Teacher Professor

January 29, 2011

Falling Into the Gap

Filed under: Exceptionality issues,Schools — Teacher Professor @ 1:30 pm

I had a revelation the other day.  I was telling a teacher friend about my son’s struggles with handwriting and how far he had come in reading and behavior, and she said “It’s too bad he’s struggling with writing- they do a lot of writing in third grade,” and I realized the vastly different perspectives that teachers and parents tend to have.

We parents want to look backwards.  We want to celebrate the growth of our children- babysteps that they are- “inchstones” as JoyMama calls them.  We find some joy in looking at the growth our babies have accomplished because we know the struggles that it has taken them to get to this point.  We arrive at Point F and we look proudly back at Points A, B and remember how long how long! it seemed before they moved off of Point D and look!  Here we are at Point F!

Teachers see a child who is at Point F and know that everyone else- that mythical typical child- is now on Point L and they sigh at the amount of work it is going to take to get the child moved there, knowing that meanwhile, that mythical typical child will have moved on to Point O.  Teachers look at the gap.  IEPs look at the gap.  Special eduation looks at the gap.  It’s their job to try and reduce that gap, and in order to do so, they have to keep measuring the gap- a distance in which the child keeps losing- either by falling farther and farther behind, or even simply by staying behind. 

But here’s the thing- we parents are very, very, very well aware of that gap as well.  We stay up late nights Googling because of that gap.  We cry to each other about that gap.  Every time we see the gaps between our child and other children, we are overwhelmed by the enormity of that gap- and how long that pain has been in our lives. 

Its that pain of the gap that is the reason parents stop coming to IEPs meetings, why they stop showing up to school events, why they give up. 

So  many teachers sit in judgment about “those parents”- those parents who don’t respond, who don’t come into the school, who stop answering phone calls.  They get frustrated when they know that the forward movement of the child could be helped if parents and teachers worked together.  I get lauded at times because “at least you’re a parent who cares”.  If there’s one thing I want my teacher friends to know is that all parents care.

All parents care.  We just don’t all know what to do or how to face the system.  We all have a hard time balancing the many, many demands in our lives.  And so many parents are frustrated because their requests are ignored; they are not provided information, because growth is still viewed in a negative light when the child is behind and we don’t know how to cope.  And when we are belittled, and ignored and the emphasis is on how much pain there is ahead, we sometimes opt out in order to cope the best or only ways we know how.  Some parents opt out with the help of drugs, alcohol, or in my case (at times), work.  Some stop showing up.  But we all care. 

 When the successes are ignored, when the growth is not acknowledged, when the pain of the battle is not shared, when there is not enough support, then parents and teachers stop working together.   And the gap between home and school widens. 

Sometimes, you have to look backwards to know how far you’ve come- and to help with how far there is to go.

January 27, 2011

Introducing…. Professors’ Son!

Filed under: Schools — Teacher Professor @ 10:08 pm

Please go and read Ray’s blog!! www.professorsson.wordpress.com .

Son of Professors Blog… coming soon

Filed under: Home Things — Teacher Professor @ 11:02 am

Well, I’m still working on finding a tutor- but his blog is set up, and that’s ready to go- other than the fact that I don’t have time to help him actually write it today.  I have a research meeting this evening, followed by a parent presentation about… autism. 

Ahhh… the irony.

January 26, 2011

Memory Suitcases and Writing Blogs

Filed under: Exceptionality issues,Schools — Teacher Professor @ 7:25 am

To add to his list of woes, Ray has “dysgraphia”- or severe problems writing.  I was extremely fortunate last week to have a good friend of mine who is a psychologist explain to me why some days his handwriting is beautiful and somedays.. well, let’s just say it’s not good.  As in illegible.  As in “oh, that looks like that just hurt to write”.

She also explained why he knows so much- ask him anything about anything and he can tell you and why it’s important; his real-world connections are out-of-this-world.  A teacher’s dream.  And yet, his sentences are short, choppy and stifled.  He can tell you a long, complicated story about why he doesn’t have his homework that involved the dog, was hilarious, and could have been true (do dogs really smell dangerous chemicals on science papers?).  And yet… his sentences say stuff like “I went Boston.  I saw grandmuthr”.

As a teacher, I know these kids.  I know that some days are better than others.  I know that there’s nothing but practice and high level motivation that’s going to help- give them something interesting to write about in a novel way, and keep at it- every day.  Teach them typing; teach them handy phrases to use; teach them the interest and value in writing.

