My kids start school today. I feel a lot of weight in this upcoming year. This is Nikki’s last year of elementary school. There’s a middle school magnet program she is desperate to get into next year so I’m trying to figure out how to encourage in productive ways while also not making this a “do or die” type of scenario so that if she doesn’t get in, she’ll be okay. Wes really started turning a corner last year academically, almost starting to take some things seriously. I want to make sure I don’t put out that fire by accident before it gets a chance to really start burning.
The first time I really was aware of the reward of a good academic performance, was with some standardized testing in first grade when this boy Robert did best and got to choose something from the little “store” our teacher ran from her classroom. You could buy things from the store with money she’d give for good behavior and good grades. He did best on the testing so he got something from the store. The next time we were tested? I did my BEST to win. I can’t remember if I did or not, but I became hyper-focused after that.
There was a “gifted” type program in my 5th grade (I think it was 5th) and I remember essentially begging to be in it after I didn’t get selected originally. I always got great grades so I really felt like I belonged there. I was really upset I didn’t get in and I think I guilted them into putting me in. The first special outing we did? A cattle auction. I remember thinking, “Well…isn’t this fun…”
In high school I didn’t get placed automatically in any honors classes and this pissed me off. Again – I got GREAT grades and was in accelerated Math, why not put me in honors? I spent the first half of my Freshman year fighting to be changed over and trying to “prove” my worth to be in those classes. I eventually got moved and I remember my Dad just being so confused by it all. “Why does it matter?” “Because I should be in them.”
I don’t know what gave me such confidence but I never got CHOSEN for any of that stuff. I think I basically made them feel bad and pestered them for long enough that they couldn’t think of any reason not to put me in. All of my schools were REALLY small, which I think helped my case. There was no fear that a huge group of kids would try to follow my lead. It was just Kim, the weirdo who really thinks she’s smarter than she really is.
(For the record, I am/was smart and I always got great grades. My standardized tests were always crap though because I got severe test anxiety.)
My point? I have a lot of emotional responses to special academic programs – especially if they use the word “gifted” in them. E didn’t get put in any of the programs and this upset him terribly. There didn’t seem to be an avenue to “force” them to like there was in my small schools, but it just added to my angst over the selection to those programs. In high school it was all “AP” classes and he had more control over class selection there, so he chose those.
Donnie, on the other hand, was put in the gifted program early on and therefore has TONS of positive connotations associated with such things.
So, when they put Nikki in it for her 3rd grade year? I was feeling all sorts of mixed emotions. I was happy for her, but also desperately worried about the kids left behind. Turns out the program has a strict policy, “What happens in this class, stays in this class.” They don’t want to make the other kids feel left out which made me feel good. And she LOVES the class which only meets once a week. LOVES it. It’s why she wants to follow the program into middle school.
And you can imagine my surprise when Wes came home with the letter at the end of last year. I thought for SURE it was an error. Not because he’s not smart, the kid is SUPER smart, but because he doesn’t give a crap about anything related to school. Who thought to even test him? It blew my mind. Either way, I was really excited because I’ve been saying all along he’s smart, even though his grades don’t always show it.
(Note: Wes got flagged for “early intervention” in Kindergarten based on his terrible standardized test scores. His teacher said it was just a formality though because – as she pointed out to me – he only took 7 minutes to take the test. SEVEN MINUTES. The average was 22. He just wanted to be done so didn’t even try. Thank god he had a teacher who was willing to look past those scores. She said he helped the other kids with reading and math, he was FINE. But still…EEK.)
So I still have a lot of feelings about these programs. I still hate using the word “gifted” and try to get around it whatever way possible. (The program has an acronym with the letter “G” in it so I much prefer to use the acronym.) I walk this line between being proud of my kids, but also trying to make sure they understand this doesn’t make them better than anyone. (The teacher of the programs talks a lot about the egos that sometimes come into the classroom and how they have to work on that. Heh.) E and I both carry such bitterness still over not being “chosen” – but we’re also both really proud of our smart minions.
First day of school. Let’s hope I do my part to encourage this year. I was dealing with so much of my own shit last year I was kinda terrible. And by “kinda” I mean “really really really.” We’re also going to try better time management this year. Last year was rough once soccer started because I was trying to train on top of all of that and while I’ll be trying to train again this year, I’m hoping to plan a little better. I have a minimal amount of patience when it comes to things like helping with homework, so I’m hoping to maximize my potential this year and really focus on helping them more if they need it. They know I have minimal patience so they learn to be pretty self-sufficient. Either way – clean slate, new year. Let’s do it.