Thank you to those who commented or emailed on the topic of schools, I can’t tell you how helpful it was to hear so many points of view. I feel like I have some specific issues to mull over instead of a roiling mass of question marks, and I’ve been thinking a lot about my own school experience.

I was a colossal fuckup of a student starting from a very young age, when I would consistently test as “gifted”—whatever that means—but earned terrible grades thanks primarily to my reluctance to do homework. Even in elementary school I spent a mystifying amount of effort lying about homework and not turning things in, causing my mother so much frustration she eventually sent me to a psychiatrist to try and decipher what in god’s name my problem was (where I mostly remember him teaching me how to play Stratego as we sat in his office together).

I don’t know why I was such a problem child when it came to something as basic as homework. I do remember hating certain assignments that involved, say, filling out page after page of near-identical long division problems (“Don’t forget to show your work!”), or reading five chapters of a textbook the night before a quiz. Thinking back on it, that sort of work seems less about actual learning, and more about rote repetition and brief, soon-to-be-mentally-jettisoned memorization, but that’s no excuse for flat-out refusing to do it. Into everyone’s life a little shit must fall, even during childhood, you know? And a kid who thinks it’s all too dreary to bear when they’re in fourth grade is definitely making their way towards a path of educational ruin, because oh man it’s not like it gets EASIER.

So that’s something for me to chew on: if I saw the same situation repeating itself with my kids, how would I address it? My mother was no uninvolved parent and I’m sure she did everything she could. By the time I was older I brought a whole new set of rebellion issues to the table; I will shine a brief and forgiving light on my past by limiting myself to the admission that I, ah, certainly caused a lot of strain in our relationship both from a scholastic perspective and otherwise.

Some of you mentioned the influence the right teacher can have, and I totally agree with that. I remember a teacher from my middle school’s reading class who doled out creative, fun assignments; I remember the cinnamon-dusted cardboard-worm diorama I turned in along with my book report on Dune.

Alternately, I will never forget the day my 5th grade teacher publicly chastised me for my ongoing poor grades and implied that she was dreading seeing me again next year, for I was sure to flunk. As I sat there in front of the entire class I could feel my face growing red-hot with shame, so much so that my glasses were becoming steamy, and as I took them off to wipe them clean she barked, “Don’t bother trying the waterworks with ME, missy.”

(Dear Mrs. Wright from Sudley Elementary School in Manassas, Virginia, class of 1984 or whatever it was: 1) I was NOT CRYING, and 2) I would like to retroactively invite you to kiss my ass. Sincerely, the 5th grader who graduated to 6th grade just FINE and can now do long division with perfect accuracy using a handy device I like to call a CALCULATOR, so SUCK IT UNTIL YOU CHOKE.)

(Well. I have a little buried resentment there, apparently. Someone get me a shrink and a game of Stratego!)

I doubt my problems were a byproduct of the schools I went to. My schools had gifted programs, Outdoor School, language programs, music classes, all kinds of extracurricular activities, and excepting a certain 5th grade hell-bitch I’m sure the teachers were fine. Yet so many of my memories of school are negative, a blurry smear of bad feelings and shame and morning after morning of wishing I could be anywhere else on earth but heading to class.

When I was in grade school I used to lie about my report cards, telling my mom they were late, that they hadn’t been finished. I’d forge her signature and take them back in. Eventually, I tried to doctor them with pens and Wite-Out (presto-chango: a D becomes a B!). By the time I was in high school I’d started skipping classes instead of just skipping assignments, and the troubles piled up: detentions, incompletes, threats of suspension. Everything always, always came back to haunt me, I seemed always to be at the bottom of some awful hole I’d dug for myself.

Having made so many mistakes, it seems like I should be able to figure out what went wrong and thus possess some exclusive knowledge for how to help my own children not walk that same path, but the truth is I don’t know. I only know I hope with all my heart they do better in school than I did, and that I’m willing to make every sacrifice necessary to guide them towards a better experience. I think for me this has less to do with singling out specific schools based on ratings and scores, and more to do with being as involved as possible in their education as they grow older—which is exactly what many of you said.

I don’t like to think about how much pain I caused my mother for all those years, but it is one of the effects of becoming a parent: you face your own childhood with a brand-new set of eyes. I can’t imagine what it’s like to look back and see a bucolic, carefree existence; my past is full of millions of choices I hope my kids never make.

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Alyson
13 years ago

Schools, especially in Bellevue, can be a difficult thing to parse. When we moved here 12 years ago, I THOUGHT I had done my homework about the elementary school my kids would be going to. Little did I know that the performance reports were artifically high because the gifted program for the district was housed at that school (the smart kids skewed the numbers). Take out the kids from that special program and it was among the lowest performing schools in the district. That made me feel like an idiot. That’s not to say there weren’t great teachers there (there absolutely were), but there were some real iffy ones, too. One kid had a great teacher, the other had some real losers. So as soon as I could, I open enrolled my #2 son in a different school. #2 and #3 sons finished their elementary years at the open enrolled school. Not that THAT school was perfect, either (perfect, perky involved parents can mask a lot of problems, and cause a lot of problems, too), but it was by far academically superior to the original school. There are schools in this district I would stay away from because of their seeming tradition of poor performance. But on the other hand, there are a couple I would avoid because the parent population is so annoyingly perfect, that they drive me crazy. PM me sometime and I will go into gory detail.

