Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Teach Them To Work

When I was growing up my dad was self-employed.  He always ran his own business and, because of it, he instilled an incredible work ethic into my brother, my sister and me.  Back then we helped out and worked hard.  Our family was close and a large part of that was because we worked together.

I try to instill that same work ethic in my girls.  No matter the job before them, I want them to tackle it with gusto!  It's not an easy quality to teach.  I would rank it right up there with honesty as one of the top character qualities I work on when they first come.

All three of my girls were behind grade level in school when I got them.  They were serviced under the special education umbrella and all were pretty much a mess in school.  I personally think it's difficult to determine a kid's abilities when their life is full of one traumatic experience after another.  With that in mind, I always viewed their test scores as unreliable.  After all, what did they possibly have to gain by performing well?  No one cared about their results and they knew it.

So with each girl I started at ground zero.  I worked through math facts and reading levels.  They learned cursive handwriting and how to correctly form numbers.  It was a long and slow process, but at the end of it I knew where my kids were academically.  I knew their strengths.  I knew their weaknesses.  I knew which areas they enjoyed and which they dreaded.  And as the G.I. Joe cartoon used to say, "Knowing is half the battle."

The other half of the battle is doing.  That was the harder half.  Getting those girls to pick up a pencil to work was one thing.  Getting them to actually try was another.  The days of guessing and filling in answers dragged by.  Their unwillingness to read the directions or think through a two step problem was a constant struggle.  

I finally got tired, but instead of throwing in the towel and letting them be less than they could be, I put the ball back in their court.  

Playtime always came after schoolwork was complete.  If schoolwork didn't get finished, playtime never happened.  Rather than attempting to coerce them into completing their work, I just started letting them feel the consequences of their own choices.  If they worked through their math by guessing at the answers, I just marked the ones that were still wrong and handed it back to get redone.  If the second round of guessing didn't cut it, it went back for a third (or a fourth, fifth, sixth...).  In the beginning this could go on all afternoon.  

After a while they finally started getting with the program.  Playtime hours returned as work was completed correctly the first time around.  And do you know what I found?  Some really great workers!  When required to do their best work daily, their best turned out to be quite good.  Hannah is a whiz at math.  Ashley is a grammar genius and Amy is reading at a level higher than me.  These are some really sharp kids.  Is that all thanks to me?  No. It can be traced back to good, old-fashioned hard work.  As my dad would say, the best kind.

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