As a full-time middle school teacher, I literally spend more time each day with your children than you do.  As a result, I am privy to the little ups and downs of their academic and social life.  Your children tell me their secrets, share their jokes, reveal their anxieties, frustrations and dreams; they cry and laugh in front of me and even laugh at me.  I serve as their teacher, their mentor, their authoritarian, their friend, their parent, and sometimes their worst nightmare.  After 24 years in education, I am almost willing to say there’s nothing your kids can say or do that will surprise me.   


My hope is that I will be able to provide some insight into what really happens in the classroom during the school day.  To let you in on why your son suddenly won’t let you hug him good-bye in the morning or why one morning your daughter shows up at the breakfast table wearing eye make-up and one of those “outfits” that look’s like she’s going pole dancing, rather than to school. 


I also plan to cast a spotlight on you, the-parents-of-my-charges and give you an insider’s view on what I observe from my seat in the front of the classroom.  In a recent interview, I was asked what the toughest thing about teaching is and without pause, my answer was, “the parents.” 


When I first began teaching, I felt that parents were on the same page as me.  Now, parents tend to believe everything their child comes home and tells them as the Gospel truth and then they turn around and accuse the teacher as the Wrong Do-er. 


News Flash:  Teachers do not have the time to scheme and intentionally pick on a particular student.  I know that as parents you want to believe that your child is incapable of any wrong-doing.  However, this is simply not the case.  The child you see at home is not always the same child we observe here at school.  


There are many reasons why such a dramatic shift in my job has taken place.  Perhaps it’s the result of the intense focus parents place on their children.  Limited schedules due to both parents working may put them in the position of indulging their kids when they are with them.  Or maybe parents don't want to upset the apple cart in the four hours they're with their kids after work and before bed, so they just haul them around to every activity and back off on the discipline.

Discipline takes a lot of effort.  After a long day at the office, many parents are just too worn out to uphold the rules of the house.  Children know this and prey on that weakness.  Kids continue to whine when they are told, “No."  They nag you until you give in.  How many of us have seen the screaming kid in the grocery store who wants a candy bar?  Though mom has said, "No," the boy’s screaming gets louder and his body falls to the ground kicking and flailing.  It’s 6:00 p.m. and Mom is standing there in her pumps, snagged panty hose and rumpled business suit – she is exhausted and needs to get dinner on in 30 minutes.  Guess who is the odds-on favorite to win this battle?  Can you blame her?  Yet, fast forward 10 years and this is the same boy who will be sitting in my classroom.   

Despite all of the obstacles and difficulties, teaching is still the best career in the world.  I feel so gratified when I help a student achieve that "ah-ha" moment and they finally understand a concept that has eluded them.  I also get excited when I find new methods and techniques to teach the same subject. 


I am also the mom of two teens.  They are a funny bunch, those 'tweens and teens.  They are truly children who are anxious to be independent adults.  In order to survive their changes, you will need a sense of humor, a strong backbone, a compassionate ear, eyes in the back of your head, and the ability to know when to “hold ‘em" and when to "fold ‘em.” 


Having an insider share some of the trade secrets can't hurt either.



Margaret Andersen is the mother of three teenagers and a middle school teacher somewhere in the Midwest.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. For more Margaret Anderson articles, click here. 

      Each new semester offers an opportunity for a fresh start and fresh goals.  Parents hope this will be the semester their child comes home with their best grades ever – maybe even all A’s.  Children hope their schedules will be manageable, their teachers will be nice and won’t give too much homework and that their best friend is in their class. 


     As a teacher, my goal is that this will be the semester I will not have any parental interference.  Yes, you read that correctly: Parents often get in the way of teaching.  I believe it is an innate response that all of us as parents have.  We instinctually want to step-in and rescue our children from any difficult situation.  It’s what we do when they are babies and toddlers and we never learn when to stop. 


     Recently, we had to establish a set of rules regarding the use of technology because students were using their cell phones and Ipods during school hours.  They tried to be sneaky, covert, discreet, but the ringing of the phone during class gave them away.  (And yes, sometimes it was the parent calling!)  There was also the dead giveaway of the unmistakable posture and expression on their face when they were texting during class.  The last straw for my school was when students were texting during our weekly chapel services.  We initiated the rule that all electronic devices must be turned into the office at the start of the school day or they will be taken away and the parents must come and pick them up from the principal a week later.


     One boy, Dylan*, didn’t take the rule seriously.  He made the mistake of playing with his iPod during an assembly.  I saw him and confiscated the device, telling him he could have it back in a week. 


     Several days later, one of his best friends spoke up in class and asked, “Hey Miss Andersen, did you look at the pictures on Dylan’s iPod?” 


     The rest of the boys in the class laughed and encouraged me to have a look.  I teach in a parochial school and therefore have the right to look at the iPod, so I did.  What I found was rather shocking. Dozens of pin-up style photos of girls scantily clad in bikinis, lacy underwear, and less!  These beefcake shots were extremely inappropriate for a 13-year old boy to have, much less carry around school and share with others.   


     I spoke to Dylan in private and told him how inappropriate the photos were.  He tried to minimize the situation saying that it really wasn’t that bad and that he got the photos off of the Internet at the public library.


     “Dylan, I’m going to have to contact your parents,” I told him.


     “My dad already knows,” he responded.   


     “Okay, then I will tell your mother.” 


     “She already knows too.”  Red flags went up and I wondered why parents would allow their young, impressionable son to walk around with this stuff. 


     The next morning, as I walked down the school hallway before class, I heard my first name shouted.  It was Dylan’s mom. 


     When she reached me, she declared, “You WILL be returning Dylan’s iPod to him today!  You have embarrassed him in front of his friends.”


     “Do you know what he has on that iPod?  He should be embarrassed,” I told her.   


     “Yes, his father and I are aware of the pictures.”


     “They are extremely inappropriate and demeaning of women,” I reminded mom.


     “I know.  We found them the night before you took it away and told him that he must remove them.  He didn’t get them from our home computer you know.”


     “Yes, I understand but why didn’t you have him remove the pictures right away while he was in front of you?  They are inappropriate to have, much less show to all of his friends.”    


     There wasn’t much else to say at that point.  I returned Dylan’s iPod later that day but took that opportunity to speak to him again about their inappropriateness.  I told him it shouldn’t take an adult finding them to realize it was a mistake that needed correcting. 


     I also asked why he felt it necessary to tell his mom that I embarrassed him.  Was he trying to minimize his wrongdoing by throwing a diversion to mom in the form of making me the “Bad Guy” in this situation? 


     Well, it worked.  Mom was taken off-point and became more interested in rescuing Dylan than holding him accountable for his wrongdoing.


