January 15, 2013 by Marj Hatzell
Bug Boy has come a long way since preschool and Kindergarten, when we first sought out intervention. He has FRIENDS now, people. He has activities he enjoys. He is becoming more responsible for himself. Making him pack his own school bag, lunch and water bottle and making him pick out his own clothes is paying off. He’s doing it automatically now. ZOMG I KNOW, RIGHT? Which was my goal, yes? Functional independence. Since executive functioning doesn’t come naturally to him (apple. Tree. Me? Yep.) he had to be directly taught things like organizing his school work, not relying on memory for homework and learning to write it down, organizing a paper or essay (graphic organizers FTW!). It’s all coming together. All the hard work and dedication from his teachers from the past 7 years of school-aged programming is coming together. I’m thrilled with how well he has done. (I’m also realistic enough to realize that when he becomes a teenager he’ll forget everything I’ve taught him in a matter of minutes!)
The problem, however, is what is “good enough” and when we should demand more. We’ve always tried to teach him that his grades were HIS. What he earned was not what “the teacher gave me.” He needed to learn to own it, to realize the intrinsic value in what he was doing. He has always been a good student and he’s eager to learn. Hungry, even. Soaks it up like a sponge and we actually have to do things like STOP LEARNING SO MUCH and TAKE BOOKS AWAY because he’s sometimes obnoxious with it. These kids today with the independent learning!
In Elementary school in our area they just don’t push grades. Things are very individualized. The report cards are really just a list of skills in each academic, social and self-help area with letters that stand for “frequently, consistently, with-support, sometimes and needs support.” It was entirely possible he could get a report card full of Fs. And that was a good thing. I am not one of those folks that thinks there is always a better way to do things. Having grown up going to parochial school with real letter and number grades and S/Satisfactory or U/Unsatisfactory for things like conduct and effort (and handwriting. which I flunked. YES, FLUNKED!), the elementary report left me underwhelmed but I understood why they used those reports. And the section for teacher comments was always the same and that’s what mattered to me most: enthusiastic learner, always helpful, helps other students, pleasure to have in class. So even if he had a few “with-supports” in his skills section, we always reinforced that if he truly did his best, the letters didn’t matter. What mattered was how HE felt about them. He always felt okay with it.
The first marking period in middle school he set himself a very lofty goal. He wanted to make honor role. I pleaded with him not to put so much pressure on himself, as we are well-aware of what anxiety does to him. He is sometimes his own worst critic. Gee, where does that come from? Hmmmm…anywho, we told him that the grades weren’t as important as him learning to adjust to middle school. We emphasized what a BIG transition it was, how different it was, how he had eight teachers to report to now, not just one plus his support teacher. He insisted he could do it. There were a few hairy moments but he pulled it off. Six As (one an A+!) and 2 Bs. And the B’s were barely a B, just under an A-. HONOR ROLL! We, of course, were thrilled. Bug Boy and his entire 8th period nerd herd math class were all, “A-? ZOMG! NOOOOOOO!!!! I CAN’T HAVE AN A-!” And Bug Boy was JUST under that with a B+. And devastated. Yep. With a B+. A B+ in college organic chemistry or Botany would have been A FREAKING GIFT. But 6th grade honors math? Death sentence, apparently.
But, like we planned to do, we once again supported him and told him that his grades were marvelous, the comments from his teachers wonderful and that we were proud of him just for working so hard. I even told him that the one or two Cs he brought home from missing assignments may have brought his grade down but he kicked but in projects and tests and therefore pulled it off. “You did GREAT and better than we expected! We’re so proud of you! Way to go!” And he was ok with it after a few days.
Flash forward to this trimester. He’s slacked off a TEENSY bit. Forgot to write homework down here, forgot about a quiz there. He’s still with all As and a B (guess which class? Nerd Herd). He’s still holding his own, is less stressed out than the first marking period. But this time his attitude is different. “Oh. A-? That’s awesome. I’m cool with that. Oh, to get an A I have to do 15 out of 20 responses and if I do more I get extra credit? I’ll just do 15.” He’s always been a “that’s all I have to do to get an A? I’ll do no more.” Kind of kid.
So. Now I’m making him do ANY extra credit that comes his way. Why? Because if he bombs something, there’s a cushion, see. Momma is SMAHT. And he was resentful at first (but Mom, you said I CONTROLLED my performance in Middle School!) and now he’s seeing the light. But still not happy to do any extra work over and above what he needs to squeak by.
I’m loathe to reassure him that the 75 he got in the math test was ok when I am frustrated that he KNEW the material but didn’t understand the question or problem. It’s difficult to say, “Oh. And 80% on the human rights booklet? Self-graded? Oh. You didn’t feel like doing it. Well, that’s your responsibility and that’s your consequence.” I’m trying REALLY HARD not to push and to let him have the performance all to himself. My job is to catch him when he falls and help him get back up again. Not to keep him there.
Am I crazy? Is 80 good enough? Am I telling him the right thing when I say, “Well, are you REALLY satisfied with that grade or do you think you could have done better? Yeah, that’s how I feel, too.”
I think so.
But either way, this is all on him. HE’S doing it himself. HE’S learning to fall and get back up again. And even if he doesn’t make honor roll? I’m still hella proud of him.