Homeroom Teacher Knows Best!

While I pride myself in running an efficient and persistent Mommy School, I have also made peace with the notion that, “Homeroom Teacher Knows Best,” in Child of Mine’s word. No, he has not said that to me directly; he has made me aware, just about each time I labor to teach and work with him on academic learning.

I understand that Child of Mine [who I prefer to call COM] is not unique in his thinking.

My mother says, “What goes around, comes around.”

OR, as I would say, “The apple” and “the tree,” are geographical neighbors.”

Put more crudely, Every dog has its own day!

Karma is, indeed, a female dog!

Very often, while helping out with school assignments, it is not uncommon for COM to tell me, “But my teacher said….” OR “My teacher does…” I have learned not to fight it outright, but try to influence and expand his thinking and conceptualization beyond what and how he learned from his homeroom teacher.

It does not help that I did not obtain my early schooling here in the United States, but in a totally different education system in far-flung places across the big pond. Uganda, my country of origin and a former colony of Her Majesty, imitated the British education system. The formalized national education system was initiated by European missionaries, predominantly British missionaries, later supported by the British colonial government in pre-independence Uganda. Everything, including phonics and phonetics, mathematical problems and sounds, are taught and conceptualized differently from the American education system.

So, I signed up to become a Substitute Teacher in the K-12 school system, to gain a deeper practical insight into the US education system. Hitherto, my teaching experience in the US was limited to college and graduate schools. I had vehemently sworn off teaching “children,” from Pre-K to 12. I was comfortable to appear in such classrooms as a guest parent or guest instructor, but not command an entire classroom as the sole teacher.

That all changed, when COM became of school-going age, and returned to America, after three years living and studying abroad. Well, he still went to school in all three locations we lived: Norway, South Africa and Uganda, and I enthusiastically participated in his learning and academic schooling.

Perhaps not too actively, but I participated in “guest parent programs,” to read to his classmates, fundraised for donation of books and medical instruments, and never missed a parent-teacher conference, or an opportunity to share my opinions on the school curriculum or learning environment.

And just in case he forgets, “All your other teachers come and go, but mommy will always be your main teacher,” so I tell him. Yes, COM has heard me telling him a couple of times, that I was his first teacher, and will always be his most consistent teacher. Evidentially, since we part ways with teachers, whenever he moves geographically, or up another grade.

Moreover, I would like him to accept my engagement in his learning, and understand that schooling does not only belong to “structured classroom buildings”. He now knows that, Mommy School does not close, even on snow days, when there are security concerns in the school district, or on national holidays. Most importantly, Mommy School exists to reinforce what he learns at his general school, and because mommy went through elementary school.

Fortunately, signing up as a Substitute Teacher in the school district has proven strategically empowering to myself, and reassuring to COM. He realizes now that, perhaps mommy knows something about my classroom activities and assignments.

“My mom is a teacher, too,” he often boasts to his homeroom teachers.

I am cautioned, by fellow moms and friends that, he is still at that age, where he is not ashamed of his mommy teaching at his school, hugging mommy in the school lobbies or kissing mommy as he gets on and off the school bus. And I am loving it! Until the day it unravels!

Still, mommy is yet to win the battle of Who is Smarter than the Homeroom Teacher? Not that we are actively fighting to overtake the ‘super-know-it-all’ homeroom teacher(s); I am in full support and enhance the homeroom teacher(s), in true PTO spirit – Parent Teachers Organizations.

Teachers appreciate parents who are supportive, participate in their classroom activities, and engaged with their children’s homework. Not so sure whether COM feels me like his homeroom teacher(s); sometime — maybe; all the time — mommy don’t know it all!

Take for instance yesterday, when COM was doing his ELA assignment on  “Vowel Team”. The instructions required to, “Write words: sweet, sleep, meet, sheep and more — breaking them up into syllables, then underlining the phonic pattern.” COM on First in Math

He said he had to “syllable loop,” by breaking the sounds independently. I explained that the assignment required him to break words into syllables….and to me…they were all single syllable words. He got frustrated that I was using the word “break,” not “loop”,his choice word. I told him, I was reading the words, per teacher’s written instructions. Him and I went back and forth, asking him to say out the words and hear the syllables. He insisted there were more than one syllable, three in some cases!

