Pride: Measure Twice and Cut Once
By Jill Jenkins
When my father was a child, he and his brother lived with their mother in his grandfather’s home. To teach his two grandsons the value of work, his grandfather offered each boy a nickel if they mowed the lawns and clipped the bushes weekly. During the depression, each boy could see a movie at the Tower Theater, and enjoy a bag of popcorn and a coke with their nickel. With their ticket stub in hand, they could cross the street and purchase a hotdog and a drink for lunch, all valuable commodities. The lesson was also to teach the boys that a job done was well was worth the time spent. When the boys completed their tasks, they would ask their grandfather to inspect their work. He would point out the strips of lawn left uncut. (My husband calls these lawn-hawks, Mohawk haircuts for lawns.) The boys were instructed to cut the lawn again from another direction before retrieving their grandfather. He would find the bushes that were uncut and they would return to work. After a time, the two boys learned to take pride in their work and pay attention to the details before calling their grandfather. Each weekend, they cut the lawn twice in different directions to ensure that no “lawn-hawks” existed. In today’s world, parents and teachers are often in such a hurry that they forget to take the time and require that a child complete a task correctly. Teachers might recognize the value of having students’ revise their essays, but shirk at the idea of correcting each essay at least twice. Who could blame them with over forty students in each of class? How do we promote a sense of pride in ones work to students who are also handicapped with demands from all sides?
Shop teachers promote the idea that students measure twice and cut once to avoid costly mistakes. This is an idea that other teachers and parents need to promote. Spending time writing and rewriting compositions and checking mathematical problems for simple mistakes will improve a student performance. Perhaps like my great grandfather, teachers and parents will have to withhold reward until a child has not only completed a task, but completed a task correctly. Students reach whatever expectations adults hold them to. If teachers and parents hold students accountable to a high level of performance, they will achieve it. Yes, it will be difficult, but it can be done.
During my teaching career, the teachers in my department demanded that students achieved a minimum level on all writing assignments to receive any credit. Any student could rewrite a paper for a higher score, but those students who performed lower than an established writing goal were required to revise it until they reached the minimum score. There was a significant improvement in the students writing. Yes, teachers had to work harder. Yes, some parents complained to the principal, but overall the policy improved struggling students’ scores.
What about on end of the year tests where students cannot retake the test? Once students understand that substandard work isn’t appropriate, they begin to spend more time on their first draft. Since most of these tests are untimed, encourage students to take their time, proof-read their essays and revise not only for technical errors but for content before submitting. After one such test, one of my former students commented that even after he did this he wished the state recognized that writing is a process and if he had had an opportunity to revisit his essay two of three days later, he could have improved it because he would have seen it with new eyes. There is some wisdom to that, but the test is what it is.
As a teacher, I hope they skills they develop in my class have a longer effect than an end of the year test. I hope they recognize that doing a job well may mean they take the time to do it right whether it is writing an essay, repairing an engine, or mowing the grass.