Panic Attack

I arrived home from work mid-afternoon and found Teen seated on his yoga ball hunched over a stack of papers in front of the family room computer, his study spot. I came up behind him and while I was yet two feet away, he abruptly stiffened and threw his hands in a “Don’t Shoot!” position. Without looking at me he shouted, DON’T touch me!”

I recoiled, slapped by his words. Without a sound, I tip-toed a wide berth and gingerly reached to remove the bowls containing crumbs and residue of his chips and salsa snack.

An hour later Tween and I had flopped on his bed to read aloud a book we’re enjoying together when Teen poured himself in alongside us. He said, “Mom, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have shouted at you. I was in the middle of a full-blown panic attack and I just couldn’t handle it. I needed to be alone, and couldn’t deal with interruption.” He explained that he’d been trying to figure out his current GPA and what he would need to score on various final exams to keep or raise various grades. He had felt utter despair of being accepted to any college he’d want to attend – the list of which has gotten both shorter and longer as we’ve accepted a realistic assessment of his high school academic performance.jeremiah-29-11

We have prayed this verse over our child since the day we knew we were pregnant, about eighteen years ago. He knows it by heart, and he prays it for himself. And so we talked about the hard fact that God’s plans might not look like ours. As much as he wants to attend a four year college straight out of high school, and he might, perhaps that’s not his only or best option. Maybe taking classes at a community college, getting out of the way classes that would be more difficult at a four-year school, getting a part-time job and a super-cool internship, maybe all that takes some stress off. Maybe it’s okay to not live the Lamorinda norm. YES, it is okay not to live the cultural norm.

Wise beyond his age, Tween understood his presence wasn’t helpful so he slipped off his bed and out of his room while Teen and I talked. I mostly listened as Teen poured out his heart and mind – classes he likes and doesn’t, teachers he loves, teachers he likes but wishes they put more love into their classes, teachers he feels don’t give a damn… None of it an excuse because it’s still up to him to be responsible, work hard, and do his best, but easier done if you feel like the Teacher has invested in both subject and students.

The conversation ended as it was time to move on to sports practice. He trudged to his room to gear up and I followed him. I said aloud his name, and wordlessly my Big Kid poured himself into my arms for a hug. My Teen, generally touch averse, needed a Mom Hug as much as I needed to hold my child for a moment. “Thanks, Mom,” he whispered into my hair.

This weekend he’s out of town for a huge college/high school sports tournament, a high school recruiting event and the only one like it he will attend. Next week he has finals, bad timing. Meanwhile I hope he plays aggressive and safe, and leaves behind some of that stress on the field so that he returns home tired but energized, ready to sleep and then study. He’ll be fine even if the path winds in unexpected directions. We have faith.

Good Enough

When I was in high school, Good Enough was good enough. We did our best – and sometimes not – and we did well. Most kids in my middle-class high school were on the College Prep track; we knew a few in the “non-College Prep” classes, and we understood they struggled; we knew a few who took Honors/AP classes, and we understood they might just be Too Smart.

College Prep classes fit the majority, and College Prep classes prepared the Super Motivated to take AP tests as available. Those who took and passed AP tests could get a GPA boost, but AP-specific classes were not the norm, as there was no reason to offer college credit to high school students. 3.0-4.0 was A-OK! And most of us went to good colleges.

Fast Forward a generation…6352769082_2fe37679b6_b

It was too late to drop by the time we realized Teen – now a junior with Pressure ON! – was struggling. He could have taken an easier class. Had he wanted to, he also could have taken this class at the local community college. Kids who fail classes at our High School receive A’s at our local Community College. I recently asked Why?, and was told that the High School has to keep up its standards of being in the Top 1% of schools in the country, while the Community College has to pass the Average Student.

Anyone see a problem there?

We signed him up for professional tutoring, and it has helped. On his own – and without our knowledge – he has attended twice-a-week on-campus tutoring. He studied HARD for the last test, and he felt confident.

He failed the test.

Dismayed, he went at lunch to talk to the teacher. She wouldn’t show him the test, wouldn’t talk with him about how he’d gone wrong. She said, “You do work for other classes in my class.” Once, early on. She said, “You come in late.” Last week, his car broke down; this morning, the alarms failed us. He has apologized; she hasn’t accepted.

What to do about a teacher who won’t meet a student part-way with compassion?

Teen has learned that first impressions, and subsequent impressions, matter. Studying matters. Working his tail off in a subject that stumps him matters, and one might expect that taking the initiative to approach a teacher – teenager to adult, no easy match – should matter. He did his best, and he got shot down.

Head hung low he said, “It’s only my future. I guess I won’t go to A Good College.”

His college counselor said that, without a 4.2 GPA, admission to a University of California or California State school will be a long shot4.2 is now what it takes to be noticed and accepted for in-state California colleges? How many students take how many AP classes to average an above average GPA?

The norm is no longer The Norm. Good Enough has died.

Last spring the four schools in our high school district took the Stanford Survey of Adolescent School Experiences, the “stress test.” The goal is to work with schools to create a less stressful and more engaging school environment for students. [Read more here].

The results highlighted the dire reality that our students feel stressed, exhausted, and stuck in a rat wheel. Surprisingly, it’s not that they are so caught up in their daily school work. Rather, students see the hyper-competitive culture in which they are growing up, and they’re grasping at straws trying to differentiate themselves. And yet the college counselor made it clear: the colleges no longer care about differentiation, just that 4.+ GPA.

I’m confident Teen will go to college. He’s a smart kid, inaccurately assessed in the wrong circus arena. Now, if his class took place outside – up a hill, in a tree – somewhere he could touch the subject and explore it for himself; if assignments weren’t one-size-fits-poorly; if high schools had majors and he could focus his interests like he will be able to in college; well, then he’d have that stellar GPA. He will, someday. He’s going to surprise himself.

People move to our town for the schools, and rightfully so. We are fortunate to have access to an impressive educational system. But just as in people, strengths can also be weaknesses. The lessons they intend to teach might, for now, have less to do with English and algebra and history and way more to do with perseverance, conflict resolution, and staying true to self when others apply ill-fitting labels. These lessons are hard-won with plenty of bruises and at least a few scrapes. They hurt. And in the end, they’ll prove to be more valuable than a GPA, more than good enough.