First Grade Makes Me Feel Stupid


Sometimes when I think about all the things I need to say, I don't even know where to begin. Kinda like when my kids have been "playing quietly" in their room for the last half-hour and it's been so nice and then I realize that their playtime has included soap or markers or a meat-tenderizing mallet and things are dripping from the walls or staining the furniture and the mattress is pulled off the bed and I can't see the floor because they've strung out all the toys from their closet in an attempt to make a "clubhouse." And then I stand there like a slack-jawed moron unable to say or do anything for a few moments because, well, some things are just totally freaking overwhelming. You know?

Hey, it happens. The boys' wooden bunk bed has the meat-mallet marks to prove it.

But I digress.

This is going to be a long post because I have a lot to mull over. Lately I've been overwhelmed not by messes (although as usual, I've still got more than my share), but by Colin and his never-ending struggle with school. You might remember that last year, when he was in Kindergarten, I wrote this post. And things haven't changed much from Kindergarten to first grade. Initially, I thought he was doing better ... but as the year has progressed, he's slid back into the same old patterns. I dread picking him up from school because nearly every day, there's a new and disappointing note written in his planner: "Colin had a rough day today. He was acting very silly in art." "Colin was bothering other students while they were trying to work." "Please remind Colin that he needs to follow procedures." We've had missed recesses. Chats with the teacher. He's always getting seated separately from the rest of his class or having to eat by himself at a solitary table ... most recently because he said "pile of poop" at lunch.

I don't want to be one of those parents who sends a straight-up brat to school and then tries to make excuses for his bad behavior. I'll be the first to admit it: Colin can be annoying. He can. Number one, he's a six-year-old boy, and spends a good amount of time at home perfecting the art of annoying his little brothers. Number two, he likes to make people laugh (wonder where he gets that?) and will be silly when he shouldn't, just to get a chuckle from his classmates. I am totally admitting all this.

But.

I can't help but wonder how much of his acting out can be attributed to sheer boredom. He's reading far beyond grade level. He complains to me that his math sheets are too easy, but he says when he asks his teacher for harder work, she just gives him more of the same stuff to do. He brings home a reading book that says, "Look, look! There is mama duck. See mama duck with her babies," and then wants to Google information about the Higgs boson or watch a video about parasitic wasp larvae on YouTube. See the discrepancy? The things Colin wants to do at home - the things he willingly, voluntarily seeks to learn, the information he hungrily devours - are vastly different from the stuff he's doing ad nauseum at school.

Not too long ago we got a call from his teacher, who suggested that we have him tested for ADD. And y'all? I refuse. Because I know he is capable of paying attention and staying on track. I know he can. I see him do it all the time at home. When he's engrossed in something, he will even tune out his little brothers - which, I can attest, can be nearly impossible. And while I understand the school's need to have all their little lambs in a line, I cannot bring myself to medicate my son just so he'll act the way he's "supposed" to - especially if the reason he's acting out is because he's bored to tears.   

Last year he started seeing the gifted (TAG) teacher twice a week. At first, it was with a small group of other kids - but then the TAG teacher emailed his classroom teacher with the suggestion that she see him one-on-one because he needed more advanced instruction, saying, "I imagine we will have to make concessions throughout his school career." But that was last year. This year, some district-wide changes to the TAG program were made, and now he only sees the TAG teacher once a week - for half an hour - with a group. It's frustrating. The need for "concessions" has apparently been forgotten.

We talked about accelerating him a grade last year, but decided against it because we were afraid he wasn't mature enough to fit in with kids who are a whole year older. We were basing that on his tendency to act out in class, though. Maybe we made a mistake. Because if that tendency is due to him not being adequately challenged, it might have disappeared had we sent him directly to second grade. Who knows?

I'm not saying all this to brag about how smart or advanced my kid is. Trust me: this is not an easy thing to deal with. I'm saying this because I feel clueless and dumb, and I don't know what the eff to do, and I'm hoping one of y'all can shed some light on the subject. Because I? Am floundering. Someone is dropping the ball here. Is it us? Is it his school? I don't know. I really don't. All I know is, I can't shake the sick feeling that we're not doing him justice, and that his bright little brain is dimming by the day. Like we're trying too hard to stuff him into some box that he just doesn't fit into.


