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Friday, September 11, 2009

Back to School Nightmare

My kids' elementary school and middle school had their back to school nights last week. I am one of those parents who really enjoys attending these events. I like meeting the teachers, listening to their teaching philosophies, and learning about what the year has in store for my kids. I love getting this sneak peek into my child's academic and social world.

This year the back to school night experience at my kid's elementary school was great. I left each of my children's classrooms inspired and impressed by their teachers. However, when I attended my son's middle school night, I walked back to my car with my blood pressure rising and an overall feeling of dread and anxiousness. In short, it was a back to school nightmare.

Now I realize this sounds a bit overly dramatic but have you ever had that dream where you are caught in front of a room in just your underwear? Where all eyes are on you? Well I had that panicky feeling while sitting in my son's math class. Let me explain....

I went to the school with my son's schedule in hand ready to get a taste of 7th grade. I dashed around the campus, exchanged pleasantries with various parents and sat through 10 minute presentations with each teacher. I thought the teachers were all very nice and enthusiastic. They all had glowing things to say about the school and their students.

As I rushed around from room to room, I was excited for my son. I felt like he was going to have a challenging year but one that would be interesting and fun. That was until I went to his math class. It wasn't that his math teacher was bad, she seemed very caring and knowledgeable. It was an innocent question that was posed, my response and the parents that made my stomach churn.

When the teacher asked, "Does anyone have any concerns of your child being in this class?" I raised my hand without thinking. I was concerned that the class might go too fast, that they would teach to the majority and that if information was not understood by a student that he or she would be SOL. Anyway, she asked the question and impulsively my hand shot up in the air. Mine and mine alone. Evidently everyone else was perfectly fine with this math class and had no worries. I felt like all eyes were on me. I felt like I was standing in front of the room in my undies. (I'm sure not everyone took notice, but that's how I felt).

After seeing my lone hand in the air, the teacher asked, "Who is your child?" and without hesitating I blurted out his name. Immediately I wished that I could eat my words. I felt that I had done something wrong. Did I just label my kid as the potentially slow one? Did I just give the impression that I was afraid he wouldn't succeed in her class? My mind was racing--OMG I just undermined by son. I couldn't focus on anything else she said. I felt that I needed to explain my actions, to do some damage control-- so I stayed after class to clarify my response to her question.

Well, I was not the only one to want to bend her ear. There were parents who had concerns about the class too. Just not the same as mine. They were upset that their child was not in a higher math level. They wanted to know how they could get their kid in the more rigorous class (there are 4 levels and this is the second highest one). They wanted to make sure their kids were on the accelerated math track.

I stood their listening, quietly awaiting my turn and getting angrier and angrier as each parent made their case for bumping their child to the next level. It is too boring, he's not challenged, he has done all this before. I was impressed by the teacher. She listened attentively and calmly told each parent to wait and see how the year unfolds. That the class was starting off slowly but they would soon be picking up the pace (yikes--I cringed). I could see she was starting to get annoyed and wanted to extract herself from these literally pushy people.

She walked over to me and apologized for putting me on the spot. I explained (with a shaky voice) why I raised my hand when she asked her question. I told her that witnessing what just went on (these overzealous parents demanding more) was exactly the reason I had trepidation regarding her class. I explained to her that my son likes math. He is good at math and is confident about his abilities. It is the one subject that he really feels he gets and I didn't want that to change.

I told her that I feared his confidence and self esteem would be trampled being in a class where numerous kids have already been exposed to the material at summer school or after school math class. I expressed my concern that this could have a negative impact on my son. That he might feel like he is not grasping concepts as quickly as others because for him, it would be new material.

She nodded in agreement and told me that she would keep an eye on him. She reassured me that we would work together and that he would be fine. I left feeling a little bit better. I thought to myself, at least she knows who he is, she knows I care and that I want him to succeed. He'll be fine, he'll be fine, he'll be fine......right?

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