Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Nightmare of 3rd Grade

My most vivid memory of my education is from third grade.  I will never forget Mr. Priester, the science teacher, accusing me of cheating on a communicable disease test.  I got all of the diseases correct and they were spelled right, so when he realized a study guide was left out on my neighbor's stack of books, he accused both of us of cheating.  That moment ruined my third grade year.  Though my mom stood up for me and the grade was kept, I can honestly tell you that in all of my years of elementary, middle, high school and college, third grade was my worst year.  (FYI, I can also spell thrombocyticpeniapurpura, Mr. P, so take that!  Yes, I'm still bitter.)

Interestingly, I now have a third grader and I can say without a doubt that this is the worst school year for him, too.  No one is accusing him of cheating, though.  This year is a nightmare for a whole host of other reasons. 

1.  The pressure.  They start harping on standardized tests in second grade, making it very clear that if  you don't pass your IREADs and ISTEPs, you're held back no matter what.  I am super glad my kid, and others that I know, were able to dwell on that all summer.  Threats and fear are super ways to motivate the kids that may struggle.

2.  The workload.  In years past, we were given packets on Monday and homework was turned in Friday.  You pace it out or procrastinate and do it Thursday...  Your call.  We now have math packets that are similar, but we're also getting pretty detailed reading comp assignments due the next day, plus spelling words, grammar study, and fact test studying.  Oh yeah, and fluency if your child failed the fluency screening at the beginning of the year.  Oh, and if they struggle academically, it is recommended that you find standardized test prep materials and add that onto their homework time.  No big deal.  Why would we want 8 and 9 year olds to have time to play outside, be well rounded by participating in activities and sports or sleep?

3.  The struggle.  In our case, we deal with additional challenges.  In the past they were passed off as "age appropriate," but that ship has sailed.  Upon his 8th birthday, what was age appropriate has become undiagnosed learning disorders.  While we go through the long and drawn out process of determining what is hindering his learning, he is still graded and worked as if his brain functions normally.  I realize we don't know what to do for sure until we know what we're working with, but how is it helping to write in bold marker the mediocre scores he's getting and the time it takes to complete his work?  FYI, we get it.  He's struggling.  But maybe it would behoove us to get thrown a lifeline or even a life jacket to stay afloat instead of a couple bricks to hold while trying to tread water.  Let's start finding positive proactive assistance instead of negative reactive grading procedures.

I am not blaming our school or our teacher specifically for the nightmare that makes me sick every time I unpack Will's backpack and makes him hate going to school everyday.  Its the system.  Its whoever decided that one test score determines your placement.  Its whoever decided a teacher's merit and pay is based on those scores.  Its whoever decided that we teach to pass tests now instead of teaching to educate our kids.  I blame those people.  And I hope they experience the sleepless nights of a worried parent, headaches and stomachaches of anxious kids and the high blood pressure of stressed out teachers that they've created.  I hope they feel it, and I hope it hurts, because their system is punishing the very kids they didn't want left behind.  Instead of leaving them, we're shoving them underwater and hoping they can hold their breath forever.  Here's a little tip from a former third grader who now parents one, its not going to work.  They'll gasp for breath and until you pull them back out of the water, they'll swallow water until they drown.  This is third grade, and its my nightmare.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Winners V Athletes

In my sports days, and now in my sons' sports, I've met a lot of coaches.  I've learned that there are two types of coaches in the world.  They may both love the game they are coaching, but they teach two totally different ways.  One creates winners.  The other creates athletes.

At first glance, you want the "winner." But, let me tell you about the winners.  They may learn the skills to play the game, but they won't learn the skills to participate in sports.  They're two different things.  Games have rules... you can't double dribble, you can't move before the center hikes the ball, three strikes and you're out.  The rules are the same for everyone and they're black and white.  You can do this, you can't do that.  Participating in sports is way bigger.  Sports is made up of teams, teammates, coaches, opponents, ethics and outcomes.  A winner may win the game, but they'll never show the sportsmanship, gracefulness, ethical play and lessons learned from losing.  A winner is the kind who teaches to play dirty.  He doesn't break the rules, but he'll devise a strategy to win that bends the rule as far as it can.  He'll justify playing only certain players, even if the league is a 5 and 6 year old learning league, because the chosen ones will win.  He'll ignore the positive aspects of playing sports and focus on only one thing... the win. 

