Work with me, please.

Archive for May, 2012

Public School, Here We Come

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Mae was a lottery pick for a public talented and gifted (TAG) school. This is the school she tested into and for which she was wait-listed last year. It has a good reputation and I’ve heard nothing but good things about its gifted program. Hubby and I toured last week. The enrichment programs sound fun and challenging, and there is advanced, differentiated instruction within the classroom.

I am concerned, though, about the average class size for third grade. Twenty-five students per teacher with no assistant sounds like a lot of fish for Mae to swim with and then, I think, she was with 18-19 classmates for 1st and 2nd grade. What’s a few more kids?

I’m also concerned, of course, about the transition. When Hubby and I told her that she may be going to a new school in the fall, Mae said, in short, “no.” We told her it’ll be more challenging and she’s less likely to get bored. She has warmed up to the idea since we received the lottery results two weeks ago. She thinks 25 kids in a class is a good thing because, in her words, even if some kids don’t want to play with her, there are enough kids that it’s likely she’ll still have friends.

I asked Mae’s 1st grade teacher for her opinion on moving Mae from the small private school to a public school. She recommended a class size of 10, no more than 15. Well . . . . She also warned that new teachers often “get stuck” with the gifted classes because experienced teachers get worn out by high-maintenance, demanding parents. (I hope she shared that opinion with me because she doesn’t see me as such). During the school tour, we visited two of the three 3rd grade classrooms. The teachers were older, if not seasoned educators, at least mature in age, which is a relief.

I went to a PTO meeting at the TAG school also. There was a small group of committed parents voting for next year’s officers. I was impressed that there were folks happy, or at least willing, to take on the responsibility. At the last PTA meeting for the kids’ current school, it took some teeth-pulling and arm-wringing to get parents to accept nominations. (That’s not a judgment, just an observation. I didn’t volunteer for anything and declined a nomination. My new job is already spilling over into evenings and weekends, which I had not anticipated and I’m trying to get a handle on it.)

I introduced myself to the school principal after the PTO meeting. She seems like a nice lady, and the TAG Coordinator seems like he’ll be a pleasure to work with. Hubby is certain, and I’m also there, in thinking this is the right move for Mae. I want to give it a try so that we don’t wonder “what if.” The teachers’ and administrators’ demeanor and flexibility will determine if we stay.

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“Do you believe in God?”

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On the way to Dharma yesterday, I was listening to Howard University’s gospel radio program while Mae read her chemistry book in the back seat. I don’t remember exactly what song was on when Mae asked “What is this song about?” I told her it was a gospel song, and the singer was giving thanks for all that he had been given. Mae asked me, “Do you believe in God?”

I knew she was going to bring the topic back at some point because she was dissatisfied with the response I gave when she asked a few weeks ago. When I picked her up from after care that day, she was sitting on the side of the playground with a scowl on her face. The teacher sent her there to calm herself after a heated discussion with some little girls about the existence of God. Mae had called God “stupid” and attempted to explain in scientific terms how she could prove that God does not exist. The teacher acknowledged that Mae is entitled to her own opinion; the problem, she said, was that Mae was yelling in the kids’ faces and wouldn’t stop. On the way home, Mae explained her perspective to me. I couldn’t tell if she had read somewhere about evolution and creation, or what was the source of her conclusion. She ended with, “And that proves that God doesn’t exist, right?”

Ayiyi. I tried to explain tolerance, and a person’s right to believe as they wish. I told her that she can share her opinions if others are interested, and that she should listen to theirs. I told her that calling God stupid is offensive to some and she has to learn to disagree respectfully, or just keep her opinions to herself.

She was disappointed that I didn’t see the obvious logic of her position. (The word “obviously” was sprinkled throughout her explanation.) I think she was even more disappointed that I wasn’t answering her question directly.

So, yesterday in the car, I repeated what I’d said about people having different beliefs and the need to respect differences. I told her that she can no more disprove God to someone who believes than someone can convince her that God exists. She went into her quiet, contemplative mode and we went into the meditation center. For her, this type of contemplation means she’s re-loading, trying to think of another way to persuade or undo me.

