Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Meeting

By May, I avoided attending morning assembly. Mostly because it seemed as if every time I went, JGs teacher would pull me aside to “update” me on how JG was doing in class. But I got caught off guard one morning as I was escorting my girls to school, and hence the “meeting” was set. The teacher assured me that she only wanted to get together in order to discuss what we should do with JG next year. In all of her umpteen years of teaching, she had never had a child that was so “on the bubble.”

What to do, of course, meant to ultimately decide whether or not to “promote her to first grade or give her another year of kindergarten.”

Which I have to say up front that I was never – and still am not – opposed to the idea of retaining JG. She will be six in July, and was younger than almost everyone in her class. Plus, she hasn’t conformed really well to the American approach to education (the sit down and shut up approach, I mean – although I know that not every school or teacher takes this approach in America, but by in large they do).

On the day of the meeting, I was expecting to meet with the teacher, counselor, and reading specialist all together. Poetroad made sure he could be there too. Thank God.

Side note: Before the meeting, Poetroad and I, under the distinct impression that we would truly “discuss” the situation, made a list of different we thought should be considered. And true to form, I played the devil’s advocate by positing the “what ifs.” What if they say “this” or “this” – what will we say? Ultimately, Poetroad wisely put my mounting anxiety at ease by suggesting, “Look, let’s not make any decision today. Let’s reiterate that we are meeting to discuss the issue and not to decide one way or the other.”

No surprise to anyone but me (and perhaps the counselor…), the meeting began with something akin to “there is no way your daughter could handle first grade, everyone thinks so (with an eye roll), and this is why…”

I was broadsided – although I should have seen it coming. And I resolutely dug my heels into the carpet at that point. No matter how much they tried to “persuade,” I acted as if this was a “discussion.” Poetroad was calm, cool and collected, as always. We went from person to person and grilled them. “What is JG like in your classroom?” “How is JG performing academically for you?” “What is your experience with children that are retained a grade?” “If she repeats kindergarten, will she have the same teacher?”

Oh, I wish you all could have been there to see the response when Poetroad asked that last one. I thought the teacher was going to fall out of her chair; she was struggling for words, and was practically rendered speechless. Not in her wildest dreams would she want to spend another year with my child was what she said with her body, and with her mouth she said, “Well, I don’t know about that.” That was okay with me; I don’t feel any animosity for this woman, but I wouldn’t want JG to spend another year with this teacher either. As I mentioned in my previous post, the teacher really knew how to help my child excel academically and socially – she was a fantastic teacher in that sense. However, the teacher could not overcome the fact that my child (unknowingly) got on her nerves.

Much more was said at the meeting, and the reading specialist – who at first “needed to teach her class in 10 minutes” – ended staying through the duration of the almost one hour meeting. Although it clearly exasperated the teacher, I let everyone know, in no uncertain terms, that the decision was not going to be made that day, the next day, or even two weeks from that day. Poetroad and I needed to thoughtfully consider everything we heard that day, do some research of our own, and then come to a consensus.

The truth of the matter is that Poetroad and I both know that another year of kindergarten wouldn’t hurt our daughter at all. She is petite, young compared to the other students in her grade at this school, and can have a difficult time sitting still. And although she meets the criteria for grade promotion for Texas (as the reading specialist reluctantly admitted, and added, “And if I didn’t know your daughter, I would say that she could handle first grade”), this school district has standards in place that go above and beyond what the Texas Board of Education requires. JG is only an emergent reader. She can count to 100, but gets mixed up in the “teens.” [Side note: my oldest daughter thought that “eleventeen” was a number until she was in the second grade.]

Maybe it’s just me. I clearly have to get over my expectations – not of my daughter’s ability, but, rather, of what public school should do for my child. I do not believe that my daughter is a failure, nor do I think that Poetroad and I have somehow failed her. As a teacher, though, I know that children each learn various concepts at different rates and by different means. I understand that a child ultimately has to conform to school practices (sit and listen, work on worksheets) in order to be successful in the public school system as it is. But I also know my daughter, and she may never conform to status quo.