I suggested to him, to write his way, then hand in his homework, and wait for the teacher’s feedback tomorrow. I told [bribed] him that, if I had to do his assignment, I would ‘loop’ each words into a single syllable! He became more frustrated. I suggested that we consult the online syllable dictionary. Each word had “one syllable”. Still, not fully convinced!

Thankfully, he and I come from families of teachers; both his grandmothers — my mom and his dad’s mom are teachers. Thankfully, daddy-grandma was listening in. She suggested, similar to what I had read online, “Clap the word and make out the syllable(s).” That he did, and it was “one syllable.” I asked him to clap the word “Purple”; that was two syllables. Phew!

At last, mommy seems to be getting somewhere! Maybe she knows something about homeroom teacher’s assignments; and can be respected and trusted to help out! We still working on it. Until then, surely the Homeroom Teacher Knows Best!

Parenting: Another Chance at Living Selflessly

My Little Ninja

My Little Ninja

Perhaps no other life experience has given me the opportunity to learn to live selflessly like Parenting. And I do not throw around the “P-Word” lightly, for anybody who ‘spews’ their ‘chemicals’ to produce a child. In my book, a parent is one who commits her/his self, actively to raising her/his children – born to them, born for them, adopted or as caretaker. It could be an aunt or uncle, or grandma raising children of their relative, or a stranger adopting a child unknown to them.

Don’t get me wrong; I am not saying that parenting is the only way to live selfless or care for anything other than oneself. I know plenty of non-parents who are intimately engaged, or may I say, engrossed in all sorts of life ventures, as humanitarians, community mobilizers, mentors, fundraiser, trainers, teachers, friends or volunteers. I was one of anyone of those categories before I became a parent, and intimately committed to whatever and whoever I invested my time and energy into. Yet, as I have learned since becoming a parenting, while I could walk away from any of those preoccupation to create a just and friendly world, I do not have the same luxury with parenting. That is, if one is a parent – totally different from being a father or mother.

What prompted me to say all this? A couple of things. But, one most recent as this weekend. I took my son to participate his first ever Tae-Kwon-Do Tournament, Nam’s Veterans Martial Arts Tournament in Stroudsburg, PA. The organizer, his Tae-Kwon-Do teacher, is a Grand Master, international olympic judge, and trainer and National Coach for both Team USA and post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. By the way, Master Nam is a great teacher, I hate the thought of moving far away from him!

N’way, the whole experience at the tournament was amazing, so deep and personal. I watched, as parents, including grandparents, uncles and aunts, and siblings, braved the morning downpour to bring their children to competition. Parents preparing their children, investing energies and a whole day to stay with their children and see them through all the competition. There were plenty of joys and celebrations of wins, as well as tears of sorrow for losses and no wins. I cheered on my son, as well as friends, whom we know from our school

Though, one unfamiliar face stuck onto me and hit me deep. A father carrying a bag full of broken boards, and more in his arms, with his two children each carrying two giant trophies [girl- first and second place; and boy – two first place finishes], following him to departure. Daddy had a grin on his face, showing lots of excitement for his children’s achievements.

Nothing beat the feeling I had for my son’s achievements. While he did not win first or second place, he had three third place finishes, fetching him three trophies and three medals. I was a mixed bag of emotions; I cried and celebrated tears of joy and accomplishment. But also a little sad that he did not get first place, even though we had not expected anything more than a “certificate of participation”. I cried because he cried; he does not do losing very easily. I was even more surprised and saddened that another kid, usually not as good as my son is, beat him in “Forms”. How did he take second place from him!

As a parent, I had to hide my tears from his face, instead cheered him on for his achievements. I told him to pose for pictures with his trophies, with a smile. I asked for a picture with him. I reassured him that, the first time around is not always easy. But he should be proud of himself because some kids did not get a medal. I urged him on to try harder next time, grow his strength and scoop the top prize, next time around.

