An unfiltered fire hose of flaming condemnation

Loquacious Leta

Last week like most weeks was relatively insane with parent-teacher conferences that caused three half-days of school for Leta, and stuck in between all that mess she had to present a four-minute oral presentation on sedimentary rocks. Can I just say, thank god for wikipedia and google and entire websites dedicated to rocks that form the Earth’s surface. Back when I was in fourth grade we had to drive to the library, figure out where a relevant book might be using an insane Dewey Decimal System, walk all the way over to the shelf where the book had been stored and hope that it wasn’t already checked out. We DROVE and we WALKED and we HOPED. It was exhausting.

Kids these days just half to roll over on the couch and pull the iPad out from under their butt. And MAYBE wipe dried chocolate ice cream off of the screen in order to see the browser.

At least we hope that’s chocolate ice cream.

Leta killed the presentation. She memorized the page of notes she had researched and reminded me to have her practice it several times the night before. I got to sit in the back of the class to witness it, and the first question from one of her fellow students after it was over was, “WOW! How did you memorize the whole thing?”


She wasn’t expecting that question, and she hesitated under the weight of confusion. How do you explain memorization? I committed it to memory? I remembered it? I read it over and over again? I DONE LEARNED IT? She finally blinked a few times and explained, “It was really hard and I worked a lot to remember the words.”

Good answer. Totally adequate. But the right answer would have been “My grandmother is The Avon World Sales Leader. Her genes are strong.”

RELATED: oh my god. If you are an avid twitter user I challenge you to try to explain twitter to someone who does not speak English very well and has no idea what it is. The look on their face as you get deeper and deeper into the explanation has got to be one of the quickest ways to make you stop and think HOLY SHIT I HAVE BEEN BRAINWASHED.

You will sound like a member of a cult.

And then… parent-teacher conferences. I’m never nervous when I go into these meetings because I’m there when Leta is doing her homework. I look at everything she brings home. Initially the workload in fourth grade was a bucket of cold water to the face, and it took a couple of weeks for Leta to get the hang of all the homework after school coupled with her piano practice. But I’ve been really proud of how she’ll walk in the door and immediately pull out her work and bury her head in a page of six-digit subtraction problems often while Marlo is trying to climb into her lap to “help.”

Oh, my sweet little Bobo. When Leta was her age she was reading paragraphs and this is what it looks like when Marlo practices the letters in her own name:


Leta’s teacher said she’d already noticed the vast improvement she’d shown since the first week of school and clarified that every kid has a tough adjustment to fourth grade. It’s the year they push the kids to learn time management skills and if they don’t learn how to be self-motivated they fall behind extremely fast. Leta is completing all of her work and doing so thoroughly and accurately, but she might want to work on chatting less when she’s supposed to be paying attention.


It hasn’t been a paralyzing fear of mine, just a small worry that my kids won’t be motivated to do their absolute best in school. And I call it a worry because my mentality toward school from the moment I ever set foot in a classroom, from my earliest memory even in kindergarten, was so rigid that I am going to have to twist myself into a pretzel to try and understand where they are coming from and how to help. It’s a challenge I’m totally willing to take on, but a challenge it will be. Chatting during class isn’t an indication that Leta isn’t trying her best, and it’s not like she’s drowning kittens, but it’s a behavior I would have never exhibited at school. So I have to figure out a way to approach this without the nine-year-old Heather rearing her frizzy head with IF YOU CHAT DURING CLASS THE COMMUNISTS WILL WIN.

In many ways it’s probably a good thing if neither of my kids is like me in school because I really needed to chill the hell out. But I’m interested if you’ve run up against this and how you’ve approached it. Are your kids a different kind of student than you were?

  • MB

    This is exactly what I was thinking. Her teacher needs to also make sure that she’s differentiating her instruction enough to meet Leta’s needs though. My son would get in a boatload of trouble before he was finally challenged as a reader. He had a seventh grade reading level in a second grade class, doing a review of first grade material. The first several months were tortuous for him.

  • Yes. On both the talking and the reading-under-my-desk. It sounds like she isn’t challenged enough, and a talk with the teacher about extra work (sounds like a punishment, but it would actually help if she had more/harder exercises to do so she keeps busy) is in order, I’d say.

  • theboldsoul

    Well, I have a step-son who is 12, so nothing he does is genetically related to ME. He’s also a very bright student who has a quick mind, and in this as in so many things I think he is very much like his father. But as he’s getting older and getting into his teens, we’ve noticed that we also get reports from school of “good academically but we could use a bit less of his class clown/chatterbox stuff during class time”.

