Friday, September 20, 2013

Fresh Start

It's been such an exhausting and stressful couple of weeks that I've been too worn out to talk to you all much.

I'm not going to get into all of the details, but Big Kid had a bit of a breakdown about stuff happening at school. And when I say "a bit" I'm way misrepresenting how sad and physically sick about it he was. He confessed to us that he was having to stay in the classroom for lunch every day to "catch up." When I asked how often and how long it had been going on, he admitted 3-4 days a week, all year long. And he was really upset and worn down about it. I guess they have to show their work for math problems two different ways. He would get the answer and the first way but always had difficulty with the second way and sat there every day through lunch and sometimes recess trying to reverse engineer the work to an answer he already had.

It was extremely frustrating.

I asked his teacher about it and she suggested that he should stay after school and have one-on-one time with her. I felt for him, it seemed an even more frustrating solution to someone feeling overwhelmed with their work level but she insisted this was nothing we could help him with and I wanted him to get caught up. He finally figured out that he was doing the second way wrong. (I was a little surprised she hadn't checked on that during all of the lunches they've spent together.)

He also worked through lunch and recess again that day, stayed for an hour after school, and then had an hour of homework.

He told me that at the beginning of the year, she had said they moved fast at math and she can't slow down because they will fail the FCAT test and if they fail the FCAT test, they will fail 5th grade. Failing the FCAT has been Big Kid's greatest fear since it was introduced in 3rd grade. The FCAT is actually such a source of stress in our home that each year, against common parenting logic, I insist to him that it has zero impact on our lives. That I would never accept him being held back, especially as a straight A student. I look him in the eyes and tell him, "I do not care even one tiny bit what happens on the FCAT. Not one bit."

He scores in the 95th percentile or above each year, yet this is a dance we do again and again. His school really pushes the importance of this test, above and beyond all else. Their messages to him all year definitely outweigh my assurance that this is not significant.

In the meantime, I was making appointments with various doctors trying to figure out what was going on in his body or head that was making him physically sick. I let the teacher know what was going on, begged for a conference, and explained that the lunch room situation was a problem and offered to do whatever it was at home after school with him. She "didn't believe in that." Okay. Her schedule was too full for even a phone conference for over a week.

During all of this, I was unsure what to think. I couldn't ignore my kid's obvious stress level but it's hard to argue if someone is telling you your child is consistently not caught up. I wondered which was the real problem and made sure the teacher knew that I wasn't at all saying this should never happen, just not more often than not and that we needed a break with it to figure out what was going on. I also called every private school in town, researched virtual school, and even seriously and reluctantly considered (and semi fell in love with the idea of) homeschooling.

Mr. Ashley and I would talk in hushed tones in bed every night, now sick with worry ourselves. Was it him? Was it her? Was it a character flaw? Was it a suddenly surfacing learning disability? Was she stubborn and old? Was it ridiculous to demand a midday break?  Could we afford private school? Could we give him a good education ourselves? Had we been pounding a square peg into a round hole for his entire school career? Was it us?

One sleepless night, Big Kid was pale and had dark circles under his eyes. Scared for him, I asked what he thought we should do--I said we would do whatever at this point, including home school. Big Kid told me he didn't want to be home schooled but that he couldn't go on like this. He said he thought it would be best if he kept trying. She continued to keep him in at lunch. One day, in the greatest act of defiance of his life, he ignored her request to stay in at lunch and went to the lunch room. And came right home and told me about it. And I had to tell him that I heard him, I understood, but he had to do what she said. That was rough.

And I wondered and I wondered and I wondered what in the hell was going on. I asked for the opinions of friends who are teachers, friends who are mental health professionals, friends who are moms, and friends who know us best, and also asked some strangers. There was an outpouring of support, of people urging me to listen to my instincts, of people reminding me that I know Big Kid, of people insisting it was not right. I reached out to many people who know me well, reminded them that I am lazy and selfish and asked if I could home school, told them they had to be honest--unequivocally, down to the school psychologist who is a friend, they said that I could do it. That we would do it well. That they believed in me. That this wasn't crazy. 

One of the strangers said that there was always a part of horror movies where she finds herself thinking that she would just sit down and let whatever was coming eat her, and that's where it sounded like he was right now, and I realized that it didn't even matter which one of them was crazy, that it had to stop.

I felt scared. I also felt lucky. I realized that I had a village in those around me and that many of those people were highly qualified to offer their opinions, and that they loved Big Kid enough that they would not let me go down the wrong path. At the end of another odd day of living with a shadow of our 10-year-old, we decided something was happening immediately and that something might be homeschooling whether he liked the idea or not. I was up all night with racing thoughts researching curriculum.