Perhaps we should participate in more tournaments going forward, to get him accustomed to competition and grow a spirit of fighting harder. My commitment to my son’s accomplishment has taught me a lot about myself and family. That my needs can take a back seat, as I nurture this little one, to partake of this world, and lay his footmark on this planet. Since becoming a parent, I have also learned a lot about my mother’s parenting style, and contextually appreciate the decisions she made [consciously or not] as a parent. I also much more appreciate, parents dedicated to raising their children, and providing the best they can afford and know how.

As I have always maintained, everyone is going through their hustle, do not judge! One must not sit on their high horse and judge the decisions of another parent, without stepping in those shoes, including for parents who seemingly or indeed go astray with decisions they make about parenting their children. Parenting is a wonderful thing. For some people, once they take that step to parenting, it is all they live for, and live selflessly for-ever-after!

celebrating his first Tae-Kwon-Do competition and medals

celebrating his first Tae-Kwon-Do competition and medals

In Praise of Teachers

I recently resumed private coaching, and it occurred to me that it is as well, I give a shout out to teachers!

The not-so-highly sang heroes! Without teachers, there would not be plenty of us! Teachers are pretty much held responsible for all things gone wrong in the school system, for students learning, poor school district performance, graduation rates, post-graduate career misfortunes and even market absorption of graduates! Too bad they do not have the fortune of economists and meteorologists, who no matter how many times their forecasts are wrong, they will never lose their job! Yet, teachers will be fired way before their welfare at school becomes a topic of concerted discussion. Nobody wants to talk about how salaries [or lack thereof] for teachers affect the classroom and school academics. Instead, many teachers are losing even the basic good of year-round employment as teachers.Thanks [again] to economists, plenty of our teachers are increasingly on “pay-per-hours worked. Never mind that teachers did not design the “summer vacation”, a fixture on the formal school calendar for generations immemorial! Do not be surprised when you run into your teacher, who is laid off in the summer, bagging groceries at Walmart, bursting tables at Red Lobster, delivering pizza from Pizza Hut or entertaining tourists in Time Square. S/he is trying to make ends meet, chasing the American Dream!

The truth is, it is not easy being a teacher! Since becoming a parent, I am now more than aware that it is not easy teaching learners, particularly early learners! So a shout out to teachers is long overdue! And I have plenty of my own – right from Pre-Kindergarten, Kindergarten, Elementary School, Junior High, High School, College, Summer School and Graduate School, apprenticeship, lifelong, personal and home improvement and the list goes on. I love all my teachers!

To that, I add my son’s teachers – I love them all so dearly! Yes! Mommy was the first teacher, right when child was still in the womb. “What to Expect When You Are Pregnant” became my household #1 best seller, read in the car, on the train, on the couch, at the midwife’s office, in bed and in the bathroom. It was everywhere. Yes! I read it to the child too, plus many other books about “bunny in the oven”. As a bonus, I had my Birth Coach, a professional school teacher and a mother [then] of two boys, a beautiful soul and formidable friend that made “becoming a mother” seem like a walk in the park! Post-birth, child had daddy, plenty of aunties, great gran, grans, friends and strangers. They all read or wanted to read to him. They taught him a lot -all about burping, tummy time, sitting, and following objects. Moments playing with Great Grandma, and getting lessons on reaching objects afar, were priceless!

At ten months, my ‘teacher’ friends convinced me to take child to a babysitter, for a couple of days a week, to allow a smooth transition if and when I went back to work outside the home. Our babysitter [bless her soul] taught him how to survive a few moments without mom. Given that she had more little ones to tend, she also equipped him with more skills in independent living, Skills that were contagious, and taught me to let go of my son, sometimes, have some “me-time”, and take care of myself. Moreover, those lessons come in handy, when after his first birthday, we shipped off to Norway, to start my graduate research scholarship at the University in Oslo. I felt quite comfortable dropping him off to pre-school every morning, assured his ‘separation anxiety’ would have waned off, into happy moments with his classmates, by the time I picked up every afternoon. Kudos to our teachers at Kringsjå Barnehage, who took on the child with ease, taught him to eat meatballs (even after telling them Child does not eat meat), took him out for a daily stroll in the brutal winters, played in the sandpit and gave him a chance to enjoy painting and coloring! Bless their pretty souls for putting up with his constant constipation, patiently waiting, sometimes 30 minutes before Child finally released #2. Until that one time when all had failed, and they had to pick up the phone, to tell me, we needed Emergency Room intervention to get #2!

