Teaching limits

This one’s another entry that sat unfinished for a while. I’m not sure why I admit to these things.

I’ve said it before, but I can’t say often enough: I’m really proud of my daughter. She has a beautiful mind; but as sometimes happens, hers comes with a few quirks. Throw in a few genetic bumps and you’ll see a road to academic success that hasn’t always been smooth – despite her gifts.

Many people have said Beth’s teacher this year was a really good one. As far as I knew Beth agreed. She retired mid-way through the year though, and a newly certified former teacher’s assistant took over. Although the assistant had been in Beth’s class the last two years, and Beth adored her, I was a little worried about Beth losing a good teacher.

It turns out I picked the wrong time to worry.

I don’t remember how it came up, but Cheryl said to me the other night, “I hope Mrs. (the retired teacher) was wrong.”


“When she said Beth would never be a scientist, or earn a PhD….”

Cheryl kept on talking, but I only had ears for the first part. I was obviously supposed to remember this conversation, but somehow I didn’t. It was news to me – shocking news. Beth had a few problems a few years ago, but her grades have been exceptional and she’s shown a real enthusiasm for learning – science (and astronomy) in particular. What the heck was I doing when this came up the first time? I was mindlessly nodding my head as I played with the computer, no doubt.

It’s possible this happened while I was sick late last year, though I still should have noticed.

Maybe I’m missing something… something fundamental about the nature of school. I thought elementary school (besides teaching the basics**) was about encouraging kids to explore possibilities, about giving them the keys to the ground floor of a vast, limitless, and intriguing world. Beth is just starting to grasp some of the wonders of our world – with both hands.

Excuse me for using for being a bit juvenile, BUT WTF? (Somebody’s got a potty mouth tonight.)

I can understand not wanting to set a child up for failure, but isn’t it a little early for career counseling or collegiate academic advising? If fifth grade isn’t the time for dreaming of possibilities, when is? Maybe… just maybe, she should (at least) get to high school before we starting thinking about the right PhD program.

Just in case you didn’t catch on, I AM MAD. You know what? There isn’t a damn thing I can do about it, nothing that’s immediately satisfying anyway. I’m not usually a confrontational person – in person anyway. But given the proper motivation, I’ve been known to make an occasional exception.

You hear a lot of parents say they’ve tried, even ones that appear on the local news – with their arms conspicuously bound behind their backs. But I really think we have. We’ve encouraged her interests with trips to the library, books and videos. I’ve dug out my old telescope, braving the haze and light pollution to explore the solar system. We’re familiar with the space center and the local science museum (though I can’t in good conscience claim selfless parenting on this point – I love going). We’ve had many discussions that pushed the limits of my meager knowledge of science… like one we recently had about light. (Look! Up in the sky! It’s a wave… it’s a particle… NO, IT’S BOTH!) She’s done well academically (straight As). She’s done well in the activities we’ve tried to shore up her shortcomings (re: focus & Tae Kwon Do).

Maybe I need to learn to stop worrying and love the bomb. (Every now and then it’s fun to just type the first thing that comes to mind, even if it doesn’t make much sense or fit in a particular context.)

So what do I believe, or more appropriately, who? The new teacher… the one that’s been with Beth the last two years (1.5 as a classroom assistant), has since recommended her for every accelerated academic program they offer in middle school (meaning she’ll be bussed out to a school further away). One teacher has encouraged Beth to look to the stars (literally and figuratively), while the other preached tempered expectations.

You know what? I change my mind. There is something I can do right now. I can encourage my daughter to reach as high as she wants.

* Beth starts sixth grade next week.

** Florida is one of those places that has embraced standardized testing as the ultimate measuring stick for education. As a result, some teachers and schools teach what’s covered on the test… no less, and nothing more.

Give the gift of words.