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Thursday, December 02, 2004

Parent teacher night

I have extremely vivid memories of waiting at home while my mom & dad went off to parent teacher night to find out how I'd been doing in school.

Each time they made this pilgrimage to my school I sat in my darkened bedroom in a state close to panic trying to think of something... anything... good that my teacher might have to say about me. 

Sitting there on the foot of my bed staring out the window, I usually came up empty.

When my ears picked out the familiar sound of the engine and the headlights of the family car splashed across the front of the house announcing their return, I went into full panic mode.  What would they say?  What would they do?  How could I possibly face a new chapter of this horrible twice-yearly ritual.

Simply put, I was a disaster of a student. 

All modesty aside, I was a bright kid... smart as they come.  I knew it.  My parents knew it.  And worst of all, my teachers knew it.  What nobody knew was why a kid who consistently scored off the charts on standardized tests daydreamed his way through almost every class... and ended up waiting like a condemned prisoner for his parents to return from parent teacher night.

Back in those days they didn't know about ADD.  They didn't test for dyslexia.  And they certainly didn't know what to do with an 'under-achiever'.

From 4th thru 6th grade, while my family lived in San Diego, I was placed in a program for gifted children.... kids whose IQ scores were well into a range that would burn your hand if you were dealing with temperatures instead of 'smarts'.

The sum total of the math skills, and a good portion of the other academic knowledge I possess today, are a direct result of those three precious years.  This isn't to say that I got good grades or blossomed academically. 

I didn't. 

However, for the first time in my life I found myself in a learning program that held, however briefly, my attention.  What's more, for the first and only time in my academic career I actually experienced the warm satisfaction of mastering a few precious bits of useful knowledge. [more about this time period in a future post]

When we returned to the east coast I was thrown back into the academic pool to sink or swim, and ended up graduating deep in the lower half of my high school class.  An unremarkable college career followed, completely lacking in distinction or honors... and somehow, largely with the help of the tools I received in 4th, 5th and 6th grade, I managed to graduate with a B.A.

Why am I boring you with this ancient history? 

Because last night Zahava and I attended parent teacher night at our children's school.

The news we got from Ariella's teachers was predictably wonderful.  She fools around a bit too much with her friends... but her grades and overall marks are exemplary.

Gilad, on the other hand, has unknowingly started down a path I know all too well. 

His teachers said he is one the brightest kids in the class.   They gushed about how wonderfully he participates in discussions (when the mood strikes him).  But they also sadly placed before us a list of incomplete homework assignments and poor grades.  "When he is interested", they said, "he absorbs information like a sponge".  But if the subject fails to capture his attention... bupkes! 

Does any of this sound familiar, mom & dad?

As we parked the car in front of the house and strolled up the front walkway, I could see the silhouette of Gilad's head in his bedroom window, back-lit by the glare from the hallway.  He had clearly been waiting, as I used to wait, for the jury to pronounce sentence on a conviction long since handed down.

He's 9 years old.  His path through life can't be completely preordained, can it? 

We've had him tested and he doesn't have any of the ADD or dyslexia that I struggled with.  But he is every bit the daydreamer I was/am.  He is me, and I wish to G-d that I could have passed a richer inheritance to him.  Why was Ariella the only one to get my wife's ability to focus.

I hurt for him to the point that I asked Zahava to let me talk to him... to sit him down... hand him his report card... and calmly ask him where we (meaning all of us) can go from here.  She agreed.

After he had digested the bad news, we started talking about what it means to succeed, and what success - specifically academic success - means to a person's future.   We talked... he listened... and then he talked some too. 

I think (hope) we made progress.

I'm hoping that with our help, Gilad can escape the horrible cycle of failure and distress that plagued my every step through the academic world.

I'll let you know how we do.