    And when I see that, I am reminded of myself at that age. I was smart and I knew I was smart. But I was far more concerned with socializing than grades. My younger sister was the straight A student; I was content with a mix of A’s and B’s, and if the odd C showed up I just shrugged it off. I knew I had a high IQ (it had been tested when I was around 10) and I guess I figured that was all the proof I needed of my own smarts.

    With my step-son what we’re focusing on now is him learning good work habits and skills, both with his school work and also his piano lessons. He loves the piano but he tends to be lazy about practicing; he thinks all he needs to do is run through the piece once or twice and that’s it. So I think it’s his work ethic that needs work. From what you’ve always written about Leta, she has no issue with working hard, so if she’s balancing that out with a bit of over-socializing? Then I say bravo to that!

  • theboldsoul

    Breanne, I TOTALLY always read books under my desk (when I was supposed to be doing other class work, which I normally got caught at).

  • S_Gardener

    I was definitely of the Heather school of classroom behavior – but when I was in school they could hit us with leather belts if we did not behave (another time, another country).
    Both my kids were completely different. My eldest barely made it to college. But then she did a complete turnaround when she found something she actually wanted to study. A cum laude degree and Ivy League fellowship later she now works for one of the highest ranked universities in the world.
    The younger one is a theater kid – theater was the only thing that kept her in school. On top of that she had health issues that led to her missing about 1/3 of the year for every year of high school. Now, in college she is studying theater and attendance and achievement are no longer an issue.
    In the process of dragging them both kicking and screaming through the education system, I came to question the value of that system – I wished I had questioned more when I was a student instead of blindly following expectations. The system doesn’t work for everyone and as parents all we can do is try our best to understand our childrens’ individual strengths and help them develop and use them to turn the system to their advantage.

  • Jenay H.

    Ok people, don’t bash me for saying this…. but I think it’s a GOOD thing that she has friends and feels the need to socialize. Although, she does need to learn a time and place. With the way kids are today, and it’s sometimes parents, other family, other kids influencing them, they can be so cruel. It just breaks my heart to see it, and at least she is not being shunned, and made fun of, and so on…. thank god she is not being bullied. So she’s chatty when she sees her friends….. not a big deal when you think about other problems in school. I also agree with the boredom theory, she is obviously finishing fast and maybe needs to be challenged more.

  • bethvandyke

    No lie I went to help in my youngest daughters classroom when she was in 3rd grade, turned the corner and there she sat BEHIND A WALL OF CARDBOARD. The chick couldn’t shut her mouth so they blocked her off. I had to just turn around and walk out because I was DYING laughing. She will now tell her teachers up front “I will not be able to shut up so I need to be off by myself” and to that I say thank you little girl for calling yourself out.

    She is the youngest and now in 6th grade – I have 1 that just married and another that is 18 and in college and that could be the reason it doesn’t stress me out AT ALL. I worried for absolutely no reason with the other 2 that I now know what’s important (to me at least) to get bent over and what I feel like is harmless memory making.

    Girls are supposed to talk, they are supposed to socialize – that is what makes school tolerable. As they are they aren’t disruptive (see needing cardboard around their body) and/or hindering someone else sounds like girls being girls.

  • Bookworm9798

    My daughter has a planner. Each day the kids write down their assignments for each subject and the teacher initials to indicate it’s correct. Can I just say how awesome it is *not* to have to depend on her memory to know which things she needs to do each night?????

  • AJ

    We’re seeing this with my son (6th grade). He is actually quite shy, but he finishes early and then tries to get those around him to talk to him. Even landed himself in detention (to the shock of us all)! We had him ask his teachers if he could bring a book to class to keep himself busy until the other students finished. Every teacher allowed it. He gets to talk after the rest of the table is done. And everyone is much happier (& no more detentions!).

  • Michelle Boehm

    I’ll second that. I distinctly remember my fifth-grade teacher saying to my parents with exasperation “She reads books under her desk during class, but when I call on her, she gives me the correct answer!” I ended up getting extra work.

  • tmb

    That’s exactly what I thought. If she finishes her work before the other kids (like I did) but doesn’t have an alternate activity she’s probably just visiting with her neighbor. Does the teacher have coloring sheets or puzzles for the kids to do in that kind of situation? With Leta, I wouldn’t recommend reading a book, which is what I did. Then I got so engrossed in it, I missed the teacher moving on to another activity and I got in trouble for THAT. 🙂

    On the other hand, her explanation of memorization? I guarantee you the teacher was screaming “YES!!!!” in her head. Peers impressed and she cites hard work? WIN.

