Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Below Average

This here post is a ticked-off, public-school-sucks kind of post; I just wanted to get that out of the way at the beginning. It's about a conversation we had tonight, over dinner.

We'd spent the better part of our meal discussing The Black Cauldron, Lloyd Alexander's second book about Prydain, and the funniest Calvin and Hobbes comics, and favorite specific quotes from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and how the 'big three' Greek Gods figured out who was going to be in charge of what realm, and... well, the conversation ranged, I guess, to sum up. All four of us took an equal part, and I was thinking how cool it was that the kids engage in conversation like they do, when Ben mentioned something about parents' perceptions that their schooled children who are of average ability get average teachers, and that kids with either learning issues, who are 'below average', or gifted kids, get the better teachers.

Now, this would have been an interesting thread to follow - but Luke heard the words 'below average' and suddenly said, "Yes, I'm below average."

Very matter-of-factly, mind you, no wistfulness or emotion of any kind. He was just stating a fact. My stomach churned, and I could see my worry reflected on Ben's face, too. One of us, or probably both of us, asked Luke: "Why do you say you're below average?"

"Well, that is what [Mrs. First Grade Teacher, who should probably remain anonymous] wrote in my report card - y'know, after I was doing bad when we got home from vacation?"

Luke was remembering his first-grade report card, in which the teacher took special care to mention how much worse his behavior was after we returned from a two-week vacation, that May, to Myrtle Beach. Luke spent those two weeks frolicking in the warm South Carolina ocean, finding clams and brine shrimp with his Dad, wave-surfing with his Grandpa, reading (memorizing, actually) the Magiquest manual, roasting marshmallows with his Grandma. His every moment was spent learning in some way, and so he didn't find the time to complete the sixty pages of worksheets that Mrs. First Grade Teacher had sent along. And, surprise surprise, he was not thrilled at the prospect of getting his nose back to the academic grindstone; agitation at school ensued.

Well, Ben and I hastened to correct Luke in his belief that he is 'below average.' We reminded him that it isn't up to Mrs. First Grade Teacher to make judgments like that, and also we helped him to remember all the things that he does do well. I hope that we convinced him - but I'm not entirely sure we did.

How do you counteract years of negative self-perception like that? Luke referred to himself as 'below average' and 'doing bad;' I fear that no amount of rock climbing, reading, role-playing or unconditional love can counteract something so ingrained.

Effing school! Still capable of hurting, more than two years later. Sigh.


MiaZagora said...

Your story makes me want to have a talk with Mrs. First Grade Teacher! ;)

Rana said...

That's a tough one. Just keep reassuring him that he is smart and good and loved like I know you already do. I'm sure in time he will see these things about himself and realize Mrs. First Grade Teacher had no clue what she was talking about.

(Who wants to spend time on worksheets when there is so much to explore at the beach?)


Melissa R said...

Why why why is it always those little negative one liners that stick in people's brains and hearts. Why not the tons of positive words, experiences?
Why is he defining himself based on something that was SO wrong?
Perhaps there is a positive in this somewhere. Not sure where, but maybe?
At least now you know this dumb thing is stuck in his head. Oh oh oh.... if you still have that report you could have a ceremony to burn it!

jugglingpaynes said...

I've been fighting those negative comments that live forever in my head since I graduated high school over twenty years ago.

I try to keep present minded. I can't change what happened in the past, so I remind myself to let it go and focus on the moment. Teach your son to fight the phantom criticisms with facts about who he is now and what he's accomplished. The wonderful thing about life is you can constantly grow and change. I am not the same person I was in elementary school and your son is not the boy he was in first grade.

Good luck, this is a tough one.

Peace and Laughter,

The Stone Age Techie said...

MiaZagora - I was so timid back then, afraid that if I said something negative they'd find a way to take it out on Luke. I'd probably have a few choice words for her if this were happening now!

Rana - you are absolutely right, and maybe I should start up another conversation about this with Luke, and emphasize that she clearly didn't know him at all if that's what she thought of him.

