinting that it was the students’ faults.

    It didn’t occur to me until after I left, but if this is happening regularly and to multiple students, then in my mind the teacher is the problem for not being able to communicate in an age-appropriate manner. Knowledge of the subject is only half–at most–of the equation for a good teacher. The other part is being able to impart that knowledge effectively to the students.

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  8. Matthew — boy do I hear you about taking your kid out of a G/T class. I had to take my daughter out of an accelerated math class because it made her chronically depressed. She was 10 at the time. In our district, “gifted” is confused with “high achieving” (not necessarily the same thing). Then, instead of doing any real thinking about what a gifted kid might need, they just give the G/T kids a whole lot more of the same old stuff, or the same old stuff of the next grade level. Then they congratulate themselves for having so many bright kids in their school, until the parents get fed up and pull them out.

    I also hear you about blaming the student. I refused to sign the last IEP the gifted co-ordinator wrote up because it blamed my daughter for struggling in math class. I told the co-ordinator it was the school’s fault for putting her in the class in the first place. It’s also their fault for putting up with an abusive teacher, but that’s another story.

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  9. Matthew, don’t hold back. Tell us how you REALLY feel. :).

    You write:

    First, let me say that if I found out afterwards that my child (and I) put all this effort into an UNGRADED assignment, I’d be livid. If the teacher wants snacks, just ask for them. I’m really tired of projects to make the classroom look pretty disguised as assignements.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Go for it. Amen. That was my whole point. As said, I’m no slave to grades. But for cryin’ out loud. If there are going to be grades, give me a break. I’d be livid too. The parents and child spend precious hours and hours on an arts project, with no educational value, for no grade, just to pretty up the classroom. Incredulous!

    My advice? Don’t do it. There was a father who wrote recently to say he emails the teacher, telling her why he won’t be doing these projects anymore, and it seems to have worked.

    That’s the solution. If you see no worth in them, don’t do them. Email that it was a gorgeous Sunday afternoon in April and you took off to see the cherry blossoms instead. If you live in DC, your child will benefit far more from your outdoor day trip (Holocaust Museum and Thomas Jefferson Memorial on either side of Tidal Basin) than being stuck at home making a sushi castle complete with a fountain of soy sauce. This isn’t culinary school, it’s elementary.

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  10. Mathew writes:

    Yesterday I had a conference at school to disenroll one of my kids from one of his G/T classes and an enrichment class (band) for next year because the workload has been intolerable (this was a very painful decision because he is clearly capable of learning at that level, but only at the expense of giving up his childhood).

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    My daughter has been in gifted programs her entire school life and has been burdened by a crushing workload. I had to take her out to homeschool for a year because it was the only way she could be simultaneously enriched and not be worked to death. It was the only year she had a true childhood. I tried to remove her from her high school this year but she did not want to leave. I’m still tearing my hair out, trying to figure out a solution.

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  11. All this discussion stirred up very old memories for me from my own childhood. I have a November birthday and went to elementary school in Ontario, Canada in the 60’s. So Kindergarten started at age 4 for me. Then, I guess it was after Grade 1 that they decided I was a smart cookie, so they accelerated me so I did Grade 2 and 3 in one year. Having a child myself now who is 7 and in grade 2, I am mortified to realize that I was 7 years old when I started Grade 4!!! I made it through Grade 4, but then in Grade 5 when most of the kids were 2 years older than me, my mother said she noticed how I wasn’t coping emotionally with it all very well…some school refusal, peer pressure etc. She put me back to do Grade 4 again. She had a battle from the principals for doing it too. My confidence soared after that and school became a happy place for me again.

    It’s kind of sad to think that things haven’t changed much in 40 some years. But the parent factor shines through. We must advocate as parents for our children.

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