Your kid needs a backbone, not a wishbone.

So here comes my 23rd year of teaching…and this year I am going to figure out how to handle one particular parent issue better.  In the last few years the number of parents attacking teachers for their kid’s problems has spiked.  I am responsible for their kid not doing every assignment, and if I don’t contact them about an assignment that was missed two weeks earlier that was worth .07% of their overall grade I am just bad, bad, bad.  If their kid does not do a section for a project, I should be responsible for figuring out how much partial credit they should receive.  If they get a “C,” then I should make it easier next time so that they can get an “A.”

Parents are slowly taking all responsibility out of their kids hands.

So I have messed with trying to tackle this problem in a few different ways over the years, but this year I was wondering about just hitting it head on and addressing it at my parents social studies meeting that I hold during the first week.

What do you think of something like this??

*****Very rough first draft*****

Dear Parents,

I am ready to welcome your kids with open arms, and an open mind.  I will treasure the time I spend with them, and hope that you let me push them to find abilities that they previously did not know they had.  In order to do that they have to struggle.  They will feel pain.  And many will shed tears.  If you try to make them successful by taking away their struggle,  they will not know how to succeed because they will have not learned how to overcome failure.  They will not know how to succeed because they weren’t allowed to make mistakes and dig them out of their own hole. Digging them out of a hole that they have dug themselves is not your job.

It will be a huge adjustment this year.  I will not hold their hand, so they might get lost.  I will not catch them when they fall, but I will be there to help them up.  I am not going to prevent their tears, but will offer wisdom while I wipe them.  Your child might struggle with my class in the beginning because I will not be responsible for their success…they will be.  There will be times when they want to quit, and so I will whisper “try it one more time.”

When they come home feeling confused and upset.  It is not your job to fix things.  They can do it…but it will take time.  For some kids it will take four or more months of struggling before they find an inner strength that they did not know previously existed.  At home you can give them advice on how to handle difficult situations, time management, and you can talk to them about how maybe I am pushing them because “pretty good,” is not, “good enough” this year.

I would like to make things easier for you.  You do not have to email me every time your child misses an assignment asking me why your kid missed it.  Please ask your kid.  They know why.

Please don’t email me if you are confused about what we are doing in school.  Ask you kid.  If your kid can’t explain it to you, then tell them to ask me the next day.

Please do not be offended this year if I start off my emails answering your questions with “What did your child say?”

They are 13 and 14 years old.  They are capable of much more than you think.

They can cook you a meal at least once a week.

They can wash, dry, and put away their own clothes…and dishes.

They can accompany you to the store and help you cut your grocery shopping time in half.

They can be home in time for dinner to eat with you, and don’t have to text while eating.

They can bring out the garbage.

They can make their own phone calls for a haircut, or to find out f the store is open.

If they haven’t done any of their work they don’t have to attend their friend’s birthday party.

If you asked them to see me about an assignment and they forgot, they can help you mop the floor to jog their memory.

There is no rule about having to go to the movies with their buddies if they still have not met your reasonable requests.

Your job is not to make them happy.  Parents who try the hardest to make their kids happy have the saddest kids.  Trying to make your kids’ lives easy and free from struggle produces kids that are afraid…of everything. You can’t always try to make things easier and then just hope and wish that your kid doesn’t do it again, and when they do,  try to make it easier again. Every time you remove a kid’s struggle you are telling them that they are not capable of overcoming it on their own, and the cycle will continue to repeat itself.

To succeed this year…and in life…your kid needs a backbone, not a wishbone.

I am not saying that I do not want to be contacted this year.  I do.  But I want our conversations to be about your kid, not about blaming me.  I will be working hard to create a space for your kid to flourish.  Yes, with the common core coming in my abilities will be more limited this year to meet the needs of your child, but I will continue to search for new and exciting things to do with the class. I pledge to work together with you.  I am on your team.   But I am a man of many, many mistakes both as a teacher, and a parent.  So when I do make a mistake please treat me as a teammate, and not your enemy.

If you ever doubt that your kid can’t “do it,” please watch this, it is full of kids who have parents who though the very same thing as you.

Looking forward to working with you,


 Please…I know there are exceptions to every rule…this post is not about those families.

Backbone Wishbone

I have edited the end of this post since posting.  I originally thought the “backbone quote was from this guy — it’s not — and I have removed his video. My wife reminded me it was from a meme buzzing around Facebook that is a fake newspaper article from a judge.  I think the “backbone” quote is originally from Clementine Paddleford: “Never grow a wishbone, daughter, where your backbone ought to be.”  I do realize that “wishbones” are important, but in the context of this post I am not referring to the big grand dreams kids have, or even the little ones, but how we all sometimes just “wish” things will happen without putting any “backbone” into our efforts.

If you haven’t seen it, this is also a good read: How to land your kids in therapy.” Here is an excerpt:

…Bohn believes many parents will do anything to avoid having their kids experience even mild discomfort, anxiety, or disappointment—“anything less than pleasant,” as he puts it—with the result that when, as adults, they experience the normal frustrations of life, they think something must be terribly wrong.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *