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MAROSEK: Encourage by staying involved

I enjoy talking with kids and learning from their perspective so I ask them a lot of questions. My two favorite questions: Do you like school? And which subject do you like best?

If the answer to the first question is “no” then the answer to the second is most likely, “lunch.” Unfortunately, there are too many “noes” in my survey, particularly from the middle school on up. More disheartening, sometime I get an “I-hate-school” answer.

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), in 2000 35 percent of students in the U.S. disliked school. As parents we want our children to learn and do well in school, so we push our children. Sometime without regards, we push so hard so fast that the very things we want them to enjoy and excel in are the things we turn them off to.

But it wasn’t always that way. I remember exactly what happened when my daughter was learning how to walk. I was supporting her in every way. Her father, sitting across, encouraging her to come — smiling, arms stretched out. She stood, and then collapsed. I picked her up and again, she slumped on her bottom. One day, better at holding her own weight, I held her hands for her to stand.

She took a few steps and then flopped. I picked her up, brushed her off, gave encouraging comments – “You can do it,” “Good job,” or “Let’s try again.” Day after day, she tried and we helped. When she was not interested, we enticed her with toys and stuffed animals to get her to take more steps. Her entire learning process was positive as we praised and celebrated with her literally, every step of the way. I imagine most loving families had similar experience as mine.

But when children reached school age, parents’ attitude about learning and their approach to teaching changed. Memorizing math facts and practicing spelling are more complex than learning how to walk, we insisted. Even though we may have the same concern for them to learn, we don’t treat it with the same care and tenderness. After all, we justified, it is more consequential, more serious. The stake is high therefore our attitude is more austere and stern, and our approach to teaching become stricter, more rigorous, and stressful.

Further, more noteworthy, we start giving someone else part of the responsibility to teach, and motivate our children. The more they spend time away from us, the less we are inclined to stay involve. It is easy and comforting to believe that teachers have the best interests for their students, but let’s remember they have many students. And honestly, it is quite irresponsible for parents who think teachers should do it all. They can’t and they shouldn’t. They simply cannot know our children as intimately as us.

We entrust teachers with monumental tasks. They must not only teach the subject at hand, but also do it in a positive way: to impress, not force; to inspire, not deaden; to engage, not bore; to encourage, not pacify. No, it is too much. We cannot and we should not leave it all to teachers, we need to stay involve so we too can encourage.

I can still remember, my daughter’s soft, smooth, tiny hands grabbing onto my index fingers when she wobbled towards her father. As she steadied herself, I used my thumbs to slip my fingers out of her hands so that she will walk on her own. She took two steps before tumbling forward onto her knees, reddened by previous multiple falls. She did it. She walked. We picked her up, laughed, and congratulated her – we celebrated. It was an unforgettable, inspiring learning experience. How did I know to slip my fingers away, to let her go? Because I was there with her. I was involved.

We can’t encourage if we don’t know and we can’t know unless we are involved.

Please stay connected; maybe we can get more “yes” than “no” to liking school and possibly more “yes” to the more substantial academic subjects rather than for “lunch.”

Van Marosek lives in Lawrenceville with her family. Email her at Jimvanny@gmail.com.