I’ve had folks criticize my choice of middle school for my #3 son, but it has one thing going for it that none of the other middle schools has going for it……predictablilty. My two other sons went to the same middle school, and I pretty much have the system there sussed out. Knowing a system and knowing how/when to manipulate it is a big plus. But that only comes with experience (sorry about that).

You’ve got some time. Start learning about the current curriculums used for math, reading, writing, the basic stuff. Come to your own conclusions about each of them and decide if you can live with them, or if you will need to suppliment the curriculum to compensate for shortcomings. The whole language vs. phonics thing alone will make you dizzy. And pre-pre algebra in 3rd grade will bring crashing back every math phobia you ever had!

Scared you enough, yet?

Oh and get Riley his very own library card, STAT! Boys that like to read are a 50/50 proposition. Start early and there may be a small hope (a small one!) Finding books that engage boys is still kind of tough, so you have to sift through a lot of crap to find a few gems. FYI, buy a copy of “The Dangerous Book for Boys” Riley isn’t ready for it, yet, but JB will get a huge kick out of it until he is.

Oh! and don’t let the teachers slack off on making your kids have decent penmanship. My oldest son’s penmanship is crap, because all the teacher’s decided it wasn’t worth nagging him about because all his homework would be typed by the time he hit middle school. Fine! But I still can’t read a phone message he writes!

elizabeth
elizabeth
13 years ago

Wow! I am so ditto on all of that (what a kook I am for not being able to come up with my own words) And the thing(s) I have to say extra, as a parent of a 4th grade “gifted” student who I see going down a way too similar path as me.(I also have a first grade butt kisser (boy) and an fireball of a preschooler (girl)

It’s not about the schools, it’s the teachers, and not so much about the academics (for as obviously brilliant kids as yours anyways … he he)

K-12 education, I think, is mostly supposed to teach you how to behave amongst your peers in the real world with regard to the social aspect of it all… you know, how to not kick someone’s ass if they say something stupid that pisses you off,(communicate) how to finish the things you have to and skate on the things you don’t… (NOT procrastinate beyond the point of no return, and bullshit your way through the rest) how to handle the delicate balancing act of eleventy trillion things to do and knowing that pretty much nothing is going to be perfect (prioritizing).

Really, especially at the Elementary level, I don’t think the school itself makes a huge difference. Whatever kind of diversity (social, ethnic, socio-economic, being around STUPID people {and by people I mean parents, because let me tell you, if you think high school was bad, wait till you go to the kindergarten playground}) your kiddos encounter at any school you put them in will just prepare them for the environment they are going to live and work in as adults. For me the best choice is my neighborhood school so they can make friends with this kids in our neighborhood.

And truly what is your job as a parent? I think mine is to help my kiddos learn to make appropriate, informed, choices for them so that they can become happy (whatever that means), healthy, respectful adults and to assimilate (and maybe stick a wrench) into this crazy society. (read: not long division or timed tests) I think the social lessons far outway the academic ones… And
that they can learn and grow from every experience, especially with proper parent intervention, including and especially the daily interactions on the playground

this is of course, only my totally humble opinion, of course ; )

elizabeth
elizabeth
13 years ago

ummm sorry. that was long ; ) Alyson did it too!

serror
serror
13 years ago

Oh. Yes, I hear ya.

I too was a “gifted” student who hated homework. I did dread school most days of middle school and avoided homework, especially repetitive math work, like the plague. At one point, they told my 2nd grade teacher that homework was not crucial to my education and it was effecting our home life too much (3 hours of stubborness over a spelling exercise) and I would not be required to do it! (Honestly homework isn’t necessary to a 2nd graders education, so good for them)

I was even sent to the school psychologist in 3rd grade, because my teacher thought I was “retarded.” Ha! Joke was on her, I was definitely not “retarded”. I just hated homework and I hated her because I knew she didn’t like me. Interesting how I started thriving in her class when a student teacher with some inspiration started teaching!

But yes, I went on to torture my parents with half A’s in high school and a couple D’s. I must have driven them up the wall. But they stayed involved and on top of it, and they educated and engaged me in other ways which I very interested in culturally, artistically, literary, and travel wise, along with hands on art classes and sports.

It all seemed to work out quite well in the end. I loved college. I just never worked well in the regimented math and work book learning. I think my parents diligence and outside education really helped me along the road. Also, I think school is way more important for learning social skills and the such. I went to public school and I am glad I did.

serror
serror
13 years ago

I guess those of us who answer first are long winded! :)

Mary
13 years ago

I am the exact opposite. I was the perfect student who was made fun of for my perfect grades. I did exactly as much work as was required to get an A, not a bit more, but I couldn’t imagine anything less.

How did I get kids who think that just because homework is boring and stupid they can blow it off? I guarantee you, when my boss gives me something boring and stupid (which he did today!) I am not allowed the option of saying, eh. I don’t think I’m going to do that. Catch me next time, maybe. (though I might like to see his face if I tried it!)