     How often have you done that as a parent?  You are so worried the big bad teacher, in whom you have placed the care of your child, is intentionally going to harm him that you swoop down and try to rescue him, totally missing out on a learning opportunity. 


     What did Dylan learn from this?  I think he learned mommy will always take his side of the story and that he will be able to continue to manipulate her.   He also learned he doesn’t need to respect the teacher or the rules and that exploiting women in beefcake shots is far less of a problem than feeling embarrassed about getting caught with them.


     Instead of hovering like a helicopter over our children and rescuing them, why not let them flounder a bit and figure things out for themselves?  It’s much better for them in the long run to develop the knowledge of how to solve their own problems and to work through issues that come up at school with their teachers, and ultimately their bosses in the workplace. 


     Teachers and parents are supposed to be working toward the same goal: growing children into responsible adults through the use of expectations and consequences.  Throwing your children a rope every time the water gets rough doesn’t help you or them in the long run. 


     They need to learn how to swim.

*Margaret Andersen is not her real name

*Dylan is not his real name

Margaret Andersen is the mother of three teenagers and a middle school teacher somewhere in the Midwest.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist.


More articles by Margaret Anderson:

Teacher Feature: Kids Say the Funniest Things

The importance of arts in an education can't be dismissed

A Challenge to Parents: Give your children the gift of a lazy summer

Depression in classrooms now commonplace. It's ok. I can relate.

Your kids' crazy schedules makes it very hard for me to teach them

Good class or Bad class? Teachers can tell immediately.

Three words every teacher dreads hearing: Not My Child

No matter how good a student a child is, anyone is capable of lying.

A teacher's complacency for a "good" student

This girl pushed my buttons. I tried not to react but often failed.

Middle Schoolers Stink!

Helicopter Parents Land In Classroom and Kick Up a Lot More Than Dust

Teacher Feature

©ShareWIK Media Group, LLC.  

Apr 05

Moms are everyday heroes for a variety of reasons.


And one of the main reasons is, they manage to get their kids to school every day – fed, clothed, and in their right minds.  

The kids, I mean.  The process could easily put anyone on the edge of sanity.


What sounds like such a simple feat in reality requires strategic planning on par with anything Danny Ocean ever executed. 


At our house, we have one who can’t get out of bed.  Another who takes too long in the bathroom.  And another who is nearly always on time, but calls everything just a little too close for me.


On a given morning, my youngest will spend 20 minutes staring at her bowl of cereal, never eating a bite, while one of her brothers provides an ongoing commentary on whatever topic has piqued his interest for the day.  And it’s usually one that annoys her.  (Cue squabbling.)


Another son perfectly times his entrance to the kitchen to eliminate as much human interaction as possible.  Which is usually a good idea.


And I manage all of it.


By the time everyone walks out the door, I have announced the time every seven minutes for an hour, encouraged someone to “hurry up” at least a dozen times, examined – and often made adjustments to - everyone’s wardrobe selections, timed bathroom occupancy and usually refereed at least one argument.


Which doesn’t leave much patience for the carpool line at school, where everyone seems to need a remedial course in driving courtesy.  I’ve seen the other half of the peace sign more than once after unloading my children. 


And by the time I’ve emptied the car, I feel like I’ve already worked half a day. 


I remind my kids regularly how fortunate they are that I am willing to make that drive every morning. 


Because plenty of kids ride the bus.  Which adds another element to the morning rush:  getting to the bus stop on time.


One of my friends, fed up with the daily antics and regular “emergency” trips to school because her kids missed the bus, decided it was time to teach her boys responsibility.  She warned them she would not provide taxi service to school if they missed the busy again. 


And she wasn’t kidding.


When the next inevitable, “oops we missed the bus,” moment arrived, she handed them the phone book.  “Call a taxi,” she said.


And they did.


And, they split the fare.


My son came home that afternoon, incredulous.  “Do you know how Matt got to school today?” he asked. 


“As a matter of fact I do,” I replied. 


“Do you know how much it COST?!”


“No,” I said.  “Do you?”


Because I was thinking, maybe I should start charging.


Jun 05

The stack of graduation announcements grows by the day this time of year.  

Each year, the long standing traditions that mark the end of high school give rise to a new group of boo-hooing mamas, sitting through the seemingly endless parade of children in adult bodies, dressed in cheap polyester gowns and ugly caps, waiting for the moment when their child crosses the stage so they can capture it on the flip camera for posterity.

My first kid graduated high school last year.  And honestly, I had no idea what kind of emotional wreck I might be.

So I had a talk with my daughter that went something like this: 

“I’ll try not to cry… If I do cry, I’ll try not to do it at a time or in a place where you would be embarrassed. … If you’re embarrassed, just ignore me.”

Turns out, I didn’t need to worry.

I was prepared with plenty of tissues, and as Pomp and Circumstance cued the entrance of graduates I felt my throat tighten.  But then, an individual whose house my daughter had decorated with a six-month supply of Charmin walked in, and I got the giggles instead.

Bless her heart.

It’s not that I don’t relate a little to the nostalgia.  There is something that gives one pause as you watch your child walk across that stage, a mostly grown-up person.  You realize, while the significance of your input into her life is not diminished, from now on, it will be limited. 

I thought all of that as I watched my daughter, and I echoed the sentiments of most parents who experience that moment:  where did the time go?

But then I thought a little more. 

And I’ll tell you where the time goes:  laundry. 

Laundry, and cleaning the homework papers out of a backpack. 

Making lunches.  Making cookies to go into the lunches.

Taking the forgotten lunch to school. 

Holding up multiplication flashcards.  Chasing down the right sports equipment. 

Making sure the teacher gets a good Christmas gift. Making the teacher’s Christmas gift.

Waiting in the carpool line. 

Finding the other sock.  Or the other shoe.  Finding the right shoes if you have a daughter. 

Wiping.  Bottoms, noses, tears.  Hair out of the eyes.  The certain-kind-of-grin off your face.

Listening with love and concern to the myriad incidents that cause emotional pain and distress – knowing that truth and time will put them all in perspective, and this child will likely forget about it long before you do.

Listening with love and concern to practice sessions.  Paying the piano teacher anyway.

I have three more kids to graduate.  I will be doing all this stuff for a long time. 

And that’s where the time will go.

The days drag on, but the years fly by.  And while I love almost every minute of my kids' growing-up time, it's been a lot of work.  Frankly, I don’t have the energy to do it forever.  

So, I didn’t cry at graduation.  I did a happy dance!

And then I sent her on her merry way to college.  And I have to say, I really like the person who has returned from her first year of college.  She can find her own socks and manage her own schedule. 

I’m still doing her laundry though.  We’ll have to do something about that.


Humor writer Hallie Bandy is the mother of four children and lives on a farmette in rural Kentucky--both of which provide more than enough fodder for her writing.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. 


