Sunday, March 25, 2007

Parent Teacher Conference

Last week I had my first parent/teacher conference ever. Because C has been with the same kids for the past two+ years, and he is one of three children actually progressing onto kindergarten next year, I went into the conference pretty sure what the teachers were going to say. "Wonderful kid, blah blah, smart, blah blah, no worries, blah blah." So I walked in, they handed my his report card to look over, and my jaw dropped to the floor.

"Do you have any questions Mrs. J-E?" the head teacher asked politely. I think I stared at her a bit blankly, as she started to speak in that soothing voice people use when they think someone is about to blow a gasket. "There is nothing we don't think a little time and maturity won't fix..." she trailed off.

"No, no, just give me a minute." I replied. "OK. What I am actually very curious about is this check mark right here, the one that says 'Can't follow directions.' Could you elaborate on that one please? Because really, that's a bit of a shocker. Does he really never follow directions that you give him?" You have to give me points, I was trying to sound nice and calm and, well, parental.

"Oh, no, well, it depends. Let me give you an example. Yesterday we were working on kindergarten readiness skills with C and Z and A. They sat at the table with us while the other kids played, and we had them doing worksheets. And we told them to work on page one. And next time I looked over, C was working on page three."

"Did he do pages one and two?" I queried, a little unsure whether we were talking about C finishing quickly, or about C not doing his work in order.

"Well, yes, but sometimes he doesn't. Sometimes we tell them to do page one and then he skips to whichever page looks the most interesting. But what we really want is for the children to all finish page one and then move onto page two when we tell them."

"OK. I'll have a conversation with him about that." Which I will, I swear. But I have to say, not so concerned about that as really, this means that he should do brilliantly on the standardized tests.

Then the real bomb dropped. "But our bigger concern is that C is socially immature," the teacher continued on. My jaw, if possible, scrapped the basement of the building. I blinked.

"He doesn't know how to play with the other children. He doesn't have any close friends, and he doesn't know how to break into others play appropriately." (I just might have whimpered right here.) "If he wants to play doctor, and the other children don't, then he won't compromise and play blocks, he'll just go play doctor by himself. Or, if the other children are playing blocks and he wants to, he'll hang back and not join in unless someone specifically asks him."

"Is he MEAN to the other children?" I asked, a little afraid of the answer, as I've seen how he plays with A.

"Oh, no. They all like him. He's just, well, he just seems to prefer the world of adults." She paused and looked at her watch. "Well, that's our time. Feel free to come back if you have additional questions..." and I was quickly ushered out the door.

I of course went into instant parent freak-out mode. My child, my wonderful child is not perfect. How does one react to that without the instant knee-jerk response of "You're nuts! My child is fabulous! Who really cares if he does page three before page one!" or "So he likes the world of adults! It will serve him well in later years! He will spend his life having to interact with adults!"

And then of course there was the quick morph into "Oh my GOD. My child is socially immature. He will never have friends. This explains why when I ask him who he plays with he shrugs and tells me about the bird he saw out the window. Should I get him into therapy? Do I actually need to schedule playdates?"

I waited to write about this until I had calmed down a bit, because it was one of those things that I really had to take a step back and think about. Of course my child isn't perfect. No one is perfect (that statement is brought to you by months of therapy). In the grand scheme of things, C's issues are minor. No one is questioning his ability to perform in kindergarten. The children all like him. He has some issues focusing on his work in an appropriate manner. He needs to learn to give other children a chance to answer the teacher's questions. All of that is manageable. But it still is hard to hear that your child is not as perfect as you think they are.

Hearing such things about your child is particularly hard, I think, when it resonates with your own experiences. Worrying that YOU caused them to have those issues is painful. Especially when you are still facing those issues yourself, and don't really have any good ideas on how to help them through it. Finishing your work too quickly? I can help with that. Bring a book and hide it on your lap. Other children don't want to play doctor right now? Broker a compromise where you play blocks first, then doctor. But other children aren't inviting you to play with them? You don't know how to make friends? I don't know how to help with that, or at least I don't know that my approach will really work well, given my lack of personal success in the area. And that hurts.