I thought about homeschooling him, but haven't had the confidence to make the leap. I mean - I've read a lot about it, but that's different than actually doing it. You can read up on surgical procedures, too, but I'm pretty sure performing one is a whole different ballgame.

But then I stumbled across this article in our local paper. It's basically opening up an option that I hadn't heard much about before: an online public school. Essentially, it's like a public school/homeschool hybrid. They provide you with a curriculum, a teacher, an agenda - and it's up to you to make sure that the work is done and help with enrichment.

There are pros and cons to this. First, it involves me trying to keep Colin on track with his schoolwork for five to seven hours a day. I have trouble getting him to do his homework right now without an argument - but then again, that's the standard first-grade drivel that he hates. As far as I can tell, acceleration is a definite option in this online school setup; it seems to be easier to customize the work than regular public school.

Second, I'm going to have three more kids to deal with while I'm trying to supervise school. Three boys ages four and under. Is this even possible to do, unless you're Michelle Duggar?


And third? If we're going to do it, we have to enroll by March 1st. That's like, one week away. We have to decide all this in a week.

My head hurts.

But as much work as this new setup sounds like it will be for me, I can't help but think of the profound relief I'll feel when I don't have to worry about a new note in the planner every day. My heart won't have to break when I think of my little man being ostracized from the rest of his class because he "can't pay attention." I hate that they don't understand him, or see how he can be, or notice his potential, and that there aren't enough available resources to give him what he really needs.

So what do you think? Is this a good option, or am I just so desperate to break the cycle of bad notes that I can't see clearly?

Help us, y'all. Please.

14 comments:

  1. Anonymous21/2/12

    Rita,
    Going to play devil's advocate...

    Why not have him tested for ADHD? If you are 100% sure he does not have it then have him tested and use it to help fight for him in school. If it ends up that he does have it then the school legally has to help him. Either way you can use it to his advantage. Don't think that testing is just going to lable him... it can help him. My child was test last year after a horrible year in K. She was not progressing and they kept telling me she was young and as she matured reading would come. After paying $1,000 for testing because the school would not help we found out she had dyslxia. Now, I know that your problem is not the same but they thought my child was just young and could not behave. No she could and was smart enough to know she should be able to read better so she acted out to avoid reading. Just know that testing can help and can give you the legal right to fight for your child. They should not just test for ADHD but they should do a full battery of tests including IQ and others so you would then have more infomation on your side.
    What I have learned is that with public schools you are not going to get anything special unless they legaly have to give it to you. Testing is one way to make sure this happens.

    Just my two cents...

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  2. Oh I hurt for you -- as a teacher and as a mother. First, you've nailed it, his behavior is because he is board or not having his educational needs met. Sadly, a lot of times in the public schools this does not happen, because it's really a one size fits all kind of model. It doesn't help kids like your son, who are above grade and those who are below grade. Kids like him fall thru the cracks all the time. I'm glad you've noticed this in first grade -- when there is time to do something meaningful!!

    My suggestion would be this: meet with the teacher and the TAG coordinator and TAG teacher together and come up with a strategy for your son. You and the teacher need to come up with a plan for him when he finishes his work and needs more, you need to be honest with her, and tell her what he needs, what he has said to you and so on. I would also suggest some sort of behvaior contract or tracking system that is sent home every day with him -- so that you know what you need to work on at home. The teacher needs to be prepared to help him when he is thru with his regular work. Sure, this will take some extra work and planning on her part -- but it's part of her job. He needs to be taught what to do when he is board. She also needs to realize that ADD is a cop out -- I'm sorry, but it is. Sure there are kids who are truly in need of ADD services, but as a teacher, I see that just saying someone is ADD is so overused. To me it's a sign of a lazy teacher. It's very obvious, at least to me, that the teacher does not want to "deal with" your son. So you stick to your guns on that, and you insist that she step up and do her job. Part of teaching is juggeling and meeting the needs of different kids -- sorry but it is, step up or get a different job.

    The other thing is to, that most parents do not realize is that kids who are above grade or gifted can also qualify for special services thru school. You might ask for him to be put on a 504 plan -- which is modifications or a plan to give him what he needs. Extra work that is above grade level, or that is challenging to him in some way. Skipping a grade can be an option, but you have to consider how he'd do socially in 2nd grade, and do you want him to be the youngest kid in the class as well?

