So I am bright and eager to have this conference because I always love to chat about my kids, but I am not in any great suspense as to his "readiness" or academic performance. I can tell he is happy and busy there, and unlike last year, there is no fussing about going to school, praisallujah, so that is truly all the academic performance I care about.
Miss L began, "Hank is a very creative thinker, and I can tell that he really thinks about things." I can tell there is a "but" coming from the moment she opens her mouth.
As the wise PeeWee Herman hath said, "Everybody's got a big but."
"But," she continued, "he is very easily distracted." Full stop. I was caught up short because I was kind of waiting for something worse, like, "But...he shows a tendency towards cannibalism." I don't know, something. I asked her what she meant, and she explained that when he has work to do, like a worksheet that involves cutting and matching and gluing or something, he takes forever. I think that was her word, he takes forever because he will dawdle and draw the task out. She cited a time when a worksheet called for scissors and markers, and Hank sat and figured out every way to play with the scissors and markers together instead of starting on the work. Miss L said that, often, in order for a task to get finished, she has to sit with him and prompt him to focus on each step. Now cut, now match, now glue, now color, whatever. Miss L said, "Is he like that at home?"
"No," I said. "But we don't give him worksheets to do at home." She said, "Well how about when you give him a job to do, like pick up his toys?" I said, "Well, I ask him to do a discrete thing, like put the blocks in the box or pick up legos, and then I have to prompt him about twice before the job is done, which is par for a five year-old boy, I think."
She seemed a bit skeptical that I wasn't engaged in a daily struggle with The Problem of Hank's Dawdling.
It was instantly clear to me what is going on: Hank, when faced with a task he is not interested in, is giving it the slow play in hopes that the task will vanish or be de-prioritized. Miss L's point is that a child should learn to quickly dispatch with the "have-to's" (her phrase) to get to the "want-to's." That is no doubt true, but I've certainly never learned it and I don't think that particular virtue exists anywhere in my genetic line. We are all of us a bunch of dawdlers, doodlers, and noodlers. We make up for these defects with what other modest strengths we possess.
I said, "Do you think that what you're seeing is his resistance to doing the work?" I outlined briefly how, in his four year-old class, there had been an excessive amount of "tablework" and that Hank sometimes dug in his heels about it. I told her that those teachers had some less-than-effective techniques of managing it, and had once put him in time-out for not finishing his work in a timely way. And that time-out was just fine with him if it meant he could not do what they were asking. I did not tell her that he said, "I don't care, my mama loves me no matter what."
Miss L said she would never put a child in time-out for that reason, but that there wasn't a lot of this kind of work expected of them, and she wanted them to finish it. She talked about how this is a huge part of Kindergarten readiness--the ability to stay on task--and that if he didn't improve, he would be "lost next year" with the longer, busier day. At this point I said an inner "oh please." I just don't think so.
Now, before we say this teacher is crazy or has unreasonable expectations, I should make it clear that I think this is a much, much better program than his previous one. The amount of "written" work that comes home is very small. They are not a sweatshop of cutting and gluing like they were in the fours' class. They have an enriched curriculum going on, he is very into it and comes home talking about things they're learning and doing. It is not the crunchy U of Cal preschool that Laura was in, but it is good.
I guess I don't disagree that she is getting kids ready for Kindergarten. It's more that if a kid like Hank is not considered "ready" for Kindergarten, then Kindergarten needs to be different. I was telling Pretty Neighbor, I guess I am That Mom. Maybe you can't tell me anything about my kids that I will think is a problem. Or that's not true, it's just that my values for him are very different at this point. To me, the entire conference could have answered these three questions, the most important ones in my mind:
1) Is he happy during the day?
2) Is he sociable and kind?
3) Does he take correction or redirection cheerfully and easily?
That's kind of it. I just don't have any worries about the other stuff. I know his mind could light up this town, and believe me, when he wants to stay on task, the kid stays on task. He is like his daddy: infinite focus for what is important to him, you have to drag him by the feet for the rest. I mentioned this to Miss L, and she asked what Matt does for a living. I told her that he's a video game developer, and she got a look on her face like, "Okay, I guess that's a job." I loved that moment.
She did say that when he does it, his work is good, and in her "baseline assessment" of his development and abilities, he aces almost everything. He missed one question. When shown a picture of a frog, a key, a sun, and a mop, and asked, "Which do you have if you start with "turkey" and take away "tur"? Miss L said that Hank said "Turnip!" and laughed as though he'd told a joke. So he kinda missed the point there.
Longest post ever. And if I were new to this blog, I would be thinking, "Oh, this mom has one of those difficult kids who, while bright, is a total handful she is expecting the world to love dealing with." But I swear it's not true! Hank is the sweetest little guy in the world, and the most agreeable. But I would say that, gah!
And Miss L did appreciate his virtues. She commented on "what a nice little boy" he is and how he has an "interesting, almost adult vocabulary." When she described his vocabulary as "interesting," I assumed it's because he's been singing "Boom Boom Pow" at school again. It's his favorite song. You haven't really heard that song until you've heard Hank sing, "Them chickens be jockin' my style, they try to copy my swagger, I'm on that next shit now."
Okay, so okay. This issue of Hank being "easily distracted" is a thing and Miss L thinks it is a problem. So I told her that I would reinforce with him at home about how, when given a chore to do, even if it seems complicated or you aren't that into it, it is good to do your best and not waste time. And that is where we left it.
Then I came home and told Matt all about it, which required me to say, "I don't know, it's just that..." a lot. I don't know if Miss L and I got on the same wavelength or not. Am I weird? And Matt commented that I was missing the hippy preschool of yore and I said yes, everything was child-led there, which worked just fine for us. There can be no dawdling when dawdling is the point.
Another way of looking at this situation, for you Meyers-Briggs aficionados out there, is that most teachers are SJ's, and we are a family of N's. It is a problem, you know?
He is having fun and I'm going to keep him in this pre-K, but this teacher be jockin' our style.
I apologize for the length of this post; I did not have time to write a shorter one.
I love you all.