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.

 

Spelling Bee

Tween participated in the school-wide spelling bee. Placing in the top two in his classroom bee, he joined seventeen other 3rd through 5th graders. All winners before they hit the stage, Tween made it to 4th place.

Miraculous, as years ago experts predicted that given his particular set of learning (dis)abilities, his spelling level wouldn’t exceed third grade.

Watch this kid surpass his doctors’ expectations – woo hoo!

Similar to the well-known stages of grief, Tween passed through several Stages of Anticipation:

At first, he was over-the-moon excited. Giddy, jumping around, couldn’t stop talking.

Next came anxiety with a dash of denial. Let’s not talk about it unless we’re so anxious we have to talk about it.

Then, annoyance: “Mom, I Do Not want to practice spelling!”

Followed by acceptance, “Mom, can we practice spelling?” (Snuggles).

I came up with an unorthodox strategy: I checked out a DVD of Akeelah and the Bee from our fantastic local library. We watched it over two nights after homework and dinner, me pausing the show periodically to quiz Tween on a word (Guy declared it the worst movie-watching experience ever; I argued that we were studying!).

We talked about anxiety and desire, gumption, determination, and overcoming expectations. Tween’s parents watched the power of storytelling wash over him as he joined Akeelah on her journey from inner-city closeted smart kid to National Spelling Bee champion.

From no-dream to pipe-dream to day-dream to reality, Tween caught the spirit.

Finally motivated, he let me quiz him as I inwardly marveled at his ability to spell words I couldn’t imagine he’d seen before and outwardly praised him like crazy for his hard work.

The night before the bee he crawled into bed and buried himself in covers. Overwhelmed, he began to criticize everything about himself – body and brain. You know those moments, when nerves take over and you just can’t see how anything you are or do could possibly be good enough?

I made him look me in the eyes. Firmly, I said, “You do your best and let God do the rest” (thanks, Mom, for that little pearl of wisdom!). “And I will be proud of you No Matter What.”

Morning of, he turned ornery when I suggested he Dress for Success: “Did you read that in one of your magazines?” (Ugh, Adolescent Sassy-Butt, I only requested that he put on a polo-style shirt with his jeans. “But Mom, NO ONE else will wear anything special, you just watch.” Bummer, he was mostly right). After he left for school, I insisted that Guy and I also Dress for Success to honor his efforts.

As Guy and I entered the auditorium to join other parents seated on benches lining the back wall, the school principal called us over. “I have to ask,” he began, “but do you live in a zoo?”

The bee participants had filled out questionnaires about themselves and one of the questions asked about family pets. “I was just wondering how many of these animals Tween listed might actually still be living with you?”

We glanced over his shoulder at Tween’s paper and laughed. He had listed all of our 3 cats, 3 leopard geckos, 2 dogs, 2 snakes, 1 tortoise, and 1 betta fish by name and species. All except for the newest snake which he listed as “ball python (I forgot its name).”

Um, yes, we live in a zoo of sorts. We’re a little nuts.

National Spelling Bee rules at play, kids could only ask two questions about their word. They could ask for a definition, to hear it repeated or in a sentence, word origin (nobody asks that at this level), but only two questions.

I held my breath each time Tween stood up. He spelled words we had studied and words we hadn’t studied. He spoke straight into the microphone, loud and clear, no mumbling. An astonished parent turned to us: “He’s so confident!”

He made it through six rounds. Down to four spellers, Tween’s word elicited hushed gasps from nearby parents:

“Please spell jocularity.”

Parents whispered, “What did he say? What does that mean?”

According to Merriam-Webster: “Given to jesting, jolly.” Actually a pretty good descriptor for Tween.

It hadn’t been on the provided spelling lists. I looked it up in the children’s dictionary he and every other 2nd grader in town received from the local Kiwanis club and, guess what? It’s not in there.

This is not a kid-friendly spelling word, folks.

