Teaching Assistants

My daughters were stuck in my office the other night.

Beanie takes violin lessons at Local U. on Wednesday afternoons (they run a program so the music education students can get some hands-on experience teaching real kids).  Usually, I drop her off and Punkin’ and I head to my office, where I grade papers and prepare for class and she does her homework.  Mr. Chili, who works literally two doors down from the building where Bean’s lessons are, picks her up, swings by my building to get Punkin, and takes everyone home while I teach my evening class.  It’s an imperfect system, but we’re workin’ it.

This week, though, Mr. Chili was stuck in an endless meeting, so I went to get Miss Bean after her lesson and brought her back to my little cave of an office to await Daddy’s release from the sixth circle of meeting hell.  The girls had finished their homework and were left with “nothing to do” (of course, Chili women are never without a book, but I didn’t press that point).  Bean noticed a stack of papers on my desk and asked if she could read one.

I considered this request for a moment, then felt a little light bulb go off over my head.

“Sure!” I said, “you can read them, but you’re going to have to do more than just read.  Here; take a piece of paper and write the author’s name on it.  Then, when you’re done reading, write a little bit of something to tell me what the “big idea” of the paper was, okay?”

Bean had enough time to get through two essays before Daddy came and collected her.  This is what I found on my desk when I came back from teaching the class.  (I can’t get my scanner to send a copy of this to my computer, so I took a picture.)

I haven’t read the papers in question yet, but I remember from conferences that Andrea’s paper is about her junkie brother and that Nathan’s is about his decision to continue with his family’s nursing home business.  It’ll be interesting to talk with Bean about these essays, to see if we come to similar conclusions about them.

Do you think my students would appreciate getting these little notes back with their essays, or is it best they don’t know that a nine-year-old has been reading their work?



Filed under colleagues, ethics, funniness, great writing, Local U., out in the real world, Questions, reading, self-analysis, success!, Teaching, the good ones, writing

14 responses to “Teaching Assistants

  1. Tonks

    I think they would like the comments.

  2. kirchy

    Wow, great comments for the none year old. She really read and understood, let alone how well she can write the comments herself. I teach second grade, thanks for letting me see parental support and the continuation of writing with kids. 🙂

  3. I had a professor in college who swore he read our papers to his dog (a yellow lab, I believe), and the ones that held the dog’s attention the longest received the highest grades.

    I doubt it was true but always felt the sentiment to be condescending.

    Likely best not to let your students know your kid read their papers. Some people take their writing very personally and might not have been expecting anyone to read it but you.

  4. Kari

    I find it interesting that a nine year old can tell when a story ends ubruptly but a college student can’t.

    Should the students have been writing a paper that’s “deeper” in meaning than a second grade reading level?

    As a non-traditional college graduate, I have differing opinions. On one hand, I think the students would like the comments in that it shows them how their writing translates to the reader (maybe use this as a lesson without sharing the fact that your daughter read their work – a “what if” scenario). However, if that were one of my papers, I would feel that my teacher was unprofessional in passing my paper around to others to read.

    That’s a tough call, but I don’t think you should let your students know your daughter read their work.

  5. drtombibey


    Most writers love feedback. Maybe you could make it a project where you tell them up front the goal is for them to write such a clear essay that your nine year old will understand their point.

    Or to go one step further, maybe your class could take up being pen pals with younger students. It might help both groups learn how to write with more clarity.

    Dr. B

  6. I think they would like the feedback. If you explain the circumstances, as you did here, I don’t think they would have any fear that you’re spreading their writing around to just anybody.

  7. While it wouldn’t bother me now, as a college student I am sure a note from a child about my paper would have resulted in a drinking binge and charges being filed

  8. I think I decided, even before I asked you all, that I would not tell the students that my kids have been reading (and critiquing) their work. It would likely be met with resentment and mistrust, and that’s not how I like to run my classrooms…

  9. First, let me just say that I was incredibly impressed by your daughter’s feedback. Second, I like Dr. Tom’s suggestion. I know as a 6th grade teacher, one of the difficulties my students often face is writing for an audience. Perhaps you could construct an assignment where your students know going in they will be writing for a 9 year old. They might be surprised at the results. Of course, you could also let anyone who didn’t want to have their paper read by your daughter opt out, thus preventing any drinking binges or charges being filed 🙂

  10. Beanie’s feedback was fantastic. Can I send her my papers? No, not my students’ papers. MY papers. I could use some feedback.

    I agree with you (and the other commenters) that I wouldn’t let the students know. Some of them would be embarrassed and resentful.

  11. Love that you did that, and how fantastic that Beanie is able to pin down the main idea of a paper, at such a tender age! That speaks volumes for the education Mama and Daddy are promoting at home, so give yourself a big pat on the back.

    However, I agree with everyone else (and with your final decision) not to share Beanie’s feedback with your students. College kids are a moody bunch, in general.

  12. Maybe “moody college students” need a dose of reality. I am one of the minority who believes you should pass on the comments of your children to those two students. The comments aren’t negative, just one child’s view–and a realistic view at that. If adult students can’t take that, they have a problem. I also agree with the person who said you should explain it just as you did in your blog. And, by the way, I too was impressed with your daughter’s insight. I have 8th grade students who can’t seem to find the main ideas of articles we read.

  13. Rita, I would really LOVE to have my girls give my college kids feedback, but they (my college kids, not my biological kids) aren’t mature enough to handle that kind of critique. The truth of the matter is that my daughters are far better critical thinkers than many of my students, just by virtue of the fact that they live with me (and my friends) and get a heavy dose of “think for yourself, THEN ask me questions” from both of their parents. Being shown up by a fourth-grader isn’t going to be constructive to my students, and I know that at least some of them would go crying to my boss about it.

  14. What an academic family. So the apple really does not fall far from the tree. This is just darn impressive. I have no kids, but if I did I would shape a day just like this.

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