816 North Opinion

Susan Vollenweider: I gave my kid a finger and gave his teacher a hand

“Mom, my teacher said to give this to you,” Noah said while unloading his backpack after school.

“Did she tell you to look inside?” I asked.

“She said to


look inside,” he told me with the wide eyes that lie, “but it just came open on the bus.”

I looked at the ripped top of the large manila envelope.


‘Just came open?’ 

” I said with the wide eyes that don’t tolerate fibs.

“Sorry. I was curious,” he finally admitted.

I read the letter inside. It was instructions for a surprise for the kids. Parents were supposed to write a shape poem around the enclosed drawing of a hand and decorate it. The poem didn’t have to rhyme but be words of encouragement for the end of school year assessment testing.

Parent homework.

I’m used to parent homework. When our eldest entered elementary school, I wasn’t expecting to do more than give her an assist on a science fair project (which we have never done), or proofread essays (which the kids don’t like me to do because I love my red pen too much). Mostly it’s been a craft optimistically advertised as “a fun project for you and your child.”

“Disguise this turkey for our Thanksgiving bulletin board.”

“Put Santa in a costume for our holiday display.”

“Make this kite uniquely your own to welcome spring.”

Unlike the past assignments, this one was for only parents to work. The poster-sized paper with a No. 1 finger drawn on it was to go on a bulletin board and point the kids in the right direction for testing.

Or something like that.

At first I was eager to do it. How hard would it be for me to come up with an encouraging poem for my son and decorate his surprise finger? She gave us ample time. Surely I could create … something.

I put the envelope on my To Do pile.

Yes, that pile.

The day before it was due I unearthed it and panicked.

There must have been a good reason for the teacher — who I like a great deal and is also a mom — to assign parents this project at the end of the year. The time when every club and group is cramming events onto the calendar, a time when summer sports have begun, kids are burning out on classwork and parents are scrambling to finalize summer plans.

I tried to put aside my feelings about homework in general, that the lessons parents teach their kids at home are important life skills and homework infringes on that and valuable family time.

I tried not to be cynical and rant inwardly about making a big deal about assessment testing and asking what this was teaching my son. The tests are happening this year — that is a debate for another time.

I assumed her motivation was pure: She wanted parents to encourage their kids one last time this school year through a colorful classroom display.

I decided that now I needed to support my son’s teacher like she has supported my son this whole school year, like her vision for a parent-created bulletin board would support the class through this controversial but inevitable test.

I got out my Sharpies and looked up the lyrics of his current favorite song, the song that he says runs in his head when he is playing baseball, the song that motivates him — his anthem.

My finished assignment wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t original, but it was crafted by the hands of a parent who wants to encourage not only her child but the teacher who has loved him through third grade.