The coach that creates athletes is the coach you want.  He is focused on fostering love of the game, the skills needed to play it and the respect to be a sportsman.  An athlete will show grace in defeat, humility in success, and respect for those involved.  Athletes don't fight the other players, use scapegoats for losses and badmouth.  Athletes play the game, but they're also learning about life.  That's the team that really wins.  The one that takes their lessons from the field into the world and runs with them.  "I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."  Michael Jordan, athlete.

My kids may not be winners.  In fact, I hope they aren't.  My kids will be athletes, and with that, they'll kick the winners asses in real life.  Try to block that shot, Coach.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

I Think I'm Alone Now...

I knew I was going to have a good day today when I got the good bagger at Kroger.  The one who uses the least number of bags possible and puts all like items together.  That blissful moment of serendipity was going to shave countless... seconds...  off my "put the groceries" away time and get me straight on to "work at my desk time." 

Time has become my most precious possession these days. Picture me all Gollum-like
holding a clock and stroking it while I call it "my precious," because that's how much I treasure it now that I have gone back to work.  Not back full time, but full-er time than when I was teaching preschool.  I work from the time I put the kids on the bus until ten minutes before they get off.  Our evenings and weekends are packed with soccer, football and scouts, so I have one day that I get "off."  One magical Thursday when I drop the kids off at school and then I go about my business.... ALONE.  I get to grocery shop alone. I am typing at my desk ALONE.  I even went potty ALONE without someone asking for a drink or banging on the door because he has to go, even though we have two other bathrooms available.  My house is silent but for the tappity tap of my fingers on my keyboard.  I'm ALONE!!!

Though I like to pretend that somehow all this aloneness means I'll spend the day being fanned with palm fronds by manly professional soccer players (no offense to other athletes, it just seems like the futbol dudes are the cutest), the real world manages to eek its way in.  A phone call from the principal...  Laundry...  the bills that are staring at me right now while I ignore them to write this post.  My off day is not an off day, as I leave all my "chores" to be completed between the hours of 9:00am and 3:45pm.... but its quiet.  And I may be doing the laundry, but I'm doing it ALONE!!!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Letter to Will's 3rd Grade Teacher and Jack's Kindergarten Teacher


Dear Mrs. L,

I want to introduce you to my son Will.  He's an in-betweener.  You might be thinking that as an adult who is fairly literate, I probably shouldn't waste time making up words, but let's just call it "creative writing." 

Will is 8 years old and stuck in between.  He's not yet a young man, but he's no longer a child.  He is thinking about things at a higher, deeper level than before.  I see him caring more about physical appearance, clothing, meeting people's expectations.  He's maturing in ways that I did not yet expect.  Then, in a flash, my little boy is back.  The one who cuddles with him mom when he's sleepy, and still wants light up shoes.  He's in between right now, and he'll be here for awhile.

You will be navigating him through the between for this school year, and all I ask is that you embrace the between, too.  Keep my boy still a boy in all the ways that really matter.  I want him to still believe in magic with wide-eyed wonder and believe in his heart that he can really be President of the United States some day.  But, guide my young man.  Show him that the way magic really happens is by being a good and worthy person.  Show him that the President only gets that far with hard work.  Make this portion of his between a learning period, but let him dream the dreams of a young boy at the same time.

I did his beginning, and I pray that his end is so far from now, I can't even guess who will have his end.  But, I'm trusting you with his between, and its the most important part.

Sincerely,
Me

Dear Mrs. V.,

Today you met Jack.  He smiled and seemed ready to return tomorrow.  He even hugged you upon our departure, responding to your request.  Let me tell you, I was shocked.  The Jack you met today was the very best case scenario Jack.  But be aware, that Jack might not come back tomorrow.

