Monday, January 10, 2011

Relief, and worry

When my boys started school at the same place I teach, I made a vow to keep out of their world as much as I could. I didn't want to be one of the overbearing parents I had had to deal with in my many years in the classroom. I wanted them to have as "normal" an education as they could, in spite of the fact that I am a teacher. Don't misunderstand. I love being able to see them during the school day; their shy smiles or secret signs for "I love you" make the rest of my day go that much faster.

Recently, Matthew's teacher commented on the academic prowess of my two older boys and said, "it must be such a relief to know that your kids are smart." I was kind of taken aback by the comment. I mean, I know my kids are bright (and I am NOT bragging. I have scientific proof to back up that statement). But I don't know that I would exactly say that I am relieved by this fact. There are times I am actually concerned.

I taught for a solid five years before the birth of my oldest son. I would marvel at the intelligence of some of the students I had the pleasure of teaching. I thought, naively, that their parents had it easy. I mean, a smart kid doesn't hassle you to complete tasks, right? Well, that might be true at school, but it might not necessarily transfer to home assignments. I would have challenges of my own in the classroom for children that were way above the curve. How could I keep them challenged throughout the day? How could I meet their needs?

Fast forward to Matthew. Matthew who started Kindergarten reading. Matthew who could read beginner novels at the beginning of first grade. Matthew who would get so frustrated with the children in his class who would misbehave and interrupt his learning. Matthew who was reading four to five grade levels above his current grade level.

Andrew could add and subtract at age three. He was soon following in his brother's footsteps, albeit with less "look at me" fanfare that seems to follow Matthew. Andrew was reading Harry Potter in first grade, people, movies yet unseen. (House rules are that you must read the book BEFORE watching the movie.) Andrew could conduct a detailed conversation about the novel's nuances with no difficulty.

And what to say about Joshua? With two older brothers, he floored his Pre-K 3 teacher this year with his ability to name a hexagon with no problem. The other kids in his class could name three shapes tops. Letter names and sounds, out of order? No problem.

Here is the clincher. Some parents sit with flash cards from the time their kids can sit up. I never did.

Not with the oldest. Not with the middle. Certainly not with the youngest.

Why? Because as a teacher, I knew that would get plenty of that sort of thing when they got to school. Because I wanted to just talk with my kids, with no kind of pressure to actually learn something. I wanted to show them cool stuff, just because it was cool.

Blessed? Absolutely. Worried? You bet.

Why? Because placement for children like this is impossible. Because regardless of what their academic age might be, there is still the emotional component of all this knowledge and having it come WAY to easy. Because they rarely struggle.

And I want them to struggle. I want them to learn what it's like to really have to study to learn something.

At the beginning of third grade, Matt was having trouble with Spanish. Regardless of the fact that I am a native speaker of Spanish and am a fluent reader and writer, I had a hard time keeping the Spanish only rule my parents implemented while I was growing up. I married a man that can speak and write it, but found it to be difficult to switch from one language to another while the kids were really little. The only time the Spanish flows in our house is when Mama is ticked. Not the best way to learn a language.

Now, I never heard a peep from his Spanish teacher. But by the second week of school, he was begging me to pull him out of Spanish. His reason for determining he was "failing" Spanish? His teacher had asked him the same question twice. And he knew, from prior experience, he told me, that when the teacher asks you the same question twice, you are not doing well.

Well, it took a lot to convince him that he was not "failing." That certain things might not be come as easily to him. And that took him aback.

"Why?" he asked.

How to answer? Because most people have to work hard to learn things. Because a strong mind is only as strong as the lessons learned. Because not everything can be easy.

The best things in life are not necessarily the ones that are easy to come by.

So, yes. There is some relief in knowing that my children love learning. That they have been blessed with wonderful teachers who value them as students, who challenge those minds every day, who make learning so much fun for them.

But there is worry, regardless. Because in order to succeed, you must learn to fall. You must learn to get back up.

And I know that they will. Hopefully. And not too painfully.

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