Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Biology, Brick Walls, and the Piano

Last night, Addie had a little meltdown. I was taking Belle to the doctor where we got the H1N1 diagnosis (yes, I'm evidently cursed by this stupid virus) while this was going down, so my mom handled it. By the time I got home, Addie had just gotten out of the shower and, other than the "I've been crying" stigmata on her face, was fine.

She explained to me that she couldn't figure out how to do her lab report for Biology and it "made me want to kick babies." (At this point, my mother nodded wisely and added, "She did yell something about wanting to kick babies.") Addie is typically extremely even-keeled and mellow, so this was very out of character for her (and she would never kick babies).

She said she was going to bed, but I heard her upstairs playing the piano for quite a long time (I had to keep Belle up until ten to get her next dose of medicine). Addie plays the piano when she is really stressed out, and even though part of me loves listening to her play (she's pretty much a prodigy and composes her own stuff), it always makes me a little sad because it almost always means that she's upset about something. Talk about bittersweet!

Addie started Honors Biology last week with the change in terms, and the class is challenging her. She got the only 100 on the first quiz (it's hanging on the refrigerator ... I don't think she's allowed her schoolwork to be posted on the refrigerator for years) so, as usual, she's just being really hard on herself. The thing is, she happily gets Bs in Honors Geometry without issue--she's not ridiculous about grades in general. She just has this major hangup about doing really well in Honors Biology since she wants to be a doctor (a pediatric oncologist, of all things).

As a teacher, I cannot stand it when parents say to me, "My child is extremely bright and is not being challenged." As a parent, however, I'm very frustrated by the fact that my child (my very bright child, not to be obnoxious about it) was never taught skills and strategies for what to do when the work is difficult. Since she's never put more than 40% effort into school (and that only math classes, which have always been difficult for her), she does not know what to do.

I talked to her at length about some of the stuff she can do. She's making vocabulary notecards, reading each chapter and taking notes ahead of time so the teacher's lecture makes sense to her, and so on. These are skills and strategies taught to our lower- and mid-level students from elementary school all the way into high school, but students like Addie were given enrichment work instead of focusing on these things because an assumption was made that they were "smart enough" to figure it out for themselves.

I wish someone had given Addie a copy of Grey's Anatomy or War and Peace or something when she was eight or nine and showed her how to slow down, take her time, and work with material that is very difficult for her.

Education in America does not prepare our brightest children for the inevitable brick wall they will come to at some point. Whether they succeed or throw up their hands and give up isn't something anyone can predict. Addie will be fine--she has her piano, not to mention a family that loves her unconditionally and will work with her to teach her these necessary skills and strategies, not to mention coping mechanisms (and we're fortunate that the content is accessible to both my nurse practitioner mother and my Ph.D. Microbiologist sister, both of whom adore Addie and would do anything for her).

The disconcerting thing is, I realize that I am, as a public school teacher, part of the problem. What do you think--does public education in America shortchange our top students?

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