Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Being Seen

Last year, the gifted resource teacher at Connor's school asked me how things were going. I told her what I thought - without sparing her many gory details. She wrote back "thanks for the honesty". I'm sure she was more than a little surprised, but I have to hand it to her, she did try and change things. I wrote in that letter, among other things, that I got the feeling my child was sitting in class reading all day, being ignored by his teachers, because he was being quiet and not interfering.

At some point, third grade just crushed my soul, and I got to the point where my attitude was more "just get out alive" than "make something good out of this". Even after discussing the year with Ed and other friends, I still can't quite put my finger on the cause of the terrible year. Maybe it's as simple as the huge test load crushing all inspiration in the room (which has been changed for all subsequent classes); maybe it's an attitude that resources should be spent on the students with the greatest academic needs (a fair point, but doesn't help my kid); maybe it's even worse that the teacher's just didn't care (I have a hard time believing this one, but since I've never come up with an answer that I find satisfactory, this one stays on the table).

This is a conversation I had with Connor's math teacher last year:

Me: The homework being sent home with Connor is too easy. It's not a good use of his time.
Teacher: I agree. The homework doesn't challenge him at all. It's too easy for him.
Me: Then can he just skip it?
Teacher: Everyone does homework.

Me: Blank stare. Thinking - Where do we go from here? This conversation occurred about 3 weeks into the school year.

This was a great foreshadowing of what the whole year would be like. I met with the teacher several times, I tried to offer suggestions:

Me: Maybe the spelling words, which are very simple and do not serve much purpose for Connor, could be made more difficult - so they could serve to enhance his vocabulary, since spelling isn't really a problem for him.
Teacher: That's not the point of the weekly spelling words. The point is to recognize patterns.
Me: And that's the only point?
Teacher: Yes.

Teacher: It's difficult to know what Connor is thinking, because he mostly just sits and reads.
Me: Why don't you require him to fill out a reading summary for each book he reads? That way, you can at least assess what he's getting out of the book. And he can have practice writing, which he needs more practice doing than reading.
Teacher: I hate to do anything to discourage reading.
Me: He read three novels in class last week - a little discouragement is not going to hurt him.
Teacher: OK - that's a good suggestion - I'll have him fill out summaries.

That lasted for about two weeks.  And only because I told Connor to do them. His teacher just wasn't going to take it upon herself to inspire him. Now, to be clear, Connor enjoyed reading all those books last year, and he enjoyed hanging out with his friends, but school was a long, cold march many days.

This year, when I went for the first conference, I almost cried tears of joy. The teacher quickly blew through the academic check list - and then she showed me his self assessment. How does Connor say he feels about school? He is bored. She told me she was going to change that. I believe her. She told me her plans, and she asked if that seemed like something that would likely interest Connor. The math teacher, who changed up Connor's homework by week three, wanted to confirm the level of work, and noted that she thought it was still too easy but wanted to confirm with me before she stepped it up another level (she was correct).

And then the homeroom teacher brought up two issues - and as she described Connor, it became clear that in the six weeks since school has started, the four teachers who are responsible for his education this year know more about him than last year's teachers admitted to after the entire year.  Neither of the things the teacher brought up make Connor a difficult student for the teachers involved. In other words, there is no reason these issues need to be addressed from their standpoint, I suspect, except to help Connor. I know how much an inspiring teacher can matter, and I walked out of that conference feeling like I had added six bench players to my parenting team - the four teachers and the two specialists that will be called in to observe Connor, and determine if anything needs to be done to assist him.

At the end of the conference, I couldn't help but think what a wonderful place Connor was in this year. I have no doubt that this is going to be an amazing year for him. And after last year, I think we both need it.


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