Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Complete and utter frustration

Have you ever had an experience that completely wrenched you up inside? I'm not talking about anger or heartache, but complete and utter frustration. I think doctors and teachers (schools) are the two biggies, which is no surprise since, as mothers, we place such a high importance on the health and education of our children.

I had such a moment last week. I asked for an interview with Colin's teacher, just to check up on his progress in the class. Now, I will preface all this by noting that I think Colin has a fantastic teacher. Blessed with a class of only 8 kids, she is really able to tailor everything to the kids she has and their specific needs. She constantly pushes them beyond normal grade expectations. She incorporates fun and games into learning. Her classroom makes me smile when I go in, because it seems like a learning Wonderland. It makes me want to go back to kindergarten.

At any rate, I have had a close pulse on Colin's progress this past year. Having missed junior kindergarten in the Francophone setting, he came into senior kindergarten quite far behind the others when it comes to language. He's smart as a whip and working at a grade two level in all other areas, and it is only circumstance that has him at this disadvantage. The teacher admitted that if she has a high-middle-low scale, and that Colin is definitely in the low end, with two other children (out of 8, remember.) She also affirmed that it really only is the language, and that he readily excels in all other areas. As we spoke, she said that in grade one, there will be much more emphasis on language, without the benefit of the exaggerated gestures she uses to help in getting across her point.

So I posed the question: does she think grade one will challenge Colin to catch up, or cause him to give up completely? In other words, I asked, would Colin benefit from being kept back in junior kindergarten again?

Her answer: I can't answer that question.

So I rephrased, thinking she hadn't understood me. But, no, she had understood perfectly. She reiterated that she is not allowed to answer that question. Meaning that she is not allowed to even discuss with me holding Colin back a year.


My mother, also a teacher, had previously mentioned that she is not allowed to fail a child, but that if the parent opens the conversation, it can be addressed. But as a teacher she was not allowed to recommend to the parent to keep back their child.

First of all, I think that is ridiculous. I am a very involved mother and constantly know what is going on, but not all parents are. If, for whatever reason, I wasn't able to really know what was going on in the classroom, I would hope to high heaven the teacher would warn me that my child might not be ready for the next grade.

But that is not even my point. My point is that I broached the subject, looking for the advice from the teaching professional, the person who knows the curriculum and has watched the growth of my child all year within the school setting, and should have some valuable information and opinion on whether moving on would be beneficial or harmful to my child's learning experience.

I think I sat, mouth agape, speechless, for a good minute. I fumbled over my words, not willing to give up quite yet. I posed the utterly, ridiculous "scenario" of a child "like Colin" and if "such a child" should be "hypothetically" held back. Thankfully, the teacher was willing to start opening up at this point, seeing that I wasn't going to back down on this one. In not so many words, she suggested that Colin's dedication to learning should help him improve quickly, although because French is not his first language, and it is not spoken at home, he would never be able to reach the same level as a truly Francophone child. (Less than 10% in the school are.)

I always worried if James' and my french would ever become a hinderance to Colin's success in this program, and it appears that it might. While many children are not Francophones, most do have one parent that speaks French as a first language. The only "saving grace" is that in many cases, even that parent isn't speaking french at home. I have a feeling that while we might keep the boys in the Francophone program for the short term, that by grade 4 or 5 we may switch them over to French Immersion. We'll play it by ear, though.

In the end, I was outraged by the bureaucratic handcuffs placed on teachers. If they think that pushing kids through from grade to grade when they are clearly not ready is a great self-esteem booster, they are crazy. The kids only fall further and further behind and end up in high school barely able to read and write. Yeah, that sure makes them feel great about themselves.

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