More Hallie Bandy articles, click here.


©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC






We are only a few weeks into the new school year and I can already see the wheels falling off the cart for some of my students.  I know the transition to the start of the year can be slow as kids shake off the cobwebs in their brains after a summer of sleeping late and playing video games.  Some kids are able to get the cart rolling along by themselves and get back up to speed quickly.  For others, they need a jack that is cranked up by their teachers and parents to get things moving forward again.

So it is with Quentin, one of my sixth graders.  Quentin’s role in our school is what I term as “the mayor.”  He goes around glad-handing everyone, smiling and cutting jokes to bring the attention to himself.  He is small in stature with big brown eyes and bright blonde hair. 

He’s cute!  He’s funny!  He is super distracting in the classroom.  And, he can’t keep track of anything.

Today, he failed to turn in his homework in language arts and science classes.  Generally, that would mean that he would suffer the consequence of receiving a zero for both assignments.  This time, however, I gave him a “get out of jail free” card.  You see, I think that Quentin is suffering from a touch of pre-adolescence.  He is spanning that bridge between young childhood and his teenage years and seems to be swinging out of control.

Quentin’s disorganization and distraction are common for kids his age.  For one thing, he is desperately trying to be cool with the older students in seventh and eighth grade.  In his role as the mayor, he feels he needs to be close friends with everyone and to make sure he is well liked by all.  This is a tough act to keep up all day long.

Secondly, he is discovering girls.  He doesn’t let his small stature deter him from going after girls older and taller than him.  All girls are potential sweethearts for Quentin as he looks for someone special to hang out with.

He is also experiencing how to behave as a middle school student – one who must pick up and move from class to class, teacher to teacher, and keep track of what he needs to bring with him.  Forgotten notebooks, textbooks, homework papers, and pencils top the list of items often left in his homeroom. 

So what’s a boy to do with all of these distractions going on?  It’s no wonder he can’t sit still in class and focus on the lesson at hand.  He is so busy trying to process all the changes in his body and brain that sitting still and listening quietly are not options.

While I am sympathetic to what Quentin is going through, I can not sit back and wait patiently for him to get back on track in his own time. 

I met with Quentin and his father after school to discuss an action plan.  My suggestion was that the family comes up with a behavior modification plan that is spearheaded by Quentin and supported by me and his other teachers.  He is charged with writing the plan this weekend and presenting it to me next week.  I told him to include how he will be recording his assignments, keeping track of school papers, and being prepared for each class. 

While I am realistic in knowing that this will not be a quick fix, I hope this will help to steer him back on course.  Of course, the sooner he gets moving forward, the less frustrated both of us will be. 

Margaret Andersen is the mother of three teenagers and is a middle school teacher somewhere in the Midwest.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. For more Margaret Anderson articles, click here. 


 ©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC



So your child’s school recently finished the first quarter or trimester of school and conducted the parent-teacher conferences.  Did the conference go as well as you had hoped? 

Unfortunately for all involved, those parent-teacher conferences create a lot of anxiety.  Teachers are worried that a parent will come upset about a grade and will verbally attack them because they must certainly shoulder the brunt of the responsibility for the poor grade.  Parents are worried that the teacher is going to point out some sort of flaw in their child.  It’s too bad that P/T conferences have become the most hated event in a school year when actually it should be looked upon as an event to motivate and celebrate. 

I am wondering how many of you parents heard the words “testing” or “evaluation” in your P/T conference?  Without a doubt, those two words are often the deal-breakers in maintaining a good working relationship between teacher and parents.  Even though testing means “solution” to a teacher, parents correlate testing with labeling.  When a teacher says “I think we should look into having your child tested,” most parents hear “I think your child is suffering from a serious learning disability, is drastically deficient, and needs intervention.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Testing or assessing is the best tool parents and teachers have to discover the way in which a student learns.  Testing is done by a licensed teaching consultant on an individual basis to allow the examiner to closely monitor your child’s level of effort in a supportive, non-threatening environment.  The assessments administered include looking for cognitive development, academic achievement, visual perception, motor coordination, visual-motor coordination, and behavioral and emotional development.

Along with the testing, parents and teachers are routinely asked to fill out forms to determine their perceptions of how the student is acting in the home and in the classroom.  In addition, the consultant will observe the student in the classroom to get yet another picture of her behavior.  All of these pieces will be fit together to determine what will help the entire team of teachers, parents, and most importantly, the student, achieve success.

Ultimately, the information gathered will show what obstacles are preventing a student from learning to his or her full potential.  Teachers and parents will be given recommendations to try like behavior interventions, teaching strategies, and learning environment changes.  All of these options are to benefit the child. 

What is most important to know is that at no time is the consultant labeling or diagnosing your child with a specific disability, which is what so many parents are afraid of – if my child is diagnosed with a disability, then he will be labeled for the rest of his academic career.  And it is that fear which so often prevents a child from being tested in the first place.  And without that testing, the teacher has no idea what she can do to help your child.

Think of it this way.  If your child had trouble breathing you would most likely take her to a doctor to find out the causes of the problem.  The doctor would in turn investigate the problem, describe what the problem is, and design a treatment plan.  (Similar to what the educational consultant would do.)  And what parent wouldn’t agree that having your child be able to breathe properly wasn’t important.   So why is it so hard for parents to agree to have their child tested for problems in their learning?  In my opinion, refusing testing can be just as harmful to the growth of a child as refusing to give as asthmatic child their Albuterol to aid their breathing.

That may be a bit harsh to read, but the truth of the matter is that testing is an important tool for many students to be able to achieve success in the classroom.


Margaret Andersen is the mother of three teenagers and is a middle school teacher somewhere in the Midwest.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. For more Margaret Anderson articles, click here. 



 ©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

The phone call this morning was one of many each week.  Mom is in tears.  Samantha is in bed.  She won’t get up and come to school.  There is so much at stake.  Next week is finals week.  She is a graduating senior, but not if she doesn’t come to school. Can we make an exception?  Give her the finals in January?  Decrease the load? Rescue her from the choice she has made? 

More discussion reveals that Samantha partied at someone else’s house this weekend.  She did not take her medication that keeps her anxiety and adherence to a routine within acceptable limits.  Last night she was on her computer until the wee hours.  Mom is not sure if she was doing school work or something else, but she did ask her to go to bed several times.  Hmmmm….anyone here see a pattern? 

Samantha and her mother, like countless other parents and children are in a vicious cycle of indulgence, denial, avoidance and blame.  For personal success and growth to happen, the cycle must be stopped.  Does Samantha’s story sound familiar? 

Samantha is a young lady we have been working with for three years. Last year she completed the school year on top of the world.  Her grades were stellar and her level of responsibility was exemplary.  Samantha is a very capable student who struggles with anxiety and the avoidance tactics that she has developed over the years.  Mom cannot tolerate for Samantha to be unhappy or dissatisfied, so they have danced the dance of misplaced power for years.  