  • tmb

    interesting! I had the same problem and skipped 8th grade as a result.

  • tmb

    but Heather, Jon and the teacher need to make sure that Leta knows the extra work doesn’t count towards her grade or something (that she understands it’s “enrichment” work). I remember being given extra work in 5th grade for a similar situation and I actually had full on anxiety/insomnia attacks for months about it because I thought if I didn’t finish it, my grade was going to suffer.

  • Cafe7202

    Wow we would’ve been quite a pair in school! In second grade my mom came to school and she and the teacher had a talk with me about why it’s ok not to get an A+ on everything. Because A was the highest grade she gave.

    Now I have 2 boys, one of which is in the 3rd grade, is dyslexic, and hates every minute of school. When I was in 2nd grade, I had an 11th grade reading level. He got 45 minutes of reading tutoring each day to bring him to grade level. And it kills me because he is SO SMART and has to work SO hard just to do what came so easily to kids like me. I watch him struggle and I help as much as I can. And I reassure him constantly that he is incredibly smart, he just has a brain that works differently than most people. We talk a lot about how everyone has things they are really good at without trying and things that they can hardly do at all. He knows I can barely reverse my car into a parking space and he can already beat me in a race. (Damnit, he really can. I don’t let him win.) But he still struggles with things that I may never really understand. And it’s hard. But I think we’re finding our way.

    Good luck! Sounds like Leta will do fabulously well in school. And I think it’s great that she’s social, too. Too many really smart, ambitious kids struggle socially. That’s great that she doesn’t.

  • tmb

    I’m sure they don’t call it “time management” with the kids. I remember at that age learning how to use assignment planners to keep organized, and that was more than twenty years ago.

  • I have thought about that a lot as well, but I guess it requires the necessary maturity from the child in question. Even if I wasn’t challenged enough in class, I definitely wasn’t ready to be put amongst older children either. It should be thought through.

  • Kat

    That’s what we talk about, that school isn’t just about learning the right answers, but learning how to deal with the wrong ones.

  • Brynn in CO

    That’s pretty much the same comment we get at every parent teacher conference. Then, I come home, tell my daughter some of the positive things her teacher said about her and mention that it would be helpful if she chatted less. Then, I ask her how she thinks she can accomplish this. Because, really, she’s the one who is in that classroom all day, and she’s a very bright child. I let her figure it out. Also,she’s a very considerate child, so wording it as something she can do to help her teacher is key.

  • Kat

    Ugh, parents are the worst. I can see the B+’s in the future and I’m hoping, by that time, I’ll have learned what approach works best. It’s just a punch in the gut to see her get so down on herself. My first reaction is to say what I think will make her feel better, but part of growing up (for both of us) is allowing her to learn how to do that on her own, too. Parents are the worst.

  • terrisinclair

    Just sent my 18 year old to college…she was a cheerleader and a talker (also had a 4.2 GPA) and may I add – a VIRGIN (something I’ll be very proud of until she’s about 21 then it will be only whispered in dark corners of the bedroom at family Thanksgiving and I’ll take absolutely NO responsibility for) DON’T WORRY.

    SHE’S SOCIAL. You can be smart – and social. And this is ONE teachers observation, what, three times? Four times? Over what period of time? A week? Two weeks? Four weeks?

    Maybe she has a new friend who is a talker. Maybe she’s not instigating these “talks” maybe the other kids know she’s the smartest thing they’ve got and go to her with questions they are too afraid or embarrassed to ask the teacher.
    Yeah, yeah, maybe she’s bored or this or that – but I really doubt a kid like Leta is “BORED”. That’s just mumbo jumbo if you ask me.

    Honestly this is not a “problem” or an “issue” or an anything. It’s one teachers observation. And not all teachers are so perfect you know.

    Boys and school are harder…Girls and school – EASY (this is the general rule of course)…I never had to ask Katie “did you do your homework?:” The thought of NOT doing her homework never entered her mind. She’d rather die. She would NEVER miss school.