After Dharma, Mae asked “Are Buddhas gods? If so, I may have to stop going to Dharma. That would be too bad because I like Dharma.” I told her that Buddhas were not gods, but real people. Silence. Reloading.

I like that Mae is inquisitive and critical. I was too at her age, minus the yelling in people’s faces. I only hope that she learns to manage her mouth sooner than later. I plan to continue answering her questions, or at least the faith-based ones, indirectly or not at all so that she learns to respect boundaries. And, too, the whole existence debate wore me out during my college and graduate school years. I have no interest in re-living those conversations, especially with a zealous 8-year old who, though bright, lacks the life experience to have a peaceful disagreement and genuine dialogue about a sensitive, sometimes divisive topic. My intent is to make the point that some people view and treat religion as a private issue, precisely so they won’t be badgered by people who believe otherwise.

The Flip Side

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When I picked up Jay from school today, I asked him one of my typical questions, “Tell me something good that happened today.”  He said, “Well, N__ wasn’t that bad to me today.”  Jay has been complaining about this classmate N for a few months. N has some behavioral issues that, unfortunately for all, have become well-known among the families and earned him a label as a “hitter.”  I previously posted that I feel bad for him and his parents because I can empathize with being the parent who has to stay behind at pick-up to hear about all the sad choices your kid made that day.  Mae set us up for many such conversations, and the potential lurks on a daily basis.

I told Jay that N not treating him so bad today isn’t really a good thing and he can measure his day by things not having to do with N. He told me in a reassuring voice that he thinks about other things too. So, I asked him to tell me another something good that happened.

“Well, N__ didn’t push me too hard with his block.”

Huh?  I asked, “What’s good about that?”

“What was good about it was that it didn’t actually hurt.”

This is one post I hope Hubby doesn’t read.  I’m surely not going to tell him voluntarily about this conversation.  He and Jay talked earlier this week about N.  Hubby told Jay to hit N back.  I can’t co-sign that, not at this age.  I disagree for a number of reasons, all of which Hubby and I talked through later that night.  Hubby made some good points; he just wants his son to stand up for himself.  I want the same thing, and think Jay can do it in a different, more effective and empowering way.  I also want N to learn better social skills almost as much as I wanted the same for Mae at that age three or four years ago.   I want Jay to tell N how to be a better friend, and model this behavior for him.  I want him to walk away if N becomes mean or hurtful and play with other kids and tell the teacher.  I want Jay to withhold his friendship from N until N earns it.

I took another shot with Jay.

“What else was good about today?”

He said, “S[__] was the line leader and she’s good at it.”

See, this is one of the things I love about this boy. He has a good heart.  He genuinely and consistently thinks of others and their happiness.

Still, I wanted to see if I could get him to focus on himself.  I asked if there was anything else he liked about the day.

“We got to play in the sandbox today.”

“Cool.  So, you had fun in the sandbox?”

“Well, I didn’t play in it.  I played on the slide.”

And, this gets to why I didn’t press Hubby about the wisdom or lack of wisdom in telling Jay to hit N back.  He’s a good kid and he cares deeply about others.  He’ll forgive and help before he hurts.

Just yesterday, as a follow-up to the conversation that Hubby and I had, I called Jay’s preschool teacher to try to gain insight on how she and the staff are handling N’s behavior.  Jay had told me the day before how N threw a Lego at him that landed on his cheek.  Jay said that N’s mom had to pick him up early because of this.  I told Ms. M — and I sincerely believe — that I trust she and the staff are working with N to help him learn to make better choices in the same way that they worked with Mae.  I also offered myself as a resource for N’s mom and asked Ms. M to feel free to give her my number.  I know from my own experience that it is frustrating and lonesome to be That Mom.  Maybe she’ll call, maybe she won’t.  In either case, I hope she seeks and receives the support she and N need.

In the long run, I think Jay will be fine.  I have seen him stand up for himself repeatedly with his sister, and she’s no joke.  While I dislike how N treats Jay and no doubt other classmates, I believe that N will grow and improve.  I also believe that Jay will become more discerning and give less attention to N.

In the meantime, I pray that Mae never sees or even hears about N mistreating Jay.  I could see her excusing herself from 2nd grade recess and going to hem N up.

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