Monday, October 6, 2008

Remedial Brilliance

When I sent the kids' teachers notes telling them about the upcoming Jewish holidays and the days the kids would be missing class, Em's teacher replied immediately, telling me not to worry, that he'd get her caught up either before or after, and oh, by the way, could we maybe set up an appointment to talk about Em's math grade, and could we be sure to take a long look at the unit exam he was sending home that day, because he has a feeling she's not quite 'getting it.'

I rechecked the 'from' line, thinking maybe I'd inadvertently switched over to N's teacher's response. Because, you know, it doesn't take long to notice N's issues, and I could easily see his teacher wanting to nip a problem in the bud, after less than a month. But no. It was Em's teacher, all right. How...unprecedented.

Em went into this year hoping for this teacher, but she's become less and less enamored of him over this first month of school. Lately, she had taken to telling me, "Mr. M hates me," which is something she has never ever said about a teacher before. I know this man somewhat, and that just didn't feel right to me, but I was willing to reserve judgment; Em's pretty emotionally perceptive, and I didn't want to pooh-pooh her feelings without strong evidence to the contrary.

I have that now.

When the three of us* sat down last Thursday morning Mr. M put her first math unit test in front of us and said, "This is unacceptable." You could see Em's head start to droop. But then he basically laid it out for us like this: Em is too smart to be getting a 2** on a test. Period. She's really very smart, he said, over and over. Very verbal. Very mature. Well liked. Great to have in class. Participates actively and frequently. One of the best writers he has this year.

Then why is he doing this for one not-even-failing grade? He gave it to Em straight: He wants her in the top tracks in middle school, where she belongs. And to put her there, he needs to work with her to nip this in the bud. "You don't belong with the riffraff," he said. "If I have anything to say about it, you're not going to wind up there. You're just too bright."

In other words, all "your child is failing" conferences should sound like this one. In fact, when we left the classroom, sending N off to his section of the playground to meet up with the second graders, Em walked with us to the gate leading off campus. After I had kissed and hugged her, I took her shoulders and said, "So, it's official now. The next time I hear you talk about Mr. M hating you, I'm laughing in your face."

And she grinned, though reluctantly. "Yeah," she said. "I guess I have to agree with that one."

There are consequences, of course. He wants her in his 'remedial' math class, which meets for half an hour before school once a week. He made a point of telling her that she would be well above the rest of the kids in that class, and that he might even use her as a sort of peer tutor; he made a point of telling her that it was mostly so that he could provide her with just a smidge more math instruction, and especially one-on-one math instruction, which is hard to do when you're the teacher of a class of 37 students. Still, when I sent her off to this 'special class' last Friday, her body language screamed, "I don't want to do this. I can't believe I have to do this."

Oh, who am I trying to kid? She actually said that.

And I have to agree. This is a child who is not only exceptional in many ways, but knows she is. That's not egotism; it's truth. She doesn't trumpet it, she just internalizes it. It's not that she thinks she's smarter than other kids, because in general she's not; that's not where her gifts lie. Academically, she looks and sounds--and is--very much the typical bright-but-not-at-all-gifted kid. But the rest of her--the curiosity, the enthusiasm and, most of all the overall maturity level, her so-called EQ--are so far above the pale that it's among the gifted kids where she best fits in terms of her peer group.

But then there's this. This problem, this class. And this is telling her something very different. It's telling her that she belongs with the kids who struggle, the one who are not making the grade. It's telling her that there's something wrong with her that needs fixing. She's too smart not to notice such an apparent contradiction to what she's been told along along about her abilities. You can 'peer tutor' and 'my special assistant' her all you want, but she knows what this class is, and that's painful for her.

And, frankly, for me. It's taken me four days to write this post, because I can't quite find the right tone. It's a lot like how I felt after getting back N's IQ scores: I can see that there's an issue that needs dealing with, and at the same time I don't want anyone--especially Em--to think that I am buying that this issue is as bad as it's been presented to us. In other words, this remedial class? To me, it's the antibiotic she has to take to stop a minor infection from becoming a raging infection, and if I have to hold her down and pinch her nose to make her take her medicine, I'll do it. Because I do think that the extra instruction will be good for her, in the long term.

