Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Parenting 101

We are parents.  And as all parents know, you worry incessantly about your children.  Before they are born you worry if you have enough money, enough time, enough love to give.  When they are in utero and beyond you worry if they are healthy, if they will always be healthy; if they are happy, if they are well adjusted, if they are strong.

As my husband will tell you, I am something of a worrywart.  I have always worried about our girls, but I have also always had a sort of strength of purpose in parenting.  In my little suburban New Jersey neighborhood, I was the oldest on the block and always the caretaker and later the babysitter.  I worked at a day care in high school.  I was a nanny in college and a pre-school teacher for years before our first child was born.

I was always confident as a mother.  I shunned schedules.  I breastfed on demand.  I had my girls sleep in our bed when they were really young.  I joined playgroups and was the Treasurer of our MOMS Club.

My girls took dance class and swimming lessons, they had a lot of friends and were socially confident and comfortable.  I prided myself on being a good mom.

Throughout second grade, our older daughter's teacher told us that she was doing fine: at conferences, on report cards, in emails that I would write occasionally just to "check in".  Then, at the end of the third marking period, we discovered that she was "more than moderately" farsighted.  I went in to speak with her teacher and her teacher informed me that she had made little progress all year.   She offered to tutor my daughter.  She said that she had looked over my daughter's shoulder while she was taking the NJPASS test and that my daughter did very poorly.

My husband, ever the level-headed one of us, said that if her teacher could not reach our daughter during the 6+ hours she was in class, he damn sure wasn't giving her $60 an hour to tutor her!  We asked a friend's mother, who is an esteemed teacher in our school system and had worked with our daughter.  She said that there was nothing wrong with our daughter, kids learn at different paces and that our daughter was fine.

But still, I worried.

My brother and I had both struggled to learn to read, but now my brother is a high school English teacher in the #2 school in the state and I am a librarian!  I told my daughter's teacher that but she just shrugged and said, "I am sorry to tell you, but your daughter is far behind and struggling."

No parent wants to hear that their child is struggling.

I was thrilled to find that Modern Curriculum Press, the Plaid Phonics books that I had in Catholic school thirty years ago, were still printing books.  I bought workbooks for the summer.  The teacher told me I had wasted my money.

Over the summer, we got the results of our daughter's NJASK test.  She was Advanced Proficient in Math and 2 points below Advanced Proficient in Language Arts.  I immediately called the Principal of her school and told her about the meeting with the teacher.  She, of course, sided with the teacher and said that the teacher was only doing her job.  I pointed out that my daughter was (here was my mistake) "highly Proficient" in Language Arts.  "There is no 'highly proficient'," the Principal said in her nasal voice.  "There is Below Proficient, Proficient and Advanced Proficient."

"I understand, but Proficient is a spectrum of ten points,"  I stated reasonably.  "My daughter is an 8 out of ten."

"I don't understand your point," said the Principal uptightly.

"My point is: why did the teacher call me in and get me all worried when my daughter is PROFICIENT?"

"She must have seen a marker that made her feel otherwise,"  the Principal stated curtly. "At our school we pride ourselves on rigorous academics and while a Proficient grade is satisfactory, we would much prefer our students all attain Advanced Proficient."

I could have told her what I thought of that.  Kids need to be kids and you can't push them ALL so hard.  Sure, some will be advanced, but they don't all have to be.  And if you expect that-demand that-you are going to do some major damage to their self-esteem.

At the beginning of third grade, my daughter's Reading Level as assessed by her third grade teacher was 2 levels above where it had been in June (thank you, MCP Phonics!).  She was now in third grade, but reading on a second grade level.

Ironically, or maybe not so ironically given that both my husband and I are voracious readers, she loves to read.  It is never a struggle to get her to read!

In fourth grade, again, after the NJ ASK in third grade, she was found to be in need of extra help.