Mom begs, cajoles or ignores while Samantha does whatever she feels she should do to avoid feeling bad about anything.  She doesn’t want to do her homework so she doesn’t. The next day, she doesn’t want to go to class unprepared, so she doesn’t.  Mom calls the school to report that Samantha is “sick” and another layer of concrete is added to the barrier Samantha and her mother have constructed that separates this lovely capable young girl from the success she could be creating for herself. 

If things were so good last year, what happened?  Well, I suspect that the summer without a job (which we assisted her with but she did not show up for work) or any other meaningful activity created an intolerable level of anxiety as she anticipated her senior year. 

Once seniors realize that after graduation they are largely on their own, they may  experience a temporarily paralyzing angst . Most of the time, they come to grips with the reality that this is a process they must go through in order to finish high school. They buckle back down and end the school year with amazing grace and success.  However, Samantha does not have the support system to prod her forward.  She will continue to cover her head with her pillow and wait for Mom to rescue her by decreasing the expectations and giving her more wiggle room. 

Not this time.  

Our school staff has seen how strong and talented she is.  There will be no extension for her exams. If she does not pass all of her first semester classes, we will work with her to complete them in a timely fashion.  If graduation date comes and she cannot join her class, she will have had ample opportunity to reconfigure her situation. We will continue to provide the opportunity, but she has to accept the responsibility.  Knowing that the real world does not adjust to her anxiety is an important lesson that is best learned before she is dependent on the pay check! She has learned that lesson before, so now she has to trust that it is reality.  

I wish that parents, in general, and her well-intentioned mother, specifically, could understand that every time they step in to remove discomfort from their child, they sacrifice the opportunity to teach that child that they are strong and capable. Earlier  lessons are not so difficult because the consequences of failure for a child are not life changing.  The longer it takes to learn to look a problem in the eye and tackle the solution, the more damaging the consequences can become. 

Samantha still has a chance to achieve her goal of graduation.  When her avoidance is replaced with autonomy, she will no longer be a victim of her anxieties.  When resistance is replaced with responsibility, she will see her way through difficulties and challenges.   I have confidence in her spirit.  I just hope her mom shares that confidence.


Jacque Digieso has been an educator for over 40 years.  She and her husband Joe co-founded The Cottage School in Roswell, GA, to educate adolescents with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and other special educational needs. The school currently serves close to 150 middle and high school students.  Jacque and her husband have two sons, one of whom is adopted, and a handful of grandchildren.  

The link to Jacque's Blog.  

To follow on Twitter: @cottageschoolGA 

Facebook Page

 ©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

As we are getting used to the “New Reality,” we should address the “new reality” in education. The adage that you have to have a college diploma to be successful just doesn’t ring true…never did.  I am not sure when we Americans became so myopic, but the fact that we stick our kids in an “either/or” scenario is more than regrettable.

Of course a college diploma is desirable.  But it is not the only desirable outcome for career success. There are many specific jobs that require that one to spend an additional four to 12 years learning the skills.  I would not want my brain surgeon to have completed an 18-month certification program. 

I would like educators, politicians, parents, teachers and the students themselves to face up to the fact that a college education is not the end-all and be-all to success. We not only need to re-adjust our thinking but our allocation of funds to support alternative education options.

I challenge us to take a look at the highly talented skilled professionals in the fields of computers, machinery, or creative arts. We all know highly successful professionals who did not need four additional years of academic study to hone their craft.  They also make enough money to hire a financial planner to manage their loot. 

I submit that the tendency our society has to tell our young people (and their parents) that college is the only route to happiness and prosperity is a major contributor to the fact that we, as a nation, are losing our global edge in science and technology – not to mention it’s hard finding a car mechanic these days. 

How many bright ideas are squelched because the young person who has them has been told they are “not college material?” How many school counselors devote their time and energy perfecting a college path for a student but barely spend any time with a student who wants a technical school? And, why are taxpayers and scholarship funds paying for students who don’t want to go to college and will be doomed to fail? We need to deal with the new educational reality.

I will never forget when my eldest son told me to quit pushing him so hard in high school. “After all, Mom, I am only vocational,” were his exact words.  A chill surged through my entire body. The hair on the back of my neck stood up and I am sure I had flames soaring out of my eyes!  Only Vocational????   I said...with my voice raising incrementally with each syllable….just what did that mean???

Some 20 years later, with years of specific training in a variety of fields, he is a master mechanic for John Deere, travelling from golf course to golf course tending to their precious machinery.  He is a gifted welder. He can diagnose and fix any piece of equipment or vehicle. He owned his own irrigation company until his elbows gave out.  His annual pay surpasses the majority of teachers in our state of Georgia.  Only vocational?

And then there is our dear family friend, Katie, whom we have known since childhood.  She developed childhood diabetes at age 10 but her large high school ignored that she was smart and creative and only focused on the fact that from time to time she would miss school due to medically related complications from her diabetes.  She transferred to The Cottage School in order to complete the high school diploma program she was being denied at her home school.

When we enrolled her, she told us she didn’t need college preparatory classes because she was “only going to be a cosmetologist.”  Only a cosmetologist?  Really?

On our campus, she took the full core curriculum and loved her chemistry classes, as well, as her art and math classes. She is now an educator with Redken, travelling nationwide to advise salon owners and stylists on the latest in coloring techniques. She is highly sought after and is often on stage demonstrating her knowledge and skills to thousands of attendees at Redken’s national shows.  How could anyone suggest that this talented young lady is not successful? Not only is she happy in her career, but her bank account is quite healthy!

I understand that college is an important route for many careers.  I simply think that promoting a college education as the only acceptable post-secondary route is not “enough” to sustain our modern society. 

Employers already know that talent and skill trump the degree.  It is time to take a look at the jobs our society depends on, determine the post-secondary training that best fits those jobs and stop telling our young people that anything other than college acceptance is substandard. 

More attention to our career guidance programs is needed to help our young people determine where their talents lie.  More attention and investment is needed to create and offer an expanded curriculum that raises the level of respect and opportunity for our young citizens who may select a career than does not require additional extensive academic study. 

It just doesn’t have to be so hard!

Jacque Digieso has been an educator for over 40 years.  She and her husband Joe co-founded The Cottage School in Roswell, GA, to educate adolescents with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and other special educational needs. The school currently serves close to 150 middle and high school students.  Jacque and her husband have two sons, one of whom is adopted, and a handful of grandchildren.  

The link to Jacque's Blog.  