    Finally, the online schools can be good. Just make sure they are accredited and if you can talk with other families that use these. You don't want to sink time and money into something that ends up being sub-par. I'm glad you realize that homeschooling is easier said than done, but you can do if, if you plan out what you're going to do, find a homeschool group in your community to be part of and are willing to out the time into it.

    Good luck and I look forward to hearing what you end up doing....good luck Colin! You can do it dude!

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  3. I had such a long thing typed out but it disappeared! Argh! I agree with the above but want to add that there are a lot of resources and forums online dedicated to parents of gifted children. Even if your son's IQ is just shy of a formal gifted identification (my daughter was tested twice and each time was only two points under the score required for the school to consider her gifted), you can learn a lot from these kinds of sites.

    Your son needs you as his advocate, so keep trying to work with the school. It's not all on you; the school needs to be on your side! Familiarize yourself with state laws. The school might be required to test your son if you ask them to.

    And for God's sake, what's so wrong with poop humor in the cafeteria?! Isn't that what all first grade (and on up to 12th grade) boys joke about? I'd hate to see how the teacher that reported that would respond to a penis joke!

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  4. Clair21/2/12

    This is tough stuff. I've really been struggling with Jonah and school this year, too. In 2nd grade CA kids get to take the STAR test which is what they use to gauge progress toward NCLB standards. The STAR test only evaluates math & language arts. For an ENTIRE year guess what Jonah has been doing? Math & LA. Virtually nothing else. He is already several years ahead in LA and is also advanced in math. He is bored to tears and really dislikes school because of it. All the focus is on perfect little lines, quiet children, and filling in little bubbles. This is not what learning should be. I am so, so disappointed.

    I've been researching alternatives. We have a magnificent charter school 25 miles away and, if I could get Kevin on board (no luck so far), we'd be there in a heartbeat. The school has 2 options, one of which is a home school option. Jonah's BFF, who sounds a lot like Colin, will be doing that option at the charter. I personally feel Jonah thrives in social environments so I like the other option which is 3 days a week. All of it involves child-led learning. There are standards and benchmarks that must be achieved, but it's not done in the prison-like setting that schools have become.

    I've become really jaded about public school options. I don't blame Jonah's teacher - I can see her frustration, too. But the focus on standardized tests is a real disadvantage for children who are advanced. All the resources are going to kids who need help making achieving the baseline. The kids who are beyond that are not getting any attention and their educational needs are not being met at all. It's disheartening. Also, I gotta say it, I hate the single file line, no talking, recess as a reward mentality of schools, too. It's so counter productive and militaristic.

    All of this is to say, I would go with the home school option. You're so smart and on top of it. I know it will be tough stuff, but I have no doubt that Colin will do better in an environment where he is free to explore his own academic interests in a loving environment instead of isolated in some boring worksheet centered classroom.

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  5. I would love to meet you in person, because I'm pretty sure we would be fast friends! My now-9-year-old daughter went to public school for Kindergarten. She was also very advanced, academically, for her age, and while she didn't really have behavior problems, she definitely seemed bored. And, I think if she had been wired differently (like my boys) we would definitely have seen more negative comments coming home. We examined all of the options--private school, homeschool, TAG programs, etc. (I didn't know about public online schools at the time, and still don't know much about them). We shied away from homeschool, because we didn't know many people, personally, who we thought had done an excellent job with homeschooling their kids, and I was completely unsure of myself to attempt the venture. But my husband and I read a book that changed our thinking: "The Well-Teained Mind" by Susan Wise Bauer. Originally, we thought of it as supplemental material, but then we had an opportunity to move overseas, and we didn't want to enroll our daughter in the foreign public school, so we decided to take a temporary plunge into homeschooling, "just to see how it went."

    We were hooked. We were able to control and be completely involved in the educational process. We were able to use learning techniques that worked well for our daughter, and we were able to let her go at a pace that better met her needs. And, she flourished.

    We have stuck with it all this time and now have our oldest son as a (Kindergarten) student, as well. (We have a total of 4 kids, 1 girl and 3 boys--ages 9, 6, 4 and 9 months--so it's definitely possible to do with littler kids around). "The Well-Trained Mind" makes curriculum planning fairly easy--especially for someone, like myself, who had no clue where to start with that.

