Tuesday, May 5, 2009

When Good isn't Good Enough

Today I was having a conversation about Jackson with a friend of mine who knows him well. She asked if I had decided what do to about his education, and I told her this: next year we are doing kindergarten off the record (meaning I'm not registering him as a kindergartner), and at the end of the year I am going to have him tested and see where to do from there. In my head this made perfect sense. I work with him all year on kindergarten skills, then test him and find out that--low and behold--he'll be ahead in all areas. This will justify homeschooling him rather than sending him to school to relearn all these skills he's already mastered. But as soon as I said the words aloud I realized that this is just my way of justifying to everyone else what I've already decided to do. See, I just feel really good about teaching him at home, at least for now, and I need everyone else to feel good about it too. And somehow I think that crazy high test scores will do that. Maybe it will, but I'm afraid of what I'm setting up.

I don't know where I got my inner need to be the best, outperform everyone else, and excel at everything I do. I don't recall my parents participating in that obsession. In fact, I once told my mom that I was afraid I might make a C in a class in high school, and she offered to pay me if I did. I'm not kidding. She thought that taking the rest of the semester off and letting myself chill out a bit was more important than my grade point average. But I didn't listen. And I didn't make a C.

The point is, something inside me demands that I not only meet expectations (in a timely and organized fashion) but blow the top off of them. I don't want to be a good employee. I want to be employee of the month. Three times. I don't want to make an A. I want a 100%. (Is extra credit an option? I'll make a 105.) And it might sound lovely to come out on top, but I assure you that it's not. It's not because while I should be celebrating one victory, I'm instead trying to figure out how I can raise the bar. And at some point, I'm bound to miss it. And it hurts every time.

Last Sunday my son received an award at his cello recital. He practiced more in the month of April than any other student in the studio (44 times in a 30-day month). He was so very proud. He talked about it all day and wanted to show off his certificate to anyone who would listen. Then something very troubling happened. He said that next time he would try to practice 45 times. See, it's not good enough for him that he's the best. He wants to beat his own score. A little piece of me panicked. It's going to hurt when he misses the bar. Did I do this to him? Or was he born with it like I was?

So, I wonder what I'm doing with all this testing business. It's kindergarten for goodness sake. I know Jackson. If I tested him today he would already excel kindergarten standards. Do I need a test to tell me that? Am I just putting pressure on him to excel? And if he is a grade level ahead this year, will I just push for him to be 2 grade levels ahead next year? How can I teach him to let himself relax if I can't? And, even if his test scores aren't ahead of grade level, doesn't he still deserve the same loving home-based education that I have planned for him? This isn't a reward for outstanding performance. Somehow those things have gotten entwined in my head, and I'm having a hard time separating them. True, I think that my children will receive a better education at home AND will excel if they receive a one-on-one education. Who wouldn't? But that's not what is driving me to homeschooling, and I need to be honest about that. I think that my Jackson needs some more time in the nest before he is ready to fly outside on his own. That's the bottom line. I don't know when he'll be ready. First grade? Fifth? Not until college? I know that I'm his mom and I pray for him every day, and I feel sure that this is right, at least for now. Now, the hard part is deciding where to draw the line between gushing with pride over his accomplishments and pressuring him to do more.

Parenting is hard.


R and K Marsh said...

Poor Kat - what a lot of tough decisions you have on your plate! If it's any help at all, I'll add my thoughts.

I teach Year 1 (5-6 year olds) here in England, and we have a lovely time together. At the beginning of the year, none of them could read - now all of them can read! It's so exciting! I have lots of faith in the education system we have here, and I know that the school I teach in sets very high standards for teaching and learning. Having said that...

Ruth and I are planning to have a family of our own, and I am completely torn up (already!) over the issue of schooling.

Do my children make good progress with me? Yes. Do I think they would achieve even more if I could spend more one-to-one or small group time with them? Yes.

I also have several children who are ready academically for the work we do, but are quiet and sensitive, and I have to work extra hard not to lose them in the 'rough and tumble' of classroom life.

I know it's easy for me to say, but I think you should listen to your heart and go for it! You know your son, and you know what is best for him.

I'm reading a book right now called 'Why is God Laughing?' by Deepak Chopra. In it, he talks about how fear is the most limiting force in our lives. That from our very earliest life, we live with fear and allow our fears to direct the path we take. If we could just overcome the whispering voice of fear, we would achieve greatness and closeness to God the likes of which we can only imagine.

That really resonates with me, and I am working hard to be fear-less (and not always winning!). I hope you will listen to the conclusions you are clearly being guided to, and tell fear to get on the next train out!

We will pray for you and your family as always ... and can't wait to see you this summer!


Yer Mother said...

Aw, Katie you said it best! :) I couldn't agree more: follow your heart and don't give a second thought to what other people think. The people that really love you and care about you also trust you to make the best decision for your kids. Russell and I are behind you and Mike all the way :)