    A little chatting is fine…so the teacher doesn’t like it. Maybe she’s on the edge of a nervous breakdown and just the sound of a child’s voice makes her want to scream and run out of the room – okay, that’s probably not it and she’s probably fine but …. I had a teacher once, 6th grade…who told my parents I did something and I swear to this day I do not remember or recall doing. Ever. And it wasn’t that it was a big deal it was that my parents believed the teacher just cause he said it was so. Not ME (who could not remember saying anything) He said I was telling the kids in the class where babies came from….BUT I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW WHERE BABIES CAME FROM so what’s up with that!!!

    Let it go…soon, you will enter this territory called CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES. I’d ask Leta if she has a new friend. Who she sits near, etc. Get the story behind the scenes first. With a few well posed questions it will probably all fall into place. OH is it a girl or boy she’s talking to?

  • RGZ

    i agree with the comment below — likely she is bored. so rather than trying to decrease her talking behavior, choose a behavior to take its place that you want to INCREASE. for example, help her identify something she can do instead of talking that will occupy her when class is too slow. she can write, or she can try to solve one of a list of difficult riddles you compile and put in her notebook, etc. and then reward her (even just verbally, i mean) for doing that new behavior, one that is inconsistent with talking, more often. in general, whenever one is looking to modify a behavior, the most important thing is to frame the problem in terms of increasing a desirable behavior rather than in terms of decreasing an unfavorable one. this paradigm shift, so seemingly simple, can revolutionize parenting and teaching.
    i disagree that talking to her about respecting the class and the teacher is adequate. sure, from what we know of Leta, that might be enough to stop the talking behavior, but it (1) doesn’t solve her problem, and (2) it may leave her feeling guilty for having a very normal reaction and consequent behavioral response to an understimulating environment. she shouldn’t feel bad that she is bright and social and curious.

  • April

    The index card method might help. Chatting in class can be curbed with simple self-monitoring techniques, especially in Leta’s case. Start by letting her know that we all have “bad” habits, and in her case, chatting too much will eventually make it difficult to get the most out of what’s going on in class. Give her an index card. Ask her to start keeping track of how many times she catches herself talking in class when she shouldn’t by simply putting a check on the card (you can make one card for each day or divide it into columns for each day of the week). She can keep the card on or in her desk (maybe let the teacher know), and simply put a mark on it when she catches herself. Emphasize that she is not in trouble, but that part of being responsible is to be aware of our habits. Ask her to keep track of her checks by counting her total at the end of the day and see if she can slowly reduce number the amount of times she talks in class every day. You can incorporate a charting or reward system if you want. This system has helped other students with shouting out answers in class too. Helping Leta to take charge of her own behavior can be very empowering for her.

  • KristenfromMA

    and may I add – a VIRGIN (something I’ll be very proud of until she’s about 21 then it will be only whispered in dark corners of the bedroom at family Thanksgivings with slow head shaking and I’ll take absolutely NO responsibility for)


  • Rockabyebye

    I always got in trouble for “talking” in elementary school. I often finished my work before other kids and was bored out of my mind. Maybe they would let her read when she’s completed her work.

  • acm

    I chatted a lot in class (always getting moved away from my latest seatmate), but always excelled too — sometimes it’s just having a lot of energy, or having already grasped what the teacher is saying, or just… This Funny Thing!! 🙂 she’ll be fine.

    My daughter is still a little young to tell what kind of student she’ll be, but she’s a pretty different personality, in many ways — bolder in some ways, feistier, yet more fearful and cautious too. I imagine you adapt to this just like you adapt to differences between, say, Leta and Marlo — you just take them where they’re at, try to help them find stragies for life that help them get where they’re trying to go. (Note: not always the same as where you were trying to go, or even where you’d like them to go!) Probably just worrying less about School As A Particular Thing would help — she’s clearly developing plenty of life mastery, so this or that twitch in school will subside beneath the waves…

  • acm

    [laughs uncontrollably at the notion that 9 months is a long time for a To Do entry….]

  • acm

    This is kind of where my kid comes from — she doesn’t even like guessing games like “do you think Dad will be home when we get there?” because she might be wrong. (sigh.) Oddly, iPod games have been helpful for this, as she’s learned the idea that sometimes repeated tries and practice can be required for progressing through the levels — doesn’t always generalize as I would hope, but I did hear her giving her grandma advice about just sticking with something until she got the hang of it. Hope!!

