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Resolutions are made in September, broken later


SEPTEMBER, NOT January, has always seemed like the month for resolutions to me. After all, it is the start of a new year -- albeit academic and not calendar. There is something about new school supplies, new teachers and new shoes that says clean slate, fresh start.

As a kid, I began every new school year with a promise to myself to stay on top of my homework. As a parent, I promise myself that I will stay on top of their homework.

I think teachers make new school year resolutions, too, and we usually hear about them on back-to-school night.

On those nights, parents are promised that there will be homework every night, that it will be collected and graded. That there will be spelling tests every Friday and book reports every month and progress reports will be sent home often.

We hear about novels that will be read and discussed and about SAT vocabulary words that will accumulate each week like cord wood.

We hear about field trips and enrichments, about study skills and notebook checks. Teachers sketch for parents an academic year packed with challenges and progress, and they promise parents that they will be on board, too, for this wonderful ride.

I confess that, as a student, I was always overwhelmed by homework by Thanksgiving and that, as a parent, I have been too often blindsided by reports, projects and deadlines that I never knew about until the night before.

And, it seems to me, teachers have trouble keeping their new school year resolutions, too.

I am convinced that broken promises, not poor test scores, are the major reason for the disaffection between parents and public schools.

We begin each year with renewed hope, buoyed by the ambitious plans of our children's teachers. But by January, so many of those plans have been abandoned, so many of those programs have gotten off-track, so many of those academic promises have been forgotten that parents become cynical.

There hasn't been a book report since November. The "fast math" grouping never materialized. By March it is clear that the class will never get to the Shakespeare unit. Not only have the progress reports ceased, but we can't get to the teacher without three days of phone tag. And homework is so infrequently collected and graded that we can't persuade our kids to do it anymore.

This is not true of every teacher, every year. But public schools disappoint parents a 100 times a year in these little ways, and when they do, they disaffect and disenchant their most important allies.

Private school teachers probably drop the ball, too. But there is a level of accountability between those parents and those teachers born of the fact that the parents are writing the checks that pay the teachers' salaries.

To be fair, those hot, wholesome school-night dinners that I commit to every September stop appearing with any regularity by about Halloween. I know how tough it is, when dealing with children, to keep the train on the tracks.

My suggestion to teachers and administrators would be this: Don't make promises to parents and students that you know, from your years of experience in the controlled chaos of classroom life, will be difficult to keep.

Keep your commitments modest, and then keep them.

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