I also know that breaking down the task helps kids- having them graphically organize their thoughts first and then write more and more complete sentences- building the story or paragraph by framing it first, rather than starting at the beginning and writing to the end.  Or having them say their ideas into a tape recorder first and then transcribe from there.  I knew that breaking it down worked for some kids.  I just didn’t know why.

Some teachers I used to work with could tell me “why”- they would say that he “doesn’t want to” enough, or that he “isn’t trying hard enough”.  And I knew that I could tell them that he DOES want to, and he is trying so hard, but that it’s hard, so incredibly hard for him.  That the more complex the writing, the more he struggles.  And yes, he’s smart and funny and can talk and read like a dream.  All of which makes me sound defensive and over-protective, whether I’m coming at it from a special educator’s perspective or a parent’s.  Because sometimes, he can.  Which most teachers see as a motivational issue.

But it was my psychologist friend who finally gave me real insight into WHY.  She noted that kids with dysgraphia often have working memory problems.  That is, they can remember stuff- they have it all in storage.  They can copy words beautifully.  Often, some can read very well.  But when they go to use it- when too many things are asked of them to pull out of storage- like what they want to say and how to spell it and how to hold their pencil and how to shape the letters and how to stay on the line and for God’s sake, apostrophes!- they get lost and forget the things they already knew.  In other words, they can have an enormous closet of clothes (words), but a really small suitcase (working memory) that they can pack things into at one time.  When kids shove more tasks into their working memory than it can hold, stuff falls out- and it’s not the same stuff every time.  There are more technical explanations, and you can read some here or here. Me, I like my closet analogy.

As a teacher, I thought I just needed to know if I should teach the child phonics or whole-word instruction, or a combination of both. Now I know that my job is also to free up some of his working memory so that he could pay attention to the parts he was working on. Ray is a good reader- writing is his difficult area.  So, we go with the meaning aspect, and lean towards teaching whole word spelling.  And focus on organizing his working memory so that he can access all of that fabulous ideas and knowledge that he has hung up there in his closet of memory.

I have LOTS of ideas!

But here’s the kicker that just gets to me.  I KNOW how to teach my son, but he won’t listen.  In his mind, I’m Mama, NOT his teacher and he refuses to take direction.  His report card showed that he went down in his grades… in writing.  Only in writing.  He got terribly, terribly oppositional last night when I suggested having a structured writing time together.  He had complete refusal- just plain wandering away from me as I tried so, so, so hard to get him to understand and believe that I can help.  From me…. from me, he wants love, structure, and humor.  NOT instruction.  sigh…

After crying- again– and margaritas with Vicki- again- I have a new plan.  One that involves bribery.  I’m going to pay him to write for me- $1 a blog.  As Autism Mommy Therapist reminded me- never underestimate the power of rewards.  And… I’ll bribe a college student to work with him (NOT one of the ones I teach- that would highly unethical. But don’t think it didn’t cross my mind.) I will provide the lessons, the activities, the assessments.  Teaching-by-proxy.

On Tuesdays, he’ll work on typing skills and start a blog. Stay tuned! On Thursdays, he’ll work on the framing skills- graphically organzing his writing- short drills of skills, novel ways to write, and common phrases he can use when he’s searching for what to write.

Here are some resources I’ll be using:

If you know of any favorite writing sites, please share!

I’m WILL help my son move up from a little overnighter suitcase of writing memory to a great big trunk, if I have to hide behind a tutor to do it…

January 24, 2011


Filed under: Home Things — Teacher Professor @ 6:17 pm

Elizabeth has a new project.  After successfully saving enough money (with some carefully engineered projects by Mama) to go to Harry Potter World for New Years, she wanted a new project.

Her choice- Ugg boots.  Boots that, to my mind, are some of the ugliest things on this earth.  I get the whole comfort thing.  I get that they’re warm.  We live in Southeastern Georgia, where the natives start breaking out the hot chocolate at 50 degrees and no one has an ice scraper.  I showed my neighbor this morning that a credit card edge will work as an emergency frost scraper- she didn’t know. But boots that provide heat insulation are not really an issue around here.

