May 16, 2012

Power Struggles

Details, details. Some have gotten away from me in focusing on the move.
Like my son's questions about whether his new district will offer a math course to challenge him.  We are moving into a school district that is one of the best in its state, from one that (on the books) looks to be one of the worst, from its CRCT scores.  
Still, our 7th grade son soars in math. He was so affirmed when it was clear he needed to accelerate to 8th grade math. Because it is "only" called Advanced 8th grade math, and I have had my mind elsewhere, it was not until a few weeks ago that I realized his course was closer to being Algebra, not pre-Algebra, the most advanced course  available when I was 7th grade.
In the new state, they don't use "euphemisms," they call the class by its curriculum name: Pre-Algebra, Algebra, Geometry...
I did my homework, and talked to a parent of a rising 8th grader at the new school, to ask her about Math course offerings for advanced students.  I was mightily concerned when the parent raved about Algebra, especially when it finally registered that my son's has completed most of the Algebra curriculum this year.
So, I (this past weekend, the weekend before school is out)... I finally emailed the head math teacher who teaches Algebra.
I was too humble. I focused on the positive, and down-played our son's excellence, not wanting to insult our new school. I cautiously said that maybe retaking a class might set a great foundation. But I was was concerned about how well my son would fit. Could we talk?
No mention of a time to talk. She shared that qualified 7th and 8th graders who are teacher-recommended and score high on THEIR state tests are the ones eligible to take Algebra I. Gave me the official spiel at length, with state boundaries, test requirements and grades. She also reassured me that if our son were not properly prepared after all, for Algebra I, that the school would happily step him back to take Transitions math. She also cc-d her principal, and school counsellor as well.   
This she did on a Sunday night, when I thought she might sit on my email for the last week of school before replying. I'd have understood that.  But, I still perceive her focus was on turnstiles-- barriers and "managing" student accomplishment. No exciting "possibility" language in her email to me.
What part of "our son has already taken most of the Algebra curriculum" didn't she get? Our child is motivated. He didn't just get get assigned a class that had "some Algebra" in it. He insisted he needed to be challenged.  Ours is a boy for whom  boredom, is a  powerful deterrent to success.  He has had a motivating, interesting and challenging teacher.
So I asked one snarfy question. Did Ms. EdS have concern that my son's course rigor might not make him capable of "re-taking" Algebra I?
Thankfully, I also asked what those seventh graders who take Algebra 1 do, in 8th grade? Oh, they take Geometry.
Geometry. Gulp. I did not take that until 10th grade. If I had been told that the school offered Geometry I would have asked about that, and not begun my efforts to look for a way for him to be challenged   in a class he had already taken. I'd been trying to get the lay of the land, looking ahead to see if I might need to volunteer to take him to the high school for Algebra 2.
Alas, I am now encountering a bureaucratic mindset that has an ego and a big degree to defend her ego. And I have already, despite my best efforts, become a problem parent. So I shut up and got ahold of my son's Math teacher, taking the liberty of quoting the essential details of her email.
Meanwhile, our son's current math teacher had already looked at the new state's math curriculum and said, "Georgia's 8th grade advanced courses cover the same core subjects as our new state's Algebra class."  She is planning to talk to the teacher, but the sand in the hourglass is about run out.
I may need to live at peace with unsolved problems.
I decided to apologize to the teacher in the new school for making her life more complicated. Wishing I had known to ask about  Geometry first, rather than assuming he would need to adapt to taking Algebra a second time. I assured her all would be much clearer when she talked with son's current math teacher. 
EdS's response: A test is required by the state when children complete Algebra. It was given May 2nd, and it won't be offered until next year.
Our son has missed an "essential" turnstile as we did not know about it.  I refrained from telling her our son has already taken the SAT this year, because HE wanted to.
Then she reiterates her special teaching curriculum. She teaches special subjects in Algebra (she does not enumerate or describe them) that meet their state standards. And again. My son needs to take Algebra in order to go onto Geometry. 
Oh now it is our state versus theirs. What hooey!
I think, "Doll. He has. Taken. Enough. Algebra.  I get the strong intuition that your golden gems are not worth the boredom he will have to suffer at your turnstile approach to teaching. I perceive Obstacles. Bean-counting." 
I can hear our Egos clashing if I don't bow out. I can't build a bridge here, not in email.  
I am told she'll "see me at the end of summer. Looking forward." Um.
Of course, I want the best for my son, and I am not waiting until "the end of summer" for a conversation.  I tell her I need to know before our move in June.  Math is our son's talent. What if I had been less humble and said that to begin with?
Perhaps I would simply have a different power struggle going on.
I tried the "one-down" position, with what were truly innocent questions, waiting for the teacher to extend a hand to raise me up to her eye-level.
This, she did not do. 
Now I am mad. Watch out, when a mama bear stands tall!
Yet. I don't want to use this old strength of mine any more.
My strength can also be my greatest weakness.   I am proud to say that I was humble and resilient, in talking to the school counselor this morning.

She was candid with me about her own weakness. There has been a most significant death in her family, that kept her from getting back to me a lot earlier. I forgot, I had done my homework and had called the school counsellor before I resorted to emailing with the Most Intimidating Math Teacher Ever.

But circumstances beyond our control intervened. Not turnstiles, after all. Life and death issues, more important than me. I am humbled.

But I also was treated with grace and compassion. Thank you, HP.


  1. I did find out exactly what our conflicts are about. Of course, Mrs EdS is an excellent, rigorous teacher and dare I say, our son's current teacher was not quite as rigorous as the teacher in the new school district.

    I need to remember, when i am most frustrated, there is usually some other issue I am not yet aware of.

    People who use turnstiles, usually have their own good reasons for wanting others to abide by them too...

  2. That is a good reminder that if we are frustrated, there most likely is more at work...

    I hope everything works out for your son.


I welcome your thoughts. Keep me honest~