Sigh. Kids. Every stinking one of them is different and has a different owners manual. I don’t know how to win here.

mnerva
mnerva
13 years ago

I don’t have much to say about picking schools: I have no kids, and went to Catholic schools here in the States (did 1st 3 years in English schools). But BOY can I relate to having that one shitty & bitchy teacher. I had an English teacher in my sophomore year of high school that took an instant disliking to me. Humiliated me in class, like yours did, and put me into regular English class for my junior year (instead of excelled). That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it really was. Even the teacher of the regular class (who was also the basketball coach, if that tells you anything) knew it was a joke for me to be in his class. My mom, a teacher herself, was outraged, and went and talked to the principal and did everything she could, but the bitch had already done the damage.

But on the other hand all of my other teachers were good, if not great. I remember many of them fondly. And I know my mom was also one of those great teachers–the ones that stand out in your memory. She taught for the last 20+ years of her career in small Kansas towns, and EVERY time I run across one of her students, all I have to say is “Oh! You had Mrs. X as a teacher? That’s my mom.” and I am guaranteed at least one amusing or touching story.

Jacqueline
13 years ago

Hi, secondary school math teacher here.

Why does a music student practice scales every night? Why does a hockey player train/practice before a game?

Why do pages of math homework? Because math is a practice based skill not unlike learning music or a sport. Sure, some is rote memorisation through repetition, but ultimately it is just plain practice and learning from your mistakes. A huge metaphor for life.

But like when you practice the piano, or basketball you are NOT GRADED, you should NOT BE GRADED for homework. It is practice – learning in motion and should be encouraged and students should be allowed to explore and discover through learning and practice.

That’s what I tell my students; that’s what I’ll tell my kid.

Donna
Donna
13 years ago

Different verse, same as the first, lol. Wicked smart, lazy, no ambition, slacker. Yep, that’s me.
Had shitty teachers though, 3rd grade teacher caught me with gum and made me put it in my hair, home ec teacher called me a bitch in front of my mom, I was in 7th grade, (one of the few times my mom stuck up for me), a math teacher that lied and said that I was disrupting class after he knew that if I got in trouble my parents were selling my horse, (I set his bookcase on fire, he got quite the singed eyebrows when he opened the doors, but you know what? Everyone in the class knew I did it, no one ratted me off because they knew he lied, and that my horse was gone.) A gym teacher that slapped me, so I dropped her. An auto mechanics teacher that I had a huge crush on that (well, it was totally inappropriate, and he would have been fired and gone to jail), and then I discovered dope, and it was all good and I got straight A’s after that because I was mellow enough to concentrate. Can you say ritalin? I would have been the poster child.
Still can’t do math, (that’s what calculators are for), and my kids were not anything like me because I’d already done all the bad things, so I knew what to look for, lol, they never stood a chance. Really good kids, and now good parents too.
Glad I’m not the only slacker that turned out okay in the end. But if I knew then what I know now, I’d have been a doctor. Or a dentist. Or lawyer even better, I love to argue! Or something that makes the big money. Maybe I could have sold my soul and worked at AGI, you think?

Donna
Donna
13 years ago

Um, once a slacker, always a slacker, AIG not AGI…..duh. Need to get high obviously. LOL

Jem
Jem
13 years ago

I was pretty lucky as a kid, if I worked hard I was top of my class, and if I didn’t, I easily got by. For senior year, I only took 4 subjects instead of the 5 we’re meant to take to get the highest marks possible, and I still got in the highest section possible without studying until the day before, while I missed half the classes that year and my Dean even told me he doubted I’d pass ’cause I skipped so much, I just laughed ’cause he didn’t know me.

But mostly I had some AWFUL teachers growing up, and I went to the richest school in my city until I was 14. One crazy guy I had when I was 10, he did a LOT of horrible things, but he had this stupid thing he used to end each day with. He’d tell us we had to clean the classroom, and then after 3 minutes he’d start counting down from 10 to 1. If you were last back to your desk, you had to write lines. If you hung around your desk, you had to write lines. A punishment for doing absolutely nothing wrong. It was like a sick version of musical chairs, where everyone would bolt back, but there was no fun in it at all. It was frightening to me, and one time on my rush back to my seat, I knocked over a pottery ornament. He grabbed it before it fell to the floor, stared at me like he was glad I fucked up, yelled at me for almost breaking something and then made me write lines. Seriously, wtf. What a winner.

JMH
JMH
13 years ago

As an elementary teacher, this cracked me up:

“The whole language vs. phonics thing alone will make you dizzy. And pre-pre algebra in 3rd grade will bring crashing back every math phobia you ever had!
Scared you enough, yet?”

Sometimes the teachers feel that way too! Thanks Alyson! :)

Lisa
Lisa
13 years ago

For what it’s worth, I went to a K-12 school and each graduating class was usually about 50-65 students. I loved school because I went with the same basic set of kids all the way through. I knew everyone a few years ahead and behind me, and the teachers were, for the most part, great. I never realized what a great experience my school years were, until I became a teacher. The school I went to was part of the local university’s teaching system and it offered lots of activities outside of the school itself. It wasn’t pricey (we were barely middle class) and offered a lot of bang for the buck–which made my dad pretty happy.

Presently, we have a 20 mo old and have been saving since I was pregnant for Montessori or private school. We live near good schools for elementary, but the middle and high schools are iffy, so she will be going to a k-12 school. The one thing I want from the school she attends is diversity and thankfully, most of the private schools here offer that.