I grew up in snow country.  I grew up in Southern Colorado where to my child’s mind, a good snow fall meant “bungling up” in multiple layers, sledding down the hill that my mom had made a path with snowshoes on, and then inside for hot chocolate and snow ice cream.  Snow days were great!  They were not so great the years we lived in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island when I had to bundle up to dig out the walkway, the drive way, and the sidewalks and then when I had to be the one to break ground for the children to sled.  Where by the time the children were dressed in all of their layers, they were ready to come back in.  Boots?  I yearned for the days of flip flops and sandals.  Boots were necessary evils.

And so, my daughter, who lives in a place where we can wear flip flops 11 months of the year, wants boots.  And not just any boots- hot pink boots that will get dirty in any adverse weather.  But boots that have the UGG label on the “ohhh look at the cute button” button.

And she’s willing to work for them- hard.  She took on the list of household chores- no tv, reading, washing dishes, and making her bed.  She added and re-added her daily figures to determine that it would take her until March 18th to earn the $110 she needed for these boots.

But it’s looking like it might be earlier.  On the list we devised of “Ways to earn money” was “clean the dog yard”- a task we all hate and one that I hoped would have fixed itself in the months since it last got done.  It hasn’t. There was quite a lot of, shall we say, dog droppings on the ground.  We decided that cleaning the yard would earn the princely sum of $6- $7 if she did it without complaining and all at once.

Saturday morning found Elizabeth outside in her pajamas, before her morning shower, cleaning the dog yard- scooping and placing the “droppings” in the plastic bag, and scooping some more.

Ray?  Ray stayed inside and watched her.  “Ugh.  No way I’m doing that,” he informed me.  “Then I guess you’re not getting your new Lego set anytime soon, huh?” I told him.  “Nope,” he replied, completely unaffected by my use of the not-so-subtle sibling rivalry.

When our friend Kristen came over- very pregnant and with her very large dog to play with ours- she was most admiring.  “Wow, I’ll pay you $20 to clean up my yard,” she offered.

“Ray?” I asked, extending the offer to him to boost his fund considerably.

“Ugh, no way,” he repeated from the morning.

“Ok!” Elizabeth accepted.

When I think of my child who gags at bad smells, who HATES being around slimy textures, and who really is not fond of hard physical work, I realize just how motivated she really must be.

I can’t help but roll my eyes- and be really proud of her at the same time.  Elizabeth is prepared to go through an awful lot of “Ugh’s” for these Uggs.

January 21, 2011

PANDAS and Pots

Filed under: Exceptionality issues,Home Things — Teacher Professor @ 4:31 pm

Today… is better.  Not great.  Not anywhere close to “fabulous”, but certainly better.  My pot o’mothering may be cracked, the leaking has subsided. 

There were two things that came out of my post, though…

The first thing is an amazing resource I want to pass on.  A reader emailed me and asked if we had ever considered looking into the possibility of PANDAS as a label for Ray?  Here is the site at the NIMH… (Go ahead, read it- it’s GOOD!)  PANDAS stands for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections and is essentially all of the symptoms of Tourette’s, anxiety and much of what plagues my son. 

We HAD checked out PANDAS before, and the major issue is that Ray’s issues were not “sudden onset”- in fact, many of them were things that he literally was born with (As in, I noticed them from the time he was placed in my arms- eating has been an issue literally his whole entire life).  His symptoms for Tourette’s crept up on us until we noticed it when he was three and asked the doctor about it when he was four, and got diagnosed when he was six.  Add that to the fact that my father and brother both had Tourette’s… and well, he’s got Tourette’s.  Not severe.  Not unmanageable- most of the time.  But noticeable and an issue.  He’s flirted with several labels over his little life so far (ADHD, OCD, ODD, PDD-NOS- a whole alphabet of doctor visits), and Tourette’s and Generalized Anxiety Disorder- Not Otherwise Specified (GAD-NOS) are the ones we’re living with right now.  So… not PANDAS.  But I did figure that someone could use this information- someone looking for help, someone doing a Google search, might come across this blog and get pointed to the web site.  And we have noticed that he gets worse when he gets sick- consequently, we really focus on Vitamin C and zinc around our house. 

So, if you Google “panda” and “mother blog”, you just might get this one… or this blog here.  Depends on the type of panda you’re looking for.


