Moms and Dads on a Mission–Denver, North Carolina

Today’s guest blogger, Deidra Hewitt, lives in Denver, North Carolina, where she has two children in a public elementary school. A stay-at-home mom with a Bachelor’s degree in Communications and who took eight Masters classes in Early Childhood Education, she “would prefer that my children’s school stick to educating them. I do not feel that my children’s school has to educate me in the art of parenting, or that I should be doing half of my children’s teaching, at home!”

I once wrote about those pesky contracts that teachers expect parents to sign, but I never really noticed how many signatures teachers request, perhaps because elementary school is now a distant memory for me. Deidra gave me something new to think about.

My Children’s Teachers Require My Signature
More than 400 Times a Year
by Deidra Hewitt, Denver, North Carolina

I’d like to know when signatures on pieces of paper became equated to proof of good parenting. My children attend a public elementary school. I am required to provide between 400 and 500 signatures, per child, per year. For all of the chatter about parents being “partners” in their children’s education, and how many times we’re “invited” to “support” our kids in various ways, this is clearly not the case, when the school is requiring, not requesting, my signature.

I was informed this year, that the policy for my 5th grader included punishment for him, if I forgot or refused to sign things like planners, reading logs, and Friday folders. Apparently it doesn’t matter whether I agree with the policies, find them effective for my family, or see specific requests as redundant. Regardless of how involved I am in my child’s school and life, a signature is regarded as proof positive that I’m doing my job. If I don’t want to sign something, then my child will suffer the consequences.

I am treated like an errant student who must prove to the big, all-wise, all-knowing school that I’m aware of my children’s homework, make sure that they read, and look at their completed work. Not to mention the contract that I’m supposed to sign, at the beginning of the year, promising that I’ll do my job to provide a good home environment, and adequate rest for the children!

Of course the school kindly has the teacher sign that he/she will do the job that they’re being paid for, with my tax money. Isn’t that something that I ought to be able to take for granted?

I have worked with the principal to agree not to punish my child, if a signature is missing this year. My son will not face consequences (pulled slips, silent lunch, non-participation in Fun Friday) by not having a parent signature, but I still feel dejected and disappointed with the fact that the policy remains in place, at all. I have no voice in my school, and certainly do NOT feel like a partner with them.

86 thoughts on “Moms and Dads on a Mission–Denver, North Carolina

  1. Deidra, I was wondering about that too, noticing you still haven’t gotten an answer. There’s a lot of dancing around, but you want to start talking and working on solutions.

    When it comes to the mountains of paperwork generated by all these signatures, something obvious puzzles me. We’ve had some teachers on this blog say, don’t blame us, we have less time to teach because we have all this administrative stuff to take care of. So then we suggest, get rid of the fluff, the time wasters, the paperwork and please, just teach, and we are told, you are rude and disrespectful. We are trying to help you. On that same vein, I read recently that most teachers don’t read the mountains of words kids write. Try that on for size. The children are up half the night, blearily cranking out essays, and many teachers don’t even bother to read the whole darned thing.

    Deidra, you are more magnanimous than me. My child is older, I’ve seen too much. It’s easy to get cynical. Or worn out. But I’m all for dialogue. As long as somebody’s actually listening.

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  2. HomeworkBlues…I really appreciate your support and feedback. You are right…I haven’t been at this as long as you. Maybe I’ll get lucky and see something change, before I’m completely worn out, too. Any idea whether there is any research at all, concerning parental signatures equating (or not equating) to improvement in parent relations, or student success? I’d truly like to get to the source of where this idea came from, and why it’s taken off around the country. Thanks 🙂

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  3. Deidra, I admire your doggedness. And you know, it’s the sort of thing I want to research too, when my daughter finally graduates high school.

    But don’t give up the homeschool alternative. My homeschool friends post pictures of pumpkin farms and hikes and jumping in streams this week. Wait till autumn truly makes its debut with all its vibrant colors and crisp air.

    There is just so much joy and passion for learning in this world. We are told it’s not really okay to feel all that joy, that our kids must learn to do boring things. But I see these other children, happy, go lucky, rested and eager, and it’s heartbreaking because it is what every child should experience, not just the homeschooled ones.

    Homeschool friends use their time wisely and if you told them they should spend a certain amount of time every day doing busy work for no other reason than, because I said so, don’t question authority, they’d burst out laughing. Who has that kind of time to waste when a whole world of streams, books, science experiments, building a ship out of leggos, constructing a forte in the woods, going to a midday ballet, doing a math lesson figuring out the city street grid, checking out that Picasso exhibit, curling up in a fuzzy chair in the library and not budging for hours, and dying to touch that snake on the rock.

