Yesterday I met with Sarah’s second-grade teacher, who said she is struggling with reading, writing and math. Of course my first question was, “But how is she doing in gym? There’s no problem in gym class, right? Right??”
We also discussed (at my request) the near-complete draining of Sarah’s self-confidence over the last month. She is terrified of making mistakes because her teacher, who has a great reputation, “has a mad, frustrated face” when Sarah doesn’t understand something.
I love teachers, people. I do. I am in awe of the good ones. A good teacher magically turns groups of unruly children into smart kids who want to learn, often despite themselves. But magic has been rather thin on the ground in Sarah’s class, at least from her perspective.
This is what’s at stake: Sarah has a great imagination. She is funny and affectionate and up for anything. She carries around a notebook because she wants to be a writer. She is incredibly empathetic and insightful for a kid. She really wants to learn. Every mom thinks their kids are extraordinary, but you should see the sparkle in her eyes.
If you asked Sarah’s teacher about her, she would tell you that Sarah is unfocused, doesn’t follow directions well and doesn’t work independently. She wouldn’t say it outright, but she clearly is frustrated with her and thinks she has ADD.
If you asked Sarah about her teacher, she’d say she wishes she were homeschooled.
In the face of the teacher’s numerous complaints about Sarah’s performance, I felt compelled to meekly accept Sarah’s deficiencies and slink out of there with my tail between my legs.
Instead I demanded (as nicely as I could) that the teacher change her approach. Try a little positive reinforcement. Maybe express a little faith in her abilities. I also offered to do extra work at home and to reinforce classroom expectations with Sarah.
For me, a Catholic school girl taught to never question authority, especially in the classroom, this required a little chutzpah.
I hope I improved the situation, but I don’t know that I did. Maybe she does have ADD. I don’t know. I’m no doctor, but I think it’s too soon to tell, especially given that she freezes like a deer in headlights in the face of her teacher’s frustration. And I’ve seen her focus on schoolwork at home. I just don’t know.
It’s so easy for a parent (especially a neurotic one like me) to turn this bump in the road into a harbinger of doom—continued scholastic struggle, low self-esteem and ultimately, a career in fast food. I know, I know. Someone should schedule a meeting to discuss my mental deficiencies.
My continuing challenge is to have faith that no matter what happens in school, Sarah will turn out just fine. Better than fine. To believe there are smarts that aren’t measured in school and to demonstrate that belief to Sarah. To remember the Sarah I know when faced with criticisms of the Sarah her teacher knows.
To protect her sparkle no matter what.