The next day one of Mr. Ashley's friends called and said he had plead our case to the principal of a new charter school, that had been full a long time ago, and they made one spot for him in their STEM school but we had to accept within 24 hours. It was where we had hoped to send him for middle school. I felt like we won the lottery. I again basked in the gratitude of having a village--and not just any village, a damn good village.

Big Kid looked instantly relieved when I suggested it and broke out into a broad smile. I asked if he would miss his friends. He insisted that it didn't matter, that this was for the best. He has stayed true to this the whole way through. When I suggested that our friend deserves a fruit basket for going to bat for us, he said he deserves 3 fruit baskets.

We signed the papers Wednesday. He starts Monday. Yesterday was his last day of school and I was still slightly sad. I had to pick him up early for his doctor's appointment because the school requires a physical. In the parking lot he told me he had seen his math grade on the interim.

"What was it?" I asked, nonchalantly, curious to know how bad it was but thinking it was the least of my problems.

"An A."

"It was an A?"

"Yes. A 92."

Seriously? I get that it's probably an A because he stayed in--but I would have taken a C over this complete change in demeanor. I can't believe she continued to insist on doing this after I poured my heart out to her about how it was affecting us. For an A. She probably thinks I'm glad, but actually, I'm probably the only mom in the world who is pissed about an A. I was so mad I was shaking; I went from happily ready to drop it to wanting to pursue the issue even though it will no longer be one.

Yesterday after his physical as we were walking through the lobby, Big Kid grabbed my hand to hold it and said, "Mom? Thanks for doing all of this for me and for believing me and helping me," and all of the doubts I had about him and about what we're doing dissolved.

I know my kid.

We have a village.

Everything will be okay. 


Anonymous said...

I am so happy that everything is working out for you. It is so nice to know that you have people in your corner to help when needed.

Kind Regards '

Liz B said...

Love this post. That is all.

Unknown said...

We've battled through our own school issues with our oldest and it's no fun. I'm so happy you found an alternative that will work for Big Kid. And I don't care how selfish or lazy you think you are- YOU ARE A GREAT MOM! Period. A selfish and lazy mom would have brushed it under the rug and let the teacher continue to make her kid's life miserable. Good for you :)

Anna C. Winter said...

Sending good luck to Big Kid on his new adventure!!!!

Sasha said...

Awww..... I have tears in my eyes for you. I am so glad everything is falling into place.

Jamie said...

He is so remarkable. Part of being young is lunch time and recess and to be forced to miss out most of each week SUCKS. Poor guy. Your village is the best and you guys are so lucky.

When I was in HS was when they started doing those standardized tests. That was the main thing we were taught - how to pass that damn test. Basically everything else pushed to the back burner because those tests decided the funding our schools got the following year. Pretty bullshit if you ask me.

Unknown said...

I am so so so sorry you've been dealing with this awful teacher. Wow. What a way to ruin a kid's confidence in himself, especially when he had an A TO BEGIN WITH! Ugh, I cannot imagine your pain and frustration, but wow lady, you are such a good mom. You are raising your kids in such an amazing way; I hope I'm as good a mom as you someday. So glad you have a village that wants to help take care of you and your family. Wow. So awesome!

Unknown said...

I've been following you for years and this is the first time I've commented. But his post moved me. Halfway through I had tears in my eyes. Big kid reminds me a lot of my big kid. Kudos to him for finally telling you what was happening and for wanting to continue working hard for something that he knew he was capable of. That says so much about you and Mr. Ashley as parents. I am constantly talking about the village that we have for our children; it's so heartwarming to see a village come together. Anyway, glad to hear that everything worked out and good luck on this new adventure.

Jackie said...

Oh man, big kid will KILL IT in a STEM charter school. I'm so excited for him!!!

Brianna said...

all of that crap for an A?? I would be beyond furious i followed your threads on bbh. I think this answers the question of who was the problem in this scenario. Im glad big kid got in the other school. I hope he blossoms even more into the wonderful person he is

Preppy Pink Crocodile said...

Really great post, Ashley! I had the same issue in the 3rd and 12th grades. In 3rd, I had to skip recess and lunches too. Which like BK, only made me feel so much worse. And like BK, I also made straight A's. The thing is, as an adult, I can so clearly see how my mind still does not work that way. I just process differently. I could always get the correct answer, but MY way, not the expected way. For example, when I sew, I never ever use store bought patterns. I've sewn all my life and they are still like Chinese to me. But I can easily figure out how to make something on my own, in my own way, that looks exactly the same. Same end result, just different process to get there. I feel so badly that his teacher couldn't see past the expected and appreciate that he got to the end result well and in his own way.