    We also joined a wonderful group about a year-and-a-half ago that supports parents on the homeschooling journey and provides a jumping off place for curriculum, as well. It's kind of a homeschool co-op, called Classical Conversations, where kids go to class with other kids one day a week and are taught at home the rest of the week. They have campuses all over the U.S., and you can find out if there is one near you by checking their website: www.classicalconversations.com.

    I'm no expert, but I don't think your son has ADD. I think he is just bored and is needing more than his current situation can offer. I'm not one of those people who think homeschooling is the only solution, or even always the best solution, but it has been wonderful for our family, and I'd like to encourage you not to rule it out.

    I won't say we haven't made any mistakes, or that there haven't been days when I wondered what the heck we have gotten ourselves into or if we are truly capable of educating our children. But, at the end of the day, we have a more genuine love for our kids and a more genuine concern about their education than any other teacher ever can.

    I truly hope that you and your husband are quickly able to reach a decision about what is best for your son and what is best for your family, because I know that where you are now is a frustrating and stressful place to be. You are welcome to contact me if you have questions about homeschooling or about Classical Conversations: mandimwattsATgmailDOTcom.

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  6. It's you. I'm sorry but it is. Our jobs a parents is to seek and do whats best for our kids, if that means finding a way to put him private school or home schooling, do it. It's hard on the whole family, I get it but I speak from experience here. My brother was gifted, really gifted, like tested out of high school at 13. I want you to note the "was" in that sentence. My parents chose to let him continue at the schools pace because of social maturity and it was a mistake. He was bored and didn't associate with his classmates anyway regardless of intention. He now works as a welder. A welder....making 10 bucks an hour. He is still an amazing guy and still a genius but stuck in the mold. This is what your doing to Colin. Suck it up. Set him free. Your good parents and can confront any troubles that come your way when they come your way, not before. Good luck.

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  7. Anonymous21/2/12

    I have a very smart first grader as well. He will spend hours looking at google earth and looking up random things if we let him. Did you know you can tell an alligator and a crocidile apart by their teeth? When an alligators mouths is closed you can't see its teeth. When a crocodiles mouth is closed some teeth stick out. I didn't know either.

    My husband and I seriously considered doing homeschool the year before he started kindergarten because of what we had heard from other parents about the public school he would be going to. We put him in the lottery for the two nearest charter schools to us and he got into one and we love it. They try really hard to keep kids challenged. A few of the kids in his class go and do math with the second grade. His teacher makes a separate spelling list for him with more difficult words and the take home readers he gets are at a 6th grade level. If you decide to keep him in public school I would set up a conference with you, his teacher and the TAG teacher. Sadly teachers are unable and sometimes unwlling to accomidate children without a lot of proding from the parents.

    I would ask if it is possible for him to do math with a higher grade, or at least get harder worksheets in class. The teacher should be able to do things like having a separate spelling list for him or changing an assignment to make it suit him better. Since he loves researching things maybe the teacher would let him research an aspect of a unit they are studying and share what he learned with the class.

    I think homeschool is a great option but it does take a lot of work. I have a friend who does it with here oldest two who are 7 and 5. She also has a 3 year old and a 1 year old so it is possible to do with little ones at home. Remember if you do school at home you don't have to do it in one 5 hour chunk. You can spread it throughout the day.

    Don't be too hard on yourself. It sounds to me like you are trying to find the best option for Colin and your family. If there are any charter schools around with a good repuation I would try to get him into one. Sometimes it can be easy to get in during the middle of a school year.

    Good luck and don't worry. It's only first grade and I'm sure you will be able to help Colin love learning.

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  8. Anonymous21/2/12

    You can always try it. He won't be behind if you put him in regular 2nd grade next year.

