Perspective - FamilyEducation

Perspective

August 07,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

Yesterday afternoon I stopped by L.'s school to eat lunch with him. While I was signing in, I overheard the school counselor talking with a mom and a child in the front lobby. The child, a new fourth grader at the school, wanted to call it quits on the school and go home. For good. The mom and counselor were trying to talk the girl into giving the school through the end of the week--she was so new she hadn't, apparently, even had the chance to eat lunch yet with her class (although I'm not sure THAT experience would be enough to sell her on any new school). The poor girl was trying to be big, but her face was desperate and vulnerable, and her whole body seemed to ache for her mom to just pluck her out of there, take her home, away from that new place, with all those strange fourth-grade girls and boys, and that terrible out-of-place feeling.

I suppose it's a sign of my age and situation now that I felt so keenly for the mother. She was dressed in nice work clothes, and was clearly on her lunch hour. When she was talking to the counselor, she was trying extremely hard to retain her composure, but I saw tears glistening in her eyes. I could tell, too, that she was so torn--that a part of her wanted to take her daughter by the hand and whisk her out of there; out to a place where schools don't matter. I felt for her. I so know how she felt. I really did. It's hard being a kid, but oh so much harder to be grown-up. You have to be the big person all the time, even when you feel so small.

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L. isn't even two weeks into third grade yet, and he's been hit by the dreaded third-grade, end-of-grade (EOG) testing process. On Monday the kids started Day One of the EOG pre-testing process. Tuesday they had the "calculator inactive" portion of the math test (don't you love that euphemism for "don't you DARE use your calculators"?), and on Wednesday they had reading comprehension. We've been trying to keep close tabs on how L. is feeling about all this and he seems, oddly enough, positive about it all, which makes us squirm a little. L. is often overly positive about tests and assessments, and we're glad about this. But we've learned from past experience that the amount of happiness and positive feelings he has about a test do not necessarily jibe with how well he does on it; in fact, it's much the opposite. We stand back and don't question L. much, and hold our breaths for the dreaded parent-teacher meeting when it's all done, and our brilliant, creative thinker is reduced to some startling numbers at the top of a page. But he loves third grade so far, and there's a spark about him when he goes to school that we haven't seen before. So our fingers are crossed--big time.

I don't know why school feels so hard to me this time around. And I don't just mean third grade, but this time around--all those years after I went to elementary school myself. I remember the ups and downs, and plenty of out-of-place feelings, and lots of wishing my own parents would come and rescue me and bring me back home to the place where my skin seemed to fit just right, and everyone liked me for who I was. But I liked school overall, I really did, and while it did feel like torture sometimes, it never felt like the work it's become now, when you're the parent standing there helpless, and you kiss your child at the door each morning and leave, fingers crossed and double-crossed, that it will all work out okay in the end.

And it does. It usually just does. I think we parents all have to remember that.