  • Jacquelyn Lacy

    Hi Heather! As a chatterbox myself, I cannot remember a time when I did not get that exact comment on a progress report, report card, or even the dreaded phone call home! There are a couple of things with this “issue.” Realize that she is a gifted speaker and it is a wonderful skill to be able to communicate so easily; on a variety of topics, with adults and children, and be able to enter into and hold her own in various social situations. I would not approach this as being a negative…but show Leta ways that she can use this skill at appropriate times that are not during class time. Also, as a teacher now, I would hope that your Leta’s instructor realizes this skill and helps Leta develop it even more…using her as a tool to encourage and help students that struggle…there is nothing more that an extrovert likes than to help people…and to help people talk! That is like Christmas morning to us! Leta is very very bright and advanced for her grade level…so alot of this “being too chatty” is coming from the fact the curriculum is not rigorous enough for her. Ok, yes, she has a decent amount of homework, but IN school, during instruction time…she is not being challenged. All this extra energy ….and no where to focus it.

  • Carrie

    Third grade teacher with a class full of chatty kids. It doesn’t mean they are bored (although some are). It doesn’t meant they are naughty (although some are). It means they are navigating the social world. It means they are exploring. Are they chatting about the topic at hand? Or are they chatting about Rainbow Looms (Lord, help me)? Learning when it’s okay to chat and when it is not is a really great skill kids develop at this age. Sorry, Heather, there are very few kids like you who go through my classroom as total rule followers, heeding my every word and responding with robot-like precision. And, frankly, they are the ones I worry about far more than those who chat appropriately with the other kids.

  • Laurie

    I agree with the boredom theory!

    My son is in fourth grade, and he is also a “talker”…but only once he’s finished his work. So many of the other students are still working, but my son and the girl in the desk next to him always finish first. The teacher has made a new rule that you can read a book for pleasure once you’re done with your work, but that if your work suffers because you’re trying to finish in a hurry, that privilege will be taken away.

  • lkmorris

    Cathy was a doll in the sixties. You pulled a string and she talked.

  • The problem I had in school was that I was extremely bored in certain classes – like Math and Geography.

    So, I took books to school and rested them on my lap. I sat in the backrow with my head down so I could read.

    Some teachers were okay with that – most weren’t. After “Denise – put the book away!” a few times, I’d be like “right, what trouble could I cause”, then I’d be chatting away to everyone and being a bit distracting.

    I think most teachers just let me read, so I have weird gaps in my general knowledge. I can’t do long division and can’t point out most countries on maps.

  • TessJ

    I thought you were going to say that you were thrilled to hear that she wasn’t being so serious about her school work all of the time. Doing well in school, with homework AND some socializing in class? Well rounded kid.

  • cheezgeni

    In a day and age when children are growing up socializing behind a computer screen or phone screen of some sort, I find it gratefully refreshing that Leta’s social skills are developing as well. I have a child that is too afraid to speak to others, so he’s missing greatly on the social front. I know this doesn’t help you, but do be grateful she’s blossoming. it’d be pretty hard to become the successor to the Avon World Leader thrown if you weren’t able to talk to folks!

  • TessJ

    Absolutely right. Many studies have confirmed that. I pulled my daughter (now a 5th grader) out of private school after 1st and she is now in an independent charter that teaches project-based learning (Constructivism). Light homework just to review what was done in class so that the teacher can be sure each child is ready to move on to the next stage of learning.

  • Kelly B

    Great! She has friends she can chat with during class! Unless she’s talking to herself … that might be indicative of a problem. What you may want to address with her is making sure she is aware enough of when the teacher is actively teaching not to talk to her classmates unless it is little things like, oops I dropped my eraser and can’t reach it can you pick it up. Thanks. And if she already knows the material she needs to work with the teacher so she can be engaged and respectful in class.

  • Stephanie Rudy Littleton

    Yes, yes, YES! My firstborn is a brilliant, high-achieving firstborn just like me and her Dad. She’s a straight-A sophomore who is completely focused on getting in to the right college and studies and works hard without any intervention from me. Great, right? Except this did nothing to prepare me for my younger daughter, the 9 year-old 4th grader. I can confirm that 4th grade is the pits. My younger child is every bit as brilliant as my oldest, if not more so, but guess what? She doesn’t really give a shit about YOUR expectations. Her grades are ok but not great, she lacks any organizational skills, and she has no real desire to do your stupid repetitive worksheets, thanks. I try to console myself with the thought that while these are not traits highly regarded in elementary school, maybe someday in the big, bad real world they will serve her well. Until then, it’s a daily struggle to encourage her to see the value of “playing the game”.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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