My Jack is a mystery.  Despite his excitement today and his little dancing jig, my Jack is an introvert.  In fact, we should probably change his middle name to Introvert so people can fully comprehend the depth of his shyness.  He may surprise me again tomorrow, and the next day, and be open to the school experience.  But, he may also shut down.  He may be nervous and fight off tears, not wanting to show his vulnerability.  He may be quiet.  He may ignore others and be solitary.  He may...

I knew exactly what to expect of Will at this age, but Jack is a mystery.  He is complex, bright, quick witted, literal, moody, creative, adverse to change, goofy, and shy.  He's tumultuous and passionate.  He's a series of opposites, a mystery to me and I've known him for almost 6 years.

All I ask, Mrs. V., is that you turn the pages of the mystery.  If Jack enters tomorrow nervous and shy, please take the time to turn the page to see what else is in there.  If Jack amazes you with his quick wit, please be prepared for the awkwardness that may follow.  He's layered and surprising.  He's up and he's down, and inside out.  But, please spend the time to see all of his sides and please, let's make this chapter excellent.

Sincerely,
Me

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Un-Named Killer

In January of 2011, I wrote a blog post on the shooting of Senator Gabby Giffords.  I wrote it appalled at the evil behind a mass shooting.  Shocked by the senseless tragedy and crushed by the death of innocent people.  I wrote it because I couldn't let it go by without expressing my tidal wave of emotion brought about by a single madman.  I sit here today in May of 2014, barely phased by the mass shooting that took place over the weekend.  Saddened, yes.  Disgusted, yes.  But filled with a torrent of confusion and overwrought by the cruelty, no.  Because now I know that there isn't a single madman.  There are madmen, they are everywhere and they strike often. 

What is worse... I think we are making them.  When I wrote about Gabby Giffords and the 9 year old girl who died that day, I vowed to not name the shooter.  To this day, I don't know his name.  Or the man who shot up the theater in Colorado or the young man that took out the classroom in Connecticut.  I don't want to know who they are.  I don't want to see their faces and know their names.  Be they mentally ill or just evil, I don't know.  Its too late to know the whys of their actions, and to stop them.  I want to know who they are when they're young and we can save them.  I want to see them coming with enough time to save their victims' lives.  After the fact, I don't want to know them at all.

After their evil deeds, I won't give them notoriety. I know the names of actors, sports legends, heroes and government officials.  I know the name of people who matter (and people who really don't... Kanye and Kim... I'm looking at you).  But, I won't let these murderers win by gaining fame.  I don't need to know the name of a gunman that put himself on YouTube and authored a hate filled manifesto.  I won't learn his name and I would like the world's media to try the same. 

Would these mass killings still happen if the killer wasn't highlighted?  What if this young man, now dead, didn't have his face, his video ranting, his pages of hatred spilled across all the sites, pages and news reports.  What if we showed the victims, outlined their stories, their lives and their potential, all the while just calling the do-er the murderer, the criminal, the subject.  Make him anonymous.  Make him nothing.  Make his face disappear and his tirades go unheard and unread.  Make these people who plan to make others disappear, disappear themselves.  What if we grant the fame and the glory to the survivors, the first responders, the heroes.... and put the do-er where he belongs.... in the dirt.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Asthma

I will start out by acknowledging the obvious.  I know that my son is not dying.  I know that there are many children and parents that suffer way more than we do.  We are not a tragic tale.  Disclaimer inserted so that anyone reading this doesn't feel the need to tell me that we could have it way worse.  I am well aware.  But, I am also aware that just because others have it way worse, doesn't mean that we have it easy.  Disclaimer over.

I never had asthma.  When I was growing up, I knew kids with asthma.  The ones with the inhalers out at recess and they'd puff a few times and go on.  I even remember being jealous of it.  The same way kids want glasses and braces until they get them and realize that its not nearly as fun as you thought it was going to be.  Until Will, I didn't know asthma.  Now, I do... and I hate it.