Posted by David Bogner on December 2, 2004 | Permalink


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That's hard - obvioulsy for both parts. Yours, though, is an advantage that many kids don't have: parents who know.
Intelligence, as we know today, is measured and must be measured under a diversity of aspects.
I was always a loser in math. I was repeatedly told so. Until I had lost all interest in math and nature sciences. Because I was told I was too stupid.
At school, there was not a single teacher caring for the roots of my problem; instead, I was asked to join my father to teacher's day, where my math teacher exemplified my stupidity in front of us all in pervert delight.
Because of this, I have my struggles in academic life until this very moment, and I am tempted to curse this evil's causer every day from the bottom of my heart. Unfortunately, I mustn't.

What I am trying to say is, in short, that things will be allright, because Gilad is everything else than left alone in this. Cure begins in cognizing the problem, I'd say.

Posted by: mademoiselle a. | Dec 2, 2004 2:38:41 PM

p.b. the problem started earliest when I got bored with maths in primary school -- addition & subtraction exercises, columns over columns, week for week. Instead of solving the exercises, I soon invented 6-digit phone numbers to insert as the result and spend the saved time reading piles of books.

Posted by: mademoiselle a. | Dec 2, 2004 2:42:54 PM

I understand, this all sounds familiar to me. I was easily bored in school. Some of it was due to my picking up the material too quickly and to easily. I wasn't challenged much and I didn't do a good job of trying to challenge myself.

But now look at me, when I walk through the business world Trump shudders and Bill Gates wonders what I'll do next. ;)

I don't think that you are necessarily in a position in which Gilad is going to follow your path because you have the advantage of knowing more and being able to plan and prepare. Forewarned is forearmed.

And you certainly do not strike me as the type of parent who will just sit back and watch. So now you can try and take steps to help Gilad avoid some of the challenges you encountered.

P.S. San Diego is not a bad place to live, lousy sports teams, but some very cool stuff around there. Seaworld, Wild Animal Park, the Zoo...

Posted by: Jack | Dec 2, 2004 4:47:09 PM

I'm a afraid my son and I are probably in the came column as your son and you. Joshua loves learning, he absolutely devours information--if he's interested. If hes not... get ready to pull teeth. Homework can be interesting. He also has a VERY good imagination, which is great when the glass is boring; you just simply drift into another world that is much more interesting and wake up when its over. Exactly like my son, I never tried in school and did the exact same as you on "parent teacher nights". I also never did my homework but still managed make it through. The school once phoned to say I had won an award and my mother spent an hour on the phone trying to convince them there must be some mistake! Either way, I made it and have had a fairly successful career so far--at least in the things I think are important anyway. Maybe its the coffee.... Anyway I must stay focused and get back to work now... (-;

Posted by: Dave Billington | Dec 2, 2004 5:03:02 PM

My brother was like this. It distressed our mother so much because in her head academic success was crucial, central, to success in life. In the end, all the things she tried to do, to work with him, to nag him, to reward him, to set aside homework time, etc etc, did no good. He got mediocre/bad grades in high school and again in college. And now all that time they spent trying to 'fix' him just seems wasted. He's fine, he's smart, he's happily married, he's a mensch. And look where you ended up! It's not necessarily the path you need to save him from, but the misery that comes along with that path, the pressure and the feeling guilty and the fighting and the dread. I don't really think that's about bringing his grades up.

Of course, this could be totally different from my brother and maybe it is a temporary thing that time or a new teacher or learning environment will change.

Posted by: Tara | Dec 2, 2004 5:03:20 PM

My eldest daughter sounds a lot like your son -- she got a 95% in science when the subject was tornadoes, 42% when the subject was electricity.

Not that a diagnosis makes life all that much easier, but you might try a second doctor's opinion. Some don't diagnose ADD if there is no hyperactivity.

Either way, there are a lot of classroom management techniques that will be helpful to your son and his teacher (and you!) in helping him learn to focus. I remember at one point we had a chart taped to my daughter's desk and for every 10 minutes she paid attention she got a checkmark, and for a certain number of checkmarks she was allowed free reading time at the end of the day. It requires a helpful teacher and very stubborn parents.

Google ADD Classroom Management and you'll find a long list of ideas.

Good luck.

Posted by: Talmida | Dec 2, 2004 5:10:59 PM

It's probably going to be very hard to watch Gilad go thru this, but since you know how he feels, that's a great advantage to have in knowing how to approach this with him. I'm sure that the attitude 'working with' versus coming AT him, will be helpful.

