“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”Gilda Radner

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Conference Day

Tomorrow morning I have a Parent/Teacher Conference at Joey's school.  I'm extremely nervous.  I think I've mentioned before that I feel a little uncomfortable on the other side of the desk in a classroom. 

I have been a teacher for eleven years.  In that time, I have had conferences with parents numbering in the hundreds.  I know I'm prone to exaggeration at times, but this isn't one of those times.  I can prepare for a parent conference like nobody's business--because that's the business I'm in.  Go to the computer.  Review the grades.  Make a complete printout of all grades for the quarter (and if it's pertinent, previous quarters) to give Mom, Dad, Stepparent, Legal Advocate, Grandparent, and, once, weird guest whose presence no one really understood.  Next stop, writing portfolio (I'm an English teacher).  Review all writing pieces the child has completed, photocopy anything worth noting--good or bad.  Place all things in a paperclip, have pen and paper handy to take notes during the meeting.  

When a parent asks me questions, I want to be able to answer honestly and constructively.  If the child needs help, I want to know how I can best give it.  If I believe the parent can do something fairly simple, I am ready to suggest it.  If the home life needs an overhaul, I bite my tongue, smile politely, and ache inside for the child.  Unfortunately, the latter is usually the case in my field.

But tomorrow, I am walking in with nothing but Joey's report card.  It is a report card filled with glowing comments and praise, and yet, I'm not wholly satisfied.  In first grade, where there are no tests and no number grades, I can't help but think the grading system is all a bit arbitrary--and this from a teacher who firmly believes that grades are secondary to the human being earning them.  Not all children are smart in the same way, but it doesn't mean they aren't smart.  Grades are not always the measure of greatness.

And yet...well, this is my son.  I've known him since he was a nugget in my belly, and I'm telling you seriously: he was one smart nugget.  He has now grown into a first grader who is reading well beyond what I'm used to seeing in--get ready--the eighth grade.  I'm not kidding.  He can read out loud with expression and emotion.  His comprehension is astonishing, and his ability to process abstract ideas and concepts is above average.  And while I hate math myself, I can say that he knows his facts without pause.  I have seen him do his work, and it's like watching a little machine.  His hand flies over the paper marking answers without error.

So why are his grades not all perfect?  I know I can't march into this classroom at 8 am tomorrow morning demanding answers; that was never well-received when I was in the teacher role.  But I also can't think of a time when I ever graded a child lower than they deserved.  Of course, I deal in points and numbers at the middle school level.  

Which brings me to what is actually my biggest fear.  Could Joey's teacher not know how smart he is?  Could you be reading this and grimacing, wondering if perhaps I have overrated my son?

I definitely have not.  I could give a heaping list of his shortcomings, and believe me, he has them.  If this were about his artistic ability, I might be chagrined and say, "Well, that particular thing isn't his strong suit."  But it isn't about artistic ability.  It isn't even about conduct, if you can believe it (although he is a lovely behaved boy).  

I once heard a fellow mom sharing the tale of her first Parent/Teacher Conference.  "The teacher told me he was just average," she said.  "And I had to accept that.  Nothing wrong with average.  They can't all be superstars."

I think that is just about the worst thing I've ever heard.  She walked into that meeting believing her son was special, and walked out thinking different because someone told her to?  That's going to shape that boy's life! There are certainly exceptions to everything, and certainly I get that if every child was "above average" they would be simply be, by definition, average.  But doesn't everyone have their stellar qualities?  Aren't I more above average at some things (like complaining, for example) than others?

We cannot ever, ever forget that children will carry our impressions of them around for their entire lives.  If my mother and father had looked at me once in my life and said, "Sorry, kiddo, you're just mediocre," I don't think I would be half of what I am today.  I would never have set goals, I would never have worked to reach them.  I would have sat back, shrugged my shoulders, taken what came, and said, "It's fine.  It's not great, but it's fine."  What the hell kind of way is that to live your life?  To settle?  To not strive for the very best you can make your life become?  And seeing the gifts that Joey has, seeing the environment he is growing in, I can't think for a moment that the best he is is anything less than Absolute Superstar.

I have no idea what will happen tomorrow morning.  I can't beat up Joey's teacher if she doesn't say what I want her to.  Besides it being illegal, she's quite old and it wouldn't be a fair fight.  But I do know that I need there to be a consensus that Yes, my son is extremely intelligent, and Yes, there is something that can be done about raising these marks to be what I think they should be.  Maybe he rushes.  Maybe he's sloppy.  Maybe he burps out loud.  As a teacher, I can say I don't much care for the Burpers (or the Nose Pickers: GAG).  

But what if this teacher won't acknowledge what I know to be true?  What then?

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