The second thing to come out of that blog is much more disquieting.  I can see what Google search strings led people to my blog- interesting feature of WordPress.  One of the Google searches that was done yesterday was “I just can’t take my son’s Tourettes anymore“.  Just reading that string of words, and knowing that there was someone who had typed those words into the Google search box- looking for answers, looking for support, looking for… something.  You can sense her (I’m assuming it’s a her?) frustration, her anger, her pain and her feeling of being at the end of her rope.  I have no way of knowing if she commented, if she read anything, or if she moved onto something else.  I hope she found something to help. 

But to her, and to all of the other parents out there- I just want to validate that this sucks.  It really, really sucks.  I might be very, very lucky to have a degree in this, and to have had experience in teaching all kinds of kids.  I have excellent resources at my disposal;  I have lots of answers; I have lots of strategies.  But I don’t get to walk away from this.  I don’t get to find the magic pill/strategy/idea to make this all go away.  I don’t get to cure this.  All of us mommies (and daddies) out here in Autism/Disability/Exceptionality Land, we live this, every day.  Professors, therapists, doctors, web pages, and books have lots of ideas about how to make some things better- but next month, tomorrow, heck- by the time Ray’s finished playing his Wii game he’s on right now- that temporary answer/solution/strategy may not be working.  And our job is to find another professional, another web page, another book, and try something new again.  Or do something we stopped a while back and do that again.  Or just keep doing what we’ve been doing and give it more time. 

And as we do that, we might cry.  We might whine.  We might leak.  We might not handle things the way the books, the web pages, or the professionals told us to.  And our job- that we didn’t sign up for, that isn’t fair, that really, really sucks- is to keep trying. 

Because we love them.  Because we know that without us, they have almost no chance at all.  Because we have the strength to go on.  We get that strength from community with other parents, from resources, and from the moments when your child shows you that you are at the center of his being. 

Last night, after two days of storming, Ray turned over in his bed as I was leaving and said “I really love you, Mommy.”  And just like that, the deep crack in me sealed itself- and I was strong again. 

For now. 

Until the next time, when I will cry, I will hate his Tourettes again, I will not behave as I, a professional, would recommend.  And I will go and find the help I need.  Please, Google Searcher, keep searching.  Help and support are out there.  We’re here for you…

January 20, 2011

The Cracked Pot

Filed under: Exceptionality issues,OCD,Tourette's Syndrome — Teacher Professor @ 11:16 am

There’s an old legend, told in many different cultures, about the cracked pot.

A water bearer has two pots that he uses to carry water to his master’s house- one perfect that carries a full load and one with a crack in it that leaks, so that by the time they get back up to the house, there is only half a load of water left.  The cracked one is ashamed about how he is flawed and cannot do what is asked of him.  One day, he shares his shame with the water bearer who asks the pot to pay attention to the world around him the next time they are to haul water.

On the way down to the river, the pot, empty like his partner on the other side of the water bearer’s shoulder, notices nothing- a worn path and a few weeds.  But on the way back, as the water bearer turns around and hauls water back up to the house, the pot notices beautiful wildflowers on that side of the path.

When he asked the water bearer what it meant, the water bearer said “I noticed long ago that you were cracked and could not carry your full load of water.  so, I planted wildflowers along your side of the path.  Every day, you have been watering those flowers that I then pick and bring to the master.  Without you, he would not have had that beauty in his life.”

I heard this story today at yoga- after a particularly horrible and trying day with Ray.  A day in which I lost my temper at him; a day where I wondered if we’ve really made an progress at all.  A day where I felt very much like that pot that was so cracked and frayed that I’m not sure there’s any water left in me at all.  I certainly don’t feel like I am able to do the job that I was given.

It hurts so much when Ray is “irritable”- a really vague word that doesn’t even begin to capture his oppositional behavior that is primarily focused at me.  When I ask “How was your day?” and he yells “WHAT DO YOU CARE?!”  “When I say “Actually, I do.  I’d like to hear about it,” and he grunts and turns his back on me.  When I ask him to close the cabinets and he growls at me, dropping something out of the cabinet on the floor as he closes them and leaving it there.  When he informs me, in a snarly tone,  that he’s going to go outside to play with his friend, and I inform him that no, he’s going to show me his homework before he goes anywhere, and he throws his assignment book at me.  It hurts when I inform him that he’s not going to play with his friend until he goes to time out and apologizes to me and when I ask him to tell me what the poor choice of behavior was, he yells at me “I DON’T KNOW!”  I’m ashamed to say that I shrieked back at him… and placed him forcefully in his room, after ripping his Nintendo DSi from his hands.