He hadn’t asked a single question so far, but this time he asked for a definition and a sentence, and then he asked to hear it repeated; he asked three questions, so the principal would not repeat the word.

“Jocularity. Hmm, J-O-C-um…hmm…K…?-U-L-A-R-I-T-Y. Jocularity.”

“Thank you for participating.” Applause.

He walked across the gym and took a seat on the floor with his classmates, high-fiving along the way. He smiled. Clearly disappointed, he put up a good face.

Of course he added a K. Wouldn’t you? Or maybe you wouldn’t, but you might have in 5th grade. Jocularity sounds an awful lot like jock.

The next word: havoc
And: thyme
And I no longer remember the winning word, but it wasn’t nearly so hard as jocularity.

When a winner had been declared, parents stuck around for hugs and pictures and congratulations. The principal personally congratulated Tween, commending him for doing so well and encouraging him that a “ck” made perfect sense, even if it was incorrect.

Bee participants

Bee participants

Rightfully proud of himself – the kid mouthed the correct spelling to every single word in the bee from his place in the back row – and kicking himself at the same time, Tween glowed. But when we picked him up after school three hours later, he glowered. The luck of the draw had not been on his side, and he was angry at Misfortune.

So we made a big deal to celebrate the miracle: we gave him the choice between Slurpees or ice cream (Slurpees won). We spelled jocularity back and forth to one another for the rest of the day; no one in this household will ever stumble over an added K again. We met friends at the park and they expressed admiration for his serious spelling skills. We thanked God for the gift of a spelling adventure. For fun in the process. For a new appreciation of the power of studying well. And for the experience as a whole.

You might even say we acted a wee bit jocular in our miraculous spelling celebration!

Thrive

Both Teen and Tween have learning “differences.” [I hate the term “disability” because, as The Gift of ADHD points out, what society calls a disability comes with its own gifts.] They are both intelligent, and both have gifts that make typical classroom learning a challenge. They might do great at the right charter or private school, but we don’t have that opportunity. And homeschooling would be ridiculously bad for all of us. So we do our best in public schools. Fortunately we have access to extremely good public schools.

Tween had a bad child-teacher match last year. We advocated long and hard for him and yet perhaps insufficiently. I hate being the squeaky wheel and a bigger parenting goal is to equip my kids to persevere even when the going is tough, as it often is.

Prior to this school year, a neighbor suggested I chat with another neighbor, a school psychologist in another district. She read Tween’s file and afterwards recommended that we ask to have him retested as he was previously too young for certain tests that could be revelatory; she felt certain the school would concur.

They didn’t, and I left the meeting in turmoil. Great news: he seems to be doing great. Bad news: we don’t have a complete picture of him as a learner. Major potholes and obstacles likely await him on Education Road. As parents, we will have lots of work to do, meeting with countless teachers and administrators, meanwhile equipping him with various coping strategies and bolstering his courage.

It shouldn’t have to be this hard, but sometimes it is.

Our hearts break for our kids, for the hurts they have and will experience. No avoiding the entwining of a parent’s nervous system with her child’s.

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a Casting Crowns concert with some friends. Their latest album is Thrive, and the song Dream for You caught my attention:

Let me dream, let me dream for you
I am strong when you’re weak and I’ll carry you
So let go of your plan, get caught by my hand
I’ll show you what I can do when I dream for you

I have dreams for my life, but God’s dreams for me might be different. I have dreams for my kids; they have dreams of their owns; but God holds all of us in His hands. Of course I need to pray and make my best attempt at wise parenting decisions, but I need to let go of the worry and fear. Another line from the song says, “Come to me, find your rest, in the arms of the God who won’t let go.” I can’t change a single thing through my anxiety. When I trust God, I can rest in His arms.

God made these young men, “fearfully and wonderfully,” complete with their strengths and weaknesses. He has planned good deeds for them to do. He wants to know and be known by them, to walk through life in relationship with them, to love them. We all have a better chance at thriving as I make the decision to model faith in God and His dreams for them.