Another call from another teacher. The kid’s only in middle school and I’m wondering if I’ll live through six more years of this. It’s never real trouble. Yet I’ve heard unending parade of exasperated teachers say, “He just doesn’t get it!” I’m betting the principal has us on speed dial.
You want your kid to get it, to get along and to succeed. And you know it is impossible to accomplish those goals without them cooperating with teachers and learning the system.
“Wednesday at four. Sure, I’ll talk with my wife and let you know if we can make it.” I tried to stay upbeat, optimistic, but my gut was churning.
That evening we had the conversation and it was decided that it was my turn to attend. My wife had done more than her share of solo meetings over the years.
So I bite the bullet and get off work early on Wednesday, drive across town. I enter the near-empty hall. Memories of my middle school years perk, and it’s not pleasant. I make my way to the classroom. It’s empty. I’m hoping we don’t force ourselves into those awkward desk chairs for the meeting. I try to find a place to stand where I won’t be nervous. Impossible.
I look at the clock, out the window, check out the bulletin boards for something interesting. Please show up soon, let’s get this over with.
I hear someone coming down the hall. Please.
“Hi, you must be Joey’s dad. I’m Ms. Scholl. Thanks for making the time for this meeting.” She looks friendly enough.
“Yes, I’m Joe, his dad.
“Please, let’s sit at the table.” Thankfully, not the desks.
We cross the room to a table near the window. She has a stack of files. The sun feels nice, but the glare is a bit awkward.
She begins, “I’d like to see if we can work together to help Joey succeed in school.” There, she said it: “succeed.” And the implication is hat he isn’t currently cutting it. “Joey has the potential to be a good student.” Yikes, “potential.” That’s about as good as telling a girl she has a great personality. “Here’s the problem. One of our focus goals for the year is to develop competent writers. Looking at the future we believe writing will strengthen and broaden students communication skills to help meet the demands of a rapidly changing world.”
Let me tell you, the kid’s a pretty skilled communicator already. He can out-argue me in most situations…. Glad I kept those words in my head.
“Thanks, sounds like you’re trying to help the students in practical ways.” What am I supposed to say?
“Joey is easily distracted. He has a hard time finishing assignments and meeting deadlines.” He has lots of ideas and seems to enjoy class discussions. I can tell he reads, quite a bit, but I don’t think he’s reading the assigned materials.”
Okay, so tell me something new.
“Here’s the problem. I gave the class an assignment. Write a short story. Pick your subject. Just be certain it has a flow, make something happen, develop characters and try to make the ending catch people’s attention.”
“Sounds reasonable.” She has paused and I think she expects me to say something.
“So, the stories came in. Joey took extra prompting and finally got his in two days late. It was a good story, maybe the best. But it was a technical mess. He clearly ignored the spell check system, had rough sentence structure, he had spilled something on one page and I could hardly read it and he’d covered most of the empty space with complex drawings. But his characters were so real and the story caught me. He even ended with a believable but compelling twist, quite an accomplishment for someone his age. After all the papers were in I proofed and marked them and returned them to the students. The next assignment was to rewrite a formal final draft, one that could be submitted for publication.
“After two days everybody had his or her final draft in. Well, that is, everybody but Joey. This time it was three days before I finally got his paper. But it wasn’t a final draft of his story. It was a new story. I called him aside and revived my expectations, and asked him to give it another try. Two days later I got third story, better than either of the other two, but not the assignment.
“I told him he had one more chance. Then I got story number four. Here, I have you all four here in this folder. I tried to talk with him, but got nowhere. Can you help? All he has to do is rework his story. Actually any of the four will work. They are all better than any of the others submitted.”
“Sure, I’ll talk with him tonight.” And I’m sure he’ll listen to me. “Hopefully he can get something reworked and bring it in tomorrow. Thanks for giving us the opportunity to help Joey. And thanks for not giving up on him.” It was the best way I could think of to get out of there.
“Thanks for coming in Mr. Lester. I hope this helps Joey.” We both stand and I make my way out of the building.
After dinner, I tell Joey we need to talk. We send his sister and brother to the family room.
“I know you went to school today. The teacher told me she asked for a meeting with you. And I know it’s about my writing assignment.”
“So can you tell us why you won’t do the assignment?”
“Sure, Dad, she just doesn’t get it. I keep trying to tell her. You want a story, I’ll write a story. I love writing stories. But all that editing and stuff is boring. I mean I have lots of stories saved up. Why would I want to keep messing with an old story when I have so many new ones that no one has heard yet?”