It had better be good for her. Because I also know that all Em sees right now is that I'm holding her down and forcing this down her throat. And that's going to take its toll, too.

*When I set up the appointment, the teacher asked us to be sure to bring Em along. He wanted her to be 'in' on the conversation, part of the solution, responsible for her own success, etc. He wanted her to know we weren't talking about her behind her back. "I keep telling them they're big kids now, about to go to middle school," he said to us during our meeting. "I keep telling them that, academically at least, their childhood is over." [I managed somehow not to scream, "Shut up, shut up, shut up!" when he said that. I think that was big of me.] I'm glad she was there, though; I don't think she would have fully believed me if I'd told her how much he thinks of her secondhand.

**She got a 74% on the test, which translates to a 2 in our school's grading system; 4 means exceeds grade level expectations, 3 means meets grade level expectations, 2 means approaching grade level expectations, 1 means not at grade level.


Meg said...

I "found" you via Ambre at the IVillage Gifted Child board many years ago when I think you proclaimed that E was not gifted - all the evidence to the contrary not withstanding. She is certainly academically gifted - that is what the teacher is saying. She may not be as gifted in math, but she may also have just not be paying attention and just made too many mistakes. I wonder if she really doesn't "get it" or if she just didn't do well on one test.

It may be that she needs remediation. It may be that all she needs is a wake-up call and with the next test gets a 90+ and is out of the remedial class. If not, it is great that the teacher is willing to meet with her.

But 37 students in one CLASS!!! Like Po, I am a former CAer (northern in my case) living on the other coast. Much as I miss living there, I am happy to live in a town where there are less than 25 students per class. I will try to remember that when it is sunny in LA and freezing cold out here.

TC said...

Oh, wow. That's got to be at least five years ago or more! How cool to 'see' you again, Meg!

And yep. The downside of class size reduction in grades K through 3 (no more than 20 kids in a class) is that they pack them in in grades 4, 5, and 6, at least at our school...

And math has long been her bugaboo, though she's usually tested well enough not to be 'caught.' If this turns into a real self-esteem hit, I might have to consider a tutor, rather than the remediation. We'll see how it goes...

Green said...

I think Mr. M made a mistake quite frankly. He should have handled it COMPLETELY differently. I wish he'd offered to let her come see him during lunch/recess once a week instead to get one-on-one help rather than putting her in with the slower/trouble kids.

Want to share which math concept it is she's struggling with? In 7th grade my mother taught me five years worth of math in one week, all by approaching it differently than how it was taught in school, and I may know something that can help.

kris said...

i keep telling my 8 year old, get your basics down because if you don't it will come back to bite you in the butt. you're lucky to have a teacher care enough to not let it slide now. she's smart and with a bit more work she can ace math. better to go back and get what you missed now and not let it slide into middle school.

Ambre said...


I remember that place.

Sort of.

But I slept since then. And probably other things too. So it's all vague ;)

TC is very stubborn about not believing my pronouncements about her kids. The nerve!

Anonymous said...

My daughter is much like EM. When she didn't do well on the Math portion of the SAT it was a huge blow- she's always "easily" succeeded, right through Honors Pre-Calc. She's never dealt with what Em is dealing with now and I wish she had- because now, the thought of having to "work" to get her SAT score up is a HUGE struggle for her emotionally. (a large part of why her SAT score was low is due to the fact that she learned that type of math back in sophomore year, and has forgotten much of it!). I think natually bright kids can miss the opportunity to know what it means to work really hard- and someday it catches up with them, if they aim high.

po said...

I was going to suggest tutor, rather than this remedial class that is obviously painful for her to attend, but you already have it in mind as a possibility :).

I have to say that Mr. M referring to the "normal track" kids as the "riffraff" makes me mentally go urgh :p.