Melissa - I'm going to dig that up and we can totally have a burning ceremony! I love the symbolism of turning those hurtful words to ash.

Cristina - I think that I'm going to share all these comments with Luke... I love "your son is not the boy he was in first grade."
Thankfully, that is so true!

Cheers all -

Anonymous said...

I gotta tell isn't ONLY at school that these things can come out. In NC, homeschoolers are required to take standardized tests annually. Well, a couple years ago, I was going over the test with the test administrator and H-T was in the next room. I had no idea he could hear us. And she happened to use the phrase "reading deficiency." Duh. The kid has dyslexia. Anyway, somehow, the kid who normally doesn't listen to 95% of what is said TO him, picked up on this phrase and has probably used it 150+ times since in any situation where he didn't "get" something he was reading. It makes him want to give up and not even try when something is too difficult - - because, after all, he has a "reading deficiency." I can't tell you how many times I've wanted to go to that woman's house and explain to her how she needs to watch out for seemingly harmless little phraseology like that - - especially when kids are in earshot!!

The Stone Age Techie said...

Topsy - it does serve as a good reminder to think before speaking, doesn't it? Tonight the conversation turned to how it isn't only teachers, and it certainly isn't ALL teachers, who can say hurtful things, and that it's up to us to try and let those things go.
I'm sorry that happened to H-T. Let me ask you, how does he get past it? Like, does he eventually figure it out, or does he give up, or find another way? Or a mix of all three? I'd love to hear about how he overcomes that mental hurdle, it might help Luke - and me, too!


Luisa said...

Oh how frustrating! Thank goodness you can talk about it and he knows he has family support instead of falling into the trap that he should have been punished for his "behavior". What child loves homework during vacation? I'll tell you what I did with some of the vacation homework recycling bin. Another point is I dabble with the idea of homeschooling because I hear too much "positive" labels such as "master" and a few other words. Isn't that just as destructive? Hmmmm makes me wonder what is in the best interest of the child. Sorry for the long comment.

Jena said...

Thank goodness you took him out.


Magic and Mayhem said...

Sigh. I've heard so many stories like that over the years. I think a few well placed comments to the opposite (especially to others when he can overhear them) will correct that teacher's idiotic remarks.

Glad he had the vacation and that he's in such a wonderful school with supportive teachers now. :)

Firefly mom said...

I don't blame him - I wouldn't have wanted to go back to school, either ;) My parents pulled me out of school for the last 3 months of 2nd grade so that we could travel around the US. The school had A FIT! Said it would completely ruin my "academic career" because I wouldn't be learning anything. Because seeing the Declaration of Independance, the White House, Yellowstone, the Smithsonian, etc. can in no way make up for reading about it in a textbook. For being "educators", teachers sure can be stupid ;D

But seriously, I do know what it's like when your child hears something negative about themself and takes it to heart. Cody went to ps for kindergarten, and it took him 3 years to really start getting over the damage done there.

The Stone Age Techie said...

Luisa - I love long comments, especially when they are pertinent and supportive, like yours :-)

Jena and Alicia - yes, my sentiments exactly!

Firefly Mom - I think that is the crux of the issue right there, often adults - not just teachers - get so caught up in their own little agendas that they can't conceive of a different/better way of doing something. And it's so hard to overcome those negative feelings that result, as it was for Cody and is for Luke.

Luke has read all your comments, and he seems to feel better because of them. I mean, here are a bunch of grown-ups taking his side against this idea that he could be judged by someone who hardly knows him? And, other kids (who he reads about and admires) have had similar problems, and lived to tell the tale?

This means a lot to him, and I thank each of you.


Susan said...

Ooh! This is one of my least favorite things about school. It encourages kids to think that there is some world slotting system and that their place in it is fixed and immutable.

I used to tutor my neighbors' kids and they say things like: "Not even the GATE (gifted and talented education) kids could do it, so there is no way I could."

I'd say "GATE Shmate. If you work hard you can get this. Exercise that brain muscle and it will grow."

