Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My son, my hopes, my fears, my dreams

I just read the coolest post ever by Mr. Lady, in a blog I recently started following. I aspire to be a mom like that.

I identified with it so much, as my oldest son is in third grade, and started off struggling.
He has struggled on-and-off since the beginning of school. Like any parent, I had high hopes for my son, and found it difficult to believe at first that he could be having any difficulty.

I don't know how much my own background helps or harms my child, either. I excelled at school. I was valedictorian of my graduating class, was always in the top 5 even in grade school (and I flatter myself that I was almost always at THE TOP of even those few). I think it may even extend back to kindergarten, but I do vividly recall shocking my 1st grade teacher with my ability to multiply - she set me at the blackboard and had me do harder and harder calculations to keep me busy, because I finished all of the classroom assignments in minutes - and the only reason I couldn't do division problems for her was that I couldn't remember what the division sign was supposed to look like.
But I was also an extreme social misfit during my school years. I was an extreme outsider, mercilessly tormented, and had very, very few friends, or even friendly acquaintances.

So I don't know if I hoped for a child like me or not. I think I hoped that he would have some of my intelligence, but also hoped that he would have way more social skills than I did. I don't know how much of either of my wishes came true.

It quickly became apparent that he did not inherit all of my academic prowess. He was not a lightning calculator in grade one. He still struggled with basic addition even through grade two. And although he did not appear to be the social outcast that I was, even at that age, my heart broke every time I heard "Nobody likes me!" or "So-and-so is picking on me!" (And I struggled to filter it through my own skewed vision, and check for normal childhood hyperbole). He struggled to stay on task in class, and I got frequent notes about problem behavior and failure to complete assignments. We did homework (what seems like an extreme amount of homework! I don't remember bringing any homework home until grade three, and even then it wasn't daily assignments, just a report or a long-term assignment that we had weeks to work on before it was due!). I even tried adding a bit of extra homework, to help him keep up when he seemed to be falling behind.
We worried about ADHD, and the possibility of him being labelled. And about the dangers of NOT getting him treatment if he really needed it, vs. the dangers of being FORCED to treat him if he didn't really need it.
Luckily, the teacher he has this year is AWESOME. She is so patient with him, and I love that she is always positive and happy about teaching him, and dealing with his problems. Last year, we had a teacher who was willing to work on his problems, but I got the sense that she would do it grimly, out of a sense of obligation. This year, his teacher seems ready to deal with him happily, out of a love of teaching. I tell you, she is a GEM.
When we began to discuss problems with his behavior and attention span, my complaint was that I was dealing with it when it was brought to my attention. When I got notes, it was because it was a particularly bad day, behavior wise, and we definitely let our son know that this was not what we wanted, and made sure not to reward him for it. But unless I got a note, I had to take my son's word for how the day had gone, and we were usually assuming the behavior was acceptable unless we were told otherwise. I asked for a simple smiley face (or frowny face) in his daily agenda so I could reward good behavior and work to correct the bad. When I suggested this in first grade, I was told that it was too much work, and there was no way the teacher could provide daily feedback. When I suggested it to his second grade teacher, she agreed to try it. I could see that it was a lot of work, because we never did quite get daily feedback. We got some indication about 80% of the time, but I worked with what I got.
Part of the reason I love his third-grade teacher is because she took the idea and ran with it. I get not only daily feedback, she gives me a class-by-class breakdown, 8 smileys a day, either happy, sad, or could-be-better faces. And it actually seems to be working - or at least something is. I am so proud of the improvement I have seen. The past few weeks have been almost completely smiley faces, and the improvement in his classwork and the grades we are seeing is wonderful.
With daily feedback, I could set up a reward system, and gradually increase the rewards, along with increased expectations. He just recently earned a game for his DS by getting a total of 56 smiley faces with no frowns, and it really did mean a lot to him that he earned it. It took him over a month, because could-be-better faces did not count at all, and frowny faces meant he lost any progress he had made and had to start over.
I'm still nervous that the bad days might return, but I feel very blessed that he got a teacher this great, and I've got my fingers crossed that he is really starting to discover the motivation and responsibility in himself to continue to grow into the man I always dreamed he will become.

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