Lisa
13 years ago

God, I just love the way you write. I would love to have the talent you do….though Im feeling pretty solid on my most recent post about…..(wait for it)….pinworms. Yay.

pam
pam
13 years ago

i was a nerdy child with straight-as, but once i got to high school, i turned into you. so obviously i have no idea. but one thing i remember most vividly about my younger years (not counting the bitches who threw pennies at me on the bus or who otherwise tormented me mercilessly) is that my mom gave my siblings and i our say in our education. i remember being in kindergarten, my sister was in third grade, and she asked us if we wanted to stay at our neighborhood school or if we wanted to be bussed across town to the gifted school. heck, i didn’t care about gifted, i just wanted to ride the bus! so we switched schools.

now, i don’t know if my mom truly gave a six year old and a nine year old that much say, but it felt that way and i suppose that’s the important thing. we had some say in our education.

likewise, even though it killed her to send me to the boarding school i wanted to go to to finish high school, it had been a dream of mine for years, and she let me go. so, i don’t know.

Sagey
Sagey
13 years ago

Gifted and Talented is similar spectrum to autism. It manifests itself in so many different ways (kids like you who blow things off, kids like mine who sit quietly by and get overlooked). But one key indicator to gifted is that you (or your child) gets a concept in 1-2 repetitions, it takes the regular kids 6 or more, which is why there is so much repetition in school. A good gifted program (or just a good teacher) will see you getting it right away and give you something else to do. You aren’t always going to find those teachers. Teachers aren’t always going to see that you can do long division because you are slow at rattling off your math facts. There are so many different factors at play.

Bottom line, be an advocate for your kids. I am trying to be one for mine, but I find I get way too emotional and therefor cannot get my point across. But I am working on it!

JennyW
13 years ago

There have been several ‘me-toos’ already but I’ll chip mine in just because. Gifted-But-Slacker, that’s me! The teacher from hell was in 6th grade for me, the worst possible grade to have a teacher that stomps on you because it totally screwed me up for high school. I stopped caring and dropped the gifted/advanced classes. Thank god for my high school English teachers (all of my high school teachers actually, but especially Mr. Sather) who recognized my potential and challenged me. I still only put half the effort into things, but my grades went back up and so did my self-esteem. I guess what I learned from my school experience is, watch out for middle school teachers!! Oh, and also ditto about the small school experience. I loved attending a smaller, somewhat rural district where I knew pretty much everybody. It felt a lot less judgmental and angst-ridden to me then.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
13 years ago

I don’t know if anyone else mentioned it, but if your children test as “gifted,” most states require an Individualed Education Plan, where you can include specific requirements, such as your child not being forced to do more than a token number of the repetitious problems, since in the case of a gifted child, they are not beneficial. Of course, you still have to make sure the teachers actually abide by the IEP, but it’s still an option.

warcrygirl
13 years ago

My 4th grader is doing that; he’ll “do” his homework by scribbling anything as an answer then refuse to turn it in because he knows it’s wrong. Yet by the time I found out about this he was missing 15 of 20 assignments. I realize that by this grade the students are supposed to be somewhat self starting but holy shit woman, could you clue a parent in? Hubby and I took stuff away from him, told him not to worry that when he failed 4th grade he’d get Mrs. P again and practically sat on his head until his homework was done correctly. My second grader is more disciplined than he is!

Jr is fairly smart but had a rough start due to speech delays, then a speech impediment; possible Asbergers (spelling???), etc. It baffles me how he can screw up where it affects his grades (if I brought home less than an A I was lectured); honestly, I just want him to like learning and get through school. We try to make as much of his learning experience fun (I’m one of those moms who use any chance I get to teach a lesson, hell, my kids LOVE NatGeo and History Channel!) but if you (or any of your readers) have any suggestions I’m all ears.

Remember how the first question asked when a homework assignment was handed out was “is this for a grade?” Ah, the good ‘ol days.

Erin
Erin
13 years ago

I don’t want to diminish the importance of thinking about your kids’ school and doing some research – my family is overflowing with teachers, so education is important to me. But I just want to add a piece of advice. As with everything in parenting, it’s easy to get caught up in the drama of certain situations (BF vs formula, day care vs SAHM, sleeping arrangements, discipline, etc) – while these decisions are important, keep in mind that they are rarely do-or-die, even though they sometimes feel like it. Picking the wrong school is NOT going to ruin your kids, even if it turns not to be the optimal learning environment for them. I like many others went to a par-to-sub-par elementary and high school, where I struggled, did fairly average, was bored and marginalized socially (it was also a small school which I found socially stifling and oppressive). But I am a happy well-adjusted (teacher!), just as you are a happy well-adjusted kick-ass gal. Some of our cultural stress over the ‘right’ school is a competition-status issue, and that IMHO is a complete and total waste of time and energy. I mean I know we all want to make the best choices for our children, so we should definitely put thought into the school issue. Just keep in mind that what your kids need is an emotionally present, loving parent, and they’ll turn out great. Eventually.

Frank
13 years ago

I love that you went to school in the same county where I currently reside. I like to think the schools have gotten a lot better.

ErinM
ErinM
13 years ago

As someone who works in education, but is not yet a parent, I can say the most successful kids have parents that team up with their teachers. Be an advocate for your child for sure, but present a united front with the teacher to reinforce the classroom expectations. You will run into crappy teachers along the way, but if you do your best to work with them you’re also showing your child the importance of compromise and working with others.