    I feel it’s the last place in this country where a kid can still truly be a kid. What I loved most about our sabbatical is how pure and fresh the air suddenly felt, not poisoned by all this rancor and stress.

    Look, initially I would have been happy with school teaching and me parenting. That is the unspoken deal but somehow the contract got broken. Despite the fact I spent a great many years signing contracts!

    School should do school and teach so that I can “homeschool on the side.” But once that balance was gone, once schoolwork crept into every corner of our lives, eating up almost every minute, always hanging over our heads; every afternoon, every evening, every night, every weekend, every holiday, every vacation and even summer wasn’t sacred anymore, that’s when I realized, what choice do I have? It’s either my family or school. Somehow someone decided it was not okay to have both.

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  4. zzzzz: I would love to know how often “loser” parents sign things. In the event that their unfortunate children have a school with policies like ours, the children are punished at school, in addition to suffering the pain of having uninvolved, neglectful parents. I am still waiting to hear from anyone who can site research, indicating that hundreds of signatures equal more involved parents, or more academically successful students. There’s alot of quiet on that front, though.

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  5. Just heard a new rationale for the “sign or your child will be punished” policy. My neighbor’s son is in 6th grade, in middle school. He was punished, because my neighbor forgot to sign his planner. When she questioned the teacher AND principal about it, they explained that the policy is there, to teach the kids responsiblity. They stated that, “It is the children’s responsibility, to make sure that the parent signs the planner.” I have a FUNDAMENTAL difference of opinion, with this philosophy. In the same way that I do not expect my minor child to take it upon himself to tell a teacher what to do, I do not expect him to tell me what to do. My husband and I are the bosses, in our home. When my child behaves at school, does his work, brings home and completes his homework, and returns it to school, he is being as responsible as a child has to be.

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  6. I honestly don’t understand how this got started or why anyone thinks it’s OK. These poor kids! What are we doing to them? Why does anyone think it’s reasonable to punish a child because of what their parents did or didn’t do?

    You don’t teach kids “responsibility” by punishing them for trivial offenses, or even worse, their parents’ trivial offenses. You just make them miserable.

    Really, I’m speechless, or the keyboard equivalent. It’s just so crazy.

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  7. Deidra, and I love your name! I like it better than DieRdra. No one pronounces that first R anyway, good you took it out!

    The mere notion that children are now instructed to discipline their own parents sends a chill up my spine. What is this, Lord of the Flies?

    Remember the story of how my daughter got an F in 7th grade because I didn’t sign that “contract” fast enough? It was sitting in my recalcitrant printer for three days, daughter repeatedly asked for it (see, she’s responsible!) and I kept saying, honey, don’t worry, I’ll get it.

    Then she got that big red angry F. Guess who she was angry at? The teacher? Well, she didn’t take it out on him and we want that, right? Despite what a teacher asserted here earlier, that we are teaching our children to be disrespectful, my kid’s one of the best behaved in school on the planet. Not always at home, but in school, quiet and cooperative.

    So guess who she took it out on? You guessed it, ME! She was angry with me and I had to do a lot of damage control over that. It is beyond unethical to turn children against their very parents, checking up on them to make sure they do their job (er, the school’s job). At the very least, do no harm. School’s have no business causing rifts between parent and child. Our jobs are hard enough in this frenetic culture. How about our attention is diverted to keeping our jobs and feeding our children?

    My advice? Don’t sign what you don’t want to sign. Write a note. A well crafted intelligent screed, stating your position clearly. You are not signing anything and you you are stating (not asking) that your child will not be punished. You did not forget, you are not irresponsible but here are the reasons you object. And have a nice day.

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  8. Thanks, HomeworkBlues 🙂 I actually think that I finally have a final draft of a letter ready, to send to my School Board, and Supt. I’ll post the outcome, once I have it. I’m trying to abolish the policy, county wide, otherwise, I will encounter it again, in middle school, next year.

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  9. Oh…and Sorry…If you’re still checking in on this blog…With regards to your #38 post…I actually have a suggestion… I really like the reflection log idea, used by a 4th grade teacher, named Angela Bunyi. It can be found at http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3750268 I would still be against punishing children, if their parents failed to fill out this once weekly form. I believe however, that if the “uninvolved” parents filled out even one of these in any given year, it would provide a teacher with more information than a thousand mindless signatures. To me, these logs indicate a true partnership, between parent and teacher, with the best interest of the student clearly in mind.

