Tuesday, December 21, 2010

 

A Good "School" Friend

Last week we had parent/teacher conferences for The Boy and The Girl. We’re lucky enough that parent/teacher conferences pretty much consist of hearing how wonderful our kids are, how well they’re doing, and how much their peers like them. It’s not stressful.

That happened again, and it never gets old. TB and TG are doing great, and we’re thrilled.

That said, though, I heard a couple of things that gave me pause.

TG’s teacher said approvingly “I can see that you read to her.” Well, yes, but it’s a little unnerving that that’s worthy of note. Would you say “I can see that you feed her”? Shouldn’t that be a baseline expectation?

The more disturbing one, though, was a comment about one of the girls in TG’s class. We asked who TG plays with the most, and whether we should be concerned about any of them. Her teacher replied that one girl -- I’ll call her Jennifer, which is not her name -- is “a good school friend.” Apparently Jennifer has a rough home life, and the teacher was trying to warn us away from letting TG go to Jennifer’s house for fear of what she would be exposed to there.

(Apparently, “Jennifer” was specific to Generation X. Growing up, all of my classes had at least two Jennifers in it, and often more. Now I don’t think there’s a single Jennifer in the entire school. “Madison” is the new Jennifer.)

I don’t know the specifics the teacher had in mind. We didn’t press, and got the impression that we would have been overstepping our bounds if we had. And I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge some gratitude in keeping TG away from what could be a bad situation. The teacher isn’t generally alarmist, so I assume there’s some reason for what she said. Since TG is only in first grade, there are limits to what I expect her to be able to handle. There’s enough darkness in the world, so there’s no need to rush to it.

But I couldn’t shake the sense that by spreading the word, the teacher was consigning poor Jennifer to even more isolation. Assuming some truth to what she said, the poor kid has a rough time already, but manages to rise above it at school; appending an asterisk to her efforts puts a sort of ceiling on them. If her home life is rocky, then limiting her exposure to other visions of home life seems like it wouldn’t help.

TG likes Jennifer, and so do we. We had her over once, prior to the conference, and she played well with TG and another friend who was also here. TG has asked to have her over again, and we’ll do that.

I don’t know the best way to handle this. At some level, I feel like the teacher did Jennifer a disservice, but as TG’s Dad, I’m glad to keep TG out of harm’s way. I don’t want Jennifer isolated, but I don’t want TG in a bad situation, either.

One of the hardest parts of parenthood is seeing some of the ways other adults treat children. Some children aren’t read to, or fed breakfast, or allowed to feel safe at home. It’s one thing to know that in the abstract, but something else to see it in your kid’s class. I’m just not ready for TG to know that yet. She’s six, and her world is still safe and secure. I’d like her to have that a little while longer. The bad stuff will still be there when she’s older. It can wait.

Comments:
"TG’s teacher said approvingly “I can see that you read to her.” Well, yes, but it’s a little unnerving that that’s worthy of note."

Your privilege is showing, DD. Surely you must know how very many kids AREN'T read to.
 
Based on my 4 year old son's class, Hannah is also the new Jennifer. Or maybe the new Jessica.
 
Because I went to a school with 95% free or reduced lunch, I saw a lot of horrible situations. I recognized my privilege quite early. My mother allowed me to visit some of the friends I'd made who were from not so great home situations, but some friends I could not visit. Later, I ended up doing some volunteer work where I saw the insides of those homes. Horrible.

We are currently in a situation where one of our son's friends has been kicked out of the house over something that most kids get either a talking to or maybe a grounding for the weekend. They are living with other relatives and after the holiday, they will transfer to a different school. While it's not the worst thing, I can't believe how disruptive this whole thing is for such a young person. They are having to make some pretty grown-up decisions at a pretty early age.

I agree it's not good to send a 6 yo into a questionable situation, but soon you may have no choice. We've been supportive while not trying to "save the day". Friendships get pretty complicated.
 
Have you met "Jennifer's" parent(s)? It might be a good step. Then you can make your own, somewhat more informed, decisions about the situation. It could be that the teacher is right on the mark, or it could be that the teacher simply doesn't approve of some thing about the girl's family that is really not that big of a deal. For example - one of my son's teachers (and this is within the last 10 years, in a public elementary school setting) spoke very disapprovingly to us about a child whose parents were unmarried but living together. Evidently that was a big deal to the teacher.