Maura
Maura
13 years ago

Never liked school, never applied myself or could figure out why I should want to. Pattern continued all the way through to college where I dropped out. I have many regrets in life but my two sons and my sobriety are what I like to look at as my shining contributions and accomplishments to this world.

Today my oldest is wrapping up his sophomore year on headmasters list at a prep school, made the varsity wrestling team, participated in model UN and a host of things I never dreamed of doing. My other son is in 8th grade and maintains honor roll and get this is a PEER LEADER. My only leading in school was to the convenience store for cigarettes.

I can’t express the joy it brings me to know they are happy and striving in life. I’m well aware it may not last, but for today I will enjoy it…just for today.

Linda, you are a power of example to them. Your love for them pours out in all the words you write.

Maura

Kristen
13 years ago

I was just like you. JUST like you. And you know what? It made me an AWESOME teacher, because I knew EXACTLY what the kids who were just like me (and you) were up to. I think it will serve you well as your boys grow up–you know report cards don’t come “late.” (I once had an elaborate story that mine was late because my teacher got appendicitis and my mom gave me $10 for the flower fund. No, really.) You know that tests don’t usually take a month to grade and that bomb threats to the school are pretty rare (all stories I told!) When I had to give my students work that wasn’t exciting–and I never, ever gave busywork, because what’s the point–I pretty much said, “Look, this is boring. But we all have to do boring stuff, because that’s what leads to the fun stuff.” Granted, I taught high school, but I’m sure kids can grasp it at a younger level, right? You eat veggies to get dessert. You put one toy away to play with another.

I mean, my kid is 9 months old, so I know everything about this.

Jaci
Jaci
13 years ago

You just described my school experience to a T. I do fuck all for months, find myself at the bottom of some deep dark hole, and then I’m so overwhelmed by the hole I dug for myself that I say ‘eh, fuck it’, and then give up.

Sharon
Sharon
13 years ago

If you ever figure out why you fought school so much, I’d love to hear it. I am an 11/12 grade English teacher and although I wrack my brain nightly to bring excitement and personal connections to the content and I never assign an assignment that has no learning purpose, (and I refuse to teach a book just because it is a classic) my classrooms are full of the very students you describe. I spend hours creating classroom blogs, which are immediately branded as “stupid;” I pull in music and art and multi-media and the current news; and yet it seems like more time than ever is taken up with discipline issues, and 20% of my students simply don’t do enough to pass.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fairly well-liked (or at least not-hated) teacher, and a select group of students thanks me every year and even comes back from college to let me know that they were truly prepared, thanks to me…

But I sure wish I could figure out how to reach all the kids in my room. My goal is that they be educated and prepared and able to not only succeed in life but challenge the status quo… but they just simply don’t care.

Everyone has stories about all the shitty teachers out there. But 80% of the teachers in my building are young, vibrant, and connected to kids. So why are our ACT scores just average? Why do we struggle to make “Adequate Yearly Progress” each year? Why would we be considered a failing school if “No Child Left Behind” were actually enforced by the feds?

If anyone’s got an answer, I’d listen. Promise.

Brenna
13 years ago

I have a 2.5 year old son and have gotten the question “What do you mean you haven’t put him on a waiting list for preschool yet?!?” My husband and I do seem to butt heads regarding the public vs private school scene. I went to public and he private. He swears private education is the way to go. I swear that if it is free AND great, how can you go wrong?? Well, you can, as you well know. There are crappy teachers out there. I was an Elementary Education major for most of my undgrad and let me tell you, my classes were filled with IDIOTS. Education is one of the easiest degrees. One of those degrees that it is what YOU make of out of it. I would sit and think to myself “OMG – what if one of these people actually ends up teaching MY child one day?!!?” Appalling. Ended up switching majors after I realized that I do not have the patience to teach. Guess my point is that I think it all comes down to the right combination of child, teacher and parent. There will be better teachers some years and others not. I think as a parent we just need to keep our eyes open and be as involved as much as possible in our child’s education. Plus, we know what WE did in school. The lies we told, the scams we pulled. That’s gotta give us a head start, right?!?!

Shutter Bitch
13 years ago

Someone once told me that our mistakes as kids help us as parents to recognize if our own kids are about to fuck up. So maybe your experiences as a child will help you to know early on if Riley or Dylan have problems with school and they can be headed off before they get too big.

Also, shitty teachers can be employed at the best schools, and the best teachers can work at the shittiest schools. Who knows how to avoid that connundrum. I’d like to know.

justmouse
13 years ago

wow. every time i read about your life, i think of how many ways we are so similar! and yet, YOU turned out to be a beautiful, clever, funny, well adjusted woman, and i…well. nevermind.

when my son started school i was so dreading him turning out to be like me. as it is, he is effing BRILLIANT. so, no worries, right? nope. he ended up having bipolar disorder, and all kinds of mood issues, and so even being brilliant, nearly flunked out. there are no guarantees. just love em, and do the best you can.

(also, what is it with them labeling kids as *gifted*?! wtf is THAT supposed to mean, anyway? they labeled me that too, and yet, here i am watching jeopardy, praying they have a category on “cartoons”)

Marie Green
13 years ago

I’ve been out of town, so I’m weighing in a weensy bit late…. however, I do have a few comments to add.