Will has struggled with asthma since his second year of preschool.  He gets flare ups that are all but debilitating.  He talks, he coughs.  He moves, he coughs.  He lays down, he coughs.  And, in case you've never experienced an asthmatic cough, let me inform you.  The word cough isn't big enough to impart the appropriate image.  He coughs so hard and so long that he can't inhale again.  Imagine violently pushing all your breath out without a pause to get more air in.  It sometimes leads to vomiting.  It often leads to panic.  It always takes the energy level of his which usually hovers around 100 to a level 0.  His body hurts.  His throat hurts.  His head hurts.  He's exhausted.  That's asthma.  And I hate it.

Doctors are hopeful he'll grow out of it, and the improvements he's had are amazing.  He is starting a flare up now, but he hasn't had one since September.  That's huge.  But, in September it took a month to get under control.  So, the start of this one is not met with relief that its been so long without, but with the dread of how long its here to stay.  Its not just his physical self that suffers.  There is nothing worse than attempting to go to school and knowing you're distracting the entire class repeatedly, but there is nothing you can do to stop.  Do we keep him home for a month?  I know his teachers get frustrated. I do, too.  I get the distraction, the desire for quiet, and they don't have the sleepless nights and don't even have to deal with the huge amount of money we've spent monthly on his medications.  I get being frustrated.  But, think of the frustration, and worse the embarrassment, he has.  Everyone is silently watching as he is running to the trashcan because this time he coughed up phlegm.  He wants to run and play at recess, but the staff won't let him because it may cause an attack.  He suffers socially, academically, emotionally, and of course physically.  All because of asthma, and I hate it.

I know that mothers all over the world have worse to deal with, but I'm talking about me now and the worse thing in my world is when my son can't breathe.  He is looking to me, gasping for breath and all I can say is "it will be ok."  It is not ok.  He ought to be able to breathe.  I'm not asking for a 5 minute mile, a 100mph fastball or a MENSA acceptance letter.  I just want my boy to breathe.  But, today he can't.  Thanks to asthma.  And, I hate it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Work Ethic

Will has taekwondo every Tuesday and Thursday.  He's been doing it for months, achieved his yellow belt and loves it.  However, every Tuesday and Thursday without fail he will complain about going.  He's good when he gets there, but he doesn't want to go.  The same was the case during football, swimming, even scouts on some nights.  The gist of it is that he wants to do the fun stuff, but not the work.

Tabbi was the same way.  She purported to love volleyball, and we even agreed to pay the $1,000 minimum fee to get her into club volleyball.  However, she went so far as to quit before her first practice.  She quit violin, too.  She was so afraid of doing the work, she just wouldn't.

I'm sitting here after giving Will five more minutes to play with his friends before getting ready to go and I'm at a loss.  How do I instill a work ethic in my sons?  Mark sort of has it.  He goes to work ill, or on no sleep.  Even the kind of yucky sick when your coworkers are pissed that you came in because they're going to catch it.  When we were dating, he went to work so sick with the flu that was killing people, he semi-passed out driving and totaled his car.  However, at home... he doesn't have it.  He won't mow today, when he could mow tomorrow (or never).  He won't stake our newly planted weeping willow up without me nagging at him to death  to the extent that he'd rather walk away from Mine Craft than have me utter another word about the tree.  And, I fear that I don't have it either.

I was kicked out of band in middle school essentially because I refused to practice.  In college, looking back, I'm pretty sure I graduated with an English Lit degree just because it was easy for me.  Was it a lot of work?  Yes.  I giggle when I hear people complain about 10 page papers and reading a novel a month.  (Hee hee, amateurs).  But, it wasn't HARD work.  That's the difference.  When I was a working professional, I worked hard.  I succeeded.  But, I can honestly say that now as a semi-professional part timer, there are days when I phone it in.  At home, I am a get the job doner, but I am not sure the kids even see it that way.  I do laundry and cook dinner because I have to.  Not because I'm getting my work done.

So, I am left with the question of how to make the practice that is required for my children's success seem like a good idea?  How do I get Will to see that he'll never reach a black belt without the work?  I have no answers, so I am truly writing this, not to give my point of view, but in search of others.  Because right now, I can't find the answer.  Or maybe I'm just too lazy to try.