Time out was clearly for me, not for him.  When he came out, I asked him to show me his report card that was stapled to his assignment book.  “I DON’T WANT TO!” he yelled at me- clearly, time out didn’t work for him.  I got very clipped and informed him that he was, indeed, going to show me his report card and we would talk about it and he had earned another 10 minutes of time out and every time he was rude to me, he would earn another minute.

By the time we were done, he had “earned” 22 minutes of time out.  He couldn’t tell me why doing well in school was a good thing; he couldn’t tell me what he had done well in; he couldn’t even tell me why he got a lower grade in one subject.  He told me that “All that matters is the CRCT (state test).  Who cares about the report card?”  He growled at me, grunted at me, turned his back on me.  All while I knew that he was hungry- but refused to eat.  All while ticcing, so I know that his Tourette’s was really acting up, so I know that his system is all jangled.  All while refusing to answer any questions, have any discussion.

And get this- his report card?  All A’s with 1 B (in writing).  I told him that I wanted to celebrate with him- that I wanted to tell him how proud I was of him.  But that I couldn’t because of his behavior to me.  That I was happy to see how hard he worked at school, at which he then said “I DON’T WORK HARD.  This is EASY!”  If he’s this way over a good report card, what’s going to happen when he decides he’s done with it all and it’s a bad report card?

Which is why I again lost my cool, informed him that we expect him to work hard, and get good grades and that his behavior was NOT ACCEPTABLE and sent him away for his 22 minutes of time out.  22 minutes where I cried.  22 minutes where I retreated into myself.  22 minutes where I wondered why even “good news” is bad.  After 22 minutes, he came out and then proceeded to “play” (ie. squabble) with Elizabeth, with Emily, with even the cat.  I gave him Ritz crackers, which Emily and Elizabeth gobbled.  I handed him back his DSi, which absorbed him quietly until he overheard Emily and Elizabeth and jumped up to ride bikes with them.  He wasn’t still; he wasn’t contained- he was provoking confrontation.  James came home finally, and I left for yoga and a moment of peace- leaving James with the fallout. 

It was a whole evening of my hating his behavior, hating his Tourette’s, hating his anorexia- fighting with James over letting him eat nothing a jam sandwich while I was at yoga- loving my child, but hating my response to it all.  The peace that I can manage to find in 22 minutes, in yoga, just pours away in the face of his intensity and the confrontations he seeks. 

I don’t know about any flowers along the path, but I sure know that my pot is cracked and that I’m leaking all over the place.

January 18, 2011

The End of Forever

Filed under: Uncategorized — Teacher Professor @ 11:00 am

My daughter and I just watched the very last “Hannah Montana Forever” together.  I guess it wasn’t so “forever” after all.

She was really quite upset about it.  Hannah Montana has been an element of her school culture since, well, forever.  Hannah Montana, as most parents of girls of a certain age all know, started 4 years ago in 2006- and as almost everyone knows, was an instant cultural hit.  Elizabeth went to Hannah Montana birthday parties, she was given the Barbie doll, she’s seen the movies, she sang the songs…  Because of Hannah Montana, Elizabeth wants to be a glamorous singer who gets to stay home and have the bestest friends ever.  Since Elizabeth is in 4th grade, Hannah has been a fashion, cultural role model for literally her whole school life.

My daughter is a kid who looks for formulas- who knows that if she does A, then B is going to happen.  She has watched Hannah, and just knows if she adopts her mannerisms, her accents, her fashion, her attitude, that she would have a fabulous life- complete with friends, money and great clothes. Hannah=happiness in my daughter’s eyes.

Needless to say, I have curtailed much of the Hannah watching.  She was allowed to watch the new episode of Hannah every week, but after a disasterous summer week of unsupervised television watching where she watched nuthin’-but Hannah for three days, and was a walkin’ talkin’ Tennessee string of attitude, Hannah got relegated to Sunday nights.

Hannah has always set up conflicting feelings in me.  On the one hand, I know how important it is to kids to understand the cultural touchpoints of their peers.  I learned about Dukes of Hazzard and Wonder Woman when I was growing up- even without a television.  Her message of “Girl Power” was one that I could see as a positive message.  But I hated how Hannah dictated how it was “cute” to talk back to adults, how her flip attitude made even rudeness acceptable and important things trivial, and how “friendship” was the end-all and be-all goal.  Along with a really cute hairstyle.  I’m certainly not the first to worry about Hannah’s effect on little girls.  You can read other’s comments here and here and here

And while I am not in charge of what culturally happens, I am in control of what happens on our television- so Miley/Hannah got relegated to Sunday nights- and because of this, Elizabeth sometimes even missed the show because she was busy with- well, her real life.

