Wednesday, November 9, 2011

And This Is A Problem Because...

hank with balloon

Hank's pre-K class has been having parent conferences and my turn was last week. His teacher, Miss L, led me to a coffee shop they have there in the church/school. It is called Holy Grounds. Yes it is.

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.


Heidi said...

Is this the same teacher who nearly insisted everything be marked "Henry," when that isn't how Hank identifies? I would take that into consideration.

I simply adore how long this post was, too.

Becky said...

Thank you Heidi! Yes, this is the teacher who marked everything "John Henry," and even gave me a little pushback when I said he goes by Hank. But then she changed all the labels after all.

Elle said...

It didn't seem long at all & I hung on every word because I have been trying to remember what parenting my son was like, back when we were both young, before I was endlessly aggrieved by his colossal resistance in every direction, when I was just his greatest fan.

It's funny also bc I bought a Meyers-Briggs book a few weeks ago, thinking it could cast some light on sharp differences.

We'll catch up abt this around my blog in a while. When there is more to parenting, and life, than driving. xx

Christian said...

No one would never describe me as "relaxed," "calm," "distracted," "work-avoidant," or "dawdly," yet my mother assures me that when I was five, I was uninvested in task-finishing, unfocused, slow, even spacey. Yet I've grown up to be a totally uptight, anxious, stressed, productive, teleologically-invested ENTJ. So there's still hope for Hank.

Elizabeth said...

I really have nothing to say other than "good Lord," and "bless her heart."

I love your posts, every last word.

gretchen said...

I have one thought here. Hank is a...BOY! Has she never taught a...BOY? THEY ARE DISTRACTABLE! That's just the way they are. If they weren't, there would be something wrong with them! That's all I have to say.

Amy said...

Yeah, I don't get it. This is preschool, right? Cause the work they are doing sounds a lot like kindergarten to me--even the expectations that they have. Nate's preschool did work on cutting skills and gluing and writing names, but they never completed worksheets and stuff.

Great post! And you're right of course, Hank is such a bright little boy who is also just that: a little boy! He will do MORE THAN fine at big school. :)

Sheila said...

Elizabeth is right...just say "bless her heart". he is a 5 year old boy. She needs to loosen up.
Great post...I loved the length of it. The "turnip" part made me laugh out loud and scare the cat.

Michele said...

I had a distractable 5 year old boy who is now heading off to medical school. This is not as big of a problem as she is making it to be.

Justine said...

Tell me about it. I am ENFP, and I'll never forget the look on my Catholic confirmation teacher's face when I told her I had some great ideas about how she could make the class more fun.

When I was five, mom would send me to clean my room and come back two hours later to find me organizing the tiny Hello Kitty erasers in my pencil box. I could stay on task forever if it was something I loved, but good luck otherwise.

And my brother? On another planet full on imaginary friends and funny voices. What is this thing called a "task" you speak of?

M said...

I'm beginning to wonder if preschool and primary teachers own stock in Ritalin.

delaine said...

Hank is a unique little guy. His brain is always spinning and thinking about something. But that "something"is what HE wants to be thinking about. I also believe he is kind, loving, gentle, and very interested in the world around him. My prayer is that systemized education will not blow out his spark and creativity. I say this as a retired teacher. But, I do agree that this school is WAY better than the previous one. He clearly did not understand the turkey question and gave an original answer. Sheesh.

Marsha said...

"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"

I have based an entire (fairly) successful career on just this premise.

"He is like his daddy: infinite focus for what is important to him, you have to drag him by the feet for the rest."

Hank's daddy is a video game developer. He might also be an bio-mechanical engineer (ask me how I know!) or some other kind of hyper-smart, mechanical, technical, science-y thing that we're CONSTANTLY BEING TOLD WE NEED TO RESTORE AMERICA'S AWESOMENESS.

So back off lady. Hank's gonna save us all someday.

Amy said...

Yeah, what they all said!
(Marsha, you said all the things I was going to... and better than I would have.)

I am serene in my faith that Hank will succeed wildly in his chosen endeavors. And that Kira will quickly discover the best maneuvers for dragging him by the heels when she deems it necessary.

Catherine said...