Cheers to a great new school experience!


Renee said...

Yeah!! I love this story. I'm so glad you have this village and that you didn't just drop it and hope for the best. You are not lazy or nonchalant -- you care about the important things and let other things slide. You are a fantastic mama!!!

- The Renee

Unknown said...

As a public school teacher this situation makes me a little sick. I keep kids in at recess to catch up on work, but never A students and I would never keep them every day. While testing matters its not the only thing and it is sad that we "teach to the test". Shame on his teacher for ignoring your requests to find a better or different solution. I hope he enjoys his new school!

Tara said...

Oh Ashley, this breaks my heart. I've often thought Big Kid is super sensitive, just based on what you've said here & this further cements that. I'm so glad you went to bat for him & got him out of there & into a better place.

Cindy * GoodHaus Design said...

Blech. How awful. My youngest started middle school this year (6th grade). He is also very intelligent and very creative.

He was placed in advanced math which is pre-algebra. Math is his least favorite subject. It was AWFUL for him and for us as his parents. Going in before school; staying after school; an hour of homework every night for that class only. I originally told him that moving down to Math 6 was not an option because he can do hard things and he's not allowed to be a quitter. After about 3 weeks of torture we finally decided that moving him down a class was the best thing. He got down on his knees and bowed to me and cried. (Dramatic, yes, but he meant it.) It has been SUCH a relief. And now homework isn't dominating his entire evening. *deep breath*!! xo

Ashley said...

Trying really really hard not to get on a soapbox here but THAT TEACHER RIGHT THERE is one of the main reasons I decided to homeschool. Along with the fact that they even the good teachers have to push facts down our children's throats so they can get the highest scores possible to get the funding they need yearly.

I'm so glad you listened to your instincts and your village. I have a feeling you would do an amazing job homeschooling. We use the classical model and with your love of literature I could totally see you going that route. Congrats on the charter school acceptance. I know they really have some great things going on.

bookstalker said...

This teacher is ringing all my alarm bells. I would have a talk with the principal and let her/him know why you are taking one of their best students out of their school. She had no right to continue doing that in the face of your concerns and then dodge having a conference with you about it. WTF. She needs to be stopped. She was making him physically ill? Just, NO.

Lisalu said...

Testing has turned into a crazy monster. Schools need to prove they are performing and serving their students well, and cold hard data is the only thing that serves as proof. It's so sad that the pressure ultimately trickles down to the individual student, and that stories like BK's get lost in the data. Here in MN, a parent can opt out of our standardized testing. I see that it's also legal in Florida, and I would guess everywhere. But unless everyone did it, it wouldn't be much of a statement in the overall fight, and in some schools you'd probably face repercussions in the form of nasty attitude, gossiping, and maltreatment of your child. Maybe not worth the fight in some cases. I'm so happy for you all, and I hope this new school is the answer to your prayers!

Anonymous said...

We live in FL and the FCAT is complete and utter bullshit. I tell my kids every year not to worry about it. I am not the mom making the stupid F-shaped pancakes. I hope they do away with it.

Erica said...

I'm so glad things have worked out. You're a great mom!

Julie H said...

Uh yeah I'd have a hard time not going crazy on that teacher. That is ridiculous!

I had to explain to my oldest when she was younger that those tests are really just testing the teachers and how well they are teaching their students. I hate how the schools push them like that.

Donna May said...

So, if he's an A student, how many other B, C & D students was she keeping in - the whole classroom? I have the utmost respect for teachers - but there are bad apples (see what I did there?) that need to retire or find another profession. Glad your little guy is getting a fresh chance.

Wiley37 said...

I was just reading your blog again, we also have been facing some MAJOR school issues with our oldest. She is a senior at a "competitive" high school and stressed herself to the point she had to go to the mental hospital for a while. She is back and she is only taking the 3 classes she needs to graduate. This was a kid that was always an A student harder on herself that we could ever be. Therapy is difficult when there are no family issues, boys, sex, drugs or triggers other than her putting unreasonable expectations on herself. You are right addressing these issues now - If he is an internalizer I would suggest some therapy with coping strategies as a focus. There are classes for it, believe it or not. Also her therapist recommends lots of socialization with other kids that are similarly intelligent. Kids that are super smart have a much rougher time than average intelligence kids. Enroll your son in those "gifted" camps they need to know that other kids think like them so they are not so isolated. Good luck. Kerry