The reading thing- yes, your children are very lucky to have you. And yes it shows, I'm sure, in their vocabulary and reading readiness (and maybe in the kinds of imaginary play they engage in - whether it is all based off of TV characters and situations?). Depending on the kind of town you live in, this might or might not be the norm for other families.

When our own TB was younger and he had friends stay overnight, we used to read with whoever was in the house. One boy who was a frequent guest told us, one time, how much he enjoyed that because he never knew there were so many stories out there. What an eye opener that was - for us.
 
Totally off topic today, but everyone interested in your frequent topic of a potential student loan bubble may want to watch the CNBC special on that topic that debuts tonight ... and will likely rerun regularly in the next month. Their web site has several stories related to the main themes they appear to emphasize.
 
Yeah, no one ever read to me. And as one of the only kids in my elementary school on free lunch, I sincerely hope none of my teachers ever helped anybody out by advising them to limit their friendships with me.

That said, if you aren't comfortable (and by all means meet the parent(s) and make an informed choice), then you should just have Jennifer to your house. A lot.
 
On topic today:

Consider the relationship between yesterday's article about repeated failures in developmental classes and the comment TG's teacher made about you reading to her.
 
I guess my response would be to ask if Child Protective Services is familiar with the household, if they're that obviously dangerous.
 
My reaction was the same as Anastasia's. Maybe the best thing for her would be to spend a lot of time in a house where the family unit isn't dysfunctional.
 
You could try checking the sex offender registry, but you might not want the burden of that knowledge.

Mostly though, just try to get to know Jennifer's parents. Your kids peers will have a huge impact on them eventually (albeit not so much yet- 6 is pretty young), but remember that goes both ways. One of my best friends is most likely such because our parents regularly talked and encouraged the friendship (her mom was a librarian and my dad is something like a biblioholic).
 
There could be any number of things going on here that the teacher is flagging, and not all of them about deprivation or abuse. There could be someone in the family with a chronic or terminal illness, regular old poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, alcoholism...the list is practically endless. Don't jump to conclusions, and don't try and shield TG from, well, reality. If TG is as smart and aware as I think she is, she already knows "that" and she probably knows that something is different about Jennifer's family/home life. And that's okay because she has neutral ground at school in which to be Jennifer's friend, and yes you should invite Jennifer over, but with the awareness that you may be creating a lopsided relationship that needs careful tending. Be prepared for questions from both girls about different ways of living, and from Jennifer's parents (whom you should meet of course, and who may or may not be open to your family).

I grew up being Jennifer. Literally, it is my name, but also because we were sometimes so poor that I'm sure that's why I was invited over and fed by a couple of families. But I was read to. Things got better for us, but it was because we moved into a community full of Jennifers and Jasons - families so poor and so full of abuse of all kinds that in comparison I had everything I needed and more. I'm glad I wasn't protected from any of it, it taught me to accept others and to be generous in kind and in spirit. It taught me that adults other than those you are related to can be key in helping you figure stuff out. And that safe places like school and a friend's house are critical ports in the storm of life (still are even when we grow up!).
 
What Anastasia said.

And also? A lot of crap goes on in families that on the surface look "perfect," as was the case with my elementary school best friend's family, stuff that nobody paid attention to because her (married) parents were active in PTA and the church and put on a good show. They read to their kids, got them the latest toys and clothes, and had a "good family." But there also was physical and verbal abuse in that house, regular violence, and a LOT of problems.

The whole conversation with the teacher about the good "school" friend made me really uncomfortable, since it's entirely possible that she's stigmatizing a student for any number of reasons that have little to do with how bad that student has it.
 
DD - meet Jennifer’s parents. They might be a gay couple or a whole host of other things you don't object to that your teacher finds offensive. You are smart enough to figure out is something is somewhat off. If Jennifer really is in a difficult situation, your family could offer her a shelter in the swirling chaos. It might be one of the few functional relationships she has with adults. Consider it an act of charity and generosity – it will teach TG to be kind.

