Friday, October 17, 2008

How wrong can I be before I am right?

Well, the second day of conferences didn't go quite as smoothly as the first. Overall, I feel very good about everything that was discussed, but a couple of things stand out.

I made a mother cry. I talked to her about shy G, the sweet little boy who loves superheroes so much (and who differs with me on such serious philosophical issues as the appearance of Braniac and Ant-Man). G's capable enough academically, though he's well behind about 80% of the class. Most of them are comfortable sounding out words or reading the simple Bob books, while he's still struggling with individual letter sounds. That's not the problem, though. My concern was his crippling shyness, his severe lack of confidence. When I call on him, he changes answers, guessing wildly in the hopes that he'll be let off the hook, instead of relying on his own abilities and standing by an answer. And he often shuts down, gets a miserable look on his face, and practically tears up when he "messes up." I put it to Mom as gently as I could that this, not the lack of reading, made him stand out, and that I thought we should address this confidence issue now so that in first grade she's not hearing really bad news like "G is totally lost and doesn't even seem to know when to ask for help." Well, like I say, I put it gently, but my associates tell me that Mom was showing a little tear in her eye her own self when she exited my room. Three times during the conference, she mentioned to me that maybe they coddled him too much. I couldn't say so even if I knew that was true, of course, but putting on the therapist hat, it seems clear that she's telling herself that she already knows her own problem and solution.

In contrast, my conference with the parents of quirky, precocious L (he of the marker in his head) went a little awry when Mom tried to put me on the defensive. L reads at a high level, understands addition and subtraction, and has a prodigious memory (he knows all his family's phone numbers and license plates, and the library number of everyone in class --- definitely needs to take Qantas to Vegas, definitely). I told the parents that I'd like to see L push himself a little harder, for example to write two or three sentences during the time the other kids write one. Mom took exception to this (in retrospect, I can see how it might have seemed that I was blaming L for not being challenged) and said, 'Well, I wonder what you're thinking the psychology is at work here, that you're expecting a six-year-old to do something like that." Well, Prestigious is all about instilling responsibility and self-management, so I mentioned that educational philosophy, and also suggested that children generally have an inner drive to challenge themselves anyhow. I think part of the problem, as it is with so many super-bright kids, is that L's bored and lacks pride in the work, which he probably sees as beneath him.

Finally, the best part of the day was my meeting with the five-year-old L (he of the middle finger). We're all on the same page with this guy. His parents and I are working on curtailing this mischievous, disrespectful streak. We're agreed that L is a sweet, good-natured kid most of the time, who has an older sibling from whom he learns some PG-13 material, and who needs an outlet for his latent aggression. I mentioned one example of such behavior, when he booed his classmates as they did some team activities in gym. His mother said that a few weeks ago he booed a magician at a birthday party as soon as the act started.

Apparently, he quickly settled down afterwards and then got into the magic act like everyone else, but I think that's totally priceless. Imagine you're a small-time professional magician who does kids' parties. And you're doing your act, and all these five-year-olds are staring rapt and oohing and aahing, and then suddenly there's this one little kid, sitting apart from the others, booing you with all his tiny lung power.

Myabe it's just me, but I just love that image. I think the whole situation's got that euphemistic Who Moved My Cheese-type of potential, wise words hidden in the parable:

Don't boo the magician before you see his act.

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