School Conference Time

Apr 18 2012

Here in Oregon, it’s parent/teacher conference time, which, as every parent and every teacher knows is the very most delightful time of the year.

It’s a time free from pressure and angst.

It’s a time we all come together to celebrate our collective successes and pat ourselves on the back and feel uplifted by our communities and like we’re not alone.

RIGHT?

RIGHT!

For some of us.

Aaannnnddd… not so much for others.

I had coffee this week with a friend. And, um, that stuff up there? That wasn’t so much her experience. And after we met together – a meeting full of truth-telling and camaraderie about navigating education for our kids – she sent me this:

I appreciate your insight about kids and learning and struggles in school. It seems like everyone’s kids are wonderful readers and mathematicians and exceeding in every way possible — judging from Facebook — and it’s good to know there are others struggling, too, if only so I don’t feel so alone in this. As I wade through the FB posts that appear about how well kids are doing at school, which happened a lot on my page last week because of school conferences, I was inclined to post: “Celebrating because my kid is having behavior problems!” and “Love that my kid had the lowest reading score in all the second grade!” just to see how people might respond.

Now, of course she didn’t post those things on Facebook, because we mamas never, in any way, want to discourage our kids or paint them in an unfavorable light. We walk an incredibly tight rope, trying to always be an encouragement to our kids but also rather desperate for a place to voice our frustrations and share our fears and wonder whether our kids are OK even if we’re the family who failed to find an available house in Lake Wobegon where all the children are above average.

Lately, I find myself having more and more of these conversations. I adore them for their authenticity, and they trouble me because I’m beginning to understand how very isolated parents of imperfect children feel.

“Hey, Mom,” Aden beckoned me to the table, “check this out!”

I wandered over to see Aden with her progress report spread out in front of her, and my heart sunk. In the fourth grade now, she’s getting letter grades. And letter grades for kids who are on Individualized Education Plans – grades that are necessarily marked on whether or not a kid meeting grade level standards – mean a lot of D’s and F’s. Since those don’t mark whether or not she’s making progress (she is!), I thought I’d just hide the report from her lest she use letters to mark her self-worth or become discouraged. But my table-cleaning-off skills leave a LOT to be desired, and she found a paper with her name on it and read it.

“Oh, crap,” I thought to myself.

“Oh, look at that!” I said aloud.

“Hang on, Mom,” Aden said. “I’m going to get a pencil!” She bounced to the pencil drawer with enthusiasm and back to the table where she sat down and began to count.

“One, two, three, four – 4 A’s, Mom!” She looked up at me and grinned.

I smiled back. What could I do?

“One, two, three – 3 B’s, Mom!”

“One, two, three, four, five – 5 C’s, Mom!” Aden was full of joy. My heart was rapidly sinking.

“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight – 8 D’s, Mom!” Her smile didn’t fade.

“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven – 11 F’s, Mom!” And she beamed at me, as happily as she did with her A’s and her B’s. “I sure do know my letters and numbers, don’t I, Mom?” she asked, thrilled by her success.

“Yep, Aden. You sure do! And I am so proud of you.”

Kids.

Kids, you guys!

They’re so incredibly complex and different from each other, and they each bring such unique challenges. It’s just that, with school, they’re graded, and that is a hard, hard thing for a mama to take – and a hard thing for a teacher to serve up – when a kid isn’t meeting the standard.

There are times I wish my kids weren’t graded at all. And there are times I wish they were graded on everything so they’d have a much better, more comprehensive picture of themselves, especially when academics or behavior are hard for them, because then they’d see that they’re also very, very good at things – at social skills, or building robots, or being compassionate, or surviving and overcoming, or choosing joy and being resilient – many of which turn out to be even more important than grades in the long run.

Especially robot-building. That’s a life skill, baby!

Our lives are a blend. They’re a process. And they’re full of progress which can be such a slowly opening flower as to be impossible to recognize except in retrospect.

So.

I’d love to have this conversation with all of you because I believe in the collective wisdom of the Mama Whole. Kind of like the Borg, except with a lot more coffee and a lot less assimilating.

In light of school conferences and your child’s academic success, how are you? Happy? Sad? Isolated? Fulfilled?

And do you feel free to talk about success and failure in equal measure? 

What do you think?

Do share.