Back to School: The common sense curriculum


Back to school. The very notion conjures up visions of autumn and plaid and crisp apples for the teacher. This is particularly true if you reside in the 1950s.

For those of us in the modern world it is also a time of Common Core curriculum, standardized testing, and the near constant litany of complaints about school staff via social media and parking lot chatter. The latter is perhaps the most insidious because if you aren’t careful, it will eat your hope alive.


I can well remember the stories told of the terrible fate awaiting students in our local middle school. Tales of the terrible tenured teacher of doom knew no bounds. We heard how mean, nasty, unfair and downright cruel this teacher was.

By the time my child was (of course) assigned to this ogre’s class you could almost hear my inner struggle to not rush to have her moved to the “nice” teacher play out. I decided to send her bravely into the fray. The Lion’s Den, if you may. It would build character. It would be a learning experience. Frankly, it would be a fact finding mission to gather enough data for me to intelligently argue for moving her to a different classroom before the first nine weeks was up.

Once enrolled, of course, it turned out that the teacher was firm but fair. His assignments were challenging, his grading scale tough, but his praise profuse for students who earned it. My daughter remained happily ensconced in that class for the entire school year and prospered.

We all learned a valuable lesson. It is common in the classrooms and over coffee to hear parents wax rhapsodic about the horrors visited upon their student. I’m not going to argue that some teachers can be terrible. I had one. I will never forget her if only because she made every teacher that came after seem like a saint.

Still, on the whole, my educational experiences and those of my children have been stellar and strong. As with anything spanning a decade or more, we’ve had good days and bad. We have had our ups and downs.

If I am talking to someone who has had a “problem” with multiple people across multiple years (and sometimes multiple school districts) I do have to wonder, when does it becomes a personal problem?


As children grow, letting them work their problems out themselves goes a long way. If I were raising permanent children I might feel differently. However, as someone hoping to raise fully functioning adults, I think letting kids learn to handle (some) things themselves in their high school years is a valuable life skill. The teacher isn’t doing this, that, or something else to your liking? How can you communicate, remedy or otherwise change the situation?

Only as the very last resort should your answer contain the words “call” or “mom.”

The assignment was unfair, given on short notice, or otherwise not to your liking? Welcome to what the rest of us call “every day of your work life,” kid. See also: suck it up, buttercup.

Meanwhile, our classrooms are sometimes invaded by children who are, if I am to guess correctly, being raised by wolves. The media gleefully reports on students who bite, kick, punch and slap their fellow students and staff. This is not okay.

We also see reporting on things like students “victimized” by dress codes or academic standards. My own daughter was hauled into the office on what I continue to believe was a wholly trumped up dress code violation (those leggings were adorable thank you very much).

As a thoroughly modern mommy with just enough pre-law under her belt to be dangerous I did what any right thinking parent would do. I took my kid home and had her change her pants. Life is too short to make wardrobe choice the hill I am willing to die on.

Meanwhile we have students who demand the right to walk across the stage at graduation (despite not having actually earned a diploma yet). Parents, as we set off into another school year, may I give three words of advice: do your job.

Best gift

Your job is to prepare children for adult world and real life. To create fully functioning, empathetic human beings who are able to contribute civilly to society. As we consider the perfect teachers gifts — apples, candles, maybe a mug — let me assure you what the perfect “gift” for most teachers may be to send them a child rested, well fed, and ready to learn.

Remember, you cannot fail to parent your children at home, then expect teachers to work miracles with them in the classroom. The most important school supply is not necessarily on any list; it is supportive parenting.


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