Monday, August 22, 2011

And Then Everything Turned Itself Inside Out

I never struggled academically in school. I got--and enjoyed--everything that was thrown at me. I thrived. That is, until 9th grade algebra. Something about the theoretical nature of it all--it's utter abstractness--didn't click in my brain. Plus, it just seemed so fucking pointless to me. Who GAVE a shit if X equaled Y? My teacher that year didn't really care about teaching so much as she cared about covering the "essential elements"--a new set of standards required by The State and repeated like a zombie mantra by teachers who were scared shitless of being judged against these new, arbitrary requirements. Their anxiety made its way into their teaching styles. And if they were already uninspiring teachers, they became even worse under the heightened paranoia that the Essential Elements brought with them as their presence became a part of our daily vernacular.

For the first time in my life, I was the slow one in class--the one who asked too many questions and held everybody else up. I became the one who needed extra attention and time--something the Essential Elements curriculum discouraged. I became the one who cried at night while trying to do my homework and had to try ten times harder than I'd ever done in my life just to squeak by with a B minus. I became the one that became not only fearful of math, but also quickly grew to HATE math. I hated how stupid it made me feel, and I had no interest--zero--in advancing in the subject. To this day, I am known as a dumbo when it comes to math. I laugh about it, but the memory of that horrible feeling of being left behind because of (what I perceived at the time as) my own denseness still stings.

Fast forward to the present day. GJ is so gifted in so many ways. She is kind, makes friends easily, and loves learning new things. I have been enormously blessed with how she's handled SO many things that other children and their parents struggle with. Bed time has almost always been easy. She's not overly picky with food. She has never been shy around new people or situations. Even with her transitions from her baby/toddler school to Montessori to public school, she'd handled everything with bravery and grace.

Until today.

The concept of second grade has been one she's been thrilled about since the last day of first grade--getting to be the bigger kid...knowing the ropes. Last week, we read the posted class list and looked up her new teacher in the yearbook, and GJ seemed excited about who she'd gotten. "I remember her!! I smiled at her a lot on the playground! She likes me!"

Open house last Friday seemed good as well. The teacher was warm and friendly to me--more so than I'd felt the first grade teacher had been upon our first meeting. Her classroom seemed bright and well-organized. Former students stopped by to say hello and grab a hug. Very promising.

Today when I took GJ to school and walked her to class, the excitement was still there. Second grade! Yay!! But then when I picked her up this afternoon, there'd been a change in her demeanor. I was all amped up, wanting to hear how great it had been to see her old friends and get acquainted with her new second grade life. But when I asked her how it had been, and she said quietly, "I felt really rushed, Mommy," it was as if someone had kicked me square in the the guts.

I tried to do all of those things and say all of the stuff you're supposed to say when your child is discouraged. She seemed helped by my seemingly wise counsel, and we went about our night.

At bedtime, we read together, and then it was time for lights out. We said our goodnights, and I went to my room to read. Then softly, from the other side of the house, I heard faint whimpers that quickly turned into epic sobs. When I went to check on her, she was crying so hard she couldn't catch her breath to tell me what was wrong. But I already knew.

When she was finally able to speak between sobs, the words, "I feel so RUSHED. I don't have time to THINK, Mommy," is what I heard. The tone of her voice dripped with stress and worry. "My teacher yells if we're not on time with everybody else." Granted, GJ has a flair for the dramatic, but there was nothing about what she was saying that felt put on or exaggerated. My heart felt like it was in a vice grip, and I wanted to punch something.

I pulled her into my lap and rocked her and told her that all teachers have different styles and that her new teacher might just take some getting used to. My logical brain believes this 100%, but my gut tells me it's bullshit. I advised her to give it a day or two--to be open to her new teacher and all of the change that a new school year brings--and that if she STILL feels this way at the end of the week, I'll schedule some time to speak with her teacher.

The last thing I want this bright, eager young child to feel is discouraged and left behind--not ever, but ESPECIALLY not in second freaking grade. I don't want her to be me in algebra. But maybe I'm overreacting. Maybe I'm projecting my own bullshit on to her unique situation.

By Friday, I should know...right?


SUS said...

Dude, I wish I knew. I'm so new to all of this.

My hope is that this is just a big learning curve that the new students have to master as far as class rules, new names, and new processes (along with all the new paperwork BS). Hopefully things should settle into a routine and G will know what she should be doing where and won't feel so rushed. She can take comfort that this is all new to all her classmates as well.

Anonymous said...

I can't be objective on this one because I don't tolerate yelling at all. I've heard of a couple of teahcers at different schools that are known for yelling and it's shocking to me. Not acceptable. Not at work. Not at home. Not at school. Maybe football practice.

Hopefully, it was just the rush of the day. Love you both, Bec

Karla said...

Your algebra is my algebra story too. EXACT same thing happened to me. I went from being best mathematician in my school (I got awards!) to failing algebra twice and having to beg the teacher to pass me on the third go around (so I could go on to college, to which I had already been accepted.)

AT work? I do math ALL THE TIME, and I rather enjoy it. Kind of. Mostly. Though I still doubt myself and i shouldn't.

I hope Geej can adjust to the new teacher, It's hard when you are all excited and then things aren't quite what you expect. Let her give it time, get used to it, it's a lesson in understanding different people (it will help her eventually). But yeah, I'd want to kick something too. She's such a bright spark, she will keep shining, I know she will.

SUS said...

Did today go better?

Deb said...

So anxious to hear how things went today... Your writing leaves such a vivid picture and heart felt angst....

Karla May said...

More of the same today, but without the bedtime meltdown. I'm documenting what she's saying, and if things don't get better, I'm going to make an appointment to speak with the principal.

SUS said...

You may want to look over the comments from the Temperance League page. I posted last week when I thought L's class was going to be a poor fit and got some thoughtful responses from the group.

Based on the suggestions, I called the principal to get some general program information. But what really helped was having a long chat with the teacher on Monday. I feel muuuuuch better.