Jason Davis: 6th grade taught valuable lessons

Sep. 23, 2013 @ 12:01 AM

At 11 years old I thought my life had come to an end.

With the move up to middle school and the introduction to changing classes, my classmates and I were also introduced to Mrs. Margaret Graham.

A middle-aged English teacher with little patience for sixth-graders’ childish ways, Mrs. Graham was a stark awakening of the real world that lay ahead for us.

Loud, strict and demanding, Mrs. Graham had a head full of long, jet-black hair, and, at times, my classmates and I swore that she was a witch (and it certainly didn’t help that every single year that was her go-to Halloween costume).

We’d all had homework in the past, but Mrs. Graham’s homework expectations were always above and beyond that of our other teachers. “What’d she give today?” we’d ask kids from earlier class periods at lunch. “Four pages of diagramming sentences,” they’d groan, much to our dismay.

The assignments Mrs. Graham dolled out nearly violated the Bill of Rights’ Eighth Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment.

And it took a few hiccups to learn my lesson that the homework wasn’t optional.

Mrs. Graham didn’t believe in second chances for work missed or not completed.

“Zero! Zero! Zero!” she’d cackle when someone didn’t have assignments completed on time.

And she meant it. A few of those over a six-week period and you’d be doomed, unlike kids in many of today’s passe education systems, where late work is almost always accepted, often without any grade deduction.

My first C came in Mrs. Graham’s class. 

Turning over my report card I explained with indignation the utter unfairness of sixth grade English class and the unrealist expectations we, mere 11-year-olds, were being held to.

Needless to say, Dad wasn’t having it.

My father didn’t hold Mrs. Graham in contempt for my substandard grade. Instead, he placed the responsibility where it belonged — squarely on my shoulders.

I knew what was assigned, he said, and I simply hadn’t done it. He was right.

From that point on, I buckled down, diagrammed those sentences, and battled my way to As and Bs the rest of the year. 

Looking back, Mrs. Graham’s lessons on responsibility were some of the best many of us at old JMS were ever taught.

Don’t do your work? You fail. That — along with some parental attitude adjustment — was enough to motivate me to get my stuff in gear.

One school in California announced this year that it was limiting homework, mainly to just reading assignments.

Proponents say that kids work enough in school hours and need time to just be kids at home.

I understand that, and I can agree that kids do need time to be kids.

But homework, that bane of students everywhere, also teaches valuable real-life skills. Time management, self-motivation and — most importantly — personal responsibility, are all cornerstone skills learned by managing a load of assignments.

Personal responsibility is perhaps the most valuable lesson anyone can learn. And, unfortunately — like homework — it may be going the way of the dinosaur.