In our town, there is a public school, a public charter school, and a private catholic school. IN A VERY SMALL TOWN. Our public elementary school scores very high, has excellent community involvment, and loving caring teachers. So this is where we chose to send our kids. Yes, there is a higher percentage of “reduced and free lunch kids”, but I like this. I believe that diversity and adversity is actually *good* for kids, and I want them to understand there are lots of family types and family styles, instead of sending them to a private, almost-all-white-and-middle-class homoginized school.

However, I realize we are lucky that our public schools are so wonderful, for many reasons beyond (and including) their test scores.

We did look at the public charter school, but I just didn’t *feel* it. I did not walk in and think YES this is where my child belongs. So, I guess I would suggest that you depend on your gut as much as anything.

I also believe that these things tend to work themselves out on their own, ie: if you do find a house and move, I would really believe that a “perfect” school for you boys would also make itself known.

Finally, I so yearn for my children to have a love of learning, but I honestly don’t know how to cultivate that, beyond all of the reading and “life-long learning” that we model… Topics like these make me feel sorely incapable of being a grown-up. GRAH.

Catherine
13 years ago

We recently went through open enrollment in our district. One of the schools that I was very, very interested in was a charter. The people running it felt that worksheet-style learning isn’t for everyone. She explained there are multiple types of gifted & talented kids: they range from the kids that do the homework perfectly because they crave the praise to the kids that do the homework but never turn it in to the kids that don’t do the homework but ace the tests. She aslo said that all kids can benefit from the G&T methods as well as the Spec Ed methods. She was adamant that we could find a way to teach multiple types of learners in a single room but that it would take trial & error and patience.

One school that I toured didn’t have morning recess because 15 min/day over the course of a year is 40 hours and they don’t have the luxury of not doing academics for an entire week. I believe in play. I know my kid needs recess. While that school has great test scores, I wasn’t interested in having a kid that hates school. And I think I would hate school if I went there.

We’ve chosen a school that I think will be a great fit if for no other reason than Elliot is very excited to go there. And the teachers are excited to be there.

But the thing that I’ve had to remind myself over and over? This decision isn’t forever. You get a do-over if need be.

Lisa S.
Lisa S.
13 years ago

It is a little freaky to see you mentioning Prince William County, Virginia, schools, as that’s where I graduated from HS. I used to swim at Sudley pool in summer competition. FREAKY.

(Although, to be frank, my memories of high school include being bored out of my skull at the glacial pace, and spending most of my time trying not to get caught reading Elfquest or X-Men or Swamp Thing in class. I had usually finished reading my textbooks by week #3 of the year.)

Your entry is a wonderful reminder that education is rarely a one-size-fits-all experience, and the biggest risk most children face in school is tuning out because they’re not connecting with the material. A lot of time and effort goes into addressing this risk among slower learners, but in my opinion, it’s the smartypants like you who are at greater risk.

Leigh
13 years ago

Former juvenile delinquent here (your history is very similar to mine).
My son is now a freshman in high school and making some of the same mistakes. I am doing things differently than my parents did and in many, many ways he is doing better. But he is also doing much worse than I had hoped grade wise. I have worked very hard with him on the homework issue and am hoping that when he decides to get it together (which I have faith that he will even if he’s 30 when he does), he’ll have the tools. I also am trying to remember how much I sucked in school and how little my performance there was an indicator of how smart or capable I turned out to be. I dropped out of high school, but I’m a lawyer now with a job I love and a great income.

It is very hard to remember that there are so many other things to foster and appreciate in your kids besides their grades. There is a lot of pressure on kids and parents to get great grades and go to a great college. But many, many future successes will not do well in the narrow confines of our educational system. Try and remember this and give your kids a break if they are talented, interesting, caring human beings who may not do a good job of managing work they are not interested in.

MRW
MRW
13 years ago

My husband was exactly like you as a kid and up until he was 18 and joined the military (scaring his mother to death as he got sent to Iraq nearly immediately). After a stint there he went to college and made nearly straight As (I guess homework doesn’t seem like such a hassle after combat). ANYWAY, the point is that I worry about my son being the same. Another blogger suggested the book Bright Minds, Poor Grades. I recommend it not because you should worry in advance about your kids, but to get some insight into yourself. My husband found it right on in describing him as a kid and it contains a specific way to deal with the situation as a parent and as a kid. So far my son is doing fine (he’s in kindergarten, so it’s not like I’ve got a lot of experience), but if I see him start to go the path of my husband, I will buy that book, reread it, and start using it because I know my husband regrets that he fucked off in school so much and I also know it about killed my mother-in-law and I’d like to try to avoid both scenarios.

Meagan
13 years ago

I have a four year old niece who, earlier this year was supposed to be practicing her letters. She wrote out a neat line of “a”s, half a line of “e”s, then finished the row, and the remaining rows, with a single wavy line. When her preschool teacher asked her what she thought she was doing, my niece pointed to the wavy lines and explained matter-of-factly: “You can’t write on water.” Fortunately her teacher has a sense of humor, and at least it’s a creative way to spit on busy work. Not sure what’s going to happen when she gets to elementry school though.