Totally changing the subject - I read a study that looked at the amount of time kids spent reading each day - I think the kids in the 50th percentile read for about 5 minutes, in the 90th percentile for about 20 minutes but numbers went up exponentially after that - kids in the 98th percentile read upwards of an hour each day - and the authors of the study concluded that the behavior might be self-reinforcing - the kids reading a lot became more fluent in their ability to read and enjoyed it more so they read more so they became more fluent. The kids in the middle never spent enough time reading to become really fluent and continued to avoid reading because it was such a struggle. Kids in the 20th percentile spent less than a minute each day reading. You can do more than that reading your cereal box so I’m not sure how you could achieve such a low level of reading each day. Interesting to think about. More information here www.scilearn.com/alldocs/rsrch/30388RAExtra10min.pdf

Another note from the American Time Use study for 2009 - --Time spent reading for personal interest and playing games or using a computer for leisure varied greatly by age. Individuals age 75 and over averaged 1.0 hour of reading per weekend day and 26 minutes playing games or using a computer for leisure. Conversely, individuals ages 15 to 19 read for an average of 5 minutes per weekend day while spending 1.0 hour playing games or using a computer for leisure. I wonder where blogging fits into this....
 
The teacher had no business talking to you about Jennifer at all. That is the absolute nadir of professionalism: "Now I can see you are nice middle class folk who read to your children--and in case it isn't obvious I am one too! And just to cement how cozy this is, let me tell you about Jennifer, who is very nice but not really one of us...."

DD, I don't think you've ever sat in a hs or middle school teachers' lounge. I have. 15 years of listening to teachers in the throes of class anxiety and ressentiment shitting on their most vulnerable students: shitting on their clothes, their parents, their family dynamics, their hygiene, their futures, their sex lives, their morals, their abilities, their intelligence, their leisure activities, and even, yes, their names.

That's what teachers talk about out of the rarefied reaches of the cc....

It's very ugly, and it's pervasive. Her teachers are helping assign Jennifer a role along the class continuum she will not be allowed to refuse. My guess is that the teacher was firing a shot across your bows, hinting that TG could not stay in her good graces forever if she continued to chum with the likes of Jennifer.
 
wow, wayupnorth, I think your comment says more about your hang-ups than about anything in this (potential) situation. How sad when concern and any number of other motives is so bitterly refuted. How sad when society is so afraid of offending--and clearly, you're ready to be offended--that we can't be honest.

BTW, I'm a 15-year HS veteran who's never done any of what apparently happens in your school. It might be time for you to re-think your profession.
 
I think you're selling your daughter short. I'm not saying that you should send her over to Jennifer's house unsupervised. But I'm reminded constantly that most of my fear about how my son will handle potentially difficult or distressing situations is just that. MY fear.

The bad stuff WILL still be there when she's older. But the opportunity to address it with a child's optimistic perspective won't. At her age, you, as a parent, are what makes the world a safe place for her, in her mind, whatever else she might witness. Daddy is a superhero who can save the whole world.

So, you can either allow her to experience the "real world" confident that Daddy's got her back, OR you can project the idea (and reinforce her's teacher's belief, too, apparently) that there are things in life that she just might not be able to handle, even with Daddy's help. Keeping kids out of harm's way isn't necessarily the best way to keep them safe.
 
Hmm... I feel conflicted about this because while I appreciate your wish to shield TG, I was "Jennifer" in some ways, growing up-- or, at least, the teacher thought so.

I grew up in a conservative town, we were poor (on welfare), lived in government housing (though not a dangerous area, by any means), my parents were divorced (the horror!), and my mother was a foreigner with a funny accent.

My home life was in no way dangerous or abusive... and yet, there were MANY MANY MANY friends who were not allowed to play at my house. There were also many teachers who made disapproving noises about the fact that my mom wasn't an American and that my parents were ...shhhh.... DIVORCED.

It really had much more to do with THEM than it did the reality of the situation.

I'd meet Jennifer's parents and make up my own mind if I was you.
 
Just to clarify, anon 11:20:

I no longer teach hs or jhs. I've been at wayupnorth cc for 24 years now. I like teaching, always have, but have often found my colleagues infuriating and contemptible. Students, I like.

I do feel bitter about what goes in public schools, no doubt about it, but I am not confabulating when I describe what I have heard in three teachers' lounges over those 15 years.

