It was a usual evening for a conscientious middle school student.
"I left an important assignment at school.""Can you call one of your friends?"
"It won't do me any good because it's a work sheet and I'd have to copy the whole thing."
"I have to go down to my office anyway so if you can get the assignment from someone I'll make a copy of it for you. Now don't think that I'll do this every time you forget something."
We weren't the only family scrambling. After a few calls to locate the assignment we had a list of others who needed copies.
We also had a list of parents who couldn't read the dim purple copies they already had and who didn't understand the purpose of the word search anyway.
The computer programmer parent bitterly helped his son. He culled the chapter in the text that was the source of the words for the word search and alphabetized the names of all the plants and animals that he found. At least his student would have an idea of what words might be in the puzzle.
Some parents were desperate. The dim directions on the page said that there were 72 hidden words on the page of random letters and they could only find about half that number.
After the obligatory "why didn't you start on this sooner," and "why did you forget the assignment," and "why is the printing so bad," parents began to ask the real questions. "Why did the teacher give this assignment, and why am I working on it anyway?"
The why am I working on it question may be the easier of the two questions to answer. I was working on it because other parents were working on it. I was also working on it because is seemed a bit unfair that the kids had to do this kind of assignment and maybe I though I could soften the unfairness by helping.
It seemed that there was a frustration not only with the assignment itself but with the reasons for the assignment. It was hard for me to follow one of my cardinal rules: support the teacher. I wanted my student to know that it was important for him to do the assignments and to follow the directions of the teacher.
I also felt some sympathy for him because I didn't understand how finding hidden words accomplished any educational objective besides keeping the students busy. Even if the goal of the assignment was to keep the student busy, why did the student need to be kept busy at home? Maybe busy work should be kept at school where it won't generate criticism from parents.
There may be more than one lesson here. Parents are more supportive when they understand the educational objectives of the teacher. Students are more likely to be committed to a school assignment when they undertand the purpose or objective of the assignment.
Teachers can generate support from students and parents when they give meaningful assignments. This means that the teachers themselves must be clear as to their own educational objectives. Teachers should themselves know what they are trying to accomplish with each assignment and they should be trying to accomplish more that keeping students busy.
"I just can't find any more words. Its all a big blur."
"Why do you need to find words? You are the mother and not the student."
"He needed to go to bed and was afraid all the other kids would have the assignment finished."
"My guess is that most of the parents will give up like we have and we'll raise a generation of students that can't find words hidden on a page of letters."
"That's terrible. What's the world coming to?...Please help me find just one more word."