Friday, August 19, 2011

Monkey in the Middle School

Yep. I have a middle schooler. sigh. clap. creak. That last one was the sound my joints make in the morning. In the afternoon sometimes too.  I took a moment away from shopping for depends to try and sum up my thoughts.

I was more scared for Phillip to start middle school than he was. Mostly that is due to having been there and experienced the sea of choas meet hormones driven decision making that plagues this age group. The first 3 weeks have been interesting and I've kind of been letting him float and see where that takes us. We had 1 trip to health room and some kinks to work out- but all in all he seems to be doing well. He repeatedly says he's got it- so I'm gonna let him run with it until I hear otherwise. I'm trying not to be overbearing and trust him because sometimes as an involved parent, that can be the toughest thing to do. I am trying to make the transition from hands on- to guided leadership. I find that I do have a tendency to micromanage, but I think we both are learning valuable lessons in our relationship.

I ask about homework, but I don't ask to check it over as I did in elementary. I offer to help. It is usually declined. The 3rd day after school I am with the girls- somewhere between Bella's gymnastics and shopping for Lily's new soccer cleats when I get a call from the Middle schooler. 

-Hey mom, what's local mean?

I resist the urge to spew my political commentary on the segretory version that pops up here and tell him- of or pertaining to a common area. Part of a community.  why?

-I know the definition, but what does it mean to be a local?

Here or in general? Why, what is this for?

-I have to write an essay for Social Studies on whether or not I am local.

At this point, I literally have to reign in the barrage of comments leaping out of my mouth. I wish I had a magic lasso for times like these that my wild stallion of a mouth(that one was for you babe) leaps over the fence and I have to go hunt it down. Ok back track, be civil, educational, not emotional. Try not to make this into more than a social studies assignment.  I explain that local means to live or be from a certain area and part of that community.

-But mom, are we local?

Well bud, that depends on who you ask. We are a part of this community and we work and live here and have for almost 7 years. But many people feel you have to be born in a place and have family there to be considered local.

-Lily was born here, is she local? 

See in Colorado they call it being native. Here they call it local- but it is more of a generational thing. It's really hard to explain. Colorado is my home, but Toledo is also my home- I am native to toledo because I was born there- and used to be local to Denver- but now home is where you and your sisters and dad are.

-Yeah yeah yeah, but do you think I am local?

Do you feel local?


I think it's more about how you feel than what labels other people want to put on you. You can be whatever you want to be.  Just make sure you address what your teacher wants and give a well thought out opinion and you can't go wrong.

-Okay- got it.

I fume for quite some time. Is this teacher labeling my child or assessing him for his thinking skills?  I am not excited that the entire first year of middle school social studies is again being spent on Hawaiian Studies. I was so grateful for a substitute teacher his 5th grade year who devoted her 2 month stay to teaching states and capitols- which are not addressed in the elementary my kids formally attended. When she pre tested the class- less than 50% could name 5 states- she got answers like Chicago, Guam, Samoa.  Most 4th-5th graders in Hawaii can tell you Haole means without breath or what the ancient Hawaiian gods represented, but cannot name all 50 states much less their capitols. Don't even get them started on laws and government organization- it soon becomes self evident why I faced some recent problems with the DOE. I find that I am actually looking forward to the Middle School open house so I can get a feel for the school and this teacher.

The night comes, it is a whirlwind of families and zooming around to classes. The classrooms are hot- standing room only and many teachers remark at how surprised and grateful they are for the turnout. Many of us are coming from a school where parents were neither welcomed nor given a tour or open house- this is a novel concept and clearly appreciated. I have already communicated with a couple of teachers regarding storage of supplies and snacks for diabetic emergencies in class. See the law is nice enough to address diabetes here- so the first day of school Phil dropped off 3 boxes to 3 strategic locations and there were no problems. The school is very institutional and I think technically we are supposed to call it "modern" or "green" but as one mom said- it feels like a prison in here. It does. There is wall to wall shades of gray. Some might call them "clean lines". I say bare.  Lots of high windows to allow natural light, but not a lot of art or warmth. But for what the school lacks in architectual variety, it makes up for in staff. Phillip's teachers all seem to be inspired and genuinely interested in the students and their growth. I now have a better understanding of the advisory period which is called exploratory wheel. He has a caring, openminded advisor, who is also his math teacher. She is a bit soft spoken, but Phillip assures us she's not so soft spoken when kids aren't listening.

I am impressed by the language elective and it's function as in introduction to various languages and cultures more so than trying to impart vocabulary of a singular language. Later kids can choose which language they would like to explore. That makes sense to me. Informed decision making- brilliant. And finally we pile into the social studies room. And it all makes sense. The teacher prides himself in giving the most homework.  There is a lot of emphasis on reading the news. There is a lot of emphasis on written communication. Thought is encouraged. I can't argue with any of it so far, well maybe the homework part. Some of the homework is through computer programs and although the test can be taken to better the grade, he only accepts the 1st grade- so do it right the first time.  The unit is Hawaiian Studies. But included are world and local current events. He is very systematic and precise- and I have to agree with my husband's analysis- this is real world experience- the kid has to learn how to adapt to the different quirks and requirements of different people- it will be a good learning opportunity. And that's when it hits me. That is why middle school is so tough- you are barraged with educational learning- but it is also a time of immense emotional growth. The big transition. One teacher flat out says he doesn't grade on behavior- he didn't know how to act when he was 12 and that's part of this middle school learning process. He does expect the work- and he does allow kids to re do their work for better grades the entire time. Later in life it may not be an option- but here is the time to learn by doing. I am impressed. I appreciate the diversity among his 6 teachers and the varying levels of expectation. One expectation was always the same- they have to work hard. Some present it as quantity, others leave it up to individual determination for quality. A big part of learning is learning how to deal with people imposing the parameters. All in all it gives me hope for the monkey in the middle school and a little peace of mind that we are moving in the right direction.

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