Neither did Einstein.

I went away from that meeting stunned. It’s taken me over a month to even discuss it with anyone. Of course, all of our friends and family are supportive. The teacher, too, told me on the last day of school that she would support whatever decision we made. Little by little, as I’ve broached the subject with a few mothers from this neighborhood, the response was what I expected, however: oh, poor you and your sub-par daughter. I’m not sure what I think about that.

I have to remind myself that, in the scheme of things, this stuff is petty. We aren't starving, we have a roof over our heads, and clothes on our backs.


pjd said...

It's not at all petty. It's your child. It's huge.

You may know that we had our older son retained after second grade. The school was totally against it, thanks to the way funding works in California. Plus, there is a tremendous amount of research showing that retention does not, statistically, improve academic performance or prediction of success.

What they never tell you is that that research does not consider the reasons for retention. The one study that did include that concluded that children retained for lack of maturity actually excelled later, whereas children retained strictly for poor academics or behavior usually had other issues going on in their lives, and the stigma of being held back actually hurt their long term success.

I get the blindsided thing, though. We did a similar exercise before going into our meeting. We had had some testing done, and in our opinions and the opinion of the neuropsychologist we'd seen, our son just had some anxieties and needed some more maturing time. But of course as soon as we stepped in the room, the school district's staff psychologist started screaming "ADD! ADD!"

We didn't mind our child being retained. In fact, we wanted that because we knew in our hearts that it would be best for him. (Believe me, it took me a long time to be OK with that idea.) But we did NOT want him labeled ADD when he wasn't. So many parents look for labels and diagnoses to let themselves off the hook that I think the school districts and psychologists are eager to accommodate them with the ADD label. We had to fight that repeatedly during this one meeting, and boy am I glad we did.

The next year gave our son time to catch up, emotionally and physically, with his peer group. It was so clear to me that he fit in better with this younger group--in school, in sports, with friends, in cub scouts... everywhere--that I haven't regretted for one minute fighting for it against a very adamant principal.

All we did after deciding was to tell him, "We are having you do second grade over again because you're a little young, and we think it's better for you to be with your age group." He accepted that and has no stigma at all. Actually, he seemed relieved.

bluesugarpoet said...

Thank you so much for sharing such thoughtful insight, pjd. It's great to hear about various experiences - and the reasons behind making your decision. It really helps to know that there are others out there who have been in the same boat.

More than anything, this situation has solidified my desire to advocate for my child no matter what. No one knows our child better than we do, and in the end, we must decide what will be most beneficial for our child.

Knowing that your son had such a great experience with being retained makes me glad since we are leaning that way so far.

Mimi said...

I skipped third grade but then repeated sixth grade. Neither experience left a scar.

Ch@ndy said...

You may not remember this but 3 of my four brothers repeated grades. The two of them repeated grades when we switched from the very same school district your girls were in to a private school. Academically, they weren't ready for the grades they were supposed to be going in to. All three of them made up the time in high school.

Just a thought...If JG does repeat Kindergarten, press for the most relaxed teacher in the school. Talk to the other parents and find out which one they think is the least of the homework Nazis and push for her. Or...put her in a Montessori. Some of them are strict on the talking and some are not. could always home-school her.

Tell me to shut up anytime.

bluesugarpoet said...

No, these are all things I've been thinking...

In fact, after the meeting, I immediately went online to check out private school (including Montessori) options. Home school - that option, I think, would work better with a more compliant child and a more patient parent. Although it may not be out of the question for the future.

Great idea about the teacher request thing.

CGA said...

Wow. Bless your little flibbertigibbet's heart.

What about a Waldorf school? I have heard that those are less structure-oriented.
(Not that I know much 'cause I am neither a teacher nor a parent of a school-age child!)

Our little N. is a pea-in-the-pod with J.G. in some ways. Short of beating the tar out of her (NOT reality!) there is no suppressing the child. They are irrepressible! Yay for them!