Either the teacher is being way too picky, or what she is saying is that Hank is outside the circle of what is considered normal in those issues, and they may be areas that needs work as he gets older. I would just take a mental note of the issue and keep tabs on it. That she brought them up is fine and good. You don't want teachers to stay mum on such observations until it becomes a serious problem. It's more the way she is acting about his issues that would concern me.

Common Household Mom said...

"Dispatching with the 'have-tos' to get to the 'want-tos'" is something that comes with great maturity, In My Opinion. Witness the fact that I am not doing my work, but instead reading your blog. Cuz I want to, but don't have to.

This parent conference reminds me of the conference with my son's kindergarten teacher, in which she criticized my son because he didn't put his crayons away like all the other kids. Why should he, when his mommy doesn't make him put his crayons away at home? But your situation sounds better - it sounds like this teacher actually likes Hank, and I think that counts for a lot. My son's K teacher just did not like him.

Cassi Renee said...

Wow --he's a five year old kid. Of course he's easily distracted! And he should be. I don't care for schools that promote conformity over creativity.

And I can't even believe that you'd have such a long P-T conference for preschool. Good grief.

Michele R said...

Just keep taking the conferences with a grain of salt like you are doing. Hey, after you once posted about the writing John Henry name thing, I read that many pre-K schools have a curriculum requirement on which the teacher is judged on whether the child can write his name--and so I was thinking that is why she asked you that day. The way I see it, the teacher has a boss and there is a curriculum of expectations. And that boss has a boss. And I bet a whole lot of other parents are really into their child "excelling" and that is the expectation of paying the tuition.
That being said, I don't know the teacher's personal life, but I have always appreciated it when My sons have a teacher who has older boys. My dawdler and talker son who sounds similar to Hank, once had a 3rd grade teacher who told us that he talks a lot and with her being a teacher AND having a son in the system she totally got it and told us that his ways may not always comply with the rules she has to enforce in the classroom, such as talking and wanting to converse about subjects and being sociable, but that they ARE EXCELLENT traits for being a successful adult in the world. That was 5 yrs ago and I'll never forget her words. We must encourage creativity--we are often told of other countries' successes over Americans in math, etc., but other countries are realizing that lack of creativity and original problem-solving is not a good thing.
Sorry so long! I chose this over my work, omg!

AlGalMom said...

My 6 year old is the same way--if you give her a (pointless) task like a worksheet, she has a very difficult time finishing it. However, if you give her work that she is invested in (writing a story, working on her BrainQuest workbook, creating something) she will work for hours. She was miserable last year in Kindergarten, because she wasn't allowed to do centers with the rest of the class until she finished her worksheets (the teacher admitted to me that the worksheets were ungraded busywork). We had just made the transition from homeschooling to public school, and although everyone was invested in the return to public school, my inner child-led homeschool mom was going bonkers. I had a lot of the "I don't know, its just.." conversations with my husband (and anyone else that would listen to me....)

I've been really questioning the "do the 'have to' first and then you can do the 'want to'" ethic lately. That we somehow need to deserve to do work that is meaningful and fulfilling because somewhere back there we didn't produce our daily quota of sprockets. Certainly there is work that needs to be done, whether we find it enjoyable or not (written as I stand in an explosion of laundry) but it seems to me that if we sought meaning and fed creativity and curiosity in ourselves and our kids, then we would be better able to find meaning in the kinds of things that feel more "have to" than "want to." Too often, though, the approach seems to be one of beating the desire to create and imagine out of our selves and children, and instead insisting that we conform to an artificial vision of industry (in the broad sense of the word) that denies individual creativity and the possibility of meaningful occupation.

(Did I just write a thesis proposal?) I think what I'm saying is, rage against the machine!

AlGalMom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Camp Papa said...

Another Henry once had something to say about this issue:

"What does education often do? It makes straight-cut ditches of free meandering brooks."

Henry David Thoreau

Lisa Lilienthal said...

ENTJ here to say, ditto what everybody else said. And the only (only) thing I would add is that sometimes when my kids won't do something specific, it's because they don't know how and don't like to ask -- so maybe just check that he holds scissors correctly so that he can cut efficiently and his fingers don't hurt?

kylydia said...