Val
Val
13 years ago

I think you needed a smart older brother that you had to try to do as well as in school. He, of course, did not try at all. He carried a high school report card in his wallet for years that was straight A’s and straight U’s for attitude and effort. U=unsastisfatory. I, of course, got mostly all B’s with an A and C here and there and ALL S’s. Mom, yelled at my brother for bad grades (you know a B) and I was always doing just fine. Oh that pissed me off. Of course, I’m sure it pissed him off too. I should ask him about that some day.

erin
13 years ago

gifted student here.

um, yeah, if i was sooo smart there was obviously no reason for me to do the homework…right?

second biggest fear i have with sending my kids to school. first is that they will learn that cutting throats is cool, as a friend of mine’s kids did.

this decision should not be this difficult!

erin
13 years ago

oh, i forgot to mention…i was almost held back in 8th grade because i was failing algebra and coming pretty darn close to failing physical science…both of which are high school classes.

Christine
Christine
13 years ago

“my past is full of millions of choices I hope my kids never make.”

AMEN. I hope to GOD somehow I do something right so they don’t do what I did, but I am afraid I am stumbling blind at what that “right” thing is…

squandra
squandra
13 years ago

I was gifted homework-avoider, too (throughout high school AND college), and wow, there are a lot of us here, huh?

I did it because I knew a lot of what I was being asked to do in class really was, well, kind of a bunch of hooey, and I’d never trade the experiences I had when I “should” have been doing my work. But oh, the dangers of some-but-not-enough wisdom. I have a great life, as it turns out, but I closed a lot of doors on myself by not being willing to suck it up and play the game. In this economy, any closed doors at all make me nervous, even if I’m happy where I am.

Glad you’re thinking about how to help Riley and Dylan … Hopefully they’ll grasp the “closed doors” concept I somehow managed to ignore, but if not … Maybe them in the basement with their homework? They can figure out “why” later. :)

Nicole
13 years ago

I was placed in the GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) program in my public elementary school after I tested “gifted.” Instead of tasking us with more stimulating and creative projects, they just tripled the amount of wrote and repetitive crap homework they assigned. My mom said that I would come home crying because I couldn’t finish all of the extra work… I was apparently bright but not too quick. But then it was the mid 80’s and the public schools had more important programs to focus on… Like the Presidential Physical Fitness Test. I kicked ass in the “shuttle run” so at least I was quick on my feet… A skill that has carried me all the way to sitting on my ass, mostly motionless behind a desk and staring at a computer screen for up to 10 hours a day.

As far as schools and housing, I would LOVE to move into a bigger house and to a better school district. But we bought our “charming, cottage-style hillside home” just above a “highly sought after transitioning neighborhood” in LA before I got pregnant and at the peak of the market. At the time, footloose, fancy free and sans baby, we didn’t mind the occasional gunshot ringing softly in the not so distant distance because we had an amazing 360 degree view and a hot tub on the deck – Who could want for more?? Now we own a much too small house that is worth much less than we paid for it and closest elementary school is surrounded by a chain link fence and barbed wire. Timing is everything. If you can afford it, buy a house this year. You will most likely never see interest rates or prices as low. I know this because I am clearly gifted and talented…

Allison
Allison
13 years ago

You were gifted. School was boring, repetitive and generally speaking not geared to the way you learn. Want to help your kids? Foster their continued curiosity at ALL COSTS. Kids like to learn. ..they WANT to learn. . and then .. .we send them to school and kill that.

You’re on the right track with deciding to be as involved as possible.

Cathy A
Cathy A
13 years ago

So I guess I’m a ‘lurker’ – I read every day, but never post a comment. Until today.

You made mistakes, but you grew from them. Each choice you made led you to where you are now – which is as far as I can tell, a pretty good spot.

I can remember feeling buried in guilt for the things I put my mom and dad thru as a teen. Until one day when I was 19, my mom sat me down, and shared all of her biggest mistakes with me.

Up until that point, it never occured to me that she made any mistakes. Because she (and my dad) were the ones who set the boundries (which I pushed/broke/spat upon), so they knew better than anyone right from wrong. Of course they didn’t make mistakes.

But they did. And they turned out OK. Better than OK! So suddenly, it gave me permission to make mistakes. And gaining this knowledge as an adult gave me permission to take professional risks with my career/life. (Read: “healthy risks”, if there is such a thing.)

Of course this isn’t to say let your kids cut class, or lie, or cheat, or anything like that. Set boundries, rules, limitations and stick to them.

But one day, allow your kids to know that mom and dad made mistakes too. It was a wonderful gift my mom gave me by telling me those things. She went from ‘mom’ to ‘human being’ in an instant. I had more respect for her because of it, not less.

monkey
13 years ago

No idea if I was gifted, not gifted, blibbering genius or whatever. But I also pulled all that not-doing-homework-am-so-above-it-because-I-test-well-goth-emo bullsh*t in high school and like you, I really really regret it because my parents are the awesome, they really are and their hard work gave me such a head start in life. I got to go to the best schools, had access to the best programs and the truth is that I only worked when it suited MY preference (like debate, or foreign languages, but maths was a totally ditcheable class). The problem is that as I mentioned in the last post, I went to Nerd Academy with all the kids whose parents work at Harvard and MIT and the competition was so fierce and the curriculum so intense that my college (which I got into easily on account of acing my SATs) ended up being a cakewalk for me. I finished in 3 years (tested out of freshman year) and emerged with a very random GPA of As or Cs.