On the other side of this, I must point out (as the older sister must) that you need to recognize and acknowledge Ariella's accomplishments. I did all that I was supposed to do in school and never heard a peep from the folks as the focus tends to envelop the 'troubled' kid. The one that does ok, is figured to BE ok and not in need of praise. Just a gentle reminder to not take that nice attitude towards school for granted.

Posted by: val | Dec 2, 2004 5:49:12 PM

David, I can relate (sort of). Although I did not have ADD, I was one of those classic students who does well on tests, but only paid attention or did my work when the subject or teacher engaged my interest...Oh well. In high school, I managed to focus for a few months of Jr & Sr. year to pull my grades up sufficiently, and I survived college, but I was very careful in the classes I took - I refused to take a class that would bore me or where the teacher was not engaging.

My point is, Gili will be fine, don't worry (sure, you still want to encourage him to improve his performance and to get his work done). Nonetheless, even though he's not "all there" in the class, he will catch on and he will be a normal, productive member of society.

Yihiyeh B'seder...

Posted by: Chavi | Dec 2, 2004 6:45:36 PM

Dave, you and I know each other well enough so that you know where I fit into this description. But I have also sat on the other end of these conferences as a teacher. From that vantage point, I can tell you that Gilly has a distinct advantage. He has you and Zahava as parents.


Posted by: jordan | Dec 2, 2004 7:00:30 PM

I have ADD and passed it on to my younger son (4th grade). We can relate on a whole different level than other people - there's a similarity between us that 'outsiders' don't get. He is on medication (Adderal) and is doing great in school (it's a Montessori program). But teaching him how to deal with his lack of focus take work.

My older son (5th grade) led his own conference this year. The teachers helped him prepare by identifying his strengths & weaknesses, and then developing a plan to improve. He even gave us a few points we can do to help him! Intiailly nervous, by the end of the conference he felt really good about it all.

Posted by: Steve Bogner | Dec 2, 2004 7:20:13 PM

Wow! What a nice feeling to come home and have so many thoughtful (and thought-provoking) comments waiting for me!!!

Mademoiselle a. ... You seem to have compensated quite nicely for whatever shortcomings you had in school. I agree with you about Gilad... Recognizing the problem is the first and most important step.

Jack... I hope that forewarned really is forearmed. Otherwise it will be a lot like watching a car accident in slow motion.

Dave... Even though Joshua is getting back to a more 'normal' life, I don't think it would be fair to judge his motivation and performance by normal standards... yet. Give him a year or two and see how he does... from everything I've read about him he sounds like he doesn't know the meaning of limitations. I really hope I get a chance to meet him while you are visiting. On the other hand, you seem like you could use a little help focusing! :-)

Tara... much as I'd like to believe that things will sort themselves out, I really want to try to intervene in a positive way and try to help him develop good study habits.

Talmida... Thanks for the advice. We really only got one opinion... perhaps without any symptoms of hyperactivity he was misdiagnosed. It might be worth another evaluation. Also, thanks for the ideas.

Val... Yes. Although I didn't go into it here, we lavished praise on Ariella and made sure she knew how pleased we are with her performance in school. However, we are careful not to do too much of it in front of Gilad. I don't want them to feel resentment towards one another.

Chavi... Yihiyeh B'seder is the one approach that we can't afford to try. Its not like the states where anyone who wants can go to college. Only the kids with the best grades get the good packages in the army and the university of choice afterwards.

Jordan... Thanks for that. I hope in a few years Zahava and I can live up to that kind of billing.

Steve... Even if it ends up that he is ADD, I'm not sure how comfortable I am with medication. I have a lot to learn on the subject, but my knee jerk reaction is negative. Don't ask me why.

Posted by: David | Dec 2, 2004 11:07:06 PM

David - That was my first reaction too. Then I spent some time researching it all, and am much more comfortable with it now. Medication, in my opinion, is only a temporary relief to help him learn some coping skills. Of course, parents and teachers need to help him learn those coping skills. I like to avoid medication, but in some cases it makes sense. Webmd.com and about.com were great reference points for all that.

