I have been to our local public elementary’s orientation evening and it left me feeling really weird.
I was not sure whether to post this here or over in the Learning at School forum because I am not sure how much of my discomfort is about having been a presumably gifted parent (with a traumatic elementary school experience under my belt) and having a presumably gifted child (who’s already had his share of difficulties in preschool) and how much of it is about the attitude this principal’s displayed being really odd (I use the word “displayed” advisedly, I’m getting to that).
Whether it’s a cultural thing and it’s just me, having lived and gone to school in a number of places both at home and abroad before moving here where the biggest move most people have ever undergone in their lives is moving from the next village over (though both a friend who went and my DH who heard about it, neither of whom having lived abroad, but having at least left the area to go to university, were rather put off, too) or maybe a class thing (solid middle class area, but mainly the equivalent of associate’s degrees, hardly any 4 year degrees, let alone professionals, and most of those seem to choose private schools).
Maybe you can help me tease it apart – if this sounds disjointed, it’s because I am not sure what to think at all.
The principal and their (only) male teacher introduced the concept of “school readiness”, lots of “socio-emotional” and “sensory” and “physical” bullet points on the list, I remember that the “cognitive” list, oddly, did not appear to have single point on it actually to do with cognitive ability, save for something about understanding quantities (this is grades 1 through 4). Lots of stress on being to able to keep track of your stuff (from the male teacher, with the principal insisting that some kids never get it anyway). On being able to tie shoelaces by fourth grade when kids grow out of velcro fastened sneakers so the teacher will actually get around to teaching gym class as opposed to having to tie 25 pairs of shoes. On having to do lots of colouring and cutting in order to build up hand strength for the writing demands by fourth grade, even those kids who hate it, though they say they have relented on this compared to what they used to demand. Lots of good and supportive stuff on their wrap-around care program for those parents who need it. So far so good.
Then they go into how parents were to trust the school to get all kids on the same page eventually. How there were not to compare “this other kid I know already knows nine letters and my kid’s class has covered only four.” How they were not to worry if they heard that another kid was going in being able to read two or three words “there’s always some kids who pick this up over the summer, but they won’t have an advantage over yours that doesn’t, they’ll all catch up within 6 weeks.” How they weren’t to be afraid of what their kid would have to learn in school – “it’s just minus and plus, times and shared by, okay, they should be reading alright, and be able to write some, though not with all correct spelling, but should have heard some of the rules – that’s all we do until fourth grade. That’s all you need for secondary school! You’re kid may not make every track, but really there’s nothing more than this!”
(DH, who is a secondary school teacher, when he had this relayed to him: “what do they consider themselves, some kind of pre-school?!?” The odd thing is that it is an outright lie – this particular school, having a fairly homogenuous intake, happens to have rather high standards and certainly does not stop at what she was pretending they stopped. Just some weird act to reassure overprotective parents? This is just one of the one thing on which I think I might be totally out of tune with most of my neighbourhood. Why wouldn't I want my kid to learn and be challenged?).
People asked about the new 1/2 split. The principal (who taught the first one for two years) professed herself really enthusiastic. Kids showing all kinds of growth and enthusiasm. 1st grade kids asking for 2nd grade stuff - “we give them just the easy stuff, of course, stuff 1st graders can do too”! 2nd grade kids being able to fill in gaps! So much energy released that she was quite glad she had a “normal” class again this year! On being questioned, by yours truly, what happened when those inquisitive first graders moved up into second grade, she confessed that, gosh, they still kept asking for more, so they they really had to think of additional stuff to give them “though not 3rd grade material, of course, nobody wants THAT!” Dear me, no, of course not. On my next question whether they “differentiate” in the other grades as well, not just in the splits “but of course we do! You can’t teach these days without differentiating! The times of sorting kids into open-and shut drawers are over!” Right. I didn’t dare ask for examples of what “differentiating” consisted for them.
Then I happened to want to know under what circumstances they’d consider a child for early entry. First reaction of the principal: “Personally, I’d never do it”. (As the principal of the public school he’s zoned for, she’s the one would have to approve it for DS, regardless of whether he goes to her school or ends up in private). Apparently, she was approached about it by the pre-school teachers for her own daughter, but refused on the grounds that “being born in January, she would have had to be evaluated by a school psychologist, and I would never have lived it down in the district.” Probably an astute assessment of the attitude in the district, but, as DH immediately said, “a deplorable attitude of hers to display towards school psychologists.” Wonder what she’d say if she heard that DS has been seen by a psychiatrist?
She then said that the first and foremost consideration for her would be that the child “really wants to go to school”. The male teacher then explained that they’d had one March-born child who had been entered early on the psych’s eval and you could really tell the difference in socio-emotional maturity, frustration tolerance etc. (“oh yes”, the principal chimed in “frustration tolerance, whew!”) but that that particular girl was so capable it was the right decision for her. The principal then concluded the discussion with reiterating how personally, she’d never do it, and “it’s really nice when things come real easy, you know?”
No, personally, I wouldn’t know, I actually only know what it was like to feel completely stifled not meeting a single academic challenge in elementary even after a grade skip. Only I do not know who to tell this IRL.
I will need to take DS in to be seen by her so she will, or will not, approve early entry. I feel like asking her “were you actually serious?” I feel like asking her “ if a kid and the parents happen to be okay with the kid being given out-of grade material, would you still insist nobody wants that?” I feel like asking her “have you ever encountered a kid who was doing advanced stuff that not every other kid caught up with within 6 weeks and what, if anything, did you do about it?” I feel like I cannot ask any of these things without being put into the open-and-shut drawer THAT MOM and making an enemy right away. And no, while you can ask for the child to be put into the 1/2 split, they won’t guarantee it and it’s like 1 place out of 4.
Is there anything I can do to make me feel this school, which is just round the block, would be a good option for DS?
Edited by Tigerle - 1/19/12 at 2:29pm