Casual Friday – Stampy The Elephant

elephant chopperMy son Nathan came to me and admitted he had been slacking on his homework. One of his high school teachers never read his assignments and after a while Nate caught on and decided to test her. He stopped doing the assignments and instead began writing about his fictitious pet, Stampy The Elephant. For over two years he never once completed a home assignment, and the teacher never caught on.

Nathan is no fool and recognized he would have to be subtle, tell no one, and give every appearance of doing his assignment. Without a doubt he spent more time endeavoring to evade this work than he ever would have spent doing the assignment. He was careful to include the name of the assignment in the first line. The assignments looked unremarkable and Stampy’s name did not usually appear in the first few lines.

Here are a few examples of sentences in actual assignments he turned in:
writing on World War One:
World War One was really cool because me and Stampy played in the rain, it was a weird day.

on the sociological effect the war had on Canadian cities:
World War One wasn’t in Montreal because that’s where me and Stampy were.

on exercise:
People like to walk, because that’s what me and Stampy do. I hate Charlie (a classmate looking on) because she says mean things to me right now. She probably doesn’t even like Stampy The Elephant.

on rampant consumerism and the effect on Canadian culture:
I’m going to buy a nice car. I think that would be very exciting. Canada has many problems that could be solved if Stampy and i had a nice car.

Looking back, and talking to Nathan some time later, I have come to realize that Nate was learning important lessons about life. That teacher taught him several things that she wasn’t aware of. She taught him that effort doesn’t matter because it is all about looking good. Nathan learned that teachers are lazy and easily manipulated. When he told me about it I knew as a good parent that I should force him to do his best even if no one is looking. As a parent I wanted to encourage him to do his best, take his education seriously, and strive for excellence.Part of me wanted to challenge him to be a young man of integrity regardless of who noticed. But part of me wanted to see how long he could get away with it.

To this day he has a low opinion about teachers, in spite of the fact that he is training to be one very soon. I will often hear remarks about how little they work, how they don’t really care, how they are not the brightest. Of course most teachers are hardworking, dedicated and committed; and I have sought to correct any misconceptions. It  is hard, however, to argue with the elephant in the room.

“Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”
Albert Schweitzer

“We never know which lives we influence, or when, or why.”
Stephen King

8 thoughts on “Casual Friday – Stampy The Elephant

  1. Cute story. Lots of good teachers teachers and lots of bad ones. My wife was a good one. However, I really liked one of my sophomore son’s teachers this fall when she told parents on parent’s day in the classroom that she never graded homework. She said that after many years in the classroom, she had learned that it was counter-productive in many cases. She said that when a student is doing homework for a grade … if they get stuck and can’t figure it out, they’re likely to copy someone else’s paper because they’re just doing it for the grade. But if they’re not doing it for the grade, and get stuck, they’re more likely to do extra homework or come in and ask questions, because they know they’re doing the homework for their own learning (and of course, because they’re responsible to know it for the finals). Weaknesses to that approach too, I know, but I liked it a lot. Love to think my son is learning to “learn” and not just to get grades.

  2. Teachers are not lazy. It’s just that no one ever does the math. Do you have any idea how long it would take to read each assignment for each child if you give them regularly? If I spend even 1 minute per paper per student, that is about 3 hours per assignment. If I give daily assignments, which I do, that is 15 hours per week. That may not seem like much given that I actually only teach 5 hours per day, but it also takes me at least 1 hour per day preparing for each course. I teach two courses this year (I’m lucky). So, that alone would take 10 hours per day. But those are not my only responsibilities. I must also keep the classroom clean, meet with parents,,and track and file paperwork regarding discipline, parent contact, and grades. And there are also major assessments to grade, which take a bit longer. And I also need to eat and sleep. Some teachers simply give less work, but then the students suffer because it is doing the work that helps them learn–not my looking at it. Other teachers look for shortcuts. It is not possible to reach each assignment and do everything else that needs to be done. Teaching is one long race against the clock.

    This teacher may not have had the best method for keeping students accountable, but students really do need to be responsible for their own learning if we want to keep educating students in classes of 35-40 in 6 periods a day. Nathan lost out because he thought he was doing the work for the teacher. He was not. He was doing it for himself. That’s the lesson he failed to learn. Education is not seeing what you can get away with that no one will notice. It’s seeing what you can get out of what is offered you.

  3. Hi Scott,

    What a cute story! I agree with Nathan (and Stampy). We need better teachers in this world, but especially in the US and countries were every day, more and more children are being misdiagnosed with ADHD and other disorders, and put on medication that only affects them more. We need teachers that are empathetic enough to see the true potential in all children. Teachers than can guide the children as individuals, as members of a group, and as a part of a generation, while enhancing their unique abilities. Nathan had a really good teacher, like the ones I described, at home. I am sure Nathan will be a great teacher too.

    Great post. Thanks for sharing!


  4. Awesome post. Recently I received two emails from my two boy’s FORMER school.The e-mails contained attachments to report cards. Each report card listed a class with a grade. One son made an A and one made a B+… in classes they are not even attending. We don’t even live in that state anymore, nor are they enrolled there. What does THAT say about that school? The attendance records? The teachers? I am still shaking my head over it.

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