But, this past Sunday night, Emily was off-again, in their lightbulb friendship, and Mary Margaret, a new friend that Elizabeth’s been hanging out with, was unavailable, so… I filled in.  When moments such as the ending of Forever comes, it’s important to share them.   (Remember the end of MASH?  Dynasty? Happy Days?- I watched all of them in a group).

The show made for some really substantial conversation with Elizabeth… until the very end.  For those of you who don’t have tween-aged girls, Miley was going to go to Stanford (oh, really?!  I’m thinking that the chances of Miley Cyrus getting in Stanford are… not high) with her bestest friend Lily.  But along came a movie offer with Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise (oh really?!- I’m thinking that the chances of Miley Cyrus working with Spielberg are… not high) in Paris.  So, Lily was going to follow her to Paris, until Lily realized that the movie career was Miley’s dream, not hers, so she headed back to Stanford.

All of this led to a wonderful conversation between me and Elizabeth about how in life, your goal is to discover your dream and your talents and to pursue your own abilities- and how being a young adult is such an exciting time to discover what you’re good at.  Find what you love and work really hard at it.  This message was reinforced by Jackson, Miley’s brother, finally getting a job at something he was good at- testing video games (oh really!?) and he was working through dinner.

It was a good show.  I enjoyed the message, the music… everything.  Until the very end… when.. Miley gave up her dream to go back to Stanford to go to college with her bestest friend ever.

Young adulthood is where you stop defining yourself by your friends and start defining yourself by you.  It’s the short time in your life where you are not under the constraints of your family and not yet under the responsibilities of your own family.  It’s where you get to spread your wings and discover who you are in new settings, in new places, with new people.  It’s where you get to find out what you’re not good at, what you don’t want to do.  It’s where you get to fail with far fewer repercussions.  It’s where you get to pick yourself up and go there- wherever there is for you.  I was so disappointed that the show still didn’t let Miley become a young adult.  I’m not sure why I was surprised.

One of the things about today’s “kid shows” that concerns me are the lack of grownups.  Grownups may be around, but they’re just comic foils for the cute things kids have to say or to ruin the fun.  In “Good Luck, Charlie”, the teenage girl is the one imparting advice to the baby.  In “Sunny with a Chance” and in “Suite Life on Deck”, there aren’t even any parents at all- just a few inept teachers.  While I realize that this is children’t fantasy, there are no role models to show kids how to be an adult.  My shows, I just had to watch- they were fantasy grownups- Charlie’s Angels, Wonder Woman, and heck, even Three’s Company.  While I’m not sure that Jack Tripper was a great role model, I learned that adults have fun, adults have responsibilities, and adults have great hair styles (Farrah Fawcett flip, anyone?).  All I wanted to be was an adult.  Elizabeth’s generation?  All they want to do is stay in high school.

And so, Elizabeth’s cultural icon of her time- her Wonder Woman, her New Kids on the Block, her Beatles- has ended.  I got off the couch and asked Elizabeth “So… that’s it, then.  What on earth will you watch now?”

With no pause at all, Elizabeth said “Wizards of Waverly Place!  They have a special movie in two weeks on Friday night!  Can we watch that together, too?”  And the fashions and phrasings of Selena Gomez start filling the void.

How quickly icons are replaced.  I’m guessing that it will take a few years before Elizabeth can appreciate the transient nature of fashion.  I’m also betting that it’s just a few years until she starts feeling nostalgic- the same feelings I get for Cabbage Patch Kids and disco.  When she realizes how quickly “forever” can change.

These are the cultural touchpoints that define a generation- those things that everyone of this age can relate to.  It’s these media moments that define how kids talk (like… totally!), what they wear (leggings and headbands, anyone?), and how their hair looks (feathered bangs- I’m just sayin’).

But I can see clearly that it’s my job to teach her how to be a grownup.  Miley sure didn’t.  And I’m not sure where Selena is headed….