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  10. Deidra:

    I researched our policies with other teachers in our district and there are only 5 teachers in the entire district that require homework signatures…and not for every assignment.

    Please know that my responses were never meant as an attack and I appeciate your not treating them as such.

    It sounds like your problem, while it may be in many districts, is not across this wonderful profession.

    For those that seem to have a general grudge against the profession because we have it “easy” and “are overpaid”, look a little closer.

    I won’t be visiting the blog again. Best of luck with your district….you sound like a great Mom. Your kids are very lucky…I only wish all the parents of my students were as caring.

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  11. Sorry: Although you probably won’t read this, I’d like to thank you, for the information. I am delighted to know that there are districts/teachers, who are willing to involve parents/families in ways other than “sign or your children will suffer the consequences” policies. I am hoping that my district will be among them, in the near future. 🙂

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  12. Dear Sorry, another Teacher: I hope you do come back and continue to participate in the discussions here. In fact, I invite you to send me a guest blog entry so that your concerns can be put in a more prominent position. Also, if you take a look under the category “Teachers Speak Out,” you’ll notice that I like to feature teachers whenever I can. I have several blog posts by teachers lined up for the coming weeks. It’d be nice to put you in that line.

    Good luck to you.

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  13. Answering the questions, perhaps late:

    Yes, the one signature a week is all I ask, aside from a signature on an occasional progress report if the kid is failing. (You do want to be notified of that, right?)

    I have to say, in my years of teaching, I’ve never had a kid say their parent forgot to sign a reading log. I’ve had forged signatures from kids who didn’t tell their parents they were supposed to read and then didn’t.

    I accept reading logs late, (as I do other work) if the signature is forgotten.

    And no, it is not okay for your kid to read 5 hours and not turn a log in. It’s great that the kid is reading, but… Does your employer pay you if you work hourly, put in your 5 hours, and not turn in your time card? Is it okay to write a report and just not turn it in? After all, you did the work. I don’t think writing down that you read one hour of Harry Potter a day is too much to ask, or that it should make any kid miserable about reading. It also helps me to know if kids are reading books at a good level for them. Most of you who read here seem pretty bright, but you’d be surprised how many 4th graders are reading 1st grade level books, and then their parents wonder why their learning is stagnated.

    Reading logs are something to show administration when they ask what homework is being assigned. Like it or not, sometimes we are asked to document what work we are doing in life–both me and the kids.

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  14. Deidra,

    I didn’t answer before because I rarely come back and recheck comments. I’m busing reading those essays that my kids write (in class) and making meticulous comments to help them with rewrites. You know, those papers a lot of comments seam to think teachers don’t read.

    I really wonder when both teachers and parents will quit sniping at each other and realize we’re on the same team–then work together for a solution. I live on both sides of that fence, and neither group seems to have enough respect for the other.

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  15. CA Teacher writes:
    ********************
    And no, it is not okay for your kid to read 5 hours and not turn a log in. It’s great that the kid is reading, but… Does your employer pay you if you work hourly, put in your 5 hours, and not turn in your time card? Is it okay to write a report and just not turn it in? After all, you did the work.
    *********************

    For the umpteenth time, school is not a corporate job, the kids are not employees, and the teacher is not the boss. The purpose of school is to help kids learn. If a child is reading, it isn’t her job to prove it to you. It’s your job to figure it out, and encourage and support her to read more.

    And it is not unusual at all for the brightest kids, who have learned the material, to refuse to turn the work in. It’s because the school system, full of teachers demanding they account for work that is really beneath their intelligence, starts to feel like an intolerable insult.

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  16. CA Teacher — I would like to add that a child who reads for 5 hours may want to own her reading. That is, she doesn’t want to turn it into something she did for you. That’s a perfectly good reason for her not to turn in a log.

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  17. This is what we deal with in our house.

    My kids are taught to respect their teachers and do what they say. Unfortunately, I find it hard to defend the teachers when they demand detailed “accountability” from students regarding what, when, and how they read on their own time, in their own home. Kids are smart and find this insulting, no matter how much I smile and encourage them to be positive about it.

    I offer every teacher face-to-face assurance that my children love to read and are reading a great deal at home.

    I am told in response that that is not enough. They demand that children create a paper trail for them, presumably to appease their administration.

