After six long weeks of torture, I took my son Eric out of kindergarten. Apparently, with a late-summer birthday, he was a “borderline” case. I had been told repeatedly that he was right in the middle and it was up to me whether to send him or wait. I crossed my fingers and had high hopes that the veteran kindergarten teacher, with her old-school methods, would show him the way.
On the third day of school when I showed up to help with recess and yard duty, I did not see Eric. I finally went back to his classroom, where I found him seated at the back of the room, his bottom lip quivering. “I want to go home.”
“I explained to Eric that if he takes our time, we will take his,” his teacher said. “He was not paying attention. I had to call his name four times.” This from the woman I had been counting on to nurture my child. The bitch.
I held my tongue and fought back my own tears as I led him out to recess, where seventy-nine other kindergartners ran amok. He clung to me as we walked around the field, stopping to examine bugs and wildflowers along the fence. At lunch he put his head on my lap. I wanted to go home, too.
Monday morning, he did not want go to school. We sat outside his classroom till I was forced to leave him in tears (from both of us). The teacher was unmoved as she handed out tissues to him and all the other children having a hard time.
The next few days were more of the same. Each day Eric repeated that he did not want to go. He held up seven tiny fingers. “I been to school dis many days. I done! I quit!” Hmm. It had been seven school days.
The following Friday, he informed me that he had been to the office. When I asked why, he said, “I told my teacher to shut up!” I pulled the car over and called the school. The teacher explained that Eric was frustrated and when he was repeatedly offered help he refused. He also called her “an idiot.” Better than some other remarks he might have made.
We talked it through, and he promised it would not happen again. Sadly, it happened half a dozen more times. He became a regular in the principal’s office, and I was mortified. Kindergarten was not going well for either of us.
I still had the ten minutes every morning convincing him he had to go to school. Then he added a new twist: “My teacher said I’m dumb.” I was sure I misunderstood. What?! “She says I’m the stupidest one.” The fact that she never said this out loud was more upsetting—he believed it.
I spoke to the teacher, and she seemed to think there was no need for concern, and that Eric simply needed more responsibilities at home—perhaps a sticker chart, she suggested cheerfully.
All I ever got was bad news. Every day I showed up for some sliver of hope that the day had gone well and was met with a sad head-shake and frown. Her face was grim as she listed his shortcomings. She believed his pencil grip was an example of his bad attitude. “He’s just so stubborn.” I made Bill start dropping off and picking up, and I stopped asking for daily reports. At that point, I figured no news was good news. With no calls from the office, I figured things were getting better and I could wait until our goal-setting conference in October.
Our plan for Eric all along was that if he needed to, he could do kindergarten over again. I knew he was young and I knew he was not as “ready” as some of the other kids. He did not know all of his letters and numbers. There were issues like pencil gripping and wielding scissors, but it never crossed my mind he wouldn’t be able to do it by the end of the year. I honestly believed that he would learn these skills in kindergarten.
How could I have gotten everything so wrong?
Kindergarten has changed. I read somewhere that kindergarten is the new first grade and I find that sad but true. There is so much more expected of children entering kindergarten now that it is almost cruel not to hold them back. The late cutoff date ensures a huge age spread, which just makes the situation worse. How can you possibly expect the same from a four-year-old and a six-year-old?
He had always been so confident and sure of himself. He would go up to any kid and say, “Hi! I’m Eric. Want to play?” I expected that he would make friends and just follow along with the other kids. But the kids were all kind of lost and there was no strong example for him. He was right in the middle but he had no peers. His spunky spirit that I had always seen as his best quality was now working against him.
At our goal-setting conference, I greeted the school principal, along with the teacher. “We must be in trouble,” I joked halfheartedly.
We learned that our plan of having Eric repeat kindergarten was a bad idea. It was proposed that we simply take him out and try again next year. “Are you kicking us out?” My husband asked nervously. “We can’t ask that …” The principal answered.
Was this really happening? What were we supposed to do? “I suggest you start calling preschools,” his soon to be ex–kindergarten teacher suggested with a smile.
Bill and I talked it out and decided he was going to have these problems wherever he was at school this year. Why force another transition? If anything was going to prepare him for kindergarten, this was. He would ace kindergarten next year.
The following week, when I informed his teacher that we wanted to stay, she did not hide her disappointment. She told me I was “robbing him” and that he just wasn’t “getting it.” Then she told me about the book fair.
Apparently there was a jar of “gold” coins, and the object was to guess the amount. Eric was not interested, but his teacher was. “Guess!” she insisted, I’m guessing one too many times. “S?” He finally offered. As I stared at her horrified face, I saw the look she probably had routinely shown Eric. She really did think he was dumb.
I knew it was never going to get better. She was never going to “get” him. By the way, “S” is his stock answer for when he doesn’t know, so stop asking already!
I realize he will have lots of teachers in his school career and he probably won’t like all of them. But every kid should love his kindergarten teacher.
If he had had a different teacher, the rest may have fallen into place. But the fact that he was young, immature, stubborn, and struggling with the fine motor skills along with this particular teacher was a recipe for failure. The uphill battle I had been dreading now looked pretty appealing compared with the downward spiral I was experiencing.
I went home and started calling preschools.
The first school that called me back sounded great. I made an appointment to go see it and Eric ended up coming with me. As soon as we walked in I knew I was pulling him out of kindergarten and putting into this new school. He never even questioned the move. We stayed for almost two hours and he acted like he had been going there along. On the way out he asked: “Where’s my cubby?”
Two weeks later, he still loves his “new school.” He is maturing just like we knew he would but it doesn’t feel forced.
So now I have stopped feeling like the worst mother in the world for putting my child through all of that. How hard it must have been for him. But now I am so happy about my decision and so proud that I could do this for him. There is so much in this world I will not be able to help him with. Things he will have to learn on his own and mistakes he will have to make along the way.
I always knew that his tenacity would serve him well eventually. It is clear that if he had been complacent he may have gotten pushed on through. Maybe he would have been “borderline” again and they would have sent him on to first grade. Maybe he would always be struggling. It could have taken until fifth grade to know that he wasn’t getting it. Who wants to get held back then? Better to do it now when he can still have fun, not be teased about it. And he would always have to struggle to keep up. He will need every minute of this year to catch up. And while this was not in our plan (or budget) it is definitely the thing to do. Next year when he starts kindergarten (with a different teacher), he will be right where he is supposed to be.
Hopefully I will, too.