Oh, AlGalMom! This:

I've been really questioning the "do the 'have to' first and then you can do the 'want to'" ethic lately. That we somehow need to deserve to do work that is meaningful and fulfilling because somewhere back there we didn't produce our daily quota of sprockets.

Is brilliant and goes so close to the heart of what I've been feeling, lately, but haven't been able to put words to. Thank you.

Nina said...

Oh dear. Can't you find another one of those hippy preschools? Before I started nursery (kindergarten to you) I went to a place where we made sand/pasta pictures, sang songs, ran around a bit, and one time my Dad came in to help and everyone sat around and made playdough sausages and then we joined them into one long sausage that reached right across the church hall. I think that was all pretty age-appropriate.

Kelly said...

What five year old boys isn't easily distracted or dawdles when they don't want to do something? She needs to chill out!

Keely said...

Ah, I can't stand the "have-tos". I am not a fan of "have-tos" myself, I am not going to enforce them on my 4-year-old if they don't make sense. The preschool Xander is in does a very good balance of structure & rules vs. fun and creativity, though sometimes I roll my eyes at the battles they choose.

Becky said...

You guys are so funny, I'm feeling quite bucked up by your comments.

Justine, my ENFP soul sister, I LOL'd at this anecdote, because it sounds exactly like something I would have done.

I wonder if anyone has done a study of bloggers and personality types? I bet NF's and ENFP's in particular are disproportionately represented. I mean, all life is an drama in need of analysis, RIGHT?

And I think you're right, Catherine, I do respect the teacher's experience. I didn't mean to sound like I'm discounting what she said. I am not sure though, whether she thinks it's out of the ordinary for 5 year-old boys or if this is a conversation she's having with lots of parents? Or if he IS out of the ordinary, but when "ordinary" is defined by the rather narrow, homogenous bunch who shows up in this school.

The hippy preschool in my area, alas doesn't exist! I have searched. There is Montessori, but it is too $$$.

Lisa, good thought. Laura was actually that way. She would miss the directions and then not want to admit that she didn't know what to do or to ask for help.

Algalmom, I agree with Kylydia, I love what you said. Beautifully put. And Matt read a whole book on personal/career success that said, "Figure out what you don't like doing and stop doing it." I too am standing in the same mountain of laundry, but if I were your thesis director, I would approve that thesis! Get to work on it and tell us about your progress!

Oh, and Matt's mom emailed me this morning (that's how she comments on my posts) and said that Matt has been reincarnated in Hank, and that dawdling was his Olympic sport.

melondonkey said...

I'm eNFp and my kindergarten teacher told my mom I was 'immature for my age.' What can I say? I must have just really connected with some of the three-year-olds.

If champions are over-represented in the oblate blogospheroid, then they are also the most likely to quit blogging, too. Kudos for keeping the P in line and being consistent.

Kate said...

it is SO not a problem. I wish Hank and my boy could get together for some rappin'. Jack does a mean "blitzkrieg bop", a la rock band. He had to read a "play" in his basal reader about Johnny Applesead and completely rapped it the other night. It was hysterical. Stay true to yourself dear Hank!!!!

Beth said...

I wish Hank could come to our hippie preschool, because he and Rowan would rock the crap out of all their developmental and progressive crunchiness. We had our conference today, too, and there was a lot of talk about creative problem solving and being loving and developing humor. And then I walked into a chicken and almost stepped on the 30 pound tortoise named Henrietta on the way out.

This too will pass. GAH on all this squelching of the joy of childhood dawdling.

Kate said...

I wish our boys could hang out. Jack came home with his basal reader and told me he had to read "johnny appleseed" out loud. I never make him read his stories out loud because he is about 4 grades above his basal reading level, so I said NO. He told me he HAD TO. It was a "play", so he rapped his lines. It was unbelievably funny.

Aimee said...

I'm an N. I get it!

Why do the boring, important stuff when the fun stuff is so FUN?

Star said...

I am busier than a bear with a pot o' honey, but I just can't resist taking a "Suburban Matron" break...and am ever so glad I did. Thanks for yet another wonderful post.