    How has this gone wrong for so long?

    Of course I worry that many people (children and adults) do not read. Don’t put this problem on the backs of the children who do, however, because it’s a great way to make them resent teachers and learn to hate reading. I have faith that teachers can develop a better approach.

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  18. CA Teacher: I get the feeling that you couldn’t care less what I would like to be, or not like to be, notified about. I can tell you that noone in my public school system has ever asked me, either. Since someone has to be involved in policy making (and in my case, I know that the parents aren’t), I have to assume that the teachers are. They are given the respect to make and enforce, whatever policies they’d like, regardless of what I think, feel, believe, or research. This enforcement extends to punishing my children, should I disagree and not comply. In my view, this is showing parents no respect, whatsoever. I have read other posts/blogs on this website, and am delighted to see that there are teachers, who are willing to work together with parents, to come up with solutions. My post #61 attaches a link, to one teacher’s ideas, which I much prefer to reading logs/planners. You are certainly entitled to agree to disagree that there are no better ways to encourage reading, than reading logs. There are teachers who would agree with you, and those who wouldn’t. Based on my personal experiences, I have found more parents who would prefer an alternative to reading logs. It doesn’t sound like you punish the children, of the parents, who disagree with you, so I certainly applaud you for that.

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  19. Peggy: I like your use of the phrase, “paper trail”. Isn’t that what all of this is really about?…A paper trail that winds it’s way back up to the Federal Government, to satisfy the “No Child Left Behind” guidelines, to insure funding for the schools? All of the micromanaging/signature mandates are not in place for the sake of individual children’s successes, they are a way to prove accountability, to obtain money. Parents provide proof to teachers, who provide proof to administrators, who provide proof to superintendents, etc., up the line. I think we’d all agree that our schools have to be funded. Personally, I believe that there has to be a better way. I find the current state of affairs very sad.

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  20. Dear people who comment here,

    I am an anti-homework teacher and mom. However, after reading comments here and in other places, I get the distinct feeling that you all are so completely anti-teacher that there is absolutely nothing that any teacher, anywhere could do to make you happy.

    Sorry you don’t like to believe me, but I’m a good teacher. I have some parents who’ve asked me to assign more homework, but I explain why they don’t. People request me to be their child’s teacher. Kids who’ve gone on come back to visit me. My kids learn their stuff and do well on standardized testing. Doggonit, I’m a nice person, a good teacher, and people like me.

    Sorry, Sara, but you’ve lost another commenter on your site. Too many of your readers are just plain vicious and unwilling to believe that any teacher, anywhere, could possibly have good motives.

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  21. And Dee whoever, you’re showing a lot of ignorance. Teachers absolutely do NOT make policy. We wish we were asked, too.

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  22. We’re not anti-teacher. We’re anti-homework. We’re not making comments about you as people because we don’t know you. We’re commenting on behaviour from teachers we have encountered, that we feel as parents, are distructive to our children. Why are we not permitted to counter?

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  23. Well, although I made reference to the feeling that I got from some posts, which contained sarcastic comments in parenthesis, I don’t believe that I made any personal attacks on anyone, teachers or not. I thought I made very clear that I have family and friends who are teachers. I wrote posts about my life being shaped by teachers, among others. I referenced a link, to a teacher whose ideas I like, very much.

    I apologize for my shortcomings, concerning my expertise on policy… although I don’t believe that I claimed to be an expert. Unless I’m very much mistaken, Superintendents and School Board members, very often, have educational and/or teaching backgrounds. Since I mentioned that those in my district haven’t consulted parents about policy, I continue to believe that they have only collaborated with teachers. If they collaborated with noone, and the teachers WISHED they’d had input, the vehemence with which these teachers enforce these policies surprises me.

    The topic of my post was a simple one, really. Teachers in my district are enforcing policies, which punish children, for the actions of their parents. I find this inherently wrong, and counter-productive. I appreciate the teachers, who have commented here, with a willingness to agree that these policies should be re-visited.

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  24. Below is a cut and paste copy of the email, which I received from my principal, after I sent a note, and had a phone conversation, with my son’s teacher. I had objected to the, “sign or your child will suffer the consequences” policies. The only thing that I have edited, are the names. As you can see, the principal made some concessions for me. In my opinion, this is evidence that teachers/principals have far more control over policy than I do. It is my understanding that, in the middle school, lack of a parent signature results, not only in punishment of individual children, but takes “points” away from their “team”. I have an appointment, to discuss these policies, with our Superintendent, on Oct. 19th. I’ll post his input, once I have it.