I do have this hang-up that makes it impossible for me to respect most of what goes in, at least, the schools I taught at and the ones my children attended. Apparently, your mileage varies; more power to you.

Not sure what you mean by my being ready to be offended. I'm ready to be disgusted, ready to be angry, ready to pick up a cudgel, but I'd hate to be classified as one of those silly folk who go around looking for something to offend their sensitive souls.
 
Looking at my first comment, maybe I was not quite clear: TG's teacher has no business at all ever gossiping to one set of parents about another or about other children in TG's class--and no figleaf of concern or 'caring' or good motives and intentions can mitigate her violation of bedrock professionalism.
 
I'm in the "don't sell your kids short" camp on this one. When my daughter was just a little older than yours she had a frightening experience on a playdate, when the ex partner of her friend's mom showed up drunk for a showdown. The other (older) visiting kid went home quickly, but my daughter got in the wardrobe with her friend and they played games until the guy left.

When I picked her up and found out what had happened, I realised I couldn't protect her from what she'd seen and heard. All I could do was listen and answer questions clearly. Eventually she figured out that she was really proud of herself for thinking to stay calm and keep her friend company, and this had a significant impact on her self-esteem.

I think we underestimate the capacity and skills that even small children have to develop complex, supportive friendships across all sorts of divides, if they are themselves well supported to do so.

Your daughter will learn pretty fast from now on that different stuff happens in other people's houses than happens in her own (including in houses with lots of books, as others have pointed out). She will be really lucky knowing that she can talk openly to you about what she learns, and that you will talk to her honestly about how to handle herself when you're not there. Good luck.
 
I agree that the teacher shouldn't be gossiping about other kids' home lives, but I don't understand why you're trying to put it mostly on her. How do you think most people would interpret hinting around like this: "We asked who TG plays with the most, and whether we should be concerned about any of them."

If you meant something serious like, oh, should we be concerned because that you know that a "friend" is actually, say, beating up our child, she probably would have mentioned that of her own accord earlier in the conference.

I would be equally conflicted about how to use the info, so I hear you there. I just think that the pearl-clutching that the teacher would "go there" is a little fake.
 
I see wayupnorth's perspective; it's a variant on why I asked the question above. If the house is truly dangerous, why isn't Child Protective Services aware if it? If it isn't, why is the teacher bringing it up?

I don't feel like there's a large grey area where the house is bad but CPS shouldn't be called. CPS does a lot of education and support for borderline and stressed families.
 
DD--You're a bright, perceptive person and a caring parent. I would love to know why you asked the teacher if "we should be concerned about” any of the kids your daughter plays with. What sort of answer did you expect? Did you expect a convincing, detail-packed description of someone else's child or her parents from your daughter's elementary school teacher? Or instead, did you expect what you got, which sounds like some vague hinting at “problems” without supporting details? Either way, I am surprised you would ask the question, as it asks TG's teacher to push or break her boundaries of professional behavior to engage in gossiping, which, in the end, helped nobody.

Frankly, I have read enough anecdotes on your site suggesting that direct communication is an antidote for innuendo and "concerns" that I am surprised you don't just meet and talk to this girl's parents if she invites your daughter over. Wouldn't you do that anyway before dropping your six-year-old for a play date with a family you didn't know or know well?
 
DD--You're a bright, perceptive person and a caring parent. I would love to know why you asked the teacher if "we should be concerned about” any of the kids your daughter plays with. What sort of answer did you expect? Did you expect a convincing, detail-packed description of someone else's child or her parents from your daughter's elementary school teacher? Or instead, did you expect what you got, which sounds like some vague hinting at “problems” without supporting details? Either way, I am surprised you would ask the question, as it asks TG's teacher to push or break her boundaries of professional behavior to engage in gossiping, which, in the end, helped nobody.

Frankly, I have read enough anecdotes on your site suggesting that direct communication is an antidote for innuendo and "concerns" that I am surprised you don't just meet and talk to this girl's parents if she invites your daughter over. Wouldn't you do that anyway before dropping your six-year-old for a play date with a family you didn't know or know well?
 
Anonymous 12:36 got it exactly right, IMHO.
 
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?