Well, its the beginning of the school year. Time to get back to building those “A” students. Bertha Jenkins, my mom, affectionately referred to as Berta Mae by my sisters…lol was what you would call an OLD SCHOOL MAMA. Because of her tactics, I did well in school. Were you blessed with an “Old School Mama?” Are YOU an “Old School mama?” These powerful and success-breeding parents are in danger of becoming extinct. And whoever says, “He’s in high school now, I try to step back and give him some space,” is just ASKING for it. The Hands off approach simply doesn’t work. Until there is a diploma in hand, the Old School Mama says, “My HOUSE MY RULES.” Lets spread the word so that these habits never die. Here are 5 reminders from an Old School Mama:
REMINDER #1: If they say there’s no homework, that’s never true.
HOMEWORK AS SOON A YOU GET HOME. First priority for a teenager when they get home is to kick back and relax, watch a little tv, chat it up with the friends and go hang out. Well not in Bertha Jenkins’ house. Your first order of business is to do that homework while its fresh. And PLEASE don’t try that old, “They didn’t give us homework” trick. There’s ALWAYS homework. And don’t try that, “I did my homework” or “They let us do it at school” trick either. She needed to SEE it. And if for some unusual reason there wasn’t homework or you claim you did it at school and its in your locker, be prepared to face justice.
Bertha Jenkins knew that every teacher worth their salt either assigns homework every night or on the off nights expects the kids to study for a test, read some material, or work on an upcoming project. My mama knew that, and trust me she was good at sitting at the table and saying, “Well show me what chapters yall are on.” And if I couldn’t produce homework, she made UP homework. I can hear it now, “Read this chapter and that chapter, and then let me know. When you finish, I want you to explain to me what you read.” Either way, there was going to be some homework EVERY night! lol.
REMINDER #2: Never assume. Regular Check ups are crucial.
I can’t even remember how many times I’ve heard the phrase, “Well when I call out to school, they betta not say…” And believe me she did. She had my schedule. She knew all of my teacher’s names. She called the school and asked for them. She asked how I was doing. She asked when report cards and progress reports were coming out. She asked if I was doing my work, if I was doing my homework and what my grades looked like.
When you ask a teenager, “How was school,” the answer is almost ALWAYS, “fine.” From my experience as a teacher, that “Fine” can actually cover up anything from “I failed my test” to “I got detention” to “I’m failing all of my classes.” That is to an amateur. Bertha Jenkins would NEVER let you off that easily. She wasn’t about to be surprised at report card time. She checked…lol. And every now and then, she managed to show up at the building unannounced. Partly to see how you’re doing in school. Partly to see how you’re carrying yourself in the school building. The new wave today for teenagers is to wear one thing out the door and either stop at a friends house to change or keep clothes in your locker that you REALLY want to wear. Lol. That random pop up can really be informative.
REMINDER #3: If its Important to you, it’s more Important to them.
I don’t know how it was, but my mama had this sneaky way of knowing when EVERY parent-teacher night was being held, EVERY open house, EVERY opportunity to be at my school, and she showed up, walking cane and all. She knew that if she blew off school functions, I was more likely to blow off school as being that important. And somehow knowing that school functions were important to her made school more important to me.
When I got home, she always asked, “How was school today?” Then just as I thought I was off the hook, there came the follow up questions: “Tell me about it.” “What did you learn today?” “Explain it to me. How does it work?” “What are y’all working on?” “Go get your books. Show me.” “Bring me your vocabulary words” “make some flash cards.” “let me call them out to you.” Any “C” and “D” student can easily get by a quick, “How was school?” Only an “A” or “B” Pro can get through the after school interrogation…lol. Trust me, knowing that she would ask THAT many questions made me pay attention THAT much more. lol.
REMINDER #4: Make sure they Go to school like a student and come home like a student.
Inspection was before and after school. I left with a bookbag full of books. I arrived home with a bookbag full of books. You’d be surprised how many teenagers today are allowed to come home with only a spiral notebook and a pen these days. She checked to make sure I had a hand full of pens and pencils in my book bag at all times. Trust me, buying them at the beginning of the school year only lasts for about two weeks. A LARGE number of kids come to school with nothing to write with, not because of poverty but because of priority. Clean paper, books, notebooks for every subject. A STUDENT carries all of these. Students who do poorly in school are generally not a surprise to an Old School Mama.
REMINDER #5: Neatness is next to Godliness.
My school experience was HER school experience. The extended random Bookbag/Notebook inspection could happen at ANY point. Oh the dreaded inspection…lol. “Take everything out of your bookbag and dump it on the bed. She looked at every notebook. I couldn’t have any folded up pages inside my books. My notebooks had to be neat. It had to be full of papers from school. I have seen the notebooks of some kids lately. Some of them have 5 sheets of paper with writing on them for many of their subjects. After a semester of school work, that’s just not possible. If my book bag or notebooks looked messy, I had to take everything out and put them back in neatly.
If there wasn’t enough evidence of school work in there, that was an immediate grounds for a phone call to school. She checked every single graded paper there was. Items I got wrong, she made me fix them and make them right or worse be able to explain to her the right answers, and since she had never been to high school, I had to explain it well enough for her to understand it. Wrinkled papers had to be re-written on fresh sheets of paper. Notes or work written in a rush and sloppy had to be re-written.
Old school parents see it as their responsibility to make sure their kids are doing their part in school–not just in elementary school, but until the day they walk down the isle with cap and gown. Old school parents need evidence and never merely sit back and take a teenager’s word for it. I think it was Judge Judy who said, “Wanna know when a teenager is lying? Its when their lips are moving.” lol. As a teacher in an urban school district, I have passed out progress reports to a class of 27 students where 24 out of 27 students have been failing at least one class. I have seen report cards in the hall on the floor, in the trash, hidden in books, in notebooks by young people on a, “Don’t ask, don’t tell policy.” If you don’t know when grades are given out, they won’t tell you. Parent who see their child’s success in school as their personal project generally have kids who perform much better than their classmates. Bertha Jenkins did her part to make me the college graduate that I am today. We cannot afford for Old School Mamas to become extinct. Let’s keep it going. Share this with someone you know with teenaged kids. Lets make this school year count.