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  9. Anonymous22/2/12

    I don't have school age children but I want to applaud you for not going the ADD route. I think that in many cases it is like the above commenter said, a cop out. My boss's son is the sweetest laid back kid I know (not sure where he gets it:)and sharp as a tack. He's always struggled in school. She decided he had ADD and put him on medication and guess what, he still struggles in school. He's bored out of his mind. I don't think all the blame should go on public schools either, my nephew was sent to a private Catholic school until second grade, he hated it. Loved his friends but hated school. My sister finally switched him to a fantastic public school and he has excelled since the moment he walked in. He has even said to me, "it's a lot harder, I like it a lot". He's 10! I also went to a private Catholic school and I was bored out of my mind. I estimate out of the 35 hours a week we spent there, 10 of those hours were spent in religion class or mass. 10! But the public schools in my area were not an option. I think the best thing to do would be to finish out the year and then see if he can test up a grade. Yes it's socially hard at first but so is being the kid who is always in trouble and singled out by his teachers. The older kids may even help his maturity level. He is still so young, I think the transition might be easier than you think. I agree homeschooling would be really hard for you with the 3 younger ones and he might end up being even more bored than he is now. Have you looked at charter schools in your area? That might be a great option for him. Whatever you decide, I think you are a great mom and he is going to be an awesome man one day. School is a struggle for a lot of kids, just give him the best opportunites, love and support and he will do just fine.

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  10. I don't have much to add to what everyone else has already said. But I think you already know the answer to this question in your heart.

    I don't homeschool, but I know a lot of people who do and it CAN be done with little ones in the house. You don't have to stick to the regular school hours and homeschooling takes a fraction of the time than regular schooling does. From what I understand you can get it done (for his age) in about 2 hours a day.

    Also, make sure he doesn't lose his love of learning because he is in an environment that is not conducive to his personality. I would hate to see his little spirit broken because someone thought it did not fall in line according to their rules.

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  11. I've heard rave reviews about the online public school as well, people really like it. However I would have the same concern as you....trying to supervise little ones while trying to help him with his schooling. The charter school may be a great idea. The one we have here is free to enroll (we live in a small town, so it may not be free other places). I don't have direct experience with it but I know several friends who take their kids there and absolutely love it. The kids are challenged in a fun way and the lessons are adapted to their specific learning styles. It might be worth looking into. Good luck!

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  12. I'm going to tell you that your story sounds very much like my daughter's first grade year. She got in trouble, she needed harder work, they said she was ADHD (she is) and wanted her medicated. No matter how many times I asked for more challenging work, the answer I got was that she was emotionally immature and they refused to advance her. There were a lot of straws that went into weakening the camel's back, but the final straw might have been the fact that in the November parent/teacher conferences the teacher announced that my daughter would probably be held back not because of academics but because of maturity. You can decide to fail a kid in May when it is only November? Really?! I never, ever wanted to homeschool, but if they were giving up on her in November, our house was total chaos, and they were threatening paddling and or suspension, what was I supposed to do? I pulled her out at Christmas break, began homeschooling 2nd grade work in January and all I can tell you is it was the very best choice for us. Have confidence that you can do the homeschooling if yuou want to, but remember that it is a lifestyle, not just a schooling choice. Best of luck!
    Linda
    Homeschooling one child for five years and always looking for homeschool resources to make our days run smoothly!

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  13. I have read some comments above, so bear with me if I repeat something. I have 4 kids that range in age from 5 to 1. Two points, one is the squeaky wheel gets the oil. If you decide to stay in that school, go in and make a nuisance of yourself. Sure, some of the admins may get tired of you, but if you keep pushing, the correct teacher for him (or the gifted program, whatever) will come out. Second, I actually wouldn't homeschool him because I think it would be too hard and distracting with the others around. Also, it sounds like he needs the peer interaction, some kids need it more than others. I would, however, look for a different school. If you can afford a private school, or if you can find a charter school that is set up to take him and his gifts, then do it. We send our older kids to a Montessori school just for that reason, and they work to their skill level, not their grade level. Every time I hear a story like this (and there are a lot on the web anymore) i am so greatful that we have that option here. I was a bored to death child in school - it's no fun. He sounds way smarter than I was, so I really feel for him. Good luck!

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  14. I know I'm a little behind in my comment, but I'm going to give it anyway...

    If he really is that smart, he's not going to fit in with the kids in 1st grade either. Kids who are gifted tend to be the "loner" types. I mean, who want's to play with such boring "babies" of 1st grade who are not on the same level as him?
    So, hurt him by putting him in a grade above or by keeping him in the grade he's in, he's kind-of going to have to "figure it out" either way. I would think that the challenge of a higher grade at least is a start...

    That's just my little opinion. Take it for what it is...

    Oh, and his teacher sux!

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