Thursday, June 08, 2006

This just isn’t like me.

When Mr. Pete and I were DINKS (double income, no kids) back in the earl 80s, we had opportunities to go to shows and to the orchestra and places like that. One evening, we attended a performance of the symphony because my flute teacher and friend, Anita Exline, was performing and she was very excited about the program for that evening. So we watched the performance and then afterwards we took my teacher and some of her family out for ice cream. I remember it was wintertime so the ice cream place wasn’t very full. It was also late in the evening so we had the place pretty much to ourselves. We weren’t rowdy (it was an ice cream place after the orchestra for cryin out loud!) but we were light hearted and laughing, talking, having fun. All of the sudden, the manager appeared out of nowhere and said: “I told you once and now I telling you all to GET OUT! We are closed!” My face turned bright red. I never heard him ask us to leave before. In fact, I hadn’t even seen him. We were embarrassed, but we quickly apologized, grabbed our coats, left our half-eaten ice cream, and got out of there. That had never happened to me before or since. I just don’t usually cause enough trouble to get physically thrown out of places.

The other thing about me is that I don’t usually quit or drop out of anything. I would be the kid sitting through the most boring algebra class, struggling to keep my eyes open, but I wouldn’t drop the course. I have never dropped a course. Somehow, some way, I always stuck it out to the better end of the final exam.

I tell you those stories to share with you that in the past year, since having my sixth child I have done both! I have been kicked out and I have quit!! And that just isn’t like me!

The quitting was actually this spring when my two middle boys decided to take track. They had enjoyed cross-country and we thought track would be a natural followup to that. That is, until we went to the first track meet which went on FOREVER!! I had no idea that track meets lasted that long and I knew there was no way I was going to be able to give up all day Sunday afternoon for track. When soccer season started I subtly, although not too slowly just stopped taking the kids to track. It was too much. UNCLE already. I knew especially with Mr. Pete working two jobs that I would never keep my sanity giving up my Sunday afternoons too. I felt ashamed in front of the track coach. She acted funny towards me too. It was nothing personal towards her, it was simply survival. But I hated it and certainly have renewed my determination not to join anything else if we cannot follow through!

But that was not as bad as the composition classes I had both boys signed up for last fall. A young woman in our area was going to have composition classes for Jr. High and an American Lit Class for High School students. The syllabus sounded so good. The books looked so inviting and I knew the boys would get a chance to do lots of writing. I thought the discipline would be good for them too. So even though it was going to take a big chunk out of our budget, we signed up.

It was an unqualified disaster.

I had spoken to the teacher before about my older son’s struggles with reading and English and how he had a bit of a bravado about him to cover up for the other academic skills he struggled with. She enthusiastically said it would not be a problem and I so wanted to believe her. But knowing my son, I should have known better! Smelling her youth and inexperience, he was like a pariah. A good natured pariah, but nonetheless he made smart alec remarks, he teased her, participated in classroom high jinks, and goofed around too much. She called me about this and I reminded her that it was all an act. That he was playing her so that he could waste time and not get down to the serious stuff. She seemed to remember this and things went on for a couple of weeks until it was discovered that some one had been steeling pop and money out of the church’s refrigerator. On that very day, she proclaimed that no pop or food would be allowed in her classroom. Unfortunately, Calvin didn’t hear that, or he ignored it, but he pulled out his own can of pop from home and put it right on the table right in front of her, almost as soon as she had finished issuing her new edict. She was furious.

The following week she called me at home and told me that Calvin was no longer allowed in her classroom.

I was relieved, angry and sad all at once. Relieved that I wouldn’t have to fight Calvin about acting better in this class, angry at Calvin for embarrassing us by acting so badly, and angry at the teacher for not just nipping his behavior in the bud at the beginning. In my heart of hearts, I had my doubts that she would be able to handle him, or any other slightly difficult student. I should have listened to my gut. And I felt sad for myself because I have never ever been thrown out or a course in my life. Did I set my kid up for failure? Was this class that looked so perfect in September, really not a good fit for my child after all? I had wanted him to enjoy American Literature, reading and writing, but instead I had set him up for another failure in his academic life.

Sam was allowed to stay on. He was enjoying his composition class and working hard at it. He had a hard time meeting her deadlines and I felt maybe he was in a little over his head too although he seemed to be working very diligently to keep up. I felt funny about this teacher now. I had trusted my special needs student to her and when the going got rough, she had dropped him. He had failed. I had failed. However, there were other little red flags that were going up for me. The teacher told me Sam was missing papers, but she could not tell me which ones because she did not keep a record. Once she called me and Mr. Pete in to talk about Sam’s work and she reprimanded him so severely that he started to cry. Sam, never cries. And I wondered if that was really necessary. If a kid is having a hard time in following the directions that does not necessarily mean it is a behavioral problem, and in fact, I knew for Sam it was not behavioral, it was just his lack of experience in writing persuasive papers. Another time the teacher came right into the kitchen area where all the students and parents waited during and between classes, and started to tell me all of the things that were wrong with Sam’s work, in front of other students and parents. I was mortified. But I did not quit. I did not pull him out and I sat there frozen like a deer in the headlights because this was totally unexpected. Believe it or not, I was speechless.

Long story short, this week we had a disagreement about Sam’s research paper and whether he should have turned it in without the “luxury” of a corrected first draft of not. I was frustrated and concerned for him that he was the only kid that did not have that advantage to turn in his paper. She told me that she was “irritated” that her “classroom policies had been disregarded” and that I had made her feel “guilty.”

My inner voice is screaming. “No, No!! That’s not me!! I’m the good student, the one who gets everything done, and tries to please you. I’m the good mom who makes sure her kids always try their hardest and follow the rules. It’s not me!!! Really!!”

What I should have said was, “This isn’t working. I don’t agree with your policies, and we’re out of here.” But I didn’t. I don’t quit, remember?.

I tried to reassert my position in a followup e-mail but her reply was, “I will also be mailing a personal check from me to refund your deposit for next year. I am sorry, Elena, but this is not working out.”

That’s right. Two days before the end of the term, we got kicked out!

I had managed to become the only homeschool family in this program to have not one, but two students kicked out of it in a span of only six months. I’m having a difficult time coming to terms with this.

What I have come to figure out is that my role of homeschool mom is not the same as my old role of student. Maybe I chose to stick it out to the end, but that doesn’t mean that every activity and class we try out for our kids has to be followed to bitter end. I don’t have to put up with someone else verbally or mentally abusing my child in the name of education, and I certainly don’t have to stay around to follow the policies of someone I am paying, if they aren’t working for us. What I think I just learned the hard way at the expense of my oldest two sons is that sometimes it’s OK to just walk away and not look back.



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