Half-a year-later, we were in South Africa, with another daycare and another group of teachers in Cape Town. I still remember the daily smiles on their faces. If they had any bad days, they did not show that to me. They were happy and excited to receive the child everyday, and always assembled the entire class to sing cheerful songs to the ever so crying child every morning! Lucky for us, we shared the adrenaline of #WorldCup2010 with them, right in Cape Town! Until we left for our next stop in Kampala, Uganda, where the most transformative experiences happened. The child grew up in age, and had the most amazing teachers! Initially doubted doubted when they told me that the child would stop crying every morning Child got to school. I had come to accept it as “part of his growing up”, perhaps until the ‘age of maturity’, whenever that would be. But, “Teachers Know Best”, and t it came to pass. They taught child to learn to learn and enjoy doing it, rather than regurgitate. They prepared him to be the unsolicited but every-so willing “Teacher of the Day” in his classes, and outside school to his little cousin in Uganda and the US! The Child learned to read, to write, to sing, to dance to Taekwondo, to cub scout, to swim, all happening at school. While Child was the youngest in all the classes, Child excelled, thrived and grew in each class, from Playgroup -Nursery-Kindergarten-Pre-Primary! Child did not just have teachers, but parents and friends.

My mom who is a teacher agreed, “they mastered the art of Early Childhood Education and Development.” I had no regrets for any penny that I invested. The child learned phonics reading, which has been a great asset going forward! The child, previously scared of anyone but mom taking off his pants to potty train, finally subsequently allowed class teachers to help out, so Child would not come back home again with a bladder full of pee. The Child learned to trust others in my family taking him to school when I was not available. And child thrived in Uganda, and onto Edinburgh, Scotland where we were shortly before returning to America. The Child’s Kindergarten experience at the new US school, SEC, added to the memories of the school experience; we loved our teachers and classmates! The transition was not too bad; handwriting improved, learning to write both last name, as well, and becoming a Ninja with plenty of magic tricks. Moreover, Child now has a larger teacher network, who include cousins, who are sometimes more exciting than mama. No worries, if the learning continues with lots of playtime.  And Child has never stopped teaching; for which I say, “Thank You Bebe for all the lessons you have and keep teaching me, for all the experiences you have allowed, and allows me time to sink myself into the places we have never been. The adjustments to my life and the words you have inspired me to say or not to say because of you.”

No doubt, all this was made possible with the opportunity of walking and working close to Child. Thanks to a strong foundation of teachers who came before Child, before me and ingrained in my the value of teaching.