To follow on Twitter: @cottageschoolGA 

Facebook Page

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

I like to go directly to the source to get my best information so I asked my 8th graders this week what their thoughts were about cheating.  You should understand going into this that this is a tight-lipped group.  We rarely have any good class discussions because they just don’t like to talk in an organized group setting.  They will talk all day long to one another at the lunch table or out on the playground but they rarely speak a word in the classroom.

The first thing I had to do was to pry their lips open to get them to share their thoughts.  I convinced them that I was doing research for this article and promised that it would not impact their standing with me.  They settled into the conversation and freely shared their definition of cheating.  All of the students agreed that just giving someone an answer is definitely cheating, meaning that the receiver has not put any effort into finding the answer on his own.  That being said, in times of desperation, many of them have resorted to that both in the giving and the taking.

They all agreed that sharing answers if both parties are working together is not cheating.  For example, they feel that it’s O.K. if one student does the even problems, one does the odd problems, and then they share answers.  From a teacher’s perspective I am not to crazy about that idea.  If I give an assignment, I expect that a student does the whole thing, not just half, and gets the other half for free!  

Their reasons for cheating were nothing earth-shattering new.  Not enough time, didn’t feel like doing the work, and didn’t understand the material were the common excuses.  It was clear though that the best student in the class was not into cheating at all.  I have personally watched Isaiah and know that he will usually help a student understand the material but he will not hand them the answer on a platter with a smile on his face!  He knows he had to work to get where he is academically and he expects that his classmate put forth the same effort.

In just 19 school days, these 8th graders will be graduating from their elementary school.  They will be off to the big, scary world of high school and a whole new set of teachers, classmates, and school subjects.  I figure that in the beginning they will put in the work to get all of their homework done, and for the most part, they will do it independently -- mostly because they have not established relationships with classmates that they can pawn off of.  But, being human, I am sure most of them will slip back into their middle school habit of sharing answers, finding shortcuts, and basically being lazy students.  

I wish they could learn from my mistakes in high school and not take the easy route because it is a path that leads to failure not success -- that, and years of regret for not doing work that I was fully capable of doing.  But like each of us, lessons are best learned the hard way.

Margaret Anderson is the mother of three teenagers and a middle school teacher somewhere in the Midwest.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist.


For more Margaret Anderson articles, click here.

 ©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

I am form-avoidant. I have no good reason for this aversion. I can read. My typing is fast. I adore pens and paper. I’m a professional writer: need a speech, a white paper, a press release, an article, a 50,000 word manuscript, an op-ed, a newspaper blurb, a witty Facebook status? I’m your woman. Just don’t make me answer questions on a line as big as a staple.  

I grow tired of the irrelevance. Does it matter if I’m a Mr. or Mrs.? Why do I need to write my address again? It’s on the form you mailed me! It is stored on every computer of every marketer in the free world! Get it from them!

The school district forms, which I’m forced to do or my kids will be home from 8:30 a.m.  to 3 p.m., are more complex than a corporate merger. Does your child have allergies? What is the cell phone number of your closest relative that is not actually your relative? What is your mother’s address where she lived when she was 12? How is your child getting home? Does your child have any fears? When was his last tetanus shot? Were there any problems at birth? If so, state the doctor’s address and describe the caesarean delivery, along with the address of any forceps provider.  Can you link your grocery card to the school? What is your grocery card number? What is your driver’s license number? Please state why you are showing a ticket for speeding in 1986. The officer’s name and address?

I always clear an afternoon to fill out the forms. My sarcasm gets the better of me. I write, “IT IS THE SAME ADDRESS and LIFE STORY AS LAST YEAR! You’ve GOT TO HAVE THIS stored SOMEWHERE!” However, guilt envelopes me, and I don’t want the school secretaries to talk about me. I’m actually nice, just form-challenged. So, I resign myself to answering questions. I move on to cafeteria, bus and then school nurse forms. Everyone needs our address. (Why don’t they share it? Plus, it’s not like any of them visit me.) Then the kids bring home their fundraising forms. (I direct the kids to make sure people fill out their addresses. If I don’t like to do my own forms, there’s no way I’m doing someone else’s.)

After 4.5 hours and a swollen, bloodied hand, I consider tequila shots for the pain emanating from the wrist. It is a sign to stop. The PTA forms loom. (I admit it. I miss PTA deadlines not because I’m a conscientious objector, it’s because I’m not done filling out forms.)

I pause to remember the visit to the family doctor’s office for my kids’ physicals. The receptionist ordered me to “sit and fill out these forms.” My mouth dropped open. Three sets of forms, one for each kid. History, insurance, and privacy forms. The paperwork resembled the ancient text of the King James Bible.

“There must be a mistake,” I said. “We’re already patients. We’ve filled out these forms last year.”

“Well, HIPA and office policy make us do this every year,” she said.

“That’s ridiculous,” I stated. “It’s the same address, phone, insurance and health history! And we’ve gone here for all visits, so you should have any notes of updates to our health.”

“Ma’am,” she said. I knew I am in trouble. “Ma’am” is only for troublemakers. “You have to fill these out. It’s policy.”

“But it’s the same history. I can see if I changed something, but I haven’t.”

She refused to take her clipboard back. Against my free will, I filled out forms for the next hour, sitting in the waiting room with three children, writing “SAME AS LAST YEAR” on each form.

Then I pause to remember my experience at the vet. The dog was complaining it was her turn--she had an ear infection. They didn’t make me write the dog’s health history (I would’ve written: OBESE KLEPTOMANIAC.) They didn’t ask insurance information. (Because I do not have dog insurance.) Everything has been entered into the computer before, and I am jubilant.

I contemplated asking the vet to manage my doc's office, schools and sports teams. There are no forms here in vet land, only slobber, dander and adoration. They are living well.


Kristine Meldrum Denholm is an award-winning freelance writer published in books, magazines, newspapers and e-pubs.  Visit with her here, Facebook or find her on Twitter @writerandmom.

For more Kristine Meldrum Denholm  columns, click here.

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC.

Today’s world of education is fraught with potholes, even for a typical child.  Strong statement, I know.  As a parent of two adults, one with a learning disability and one without, and a teacher for over 40 years working with typical and at-risk youth, I speak from experience. 

I can’t speak for the generation that went before me.  I reject the nostalgic concept that life a generation ago was more kind.  However, I do believe that today’s school aged child faces enormous challenges. 

One area of angst that almost every parent experiences occurs during the first few weeks of school.  Unless your child attends a school in a small community that knows each family and the children who are being nurtured in their midst, there are simply too many unknowns.  A great many parents experience a feeling of free-floating anxiety during the first few weeks of school.  Most classrooms are comprised of extremely diverse students (not a bad thing) and the expected pace of academic progress allows for little “getting acquainted” time.  As a result, many parents vie for their position next to the teacher so they can garner, perhaps, some special attention for their child. 

