We've had some... struggles... in school since September. It turns out the fourth grade is hard, ya'll. The Dormouse has been struck with a new level of expectation and homework and a teacher who doesn't suffer those who don't meet that level lightly. There have been fights. There have been tears. And some of them even belonged to The Dormouse.
When last year started with a fit, I stomped my feet around the house for awhile and complained a lot to friends and family and then when I calmed down, I tried to open a dialogue with the teacher. It worked pretty well and I think The Dormouse's experience in third grade had a few hiccups and could have been better but was overall more positive than not. Fourth grade started a whole new level of work and we knew it was coming. Sadly, this teacher and I have not really been on the same page. I understand her positions and frustrations as a teacher because I have been in her position, but I also, like every other parent out there, have to be the best advocate for my child and sometimes those two things don't really gel. During the summer, before classes had been assigned, I asked The Dormouse which teacher she hoped she'd get.
"Mrs. M," she replied without hesitation.
"Why Mrs. M."
"Because she's really mean..." The Dormouse started out.
I interrupted to tease, "Wait. What? You want the MEAN teacher?"
"No," she said, "I was just going to say that some kids say she's really strict, but I think it would be good because we'll learn a whole lot." I wondered about this, but then remembered my own fourth grade teacher who could have been described the same way... and I ended up loving him. So when she actually got Mrs. M as her teacher, I hoped it would end the same way.
Fourth grade is also the year kids can participate in instrumental music, which for me, was one of the best experiences of my elementary school years. Even if I were not a music therapist today and did not have an understanding of how music helps order thinking and open neural pathways that enhance education, I would be totally for instrumental music just because it was such a positive, self-esteem building experience for me. The Dormouse attended an instrument petting zoo at the end of third grade and chose the violin as her instrument. It wouldn't have been my choice, simply because I didn't want her to feel like she had to play the instrument I play (and also because college scholarship instruments tend to be the lesser-played ones), but I talked with her about it and it was clear that that was the instrument she wanted. So in August, we dutifully went to the violin shop and rented her a violin. A more excited girl, one could not have found.
Then a week into school, she came home and told me she'd auditioned for the school choir and been accepted. This one wasn't really on my radar, but she was pretty darn excited about this too and it was only one day a week, so I said she could do that too.
Back to School night, which in our district, happens about two weeks after school starts was where Mrs. M. was tried to lay down the law about homework and expectations and such. A little harsh I thought, but I figured she was trying to set a precedent and I was on her side. At least until she started a diatribe about how "these music classes" are harmful to kids because it keeps them from doing their work in her class and she wasn't supportive of it. That's when she lost me. She backed down when a few parents kicked back and pointed out that the goal of the school was to provide a well-rounded education and how music is a part of that and why does the school offer music anyway if it's not helpful and useful for the students and she better shut up if she doesn't want to be bombarded with daily research articles on the benefits of music I have sitting within very easy reach on my desk at work. (That last one might have only been a thought I had in my head.) She backed off, so I let it go. But I knew the music thing was going to be a struggle.
It's come up a few more times, but Mrs. M knows only their parents can tell the kids they can't participate in music so she and I have just agreed to disagree. The thing is, her frustration with The Dormouse is about her focus IN the classroom, not the fact that she's not getting work done because she's being pulled OUT of the classroom. (And, by the way, her grades on all her assignments are still As with a very few B exceptions.) I have also pointed out to Mrs. M that given how our experience in school is going, I am unwilling to take the one, positive, self-esteem building experience my daughter has in school away from her. She's agreed with me we both know that taking music away from her is not going to solve that problem anyway.
But in my own mind, I wondered if it was too much. I reminded The Dormouse that it was her responsibility to make up what she missed when she goes to music and to ensure she was getting the work done and the work in her classroom was the first priority. If she couldn't make up the work, she'd have to consider dropping choir. I never suggested that about the violin. Wonder why?
As the struggles with the teacher about classroom focus and not finishing her seat work piled up, I also suggested to The Dormouse that maybe choir was just one too many things and it should go. Once, she suggested to me that she should maybe quit choir because it was interfering with her school work. Wow, that would simple things up a bit. It was hard not to jump on that opportunity. But something told me to stay the course for a little longer. We talked about it together. It was already halfway through the semester and she had made a commitment. I also wanted her to understand that when you participate in something like that, other people are counting on you too. We decided to wait to see until after the winter concert and then reevaluate. If she was still having trouble getting her school work done after that, she'd have to leave the choir.
Fast forward to the Winter Concert when parents around the world dress up in their finest to pack into the school cafe and hear kids try to perform. The Dormouse was excited, to say the least. So much so that she had a giant fight with her sister that morning because The Caterpillar had dared to suggest that we skip the concert and go do something else.
"YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW IMPORTANT THIS IS TO ME," she screamed at her sister over their morning oatmeal.
The Violin performance was what we expected. Cute, simple. They haven't started using the bows yet but they played a recognizable tune and you can only see the teacher visibly sweating for fear that they'd finish the piece six bars before she did if you really watch for it.
But it was the choir that came out and blew me away. I could not believe how much music that woman got out of those little kids. It was amazing. The Dormouse was happy and confident and... more importantly... totally and completely focused, which is exactly what her teacher had been complaining that she lacks. She was altogether in her element. And they didn't get halfway through the first song before I had to push back tears, not because I was the proud parent in the room, but because I realized I had almost taken this away from her.
Lord, what an idiot.
Sometimes you do a lot of parenting research and you figure out what the right thing to do will be. Sometimes you get really good advice. And sometimes you just luck into a right decision here and there.