I’ve pushed three pink squirming babiesinto the world. It hurt like hell. I thought nothing could be worse. I waswrong.
Parenting is the most painful experience inthe world and one that we are woefully under-prepared for. There’s a reason whypsychologists all over the world have couches filled with people blaming theirmothers for all their problems. That’s because we are to blame.
Parenting is like putting on a blindfold,been spun around hundred times and then made to (still blindfolded) walk acrossa tightrope below which yaws an endless abyss. If you pass that, you then haveto traverse a million miles of eggshells without crushing a single one in4-inch stilettos.
If you manage that, you still have to get across a minefield,kill some dragons without singeing your hair or chipping a nail, make lunch,read a bedtime story, do long bloody division and find out what x equals andwhy.
Forget Navy Seals training. You wanthard-core? Try being a mother.
The South African education system is awrite-off. You can send your child to a government school and sentence him orher to a lifetime of semi-illiteracy, and a career path that peaks somewherearound nail technician, or you can send them to a private school in the hopethat one day they will make enough money as the CEO of a Fortune 500 Company toput you up in a nice old-aged home.
We’d like to laud the success stories ofthe new South Africa, but when it some to education there aren’t any. Educationis for the elite. It’s not racist anymore. It’s just about money. Either youhave it or you don’t, and if you don’t you may as well bugger off. The privateschools may be non-profit, but they are still businesses and the bottom line isthat if your child is not making the grade, they have 70 others waiting for hisplace.
Alright, they didn’t say it quite likethat, but it’s the overall feeling I got. My son is not making the grade.
Yesterday we went in for a group session.My head was pounding, my palms were sweaty and I wanted to be ill. Actually,the first thing I did when it was over was give thanks to my doctor and downhalf a Xanax. Teachers scare the living daylights out of me. They have eversince my Grade 2 teacher said she could turn into dragon and burn me to acinder.
Small boy aged 7 lacks the foundationskills necessary for Grade 2. It sounds simple, but it isn’t, because they use buzzwordsand phrases that mean nothing to me. Ask me about marketing strategies, socialnetworking and ROI, and I’m your girl, but start using educational terms andyou may as well be talking Greek. I know what phonological awareness is as aconcept, but I have no idea what it actually means in reality. What is hesupposed to be able to do that he can’t?
There were two distinct approaches to theintervention.
The school: Keep him back in Grade 1 foranother year
Diametrically opposed points of view.Neither party vaguely resembled the bamboo of Eastern philosophy. Two hours oftalking in circles later we got nowhere.
I think we all need to bend a bit. Ihate confrontation, so in sitting there in the headmistress’s office my anxietygets the better of me. Sitting in his classroom, my son’s anxiety gets thebetter of him.
The thing is that what one person findstotally stress free can move another to tears. Supermarkets are not stressfulfor most people. For me, supermarkets are a full on nervous breakdown and endwith me sobbing in the frozen food aisle. The lovely sunny library at school isa wonderful place for most of the boys, but is a place of terror for my son.His anxiety levels are hindering him from learning.
Perhaps it is time to make a list. Listsare good.
Stayingback in Grade 1
· More time to solidify his skills base
· More time to mature emotionally and developmentally
· Less stress with learning as he will have already done it
· An environment he is already comfortable in
· An easy solution
· When the “switch” flicks he’ll get bored
· Anxiety based on having his peers advance while he stays back
· Future stigma attached to “failing”
· Doing the same thing over and over is the definition of insanity
· Should perhaps do this at a new school and the logistical implications at year end mean it is nigh impossible to find him a new school
Goingto Grade 2
· Remains with his social peer group
· A new teacher and new environment may break his behaviour cycle
· New skills might excite him
· The “switch” flicking will motivate him to achieve
· His lack of basic skills makes the gap widen more and more between him and his peers
· His confidence fails more as he fails to achieve raising his anxiety levels more
I am sure there are others, but these arethe basics.
What about the one thing we are allmissing. My son. What does he want to do? He wants everyone around him to behappy to his own detriment. He’ll give me whatever answer he thinks I want tohear. The school psychologist is now going to take two play therapy sessionswith him to find out where his head is at.
If he wants to go up a grade I’ll moveheaven and earth to help him.
If he wants to stay back and re-enforce hisskills, I’ll move heaven and earth to help him
I’m making a decision here that will impactthe rest of his life.
There are consequences and risks whateverwe choose to do. It is terrifying.
My husband has been scouring researchreports. Something like 69% of American high-school drop-outs have been keptback a year at some point in their schooling. There is no quantifiable proofthat keeping a child back helps his development and academic achievement in anyway in the long term. Short-term there is a great improvement in marks, the nextyear they are average and the third year they are behind again.
Whereto from here?
All of us need to make what the Chinesecall “concessions”
My ideal is this:
Let him go to Grade 2 for the first term.
If he copes fantastic first prize.
If he doesn’t we can move him in Term 2 andit gives us the time to find a school that can accommodate him.
Or we can move him down back to Grade 1.
We could let him stay in Grade 1 for thefirst term and if he exceeds expectations and the “switch” flicks he is movedto Grade 2 in the second term.
Either way, right now I don’t need a fullscale IEP (independent curriculum). What I ask is that for the remainder of theterm he gets a little less work in class than everyone else so he can completethe task without panicking about time.
The important thing I ask is the hardest togive. Put your pre-conceived notions about my child away. When he achievessomething don’t say, “Well, will he remember them tomorrow?”
I love my son. However, I also know himbetter than just about anyone. He is the middle child. His siblings are louder,more extrovert and run roughshod over him. How does he get attention? He opensthose big blue eyes and plays the helpless one. Everyone rushes to comfort him.
He is manipulating the classroomenvironment to get the most attention possible and it is working.
Why should he read the question when theteacher will read it for him?
Why should he do the work, when the teacherwill give him the right answer?
He doesn’t need to be babied. He needsdirection, limits and boundaries. I don’t let him away with emotionalmanipulation at home, so don’t let him do it at school. Be firm. Be strict. Beunderstanding of his challenges, but empower him to find the answers, don’tgive them to him. Praise his successes so he knows that is where he’ll getattention. Right now he gets more attention for his failures than hissuccesses. That’s backwards.
He has a mother. Me. I am not a teacher.
He has a teacher. You. You are not hismother.
We are a team, but we have different rolesand responsibilities.
Don’t let him play symphonies on yourheartstrings.
He’s a veritable Mozart when it comes tothat.