If you think having a kid with learning difficulties is a problem, try having a smart kid! Somehow, the parents of smart kids end up being labelled as pushy, taking the kids to activities, music lessons, asking teachers for additional material and giving the kids extra homework. Doesn’t it make you wonder why?
Well, I have been asked many times by my clients and readers about what to do if school is not giving the kids what they need. Many parents express the fear of being considered pushy.
Every time I write an article about gifted children, I get a similar question.
"Ronit, what do I do? My son is 7, he already reads Harry Potter and he hates going to school because it is boring. Should I ask the teacher to give him extra activities? Should I buy him extra things to do at school or at home? Who is responsible for making sure he is not bored? If I go to school and talk to the teacher, she will say I’m pushy and take it out on him. What should I do?"
This is a good and very important question. As much as I would like to represent all the school systems or all the teachers in the world (someone said I should be the world teachers’ speaker because I believe they are doing a holy job) I cannot.
High ability and boredom go hand in hand and many parents find it hard to believe that being smart is sometimes as hard as having learning difficulties. For regular teachers with 25-40 kids in one class, the smart kids are hard work, harder than the ones with difficulties because the system caters for difficulties much better. The question about the responsibility is a very important question and I would love to answer it with my own story.
My daughter Eden (19 years old now) studied at an international school in Singapore. I do not know if you are aware of this, but International schools are expensive, but they are worth every cent.
When Eden finished year 4, we left Singapore to travel the world (fun, fun, fun) for 3 months and then moved to Australia. It took us time to find a school for her and because of the different school calendar (the international year starts in September and the Australian year starts at the end of January) and because she was had both academic and emotional skills, she was accepted into grade 5, where she spent about 4 weeks before the year ended. I wanted the school to put Eden with her age group and provide the extra stimulation for her abilities, but the principal said the school was "not equipped for this".
Conclusion #1: Academic levels are different between schools and this
Conclusion #2: This can become an issue when your child changes schools
When Eden went to year 6, I had a talk to her new teacher and said, "I’m sure the curriculum is not the same in Singapore and Australia, so please to let me know if there are any gaps in Eden’s knowledge so we can help her close them".
The teacher was very wonderfully nice and assured me she kept excellent communication with parents and she would let me know if she thought there were any gaps in Eden’s knowledge.
For a whole year, I was at school every morning and every afternoon. I talked to the teacher from time to time and she kept telling me, "Your daughter is great. She is brilliant, she knows everything and she has no gaps".
Parents love hearing things like this. Do you not love it when someone says great things about your children? I remember myself walking around like a peacock for having this super daughter who skipped a year (albeit against my professional advice) and functions as if nothing happened, but I had an uncomfortable feeling. Not because I thought she was not smart, but because I found it hard to believe that skipping an entire year of schooling makes no different, no matter how smart the child is.
Conclusion #3: Parents love when teachers say good things about their kids
Conclusion #4: Flattery goes only so far with some parents, especially parents of smart kids, who are used to compliments
The other thing that got me worried was the fact Eden never, in a whole year, brought home any homework. I know, I know, homework is a pain for the parents, but I believe it is important to know what your kids are doing at school. When my 6 year-old finished grade 1, she brought all her notebooks home. Only then, I realised what she was doing all year. I had only seen her homework notebook once a week, which had a list of spelling words and not even once a math or writing worksheet. I cannot stand it! I have so many parents saying, "Why didn’t they tell me at the beginning?"
Conclusion #5: Not all schools believe in homework
Conclusion #6: Parents who believe in homework are doomed to be worried and frustrated
Anyway, I went to Eden’s teacher again and she said, "You worry too much. She gets assignments, but she always finishes them in class".
I am sure on the staff room they have added me to the list of pushy moms and exactly like she said her report card was all A’s. I kept the peacock posture throughout the school break…
Conclusion #7: Parents that express their philosophy about homework are considered pushy
In high school, in grade 7, Eden went into the laptop program after tests and interviews (imagine me holding my hand close to my heart and saying "my wonderful girl"). Again, she was great, her end of term report card was all A’s.
One day, I went over her notebook and saw a fraction assignment with about 30 problems. No working out, only answers. As a math teacher, I never ever allow an answer without showing how they were worked out. My philosophy is that the journey is more important than the destination ;)
"Where is the workout?" I asked Eden.
"We don’t need to show our working out", she explained.
Conclusion #8: Not all math teachers share my philosophy
I looked carefully and found one mistake. I showed Eden her mistake and asked, "Eden, this is a mistake. Can you fix it?"
She looked at it and could not find the correct answer. She looked at it for more than 5 minutes and did nothing. I took a piece of paper and wrote the problem on it and asked Eden to solve it. She could not. She looked at me and said, "I don’t know how to do it".
I looked at her notebook with all the other problems. They all had answers.
"How did you get to those answers?" I asked.
"I copied them from the end of the book".
"Why?" I asked, although I knew the answer. Kids never copy from the end unless they are afraid of something.
"I have never learned to do fractions like this".
Conclusion #9: If the teacher is nice, it is no guarantee for my kids’ knowledge
Conclusion #10: If a parent has a feeling about something concerning their child – trust it (this is my #1 rule when working with parents)
Conclusion #11: Homework is a great way to find problems, if you want to find them
Conclusion #12: Report cards can me misleading (actually, the people who write them can be misled by the students)
Now you tell me, how does a kid get A’s in grade 5, A’s in grade 6 and A’s in grade 7 in Math and knows nothing about fractions?
Or maybe I should ask
How would being considered "a wonderful girl" help her survive high school if she could not understand fractions?
Who is to blame? Would it help us to blame anyone anyway?
Or a better question yet
Who is responsible for your kids’ education?
Yes, the education system is formally responsible, but can you take any chances?
So the only person left is YOU! The answer is YOU, the parent! Always YOU!
I thanked circumstances for helping me realise that my daughter’s education is my responsibility. I immediately got Math workbooks and fixed the whole thing in less than two hours. Do you know how many kids carry problems and fears all the way through high school only because they were sick when their class was learning something important? My daughter was not there when they were taught fractions and she was smart enough … to hide it. This is also harder with smart kids – it takes longer to find out when they do not know something. Most of the time, one session or two can fix something they carry from an early stage of learning. Learning is like a pyramid. If one block is missing while building it, building will eventually get stuck. Help them build a solid base, or they will have to rebuild it one day.
Because you are the only person who is there throughout your kid’s 13 years of schooling (teachers, principals and friends change) you need to make sure the blocks are there. They do not have to be perfect blocks, but they have to be there. A kid getting B’s or C’s is better than a smart kid cheating the way to A’s.
Your kid’s learning at school is your responsibility. If you think that the teacher, as wonderful as they are (and I do believe most of them are) will cater for each kid’s needs, you are dreaming. This wishful thinking can lead to "wishful sinking". The person who keeps your kid’s best interest is only you!
When parents express their fears of being considered pushy, I ask them, "What do you think will hurt you more: your kid not knowing fractions or someone calling you pushy?"