1) My Kindergarten Teacher, Ms. Nak; wherever you are – I do not know how you taught me to learn. For I do not remember anything about phonics, but you brought me this far.
2) My Mother was my first teacher from womb to birth to growing up. She still is, I guess, through plenty of inspirations and lessons learned, plenty I am passing on to Child. Most vividly, I remember you reading to me, including that one day when government soldiers found us sitting outside the house, led themselves into our house and robbed everything they could lay their hands on. You also taught me the love and value of healthy living: Natural is best for cooking, eating and treatment of ailments. Yes! I feed the Child Aloe Vera juice made straight-up from the plant. Ginger, lemon and honey treat coughs in our household too, combined with plenty of fruits and veggies. My foods are eaten raw, boiled, steamed, grilled or baked. Stir fry is the ‘special treatment’, sometimes! Most of all, you are my #1Super-Teacher for Mothering and Hustling for a living!
3) My Best Friends Forever, I have two. One passed on in 2012 (R.I.Eternal. Peacefulness), but left a permanent seed of forgiving and loving endlessly and unconditionally implanted in me and her ever-so jovial godchild. I still catch myself saying, “No! You are still here!” You were the epitome of humanness! The true human spirit! My living BFF in Edinburgh, SCOT, a university teacher herself, and a great writing and publishing partner. We share many fond memories spanning over fifteen years, of fights, make up, but never had a serious break-up!
4) My College Professors, most memorable is one at the School of Law’s Human Rights and Peace Center. Gave me my first career, trained me as a human rights activist, allowed me to turn my dreams into reality, as the Founder of a students human rights advocacy project for prisoners, and gave me the professional backing to solicit funding, free legal services and free media publicity and entry into national human rights programs. I was the name to reckon with, back then! All the opportunities to traveled the world free, learn to write fellowships and grants requests, meet with high-level staff at various institutions around the world, my professor passed onto me. I also learned to write and publish academically.
5) My American Employer, founder of the refugee studies center at the University of Oxford, the first refugee studies program in the world! My professor, who got me into the world of refugees, broadened my scope of understanding and engaging with human rights. Yes! Taught me and afforded me the ability to get published, as well as continue to travel and discover the world. Introduced me to people from all walks of life, that for a long time were [and some like my BFF still are] part of my “inner scholarly circle”.
6) My graduate school professors of Micro Economics, Petroleum in the Global Economy, Law & Development and International Human Rights Law, still remain memorable to this day. I should add my professor of Minority Groups & the Right to Self-Determination, who had great memorable things to say about me, high compliments! I appreciate.
7) Who could I forget my Writing Tutees, who trusted that I could teach them all about Graduate Research and Writing Methodology. They were great students! Plenty from Japan, with super mastery of the English language. All they needed was editing their essays. I learned a lot from them.
8) Facebook deserves a mention here, as my teacher of “Speak Your Truth Quietly”, “It is not about being right all the time”, “Silence is Golden”. I have learned to diffuse many fires in me, thanks to Facebook! I close my mind when opening it might injure a soul.
Obviously, because

And a lot of learning has come with being a mother, being a parent, and being a part of my child’s family by default. I have learned to teach the Child, learn the way Child learns, and inspire other kids to learn. I have now learned, even more, not to take for granted that children learn or mature at the same level. I should already know, right? After all, I am not at the same ranking as all my peers. I guess, being a parents makes it surreal, when you have too many expectations from your own child, and think everyone around is doing much better. Yet, interacting, exposure, homeschooling and coaching other kids has taught me that some kids require much more extra effort to perform and function. Third-graders cannot spell simple words like “pail”, when my Kindergartner was moving on to Chapter Book words! Kids his age cannot focus

Letting children learn the way they read! Lessons in Parenting and Homeschooling a Toddler

Call me a terrible mother! But I am a self-confessed Uganda-Chinese-French-America parent, and in that order! Uganda, because that is my country of birth, where I was raised. Chinese, because the parenting style  of, “Spare the rod and spoil the child”, is a lot similar to Uganda.  French has the “hand-off child. Adults and children belong to separate spaces at playtime, meal time and leisurely”, and I am a big fan of that! America, you probably figured that out already. Yes! my child is American and we live in America, my country for over fifteen years. So, we have to follow the rules about American parenting, and adopt the socio-cultural upbringing of children growing up in America or as Americans.