At the end of the day, parents have lots of questions: Is the assigned homework an appropriate amount?; are the friends the child is making good for him/her?; is the curriculum a good fit for their child?  It appears that “danger” in the form of rejection, failure or unhappiness, lurks beneath every student’s desk.

Although I am a solution-based professional, I do not see one easy solution.  Little can be done to make a large school smaller or an overwhelmed teacher more attentive and responsive. I do think that increased communication between parent and school is a good beginning.  Setting aside some time at the end of the day for the parents to talk with the child and each other is also a way to, at least deal with current perceptions – or misperceptions – before they become overblown.  

Every parent needs to be able to allow their child to experience the school day without running interference for them.  However, they also need to be prepared to move in to address issues that go beyond the child’s ability to extricate himself or herself.  Sounds schizophrenic, doesn’t it?  

Today’s parent must walk that very thin line between letting the child learn from life’s experiences and addressing situations (such as bullying or sexual harassment) that require immediate adult management.

As with most problems, timely and honest communication is the key.  If a child feels safe with his or her parents, and knows that special time to talk about school is routinely set aside in the family, they can establish a routine of conversations that allow the parents to get a bird’s eye view of the school experience. And, then they can determine if their advice and support from home is sufficient or if they need to bring in school administrators to address an issue. 

Even if their child is not a talker, they have established a safe and positive routine that will serve them well as a family. 


Jacque Digieso has been an educator for over 40 years.  She and her husband Joe co-founded The Cottage School in Roswell, GA, to educate adolescents with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and other special educational needs. The school currently serves close to 150 middle and high school students.  Jacque and her husband have two sons, one of whom is adopted, and a handful of grandchildren. 

Check out Jacque's Cottage School blog here, follow her on Twitter @cottageschoolGA, and check out her Facebook page here. For more of Jacque Digieso's ShareWIK columns, click here.

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

I am a very vivid dreamer.  Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I have to separate out the reality of the day from the nighttime images and emotions.  Mostly, but not always, my dreams are insignificant or ordinary. 

Although I am a morning person and usually wake up happy and ready to meet the day, I have been known to wake up under the influence of whatever I dreamed the night before.  I may not even be able to remember what the specific circumstances were, but I wake up sad, or frustrated or angry.  Luckily, I have a routine I follow to get ready for the day and it is during that routine that I can do a “dashboard check” to determine if, in fact, I need to carry the emotion of the moment into my daily experience.  Once I realize that although they are very real, these are not legitimate feelings based on the reality of my current circumstances, I am able let them go.  

Sometimes I have to ask my husband if we had a conversation about a topic like selling the house, or did I dream it?  Usually, because it is such a random topic, I know that what I “remember” did not happen in the light of the day, and I let it slide into that part of my brain where nonsense goes. I spare my husband that moment where he looks at me askance (he claims he never dreams) and gives me that “you sweet, silly  wife of mine” look. 

Other times my waking memory and emotional state are so thoroughly ingrained in my mind it takes a while to peel away what was a dream and begin to operate on the actual situation.  Just this week I found myself worrying during the day about how to help complete a written report from a board member at one of the nonprofits with which I work.  

It took a while before I realized that there were no written reports expected….that  concern was part of my story line during my sleep the night before.  I had very elaborate visuals and conversations that I could recall--none of which had actually happened. Once I had that reality check, the stress that I was feeling was immediately relieved and replaced with the frequent chagrin that I may be losing my grip on reality!! But this has happened to me for years-since adolescence-and I do not seem any crazier than I have always been.

This is the time of year that we educators are surrounded with anxiety.  Our new staff members spin themselves into a frenzy trying to do it all because they want to begin the school year prepared and excited…even while they are trying to remember where the restrooms are and the time and dates of the staff meetings! Our new families are overcome with second guessing and fears that they will never find the perfect fit for their child.  The returning families are fearful that the gains made last year were a fluke or that the challenges of the past year will get worse.  It should not be a surprise that the beginning of every school year feels like it is vibrating with emotion. It is the perfect combination of the fear of the unknown and the known!

I can relate to these anxieties.  I go through my days with ease and confidence.  My time is filled with appointments, meetings and events.  It is in the nether, nether land of sleep that my brain begins to re-enact the reality of my insecurities.  There is nothing to distract me from the fears I so gracefully ignore during the day. I am not in control of the night time images and emotions that rush into those surreal but vivid images, conversations and feelings and linger into the waking hours.

If I, a more than middle-aged adult with years of therapeutic experience, am a slave to these fears and find myself a bit shaken from time to time as I deal with what my mind imposes on me, think what it must be like for the young middle school student whose days have actually been filled with nightmarish experiences.  

What about the teen with compulsions or other behaviors that are not entirely in their control, but have very real social consequences?  Where do their dreams take them  when there are less distractions to alleviate their self conscious state?  

How many times do our students carry unresolved negativity left over from a reality that occurred beyond their awareness? Their youth and inexperience makes this occurrence a much more uncomfortable state of mind.  Their creativity and sensitivity to their environment contribute to the powerful images they may experience in sleep.  I would like to think that their dreams are gentle and uplifting….but I know better.  I would hope all the adults who deal with them are aware of the overlay of emotions our kids often endure…but I know better. 

What I can do is remind our staff and our parents of the fragile state our students are at the beginning of the school year, acknowledge that anxieties affect us all and encourage them to reach outside of their own anxieties to buffer and absorb the demons our kids may bring with them each day. And try to remember that advice myself!

Jacque Digieso has been an educator for over 40 years.  She and her husband Joe co-founded The Cottage School in Roswell, GA, to educate adolescents with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and other special educational needs. The school currently serves close to 150 middle and high school students.  Jacque and her husband have two sons, one of whom is adopted, and a handful of grandchildren. 

Read Jacque's blog here, find the Cottage School on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter @cottageschoolGA. 

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

“It’s time!” I say to the kids, only they are not listening.  They are, in fact, groaning. “It is time to get into the car and go school supply shopping! Rejoice!” I am excited. My palms are sweaty. My inner nerd loves the paper, pencils and pens. It also loves the fact my kids will soon be occupied from 9-3.

You know those parents in the Staples commercial who are skipping and throwing school supplies in the cart as “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” bellows in the background?

Every year, that is me.  Don't get me wrong, I love my darlings. But each year I pile my kids into the car with a spring in my step. This year is no different.

Working from a home office is usually a challenge in the summer, so I’m ready when they head back to school. (And after buying 427 notebooks, 350 red, blue and black pens, 3742 folders, which will rip within the fifth week, 8729 highlighters –which they can’t actually use on any of their books--and close to 42 million glue sticks, I can guarantee my smile does not fade until I hit the cash register.)

