Friday, September 15, 2000

Drill sergeant

Yesterday, we received a big bag of textbooks from my daughter’s teacher. I’d asked to be informed about upcoming assignments so I could pre-review them with my girl, who needs all the review she can get. And the teacher, accommodatingly, possibly with images in her head of her student lugging home the entire contents of her desk every day, gave us a spare set. So now we can study anytime, anywhere. Oh, boy.

Homework hasn’t taken long to take over our lives this year. Gone are the days when my daughter could flake out in front of endless hours of Nickelodeon or set her watch by “Supermarket Sweep.” About her only down time is dinnertime. Between the actual assigned homework, and my attempt to keep everything else fresh in her mind, she’s working from school’s out to lights out. Fortunately, she enjoys working. Me, on the other hand...

The homework I pretty much make her do on her own--hey, I graduated 3rd grade, I don’t need to do it again. But this elaborate plan of enrichment I’ve devised, the constant review, the repetition of math facts and vocabulary words, the reading of textbook passages again and again until the words stick in her slippery brain--those all require an adult drill sergeant to enforce and enable the practice, practice, practice. And that drill sergeant would be me.

The good news is that she can memorize things. The bad news is, it’s not quick. We’ve been going over the same set of reading vocabulary words since Monday. She sits down with the book, she studies, I quiz. She consistently gets half right. It is not always the same half. She will often dutifully repeat a definition word for word, but for the wrong word. That thumping noise you hear is me banging my head against the wall. Last night, she seemed to have them all. This morning...well, it’s anybody’s guess. But we’ll drill them again, right up to the point when she hops out of the car at the schoolyard. Then the test will tell the tale.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to drill reading comprehension, and the test may tell that tale, too. In the future we’ll read the story every night, starting on the weekend. These are long stories. Goodbye, “Rugrats.” Then there are the math flashcards that are mandated by her Sylvan Learning Center handlers. Just six minutes! they say. Anybody can find just six minutes to do flashcards! We do them after dinner, post vegetables, pre ice cream. And it does help. But those six minute increments represent another thing to fit in amongst all the other increments of time for all the other essential facts. It’s exhausting--and I’m not even the one who has to learn this stuff.

All in all, it makes me feel like I’m running a learning boot camp. But there are compensations. Just now, she came in and ran through her words, and she knew every one. I couldn’t be more proud. Of course, then I had to push it and drill her on the continents, and she named Asia, Europe, Africa, Antarctica, and New Jersey. Back to work, private.

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