So I’m moving on/ Letting go/ Holding on to tomorrow
I’ve always got the memories while I’m finding out who I’m gonna be
We might be apart but I hope you always know/You’ll be with me wherever I go
Wherever I go– Miley Cyrus on Hannah Montana

January 17, 2011

Martin Still Has a Lot to Say…

Filed under: Exceptionality issues — Teacher Professor @ 12:25 pm

Last year, I commented on what I thought Martin Luther King would say about children with disabilities.  I still think he would have something to say…

January 13, 2011

Tiger/Panda Mothering

Filed under: Exceptionality issues,Gifted — Teacher Professor @ 1:40 pm

Let the new Mommy Wars begin.  There’s a new Mother out there who is also a Professor- and she’s got me thinking…

A quick background: Amy Chua, a Yale law professor, writes about her version of “Chinese mothering” with an overwhelming focus on excellence and performance- that produces results.  Her book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother“, has raised all kinds of conflicting issues with me.  Issues that tug and pull at my own beliefs, my own hopes, my own dreams for my children- and tug and pull at what I want to teach teachers.

In a recent essay from her book that was published in the Wall Street Journal, she states, quite clearly, with no apologies for Western cultural sensitivities:

Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

  • attend a sleepover
  • have a playdate
  • be in a school play
  • complain about not being in a school play
  • watch TV or play computer games
  • choose their own extracurricular activities
  • get any grade less than an A
  • not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
  • play any instrument other than the piano or violin
  • not play the piano or violin

This list continues and is expounded upon- even to extremes that she acknowledges might seem almost (her phrase) “legally actionable”, but are justified by the results- as she claims in her title “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior“.  A wee bit arrogant, that title.

Culturally, I was horrified to read this.  As a mother of children with differences, I was angered.  As someone with degrees in special education, I was appalled.  As someone with bright, talented children and someone with degrees in gifted education, I… can see some of her points.  It makes for a very schizophrenic conversation filled with lots of “yes, but’s” in my own head.  I wish that the response could be clear-cut, but it just can’t be- for me, for our educational system, and even for our culture.

Part of me is horrified.  All children can’t be #1- it’s statistically impossible, much less reasonable.  Even children who are #347, or who are #2, 435 in a school of 2,435 have value.  EVERYONE has value as a human being- and to demand accolades and awards to prove their value is demeaning to everyone. 

In addition, her dictates fly in the face of what I call “a happy child/a balanced child/a mentally healthy child”.  Limiting social interaction?  Providing no choices?  How on earth can you expect an adult who is socialy adept and a critical thinker if they have not been taught how to interact with others or to make choices for themselves?  How can you find a child’s talents and interests and develop those if you dictate to a child what they are to do with every minute of their day?  How can they become their own person? 

And how on earth can they handle failure- because with life comes failure- if they take it terribly, terribly personally?  In fact, she herself says that “‘The solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child“.  I can see why suicide is the highest in this country among Asian-American women aged 15-24.  Who among us hasn’t disappointed our parents in some respect- and felt bad about it?  I could not live with the knowledge that I had shamed my children, literally, to death.  

And by those values, I reflect my Western definition of “happiness” and my Western “Panda” mothering style that values my children’s desires.  My Western cultural values are clear that children have a voice in their own upbringing and education.  Clearly, Chinese cultural values are supremely self-confident in their parenting decisions- and arrogance (loaded cultural word choice) appears to be a means of achieving what you want.  You say “focused and confident”, I say “arrogant”.

But… buried in all of the diatribe and cultural differences, she does make some very solid points.  The reality is that Singapore and China are far ahead of us in math and science scores– and in some measures, even written English.  The cultural emphasis on hard work in academic subjects has direct economic consequences for our country- we are floundering in a system where the middle class is shrinking, the rate of poverty is increasing, and the few who are rich are getting richer.  Companies- global enterprises-are often getting richer by shipping jobs to… China.  Their economy has grown.  Ours has grown… but on whose backs?  I don’t know about your community, but we remained mired in 10% unemployment, tremendous state deficits and budget cuts.  People with money may be spending it, but China is reaping those benefits. 

A friend of mine is in the Ministry of Education in Singapore, and she says that they take very seriously the concept that minds are their best- and only- national resource.  Singapore is a city-country that sits on an island.  They must pour as much effort as they can into their schooling, because the creation of mind-power is their only option. 