And every year, I become engulfed—as I drive to the store-- in a “Thank God school is back in session, they need to be busy,” and a “but now all sorts of change, stress, adjustment and homework and projects begin” war in my head.

This year on our drive, I do what other concerned parents do:  ask them what they think school will be like this year. I fill their head with “you can do it” remarks. I pray for them. I promise them a few new outfits so they’re feeling their best. I nag them about their summer reading lists: yes you may go to the pool later but only one more week to finish that book! Yes I know you’re bored by it but just read it because if you don’t you’ll get behind right away and….

“Mom, were you nervous when you started a new school?”

There it is, I think, the golden nugget. Yes, yes, yes I was, honey. It will all be OK. You got this. This too will pass. I hear myself saying what sounds like trite advice. But I am comforted they asked me a serious question in the midst of the school supply stuff. That is how kids do it, I remind myself: bits of their reality hidden underneath a question. You can’t force feed them. You can only validate them.

It was a lesson that took me years to learn. After reading all the parenting books and seeking parenting advice (which I still do), I crammed lots of “we should do this” down their throats. But somewhere, I realized we all try to be the best parents we can be, but there are so many things out of our control.  So I implore helicopter parents-- step back.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not possible to completely control parenting. Nor is it good. Your child will have a multitude of scenarios to face and must get by in life with just himself. Should you really be hand-picking their teachers, when they will be someday dealing with professors and co-workers and bosses who they might not understand?  Their self-confidence will grow if they can solve problems themselves. As a parent, the questions you ask yourself are tough: How long do you hold your baby’s hand? What about classroom and friend drama, peer pressure, pressure to perform, and short attention spans? Should you meddle in every single situation? Should you pepper kids with questions so much that they don’t want to talk to you at all, as they’re in fear it’s now an interrogation?

I say no. Help when we’re asked or when it's needed. And always be their advocate. But validate their reality, give them wings, let them fly, and be there for them if and when they want to talk, even if it’s a question in the middle of the eraser aisle at Target.

We have arrived at the store for our afternoon shopping of school supplies. “Oh, it’s the most wonderful time of the year!” I sing.

“No it’s not,” they say, in unison, and head down the aisles with their lists of supplies. “Can I get some Nikes instead?” 

Kristine Meldrum Denholm is an award-winning freelance writer published in books, magazines, newspapers and e-pubs.  Visit with her here, check out her Facebook, or follow her on Twitter @WriterAndMom. 


For more Kristine Meldrum Denholm  columns, click here

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

It has been looming in the air for weeks now.  The newspaper’s slick ads have been showing all the shiny, new folders, pens and pencils in the latest styles and colors.  The supply lists have been appearing in the mail along with the final registration papers.  The big yellow bus was seen meandering its way through the neighborhood practicing for its first day route.  It’s baaa-aackkk!  Yep, the first day of school is upon us.

Some of you mothers are planning your back-to-school-get-together-with-the-mothers kaffeeklatsch.  You are looking forward to uninterrupted time to go to the bathroom and read the newspaper. Some are mourning the loss of having your children away from you each waking moment every day and wonder how you will fill your time.  And those of you working outside the home will continue the grind of dragging kids out of bed, making cold lunches, and preparing yourselves for work all before the sun rises.  Wherever you are in this process, you have been preparing.

How about your children?  Have they been preparing too?  Have you been helping them prepare?  Back to school time brings on lots of emotions for the kiddos too.  Many children are pumped to get back to see all of their friends.  It is a chance to hang with their “besties” and goof around at lunch and recess (and probably the classroom too!).  The girls can’t wait to wear their new clothes and show off their latest purchases.  Boys know that back to school brings football and they are excited to smash into other players on the field.  Putting on the pads, helmets, and cleats makes them feel like warriors going to battle which makes just getting up each morning worth it.

But what about the children that aren’t so stoked to be heading back into the classroom?  There are lots of reasons for their anxiety: having low academic ability and experiencing poor grades; feeling left out of the social scene at school; showing signs of physical maturity, i.e. pimples, newly formed breasts, body odor, body hair, or the complete lack of any of the aforementioned!  Not to mention being assigned to a teacher with whom they don’t really gel; just not being a morning person; and finally, just a general fear and anxiety about school, are  just some of the factors affecting their emotions!

So how can you as a parent help make the transition back to school easy as A-B-C and 1-2-3?  First of all, include your child in the process of purchasing supplies.  Let them make the decisions about the colors and styles of their folders, notebooks, and other necessities.  Having a say-so builds ownership and pride.  These go a long way to feeling prepared to head back into the classroom.  

Don’t forget to go through last year’s leftovers first!  There may be some things that can be reused.  This may also provide an opportunity to discuss things that went well or didn’t go so well last year.  It could open the door to a spontaneous conversation that allows you to reassure your child that you are there to support them in whatever way they need.  You can also help them to see that sometimes a person’s fears get blown out of proportion when really they are stronger in character than they give themselves credit.

Secondly, talk about your expectations regarding homework, effort and grades.  Parents can help their children establish SMART goals: Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.  These goals should focus on how much time to one should expect to spend on homework each evening; what grades are reasonable; and how much time the child will devote to extra-curricular activities, volunteering, and work or chores.  Making these goals clear from the beginning will eliminate the “You never told me!” arguments later.

Further, I am a huge proponent on meeting with the teacher.  While this often doesn’t happen until there is a problem in the classroom, I recommend setting up a time for the parents and the child to meet with the teacher before school starts.  There is a lot of relationship building that can occur when you have a sit-down, face-to-face chat with the teacher.  I still do home visits with my seventh grade students and their parents and really enjoy getting to talk to the kids on their own turf.  They open up more easily and we get to see each other as real human beings.  Even if the conversation happens in the school building, being together without the distraction of the entire class really makes a difference.  

Finally, whether you as parents will be laughing in your coffee, crying in your tissue, or zipping down the highway to work, remember that the first day of school is a big deal for your children.  Patience, support, and firm expectations will help your child off to a successful year.

Margaret Anderson is the mother of three teenagers and a middle school teacher somewhere in the Midwest.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist.


 More Margaret Anderson articles, click here

 ©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

There’s a hilarious scene in the TV show “The Middle,” where the mom, played by Patricia Heaton, is calling her husband, who’s at the Parent Night at the beginning of the school year. She shouts into the phone something like: “You get to that sign up sheet early! And you look for that list that starts with BRING and not BAKE! Because then I can bring paper products! Of course, the room MOM and her friends will have already signed up, but you grab that sheet and LOOK!”

I guess I have been discovered.

Vindication! There are women just like me. Perhaps they are still in the closet, but apparently Patricia Heaton and I would like to urge them to come forward. It is safe here. You are with friends who don’t judge. We are the women who look for the paper products sign-ups. Yes, room mom, we will gladly bring bakery cookies to the school, team or band event! No, room mom, we can not spend 120 hours making a cake that doesn’t have milk, peanuts, flour or sugar and made only of carrots topped with candy corn people.