Posted by: Steve Bogner | Dec 3, 2004 12:43:20 AM

dave - good to hear and that's great that you do some one-on-one time with each of them with this... accentuate their individualities is always a positive.
And I second Jordan's sentiments, as well.

Posted by: val | Dec 3, 2004 1:45:53 AM


Fret not. You turned out great! Your son will too. It's just amazing how much your story mirrors mine. I just got back from parent/teacher conferences and my *very* bright son has faltering grades because he can't focus and/or isn't interested. Funny ... I was the same way.

Such is the cycle of parents and children. We worry about them, and prod them. They worry, and try their best. In the end, grades matter some, but not as much as we think. People with poor grades often go on to become smashing adults. The more common trait among successful adults is not good grades, but having parents who care.

Posted by: Jim | Dec 3, 2004 2:27:53 AM

Yes, sitting on the other side from the parents has given me some new insight into the parent/student dynamic. These points aren't exactly magic, but they are true in my experience: 1) Talking with your child about their academics in a thoughtful and calm fashion is critical; 2) Making sure that your child knows why academic success is important is also important; 3) Set specific, attainable goals with your child for improvement -- post them on the refrigerator, discuss them every once in a while; and 4) Be there for support. Sometimes that means asking them what would help them reach a goal. Sometimes that means withholding a privilege until a task is completed.

Posted by: christopher | Dec 3, 2004 7:40:11 AM

My heart goes out to you and to Gilad, David. I didn't have ADD but I did have the daydreamers curse (still do actually). Once I understood something, I didn't see the point in wasting time on it. Unfortunately, not doing endless exercises meant the teacher's didn't know I understood, and didn't give me anything else to learn - or good grades!

On the other hand my brother did have non-hyperactive ADD - like you, undiagnosed until much later - and was so much more screwed up than me in general that I didn't have to worry too much about parent teacher nights.

Still as others have said, Gilad is lucky because you are so aware of his situation and well able to support him. And despite my poor to middling grades throughout school, I turned out OK in the end and am now taking a Masters degree in something I love. I sure with yours and Zahava's support he will also be work things out eventually. It just may take some time.

Posted by: Kay McCulloch | Dec 3, 2004 8:00:52 AM

Steve... OK, I'll check it out. I'm not anti-medication or anything... I just see too many parents rushing to put their kids on Ritalin when it might not be necessary.

Val... COnsider it done. You didn't think we would really neglect Ariella, did you?

Jim... Fretting seems to be my full time job these days. I feel like Steve Martin in 'Parenthood' when he talks abotu how parents are given these perfect little babies and then they proceed to screw them up. I worry endlessly about doing more harm than good.

Christopher... I consider you to be a 'teacher's teacher', so I really appreciate your advice. Your advice goes on the refrigerator door.

Kay... it sounds like you and my sister Val could share some good stories about having a brother who was constantly in trouble over school. Thanks for the good thoughts and advice.

Posted by: David | Dec 3, 2004 10:41:23 AM

I've got an ADD dyslexic and an OCD Asperger's... both uniquely gifted at their own things. Exams matter a lot less than all sorts of other things one needs to learn, I think, including self-confidence and developing whatever your true genius consists of. Homeschooling means they can learn things in a different chronological order than they'd have to at school, and also takes pressure off, and I think pressure exacerbates these kinds of (what I call) natural learning patterns and turns them into problems.

There are lots of famous dyslexic geniuses- I like to think of such things as aspects of major positives, rather than disabilities. (If that makes sense).

Posted by: Alice | Dec 4, 2004 12:05:24 AM

Alice... Home schooling has crossed my mind a few times, but there is no way Zahava or I could do it. Besides not having all the tools necessary to give Gilad a rounded education, it would mean one of us not working... not an option right now. I agree with you about exams not being the final word... but the world operates according to certain benchmarks and those who don't meet them don't get the chance to compete.

Posted by: David | Dec 4, 2004 11:51:32 PM

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