Tuesday, May 6

Letting go of the School “Game”

by Ajike Akande
Before I begin today’s post, I just want to take a minute to hold space for the girls, as well as their families, who are missing in Nigeria.  We are praying for your return.  

You may not know this about me, but I can be a little slow on the uptake.  Sometimes I have to make the same mistake over and over again, before I a) recognize my mistake as an actual mistake and b) vow not to repeat it.  
As a parent, I make plenty o’ mistakes.  It is possible that as a stay-at-home parent I have even more opportunities to make mistakes while interacting with my children.  It is also possible that our eldest Z has been the recipient of my ghastly parenting mistakes more than any of our other children.  He has, after all, been around the longest but I think there’s more to it.  

Here’s some radical truth telling:  
  1. I am harder on my seven year old little Big guy Z than I am on my other four kids.  I am not proud of this.
  2. My expectations are often too high and my frustration when he does not meet my expectations is also too high.  This is not okay.
  3. My tough approach with him is about me, not him.  He’s a small human and I need to keep my crap in check.  
  4. My belief in his abilities is about what I know to be true about him.  
  5. I love our Big all that there is.  I need to parent him in a way that he feels my love.  Even when I’m frustrated or scared or without wine.  (The wine thing is real.  I am slightly more agreeable while sipping on a glass of white wine.)
Why the public confession?  This morning I had a brief conversation with the principal at my kids’ school.  We were late, so she greeted us.  Because she was the first adult I had come in contact with, I said to her “I’m so frustrated with him!” pointing at Z.  She asked what was going on and I explained that according to his teacher, he continues to be too distracted and social in class and as a result he is not completing his work.  I told her that he is sitting at a desk by himself – something he’s totally okay with as he knows he needs space from others, but is refusing to use other strategies that the teacher and I have suggested to help him focus better.  His mind is all over the place and although he is capable of completing his work, he can’t focus.
I spend a ridiculous amount of time urging my unique, social butterfly to play the school “game”.  Do the work; ask for help when it’s needed and be kind to everyone.  While I’ve never said this, I just want him to lay low and simultaneously stand out - at the right time and in the right ways.  Frankly, I am raising a black boy fully aware of the long history of racism in our school systems.  I have seen school offices disproportionately frequented by black boys and I am terrified that my boy will be one of them.  Like so many other black boys, I am afraid that he will be seen as a trouble maker because he’s squirrelly and right now, less interested in school and more interested in pop stars, fashion (I should write a whole post about his fashion statements.) and the grade two girls!  He loves school but is not particularly concerned with learning.    He talks too much and quietly daydreams all day.  
So I’m on him.  I nag him.  I don’t let up.  But something happened today when I was talking to the principal.  She said that Z is stubborn and maybe he needs the threat of working in the principal’s office to get him to focus.  I told her that the office is like a playground for a distractible person and that the teacher and I would continue to find ways to help him within the classroom.  I walked away feeling like she was pointing the finger and blaming Z instead of considering his learning needs.  She thinks this is all his fault and that he is not completing his work on purpose.  In truth I don’t know that the principal thinks poorly of Z.  She has actually been very supportive in many ways of our family since we joined the school community.  I believe that we are all, including her, doing what we believe is the best for the children at the school, however, I don’t always agree with the approach.
My boy is not stubborn.   To be honest, he so easily distracted that I don’t think he could be stubborn even if he wanted to!  If he can’t get his work done because he’s talking and daydreaming; if all the other kids to whom he is talking can complete their work but he can’t, maybe this little situation isn’t his fault at all.  
He’s seven.  He’s creative and smart, charming and articulate – oh and precocious as hell.  What is the school doing to make sure that he learns and gets the most out of the could-be engaging curriculum?  As a teacher, I try to remember that if the kids aren’t learning, I’m not actually teaching.  As a little guy in grade one, he is still learning to learn and he deserves teachers who are learning to teach in a way that that can happen.  
I’m not saying teaching is easy and I’m not saying that my son’s teacher isn’t doing everything that she knows to help him, but I am saying that I am done begging him to just play the school “game”.  I’m his mom.  I love him all there is.  I will continue to insist that any time he spends in the office is because of truly abhorrent behaviour and not incomplete work.  I will make every effort to try to re-teach what he hasn’t learned in class in a way that takes into consideration him as a learner.  I will fight for him to be seen for who he is and I will do what it takes to make sure that he continues to love school and with any luck, loves the learning that can take place there.  
Every so often I leave my little ones notes at the breakfast table.  Tomorrow I will leave this for Z:
To my Z,
I am so sorry that I get too angry, too often about your work at school.  It is the grown-ups job to work together to help you be the best that you can be at school and beyond.  I know that you are trying hard and that you want to follow your teacher’s rules and meet her expectations.  I promise to help find ways to make learning at school better for you and speak to you about school in a way that is loving and understanding.  
You are amazing, creative, smart, funny and kind.  Mommy and Mama love you more than you know.  
Have a great day!  
xoxox  Mommy
P.S  You still can’t watch TV!   (I’m still me!)
XO Ajike

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