In many ways, the last – American – is the most difficult for me to abide by. The lassez-faire attitude has just about been converted into childrearing! “Let children rule” and “Give children whatever they want”, at least looking around my most immediate examples. Obviously not all American parents treat their children as “spoilt brats”, but there is a lot of pampering, “parents play with their children”, “children rampaging the dinning table at a restaurant or throwing tantrums”. Children just about treated as ‘brainless’: all they do is wake up, eat, go out to play, come back and eat, play and go to bed. I watch some of the kids my son’s age and older, who cannot pick up their trash, cannot put their plate or cup in the dish after a meal but they can reach out into the fridge and get themselves a drink or something to eat. I remember at six years of age, already washing dishes as my house chore before going out to play. Not only did I put away my plate after eating, but all other adults plates; and nobody waited on me. I have tried to impart those skills into my son young-self. He knows to put his plate in the sink after eating, and washes dishes sometimes. He knows the bathroom sink is his to wipe clean and dry every morning after brushing his teeth. He knows to put away his clothes in the laundry basket. He knows to take off his shoes when he enters the house. He knows to say “Thank You”, “Please”, “I am sorry”. For the most part, he knows to create his own play, not expecting mommy to play with him all the time. I grew up playing with fellow kids not adults.
N’way! While I impart plenty of lessons into my son’s head, and drill him to learn and practice what he has learned, I also realize there are limits to everything. That includes reading, reviewing books and retelling stories. I have noticed, just like his K-Class teacher said, he loves to read what catches his fancy. Anything out of that, he is not too keen about. If a book is of a subject not within his interests, too wordy or cumbersome for him, he turns off immediately. I keep telling him that, “sometimes we do things we are not interested in, but because we have to do them. I give him the example of letting him eat ice cream now and then, even though I do not really like ice cream.
So, with reading comes struggles to keep the focus, especially with books not so exciting to him. I want to adopt my “Ugandan-Chinese” drill surgeon style of teaching, “read read and read, until you get it.” My mom, an Early Childhood Education and Development Trainer would disagree with my style. “Let children enjoying learning,” she will say to me. Plus, I realize working with my son that sinks the ship, wears him down and eats his ego and his little heart. He feels so intimidated and underachieved.
I decide to take him to the Library, so we can together pick out books that interest him and reflect his hobbies and desires. One is Champions! of NASCAR by K.C. Kelly (2005).
Once he is done reading, I give him time to relax and do something else. Then it is time for the book review, starting with a couple of questions:
1. Tell me about the book you read (if responses are not forthcoming),
2. What is the title of the book?
3. Who is/are the author(s)?
4. Who is/are the illustrator(s)?
5. What do you remember about the book you read? (Again, not much response)
6. What are some of the words you remember? (Nothing still)
7. What is this book about?
Then, I prompt him sentence by sentence, allowing him to recall what he learned. When it seems that he is still stuck or ‘prefers’ not to remember, I ask him to tell me some of the words that appeared in the book.
Of he goes:
1. First
2. Championship
3. Races
4. Line
5. Car
6. Competing in races
7. NASCAR
Excellent! I compliment him.
That brought a smile to his face and a feeling of accomplishment, “I think I remember something!” he said The grouchy, teary and visibly tired and check-out child is once again alive and ready to roll.
Next up, I use illustrative questions.
For instance,
1. When you race, what happens?
Ans. Champion
2. What is a champion called?
Ans. A winner
Then he begins remembering facts about the book on his own.
“Mummy, I know another word that I remember in this book, “born”.”
Then he flips through the pages, and goes straight to the sentence where the “born” is, “NASCAR was born….” And more words start coming out…..
So, I tell him, “You know why I am typing this? I am going to put it online, so that other parents can read this and read to their kids. They will learn how to teach their own children, when they are having trouble getting them to learn.” That excites him.
“I just can’t believe I am doing this!” he said
That earned me a hug and a kiss and [Ms. Bankabale’s] smizing eyes!
Then he suggests that we create steps that other people will follow.
Off he goes:
Step One: Biko writes down the words
Step Two: Mummy shows them the book
Step Three: Biko shows them the “Title”
Step Four: Mummy shows them the “Author”
“Good job! Team Work,” he said with a Hi-5!
By now, his umph is back! He feels very achieved and accomplished, and empowered to contribute and lead his learning.
Lesson for me: Allow your child to enjoy the reading experience. It is ok, if he interrupts mid-way. Put a pause and let him ‘ride the show’ for a while. If he adds something that does not relate to the reading, like when he said, “Make special things out of paper to give to people.” Ask him cleverly, “how does that relate to the reading?” He will catch his mistake.
If it seems really hard getting him to read, start the process by reading to him a couple of pages. Keep him engaged by asking him back and forth question of what you just read to him. You will notice that he starts recollecting terms and phrases. He might also ask you a couple of questions and clarifications, or interject with his own interpretations.
When it seems like he is getting really engaged, ask him to read one or two pages. Let him lead the reading, but offer to help him pronounce new and cumbersome words. With my son, I taught him a “cover-and-read” trick. He cover all letters of the word with his fingers, except the first two, reads them in syllabels , as he progressively reveals subsequent words. Once he has pronounced the entire word, he reads it all out aloud. He is super excited to hear mummy say, “good job Beeks”.
In the end, we are all Happy People! Super Readers and Co-Teachers!
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