We are the domestically challenged. We are the imposter school moms.

We do not keep popscicle sticks all summer and by the afternoon turn them into a crystal lamp that can be auctioned for the school.

We cannot find a computer monitor and paint it and nail gun it into a black shirt, turning the creation into a brilliant iPhone costume which causes our kid to win a “Most Original” award.   

We are craft challenged. We are sewing challenged. We are recipe challenged.

In short, we are challenged by all things that Marthas can do.  We are the Un-Marthas.

I’ve brought entire bus stop conversations to a halt when I’ve admitted I didn’t know what “from scratch” actually meant.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve volunteered in all of my children’s classes when they were young. I’ve read to children and listened to them read. I’ve played math facts bingo and drilled kids with flash cards, I’ve sat on room mom committees (as head of the Paper Products Committee), helped with Field Day, and counted approximately 55,987,654,321,898,576 box tops. But I was sweating.  The entire time, I knew I was dangerously close to being discovered: any of the moms could whip my butt in a June Cleaver challenge. (C’mon, even Carol Brady had Alice.)

In the same way I subconsciously cover my mouth when I meet a dentist, I avoid all conversation with my child’s home ec teacher (or gourmet pastry chefs) for fear they may ask me to “just whip this light meringue up at home and fold it and drizzle it into the inside of this rolled-out flour mixture, it won’t take too long.”

When they were young, I hated the Halloween parade at school with the beaming, exhausted mothers who had spent the past 48 hours in a marathon to create their kid's King Tut costume with decoupaged mask and draped gold fabric via flagrant glue gun abuse, while I notice the tag on my kid’s store-bought costume is still on.

Oh, I do enough so no one notices I’m an imposter mom. I can make an apple pie and a pumpkin pie, with a special thanks to the Libby people for putting the recipe on the can. I make great treat bags. Many a kid have come away from the house saying, “Hey cool! Mrs. Denholm’s giving out candy AND soda!”

No, you won’t see me signing up to bring all the hypoallergenic baked goods to the Fall Fest. Instead I’ll be reading Charlie Brown’s Great Pumpkin to the whole family, only no one will listen because they’re too old for the story. In which case I’ll produce the DVD. And I do have two arms that will go pick apples with my kids, take a hayride afterwards and hug them like there was no tomorrow.  

Just don’t ask me to carve a pumpkin into Dracula and use the scrapings for a pie. 

Kristine Meldrum Denholm is an award-winning freelance writer published in books, magazines, newspapers and e-pubs.  Visit with her here on Facebookor Twitter @writerandmom.


For more Kristine Meldrum Denholm  columns, click here.

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC


One of the unique aspects of The Cottage School’s innovative programming is the correlation to the working world.  Taking adolescents  who have experienced relentless failure and frustration in traditional settings, TCS provides an accredited academic and social environment, but is organized as if the students were employees, complete with time clock, hourly ( mock) salary for specific responsible behaviors, and pay levels that reflect accountability and trustworthiness.  

The result is that these talented (but frustrated) students replace their avoidance, anxieties and below grade-level performance with self-reliance, competence and pride. Graduates are successfully accepted into colleges, art and technical schools, military service and apprenticeships.  

In order to be certain that the lessons learned at TCS are consistent with the skills required in the working world, I subscribe to  trade magazines and other business related media.  One of my favorites is “The Atlanta Business Chronicle.”  Not only does it cover a wide range of economic topics, but the articles often address the issues related to soft skills such as creativity, communication and anxiety. 

Although these articles are designed for adults, I often share the topics with the parents at TCS.  It is important for parents who often focus more on academic skills than the life-long skills of time management, communication, goal-setting and conflict resolution to realize that unless addressed in a timely manner, social skills may prove to be a greater barrier to success than academic skills.

The lessons to be learned do not go away.  The student in high school who slips under the radar and just barely gets by, becomes the student in college who does not participate in class discussion because of a fear of ridicule. The road of least resistance becomes the road of least  reward, as well.  Communication skills and creativity are associate with a certain level of risk.  

For a person who is consumed with anxiety, the payoff is simply not worth the cost.  The cost in high school is  more than a less than fulfilling experience.  The cost is almost always a less than adequate preparation for the demands that a college or work environment  have in store.  

A recent issue has an article on the cost of social anxiety…a growing disorder in both adolescents and in the work place.  We often interview  teens who have a debilitating fear of attracting attention or interacting in their environment.  They come to us from environments that have battered them with ridicule, failure and shame. 

I have never met a teen who wants to fail, but I see multiple teens a week who are surrounded by frustration and disappointment every minute of every day.  Due to a problem with reading, executive functioning or self esteem, they can not meet the expectations in their school environment. What seems to come easily to others is chronically  absent in their school experience.  

The problem may begin small…falling behind in an early reading class or slow to pick up basic math skills.  Because there is no one to pinpoint the problem and protect the areas of strength in that child, the failure spreads from one area to multiple areas, leaving  the older student with an open wound.  Until that child/young adult/mature adult experiences an environment that sustains their success and helps them rediscover their areas of talent and competency, the companion anxiety can be debilitating.

The characteristics of social anxiety that emerge in the work setting include poor performance,  attendance issues and lack of achievement.  Just as in school, an adult who is consumed with fear, is distracted at their job, finds reasons to stay home and seldom puts themselves in a position for recognition.  Just in as the classroom, the anxious/invisible  employee is often overlooked and easily discounted.  The cost to the company and to the employee is immeasurable. 

If the issue can be addressed before employment, even before college or technical training, the results would be much more satisfactory.  Most schools do not include this in their curriculum, or even their sub curriculum. The author in the “Atlanta Business Chronicle” article suggests that the employer engage outside consultants  to get the job done.  Obviously, that step increases the overall cost.

Ideally, if a school environment is not addressing this issue, a parent would find other means to build these skills in their teen.  Clubs, volunteer agencies, summer camps, even professional social skills groups or therapists could achieve the task.  Business owners, today,  are focused on staying afloat and creating a competitive product.  The chance that a business owner would, in addition, invest in  employee social skills development is asking a lot.  

Addressing this issue, at any age, insures the best for all concerned.  A confident adult contributes to all aspects of their life, including the success of the company for which they work.  

That is what I call a good investment!

Jacque Digieso has been an educator for over 40 years.  She and her husband Joe co-founded The Cottage School in Roswell, GA, to educate adolescents with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and other special educational needs. The school currently serves close to 150 middle and high school students.  

Jacque and her husband have two sons, one of whom is adopted, and a handful of grandchildren. 

Read Jacque's blog here, find her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter @CottageSchoolGA.

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