The mind should be a thing that works ~ Sherwood Anderson
In a few short days my Star will officially start grade 11; unofficially she's been working at this level for several years now in English & History. Math, well we just don't talk about math. You hear me do a lot of griping about the child & school. I'm sure that occasionally some of you roll your eyes & think the child needs a swift swat to the rear end & a mother that has something that resembles a spine. You could be forgiven for thinking such things but I have been thinking the past few days, in between other thinks, & I want to share with you some of the things it is easy to forget & overlook now Star is 15 & big.
This house has 5 children: 3 boys, 2 girls. All the boys have dyslexia. Theo was functionally illiterate into high school & even now his comprehension of the written word is shonky. I spent a lot of time up at the island school helping with the remedial reading program & for 10 years I watched children fall through the cracks in the educational system. A lot of these kids were really bright. My Jossie was one of them. One of the things I learnt about bright children is they also often have learning disabilities but because they are bright & clever & innovative they compensate & normally no~one ever twigs how much they are struggling. Things appear on their report cards like Could do better if he tried. They are trying for all they are worth but it never ever looks that way.
I learnt a lot about teaching learning disabilities, especially reading, & I figured what worked reasonably well for children experiencing difficulties should be a breeze for a reasonably capable child. Enter Star into the picture. Star, our surprise baby, is 6 years younger than Liddy, 12 years younger than Jossie. She was due to enter pre~school the year Liddy finished primary school with about 30 other preschoolers. It was a large class that year & while it usually takes a small bomb under me to get me riled I'd seen enough to figure this was not good news for my Star. That first year when all the pre~reading, pre~math skills are practised requires as much one~on~one help as possible. Competing with 29 other 4/5 year olds is not the optimum way to do that. So I didn't send her. Star stayed home with me & we cooked & gardened & painted & I taught her to read. I didn't mean to teach her to read. It just happened because the pre~reading stuff I did actually works.
At this point even my dearest could see we had a problem. You do not put a reading child in a classroom full of non~readers & expect them to function well. So we didn't. We enrolled Star with the BSDE ~ the state school of distance education. Now Aussies will probably know how this works but for my non~Aussie friends it works like this. The school assigns you a *teacher* who marks your child's returned work & is available for help if needed. The school sends out a term's worth of work at a time; very workbook oriented. One workbook in each subject area is to be completed & returned every 2 weeks. And it was easy~peasy. Star & I settled into a routine & we were happy. We had a lovely teacher, Star's reading skills were good & the work was very hands on, which suited us. Lots of cutting & pasting & colouring. Lots of math games. Lots of concrete work for math. Star did very well but of course at the end of the year she was still ahead so she stayed with BSDE.
By grade 2 I was beginning to suspect there was a fly in our ointment. Star's handwriting was not developing as it should have & she was very loath to actually write herself. She loved to tell stories & she loved me to write her stories down for her but getting her to put pencil to paper herself was becoming problematic. "Not to worry", said our lovely grade 2 teacher. "Lots of children experience difficulties." I knew this was true & our lovely teacher let us do whatever we felt we needed to do to help Star, to encourage her, to keep her on side educationally & we managed by hook or by crook, by cajoling & coercion & outright bribery to get Star to keep writing, even if it was just a little bit all through grade 2, & all through grade 3 & into grade four.
Grade 4 was not a good year for us. Grade four the anti suddenly gets upped. The games stop & education becomes serious business ~ or so our new teacher felt. She objected to my highly visual child who liked pretty things writing out her work in a coloured pencil. Plain lead, please! She got incredibly stroppy about Star's handwriting. Now I am making no excuses for Star's handwriting. It was large & uneven & sloped every which way because the child had almost no control over her letter formation & the physical act of writing caused her pain. It's called dysgraphia & lots of children have it. Joss has it too & even now his handwriting is like chicken scratchings. We might have managed if this teacher had given credit where credit was due, if she had managed a little flexibility in her approach but she never complimented the content of Star's work, or her artwork [which always was lovely], only the messiness of her writing. You have no idea. Star would work so hard only to have her work come back with red lines all through it & terse comments about redoing her work due to its messiness.
So I rang this woman & I explained. I wrote notes on Star's work reminding her. We were doing extension work & sending that in but all this woman ever saw was that Star wrote like a bucking bronco. So Star stopped trying. Sorry folks but the child has a performance personality. No applause, no performance! It reached a point where Star was refusing to write anything at all & I had this woman shrieking down the phone at me accusing me of undermining my child's education & telling me people like me should never be allowed to homeschool. I was in tears. I felt we'd done everything we could to appease this woman but there was just no pleasing her. I hated dealing with her & both Star & I were doing everything possible to avoid her. I asked to change teachers but BSDE was stuffed to the ceiling with disenchanted state schoolers & there wasn't a spare space anywhere in the school.
Then she did it again. This time Dearest was home. Very gently he removed the phone from my hand & enquired in his softest, most pleasant manner, "Why is my wife crying?" He then very calmly explained why she should not be allowed to teach, especially homeschoolers. When he got of the phone he turned to me & said, "Change umbrellas."
Now the thing with Star [& Jossie too] is something I don't really like to talk about because in the long run it doesn't matter & my children are not academic but I am going to mention it because it affects the expectations others have of them. Both Joss & Star have been identified as Gifted & Talented. Not excessively so but enough that most things academic have come easily for them. They get bored easily. They have odd interests. Their learning is uneven & their knowledge esoteric. The lovely man I spoke to at Groves DSE identified that never having even met my child & assigned us the most lovely teacher who accommodated Star as she found her academic feet again. For 12 months Star sent all her written work in in coloured pencil, coloured ink, coloured textas, highlighters & crayons. Some of her work every letter was a different colour. None of it was easy to read but suddenly Star was getting As & A+s on her work because the focus was on content rather than her handwriting.
In November I signed her up for NaNoWriMo with me & Star suddenly took off. She still doesn't like to write for school. As she says, she knows she can, why does she have to prove it? These days all her written work is done on the computer because, yes, her handwriting is still appalling. And yes, she is still considered academically bright but I know & Star knows: She would rather stand behind the till at Woolies & pack groceries to pay for being able to perform at QPAC than strain her brain to be the next Madam Curie or Virginia Woolfe.
So as I consider this year & the fact that we have have been assigned a new teacher you can see why I am more than a little alarmed. We need just the right teacher to supervise Star. One who is firm but not inflexible. One who grasps that our first priority is not, & never will be, Star's academics. Once it was, when she was little & learning to read & write & count. Not any more. Now education is just an aide to real life, the life Star chooses; one that will be a little unusual with unusual demands & we need a teacher that gets that.