When you read things like Mindset (Carol Dweck), Nurture Shock (Po Bronson) and Outliers (Malcolm Gladwell) you see that what seems to be better (or worse) natural ability is often no more than differing exposure at an early age, or a few months' age difference, or different inborn rates of brain development. And at school (or in sports) these tiny and transient differences get turned into vastly different opportunities for kids who should have equal opportunities.

And in any case, I'd say a below average ability to sit still when bored is nothing to be ashamed of, and if one is ashamed of it, then one could always work really hard at tolerating boredom. It is sad, though, (wink) that homeschooling offers so few opportunities to exercise this skill.

bugsboysandbooboos said...

That really makes me sad... So glad that you took him out and that I don't have plans to send my children to public schools. Grrr...

The Stone Age Techie said...

Susan - I'm getting those books from the library, like, today!
And, I agree with you - it is a shame that our kids are deprived of the skill of tolerating boredom :-)

B&B&B - I thank goodness every day that he's out of that situation! Grrr is right :-)

Lise said...

I love your pissed-off-at-public-school posts; I'm an ex-public-school teacher myself with many a similar rant!

Thanks for your nice comment about my first crochet attempt! :-)

Anonymous said...

My darling niece. Maybe it is time we had a "home school" report card. Obviously he measures things that are tangible. He is a visual. So, get cracking and make both of the boys a "report card". I am sure the comments like "swims well", "reads at a high level", "plays well with others", "communicates openly and with confidence" will go a long way in suffocating the memory of Mrs. Potty-Mouth. Matter of fact you may want to take a real dig and point out that Mrs. Potty-Mouth has never made it past grade one. (I know that is stretching the truth a bit but I really dislike teachers who write things like "she is a chatter box" in your report card.) So you can see that even at the ripe old age of 55 I haven't let go of what my Grade One teacher wrote on my report card.

I love you ... An Te Mo

The Stone Age Techie said...

Lise - I'm finding the beauty in not having the boys in school, that's for sure :-)

My Darling Aunt - your Grade One teacher hit the nail on the head - what she didn't realize is that being a chatter box is one of your finest, and most endearing qualities! Seriously, it is one of the things I love best about you.

Sparklee said...

We had similar experiences with our kids, and it still makes me mad when I think about it. My daughter's third grade teacher said to me, "She just doesn't get math," and urged me to "take her to the pediatrician and see what she needs." What she needed was a quiet place to learn math, taught in the way she learns best. Now that she's at home, she "gets math" just fine, thank you!

When my son was in first grade, Mrs. B told him he was "irresponsible" because he forgot to bring his reading group book back to school. I think it's irresponsible for a teacher to call a six year old "irresponsible!"

Unfortunately, some teachers don't seem to understand that their words can hurt kids and the damage can last forever. I think you handled the situation really well!

Anonymous said...

Oh, Karen, I know, I know. School hurt my little girl for so many years after she left it. You're a great mom and you're doing your best. As you wrote, effing school.

Angela said...

I cruised over from the Carnival ...

I know how you feel. I practically want to cry when I look back at my son's first grade report card: there was a steady decline in attitude, achievement and behavior from the beginning of the year to the end. And when I think about the damage to his self esteem done -- particularly in the last 6 weeks when a long-term sub took over the class ... well I just wonder why I waited to pull him out.

But I think you're wrong that no amount of unconditional love will undo it. It may take some doing, but I think it can be done. We just have to work a little harder to build them up, is all. Hang in, and love that boy.

boysmomma said...

My son still mentions how awful his second grade teacher was (the year we pulled him out) and that was 5 years ago. He knows he's an awesome person with a myriad of interests and talents, but that one drop of poison just takes so long to heal. It breaks my heart that our choice to send him to school caused him pain and I'm so grateful that we discovered a better way to live!

Anonymous said...

It's amazing that some people paid to educate children can fail to see and understand some basic things about them- like the fact that of course a little kid doesn't care about boring worksheets when he can (and should) be enjoying life! Glad you and your family are away from such negativity now, and that your son can experience an above average childhood of freedom and fun.