And they do this through lots and lots of hard work.  Their students go to school six days a week.  Teachers are revered, and are given 1/2 days of teaching duties, and 1/2 days to plan and to educate themselves further in the subject matter they are teaching.  Parents are respected and there is no concept of the “well-rounded” child.  Their idea of “happiness” comes from achievement- from getting to the next level.  Happiness =  growth- and if you beat someone else, well, that makes it sweeter.  But my friend says that the greatest competitor is themselves- and they are happiest when they have beaten their own records. 

All of this is particularly relevant to me today.  Today, my daughter came home with a score of 100 on her math benchmark.  This means that she has learned everything there is to learn in 4th grade.

There are two facts that are problematic about this:

  1. First, the fact that I am nervous about telling anyone because I don’t want to be seen as a “show off”.  I don’t want to be faced with the label of “pushy mom” or “bragging”.  I can expect people to say “You think THAT’S a problem?!  You should see MY problems!”  But the reality is that this is a problem. 
  2. Because the second fact is that the school district- and now my daughter- are very happy to let her coast until September, where she can begin again.  Sure, they might throw her an “advanced” problem every now and then, but she met the benchmark- their job is done.  From now until September, 9 months from now, she will not receive what comes next in her learning.  I will be considered “pushy” if I ask for what she needs in order to continue to grow.  Her need for learning will not be considered an educational “need” because she’s met the minimum. 

And what does she learn?  She learns that school is easy- and will be unprepared for life when it is not.  She will learn that when you have done what is expected, you can stop- rather than continuing to work to the next level.  And life… life does not stop for you because you have met a minimum.  And more dishearteningly, she will learn to work less than children with disabilities with whom I work with who are working their tails off to complete their work.  The greatest irony is that she already works so hard to function through her language challenges with autism- she analyzes those incomprehensible 4th grade social interactions, and math is her “easy” comfort area.  I want her to continue to play with what comes next- not stop and wait. 

We know this in sports- a very American cultural value.  You can see children, who are not practicing reading, practicing their hoop shots.  They practice throwing the football.  We seem to understand that in order to achieve excellence with the body, you have to provide the body experiences.  We call it “playing” football, or basketball or baseball.  But the mind…?  Here in America, we’re less comfortable with exercise of the mind.  Parents who take their children to enrichment activities are “pushing” their child.  Parents who ask for “more” (which isn’t more, but is the same amount of struggle we’re asking of other students), are perceived as “pushy”.  Asking for more math is “work”, not “play”.   Tigers push- Panda… well, pandas enjoy.

There is a cost for both Tiger and Panda mothering; costs that are defined in terms of economics, personal satisfaction, achievement, and even lives.  Interestingly enough, both tigers and pandas are endangered animals: tigers, in part, because of the size of their ambition and hunting ranges that are being restricted, and pandas, in part, because of their desire for bamboo- and only the comforts of bamboo- for nutrition.  One’s desires are too large- and the other’s too small. 

The solution, of course- if there is one-  is balance, but is balance possible?  We have to teach our children that excellence requires hard work- a lot of hard work.  And that you can enjoy the process of work- and that enjoyment is a goal as well.  I want to teach children- and the grownups teaching them- that one person’s success does not take away from another’s; that the best win is the one in which you beat yourself- that happiness comes from growth.   I am also  Western enough to believe in self-determinism- that it’s important that children learn to control their own lives.  I only hope that there will be rewarding, well-paying jobs for my individualistic, self-determined children.

So, here is my list for my children:

Here are some things my children, Elizabeth and Ray, are sometimes allowed to do:

  • attend a sleepover
  • have a playdate
  • be in a school play
  • complain about not being in a school play
  • watch TV or play computer games
  • choose their own extracurricular activities
  • get any grade less than an A
  • not be the No. 1 student in every subject
  • play any instrument other than the piano or violin
  • ….
  • fail
  • dust themselves off, get back up and try it again.

Here are some things my children, Elizabeth and Ray, are always required to do:

  • Try more than they think they can
  • Do more than they want to
  • Understand that there is enough succcess for everyone

And so I will tap my inner Tiger Mother, and I am going to go down to the school to ask for more advanced work and I am going to check out the EPGY online math program- and I’m going to do so for my inner Panda mother because I want  my child to learn the value-and the enjoyment- of working with what comes next. 

I know you’ve heard it a thousand times before. But it’s true — hard work pays off. If you want to be good, you have to practice, practice, practice. If you don’t love something, then don’t do it.
Ray Bradbury

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