Monday, February 17, 2014

What I Wanted to Say...

Tonight we visited with Oliver's preschool teacher about his progress.  I know I've said it before, but I have become an infinitely better teacher since I've been a parent.  It's easy to talk about data.  It's easy to talk about what a student can and cannot do.  It's easy to point to a student's skill breakdown on a chart.  None of these are the reasons parents come to conferences.

Parents attend conferences to hear anecdotes about their children.  Parents attend conferences to learn about their child.  Parents attend conferences to catch a glimpse of who their child is in their absence.  Parents attend conferences to celebrate their children.

Oliver's in preschool. We met with his teacher and I learned this: 1) Oliver has an outstanding vocabulary 2) Oliver says he loves school 3) Oliver is slow to master fine motor skills, especially as it pertains to drawing pictures of himself and the spacing between the letters in his name 4) Oliver knows all of his letters and their sounds (with the exception of both sounds for A and E) 5) Oliver knows all of his shapes and colors 6) Oliver can count to 25 7) Oliver sometimes struggles to verbalize his feelings 8) Oliver should repeat preschool.

I have so many emotions about this.  Obviously, I want to do what's best for my kid.  If his teacher suggests that he may need to repeat preschool, of course I'll take this into consideration.  However, I look back at that "data." Oliver has met all of the skill requirements for preschool, but because he doesn't always verbalize his feelings, because sometimes he cries instead of using his words, because he draws only a head and legs, because Oliver subscribes to a Courier-style font (replete with pregnant spaces), because Oliver is a boy with a summer birthday, his teacher encourages him to repeat preschool.

I guess the part that kills me is that the woman didn't say a damn thing about my kid. She told me what he can do and what he can't do, but she didn't even remotely suggest that she knew him on even a superficial plane.  If she did, she would have told me that he is kind.  She would have told me that he is funny.  She would have told me that he is creative.  She would have told me that he is perceptive and aware--that he seeks out those who are sad and tries to cheer them up.  She would have told me that his favorite color used to be orange, but when he showed up to preschool and found out that no one else liked orange, he decided that blue is his favorite color.  If she knew him, she would have told me about how his eyes squint and turn to a beautiful shade of blue while a smirk spreads across his face when he thinks of something he really loves and that he nods his head just a little.  If she knew him, she would have been able to tell me something about him.

But she didn't.

She gave me numbers. She gave me data points. She gave me percentages. She gave me cold, hard figures.

Maybe it's just my natural ineptitude with math, but I'm pretty sure this isn't the information parents show up to receive.  As a teacher, it reaffirms how important it is to push the time on my 10 minute conferences.  Each parent has arrived to hear about their kid.  Not what he can do, but who he is.

I know I can't control other people. I know it's probably not worth it to email her and tell her that she sent us home deflated and discouraged, that she sent us home upset... It's a fine line to know what we can't teach...

But I can take it as a lesson for myself. I can be reminded -- as I head into conferences -- about the importance of celebrating and speaking to the individual, not just what a test reveals.  I can be reminded that I'm talking about someone's baby, not just some kid.  I can be reminded of what I want to hear as a parent...

I cannot change others, but I can be reminded of the most important pieces of education. And it's not the score.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Eliot Got It Wrong: Ruminations on February

T.S. Eliot's opening line of "The Wasteland" drifts into my mind more often than I'd like to admit (maybe I have a penchant for gloominess):

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

I've always thought maybe he got it wrong--I mean, obviously April works on a series of levels in the poem, but April's always felt like a light at the end of a tunnel.  I'm longing for April!

February is the cruelest month, despite the fact that it's short.  It's inconsistent, it's dreary, it's slushy, it's dirty (the snow has lost it's appeal, no longer a welcome novelty or pristine, but marred with sand, gravel, salt...). It feels like a month we must toil through, especially in the classroom.  Kids feel the assault of this cruelest of months too.  February is just hard.

Part of it for me is that this is always about the time of year that all my ambitions for second semester seem to flounder a bit-- I'm behind on grades (the piles are surrounding me at this very moment!), I've relented a bit on consistency in the classroom and kids aren't behaving (or engaging) at the level I'd like.  And somehow, February always manages to derail my reading.  I can't figure out where my time is going.  I haven't made anything. I haven't really read anything.  Time is tricky that way.

It's about this time every year, too, that I'm suddenly consumed by the fact that my house just has so much damn stuff in it.  This stems from the fact that I can't do anything about it right now; isn't that just the perfect time to decide to care? February is not peak garage sale time, after all.  I'm going a bit stir-crazy from being cooped up in the house (and shoveling doesn't offer much reprieve)...

All of these things combine, I think, to create a sense of uneasiness and maybe even irritability, but we just have to bide the time until spring.

To keep myself from slipping into full-on negativity, I'm working on gratitude. Here's a list:

I'm grateful for...

1. two sweet, beautiful boys who make me laugh everyday and who awe me with their open, loving, and creative view of the world.  Their imaginations are endless.

2. Jasper, who is always there to snuggle and look up at me with his big, kind eyes.

3. the support of my family.

4. my crockpot--it's a lifesaver.

5.  a career that makes me want to always strive to be better, to always be learning.

6.  the opportunity to write letters of recommendation for students heading off to college--it allows me to truly focus on the good and to celebrate what they have achieved.

7.  Matt, who is always so kind and patient and constant; he is my anchor and my True North.

8.  the comfort of wonderful friends who understand, who are passionate, and who always provide the opportunity to laugh--especially Joanna, Keresten, and The Fredregills (The Spanish Teacher and The Cable Guy).

9.  conversation hearts. Seriously, I LOVE conversation hearts.

10.  a quiet house on a Sunday morning, a cup of coffee in my favorite mug, and the Sunday New York Times.

I know that this too shall pass.  I'm working to take time each day to be grateful and to focus on all the positive aspects of life, even against this dreary backdrop.  There is much to celebrate, even in the cruelest month... I need to remind myself of that.  But you better believe that as soon as it is even remotely possible, I will be purging so much stuff from my house! :)