The only thing that saved my legal career was the fact that I worked in between undergrad and law school and worked jobs where I took sh*t from morons (lotsa admin) so even though law school was very much a decision hurried along by my parents’ wrath that I wasn’t “progressing in life” I took it seriously. Because I could NOT fathom doing mindnumbing work and taking that much crap for the rest of my life. And I did work my a$$ off in law school, even at classes I didn’t necessarily enjoy and ended up graduating cum laude. Next year I’m planning to go get my MBA and move into finance (I’m currently a corporate lawyer for the feds).

Looking back I don’t know why I was such a dumbass, either. Maybe because I grew up more or less privileged? Except my sister never behaved like an idiot (maybe that’s why she’s the doctor???). I have all sorts of theories but the only thing I’ve come up with is that some people know you have to deal with sh*t you don’t like early on in life and they’re organised enough to bulldoze through it, some people NEVER learn and some of us learn later on in life.

Kathy
Kathy
13 years ago

We pulled our daughter from public school in 6th grade and put her in Friends (Quaker) school. Best decision we ever made! She loves it and is thriving, academically and socially. It’s a pinch financially but really so worth it.

Josh
13 years ago

If there is such a thing as karma I am sure to be totally fucked if and when I have my very own devil spawn who live long enough to go to school. I was hell on wheels. Actually, now that I think about it, I am pretty much still hell on wheels. You know what, now that I think about it even more, I was right too. School sucked ass for everyone. It was dumb, and I was forced to learn boring useless bullshit every day, and hang out with people I hated. I hope my kids do give their teachers a hard time and refuse to do retarded work when it is assigned to them. I hope they drink and do drugs and have tons of premarital sex. I hope they get in fights and spray paint vulgar slogans on their school walls and cheat on their tests. Because looking back on my own youth, that was the only fun part. Being rebellious is awesome. I think I would really only be disappointed with my children if they turn out to be well behaved and well adjusted tie wearing, homework loving, tattle tailing squares. Or gay. Not that I would hate my hypothetical sons if they loved cocks, I just find gay dudes annoying as shit. I guess it would be ok as long as they were hell raising gays. And they had senses of humor. Although you pretty much have to have a sense of humor to be gay right? I mean you can’t very well take yourself seriously, laughter is the only real option once you start carrying around purses and making out with bears.

So anyway, good luck keeping your kids in check. You should probably steer them clear of anyone like my kids will be.

Lippy
13 years ago

We would have been BFFs in school. I told my 5th grade teacher (who really like me) I would do my spelling and vocabulary homework when he gave me words I didn’t know how to spell or their definitions. In my senior math class I got a D one quarter, the next I got an A because we finally learned something new. My parents tried everything they could think of. The even sent me to private school for a while, which worked because the principal scared the sh!t out of me, and the work was challenging. But it was expensive. Finally in college (second round, got kicked out the first time) I finally pulled myself together and became a good student. Irony? I am now a high school math teacher. Kids are bummed because I don’t fall for their lame ass excuses. I am wise to their game.

piecemeal people
13 years ago

If I had been wearing glasses at the time, they would have been steaming up in sympathy as I was reading your story about Mrs. Wright…one of the most embarrassing moments of MY life was delivered by an ill-equipped elementary school teacher. Not sure if I’m committing a faux-pas by linking back, but I wrote about it on my blog a couple of months ago – and how it taught me what NOT to do with my own kids.

Here’s the link: http://piecemealpeople.blogspot.com/2009/01/m-is-for-mrs-jelinus.html

Maria
13 years ago

I’m not sure if you welcome your readers sharing their blogs on your page, but I wrote about a similar humiliating school experience, and a couple of nasty teachers to boot on one of my recent entries. I was on the other side of the spectrum. I did my homework, but had challenges none the less. My teachers viewed me as lazy instead of taking a deeper look at what was really happening…problems I myself was too young to identify.

http://mom-et-al.blogspot.com/2009/01/not-quite-moving-on.html

kim
kim
13 years ago

Wow, this post almost made me cry – and then in reading the comments (I didn’t read them all, but enough) – I’ve learned something.

I always hated school (except for 4th grade, magnet school in Ft. Worth, TX – only year I ever liked school). Sometimes it was crappy teachers – but mostly I just was bored. I usually did my homework (half-assed, but done) because I preferred to fly under the radar. Not doing homework would have gotten me negative attention – as others have pointed out – teachers and parents can be very cruel. I’ve seen a music teacher point to a student and tell him his singing was horrible – he ran out of the room crying. I’ve seen ADHD kids treated as if they had leprosy – and talked about to the students whenever he wasn’t at school for a day (like a project…”when Jimmy is at school tomorrow, everyone try to help him pay attention!”). I wasn’t going to be that kid.

My youngest daughter is only in 1st grade and I see remarkable intelligence in her – but her reading skills are horrible. Because she excels in every other area the teachers have made no effort to help her because they figure she’s smart enough to get there on her own eventually. I assume that at any rate, since she is falling through the cracks at school – and I wonder why I even bother sending her at all. I’ve seriously wondered if homeschooling isn’t a better idea – public school seems to be a royal waste of time – with the negatives outweighing any possible positives.

I’m sorry you struggled so –

kim