    Mrs. Hewitt,

    After meeting with Mrs. *teacher* this morning, we were able to determine what assignments would routinely require a parent signature. We also decided what procedures would be followed in the event that certain requirements were not met. The following items include the assignments that were discussed as routine instructional practices/activities:

    * Friday Folders – These are sent home on Friday afternoons and include student work from that particular week. The parents are asked to review the papers and sign.
    * Reading Logs – These are included with the Friday folders. The reading logs indicate what books/materials the student read throughout the week.
    * Oral Fluency Reading – In building fluency skills, students are asked to read aloud, once a week, to parents. Parents sign once the assignment is complete.
    * Planners – The planners include daily assignments and are sent home Monday – Thursday. A parent signature is required each day.

    It was agreed that *student* will not face consequences (pulled slips, silent lunch, non-participation in Fun Friday) by not having a parent signature. There are times when students receive a small token (candy, sticker) for 100% participation and/or completion of assignments. Due to some requirements (parent signatures) not being fully met, *student* may be excluded from the 100% incentives when those times apply.

    Sincerely,

    *principal*

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  25. Hey Deidra…..I find the letter still outrageous….principals and teachers don’t make policy. HA!
    Who’s going to school here? You or your child? You should bring in an article by Alfie Kohn on rewards and punishment too…and how ineffective it is. This handing out candy practice is silly and inappropriate.

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  26. PsychMom: Yes, you too picked up on the fact that the principal has the power to change, or not change, the policies in place. In my case, I asked that my child not be punished for lack of my signature. I also asked that he not be denied rewards, for lack of my signature. The principal agreed to one of my two requests. Clearly, I do not have any power on my own, to keep my child from being subjected to these procedures.

    In my case, there has been an exception with regards to punishments made, for my child. He is still passed over, for rewards. He has expressed sadness, for the children punished frequently, for lack of parent signatures. He mentioned one little girl in particular, who is punished often. He said that the consensus among the classmates is that, since her parents recently divorced, this little girl must have trouble getting signatures. It bothers me more than I can say, that there are 10 year olds, gossiping about a child’s personal life. These children would have no view into that poor girl’s situation, were it not for these policies!

    As for the reward/punishment situation, I agree with you. Success is it’s own reward. I do not bribe my children, and there is no allowance, in our home. I really enjoy the “Responsive Classroom” approach to discipline, but that is a whole other topic! For now, if I can manage to get our school to hold my children accountable for their own work only, and stop forcing homework on parents, I’ll start to feel a little better.

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  27. I am a 4th grade teacher and have always asked parents to sign their child’s planner. I had the idea that this was a way to assure that the parents saw their child’s assigned homework and were informed about upcoming events. Many of these comments caused me to reflect upon this practice. I do want my students to be independent. So, I will no longer be requiring a signature in their planner!

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  28. Great idea 4th grade teacher! On the topic of children being punished for adult sins….our Principal sent a letter last year declaring there were too many tardies and this was disrespectful to the teachers and took away from valuable teaching time (as the kids had to go to the offfice and get a tardy slip).

    She instituted a policy that any child who was tardy (no leeway at all) was to be benched for recess (including the kindegartners!). I saw many a crying kindegartner sitting out recess (and not really making the connection to mommy being thirty seconds late). Great way to instill a love of learning and school in our five year olds!

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  29. Disillusioned, your school sounds like a real disaster. Why are the parents putting up with this? I don’t believe that you’re the only one who’s upset. Can you get a group together and start making some noise?

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  30. FedUp Mom- I know there are. Yet…..there is a very weird dynamic at play in the school. The heavily invovled mothers buy into this draconian policy. It’s as if they are also small children and want Mommy’s (the principal’s) approval. Consequently, it is self-reinforcing.

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  31. Disillusioned…you’ve hit the nail on the head! I learned, a few years ago, to keep my opinions mainly to myself. When I questioned the “silence during the first 15 minutes of lunch” policy at the elementary school, other involved moms said they “didn’t like to make waves”. There are MANY policies, which I despise, at my children’s school. The only ones that I truly get in the ring and fight about, are the ones that I see directly affecting my family. Unfortunately, the silence of other parents is astonishing. Your issue of elementary children being punished for being tardy (which they can’t control), ties directly to my issue of children being punished for lack of parent signatures, which they can’t control…terrible!

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