The title of this post refers to my favorite teaching strategy – monitor your students for understanding and if you find that they don’t understand, adjust your way of teaching that particular concept. It’s especially important with math because every kiddo understands math in their own way. I am not going to lie. I was a darn good math teacher because I always seemed to be able to find a different way to explain the concept and sooner or later, all the kids would understand. And it changed from year to year – which way worked the best.
I no longer teach for a living, but I still teach, because I have a child in school. And as a parent, you have to monitor and adjust as well. My daughter teaches me about teaching and she teaches me about parenting. She forces me to monitor and adjust my parenting strategies on a regular basis. This is a good thing! But it’s also a hard thing. It would be easier if I could just always parent her the same way and everything was rainbows and unicorns, but it’s not.
This school year has been exceptionally challenging for me as a parent. Not because my daughter is being difficult, but because she’s struggling with a specific thing in school. That’s hard! Because every parent wants to believe that their child is perfect and wonderful and can do anything. Well, every child IS perfect and wonderful and can do anything – just not always in the way that the school or the parent wants them to be. And guess what? That’s okay, too.
My daughter attends an amazing and wonderful charter school. (And I want to be very clear here – her school IS amazing and wonderful. I may not agree with every single curriculum choice they make, but it is still amazing and wonderful and I wouldn’t want her anywhere else, and she doesn’t want to be anywhere else. She loves her school. So, remember that – her school = amazing and wonderful!)
One of the curriculum choices her school makes is to emphasize math facts – they do a lot of timed math fact papers – most of them not counted as grades, but the math curriculum does include math fact papers that are graded. My daughter has always struggled with these fact tests. Not because she doesn’t know the facts, but because she can’t do them in the amount of time she is given. I have felt like I’ve been beating my head against the wall for the last few years trying to get her to be able to do her facts quickly and get good grades on her fact tests. I’ve researched math anxiety. I’ve read research about how timed fact tests affect kids and how they might cause math anxiety. I’ve tried strategy after strategy after strategy. She’s been in vision therapy (which is amazing and I highly recommend checking it out if your child struggles in school). I’ve spent money on programs to help her. I’ve yelled, I’ve begged, I’ve cried, she’s cried. I’ve wondered if she has ADD. I’ve wondered if she’s LD. I’ve read and I’ve thought and I’ve pondered and I’ve worked with her teachers and I’ve worked with her and we are still in the same place we have always been. So, I tried a different strategy a little while ago. I started ignoring her math facts. Whenever she gets a new set of facts, I make sure that she knows them and that I believe she knows them. And then I ignore them. We don’t talk about them, we don’t think about them, we don’t do anything other than make sure she does her fact homework correctly and turn it in. I tell her to do her best on her fact test and try to do just a little more each week, but as long as she does her best, that’s all that matters. And guess what? So far, so good. She isn’t getting 100%, but she’s doing better. Hallelujah! I’ve found it so frustrating because she understands the concepts (for goodness sakes, they are doing 4th grade math right now – her school is a year ahead in math), but she still doesn’t get As in math because of those gosh darn stupid fact tests! But, this is MY problem, not hers. Her job is to do her best. MY job is to accept that her best is not always going mean she gets an A in math. She is perfectly perfect just the way she is. I have not been perfectly perfect in accepting that, but I am getting better.
Lately I’ve come to a peaceful coexistence with math. It’s okay if she doesn’t get As in math right now. It’s okay if she can’t do 100 facts in 3 minutes. When she’s in college is it going to matter that she couldn’t do 100 facts in 3 minutes when she was in 3rd grade? No, it’s not. And what is really important? What is important is that she knows her facts. She knows them. What is important is that she understands the math concepts. She understands them. What is not important is that I can’t “fix” it. That is not important because that is about me, not her. Just because I’m a good teacher doesn’t mean I will have all the answers. And being a good parent doesn’t require me to have all the answers and be able to “fix” everything. In fact, being a good parent means I need to allow her to struggle enough to learn to overcome adversity. That’s hard. That’s really really REALLY hard. Who wants to let their child struggle? Not me. But, guess what? Learning to struggle and get through it is a very important lesson for life. Life is not always easy. Sometimes life is really really hard. But, if you learn how to struggle and get past it, life will not defeat you. So, I have to be the parent that lets her kid struggle a little right now. That’s hard. But it’s okay.
It’s been a long process for me to get to this point. I thought about changing schools. I asked her if she wanted to go to a school that was easier. She most emphatically did not. I’m glad she didn’t. I’m glad I didn’t make that choice. She gets As in everything else. And she is a very smart little girl. I fear she’d be bored in a different school. And since bored little Karin = always in trouble for talking little Karin. I think she’d take after me, so I’d rather school give her a little more challenge so she doesn’t have time to be bored and get in trouble for talking. ;)
I thought about fighting with the administration over the math curriculum. (When you’re a desperate mom not wanting her baby to struggle, you think of these things.) But, those are generally battles you don’t win, and I finally realized that what I really need to do is to reframe my responses to the curriculum. The curriculum is what it is. I don’t necessarily have to like it, but I have to live with it. I don’t have control over the curriculum, but I do have control over how I respond to it. It’s not the curriculum’s fault that she struggles with timed math fact tests. It’s not anyone’s or anything’s fault that she struggles with it. That is just how her brain is wired. When I was finally able to accept that her brain is just not wired that way and realize that it doesn’t make her “not perfect”, I was finally able to let go of my anger at that ‘stupid curriculum’ for making my baby struggle. It was much easier to blame the curriculum than to blame myself for not being able to ‘fix’ her struggles. When I finally realized that I didn’t actually need to ‘fix’ anything, I was able to let go of the anger. Monitor and adjust.
My kid has an amazing brain. I’m not the only one who thinks so, so I feel confident in saying that. Really, every kid has an amazing brain, but for now I want to focus on my kid’s amazing brain. Did I say her brain is amazing? It is. Her teacher told me she asks fantastic questions. And she does! I agree with this! I’m glad she asks fantastic questions in school, too. I had to figure out the best way to work with that amazing brain at home. So, in the last couple of months, I have completely changed how I work with my daughter on homework. Homework is no longer a two hour long emotionally draining ordeal. It now takes her 30-45 minutes (as it should). I have to sit with her the entire time and keep her focused on the task at hand (because that amazing brain would much rather be thinking about a million other things than homework), but I can do that for 30-45 minutes. I’m working with her really hard on study habits and not making careless mistakes on her math papers (she needs every point on the math concept tests – silly mistakes need to be eradicated ;)). We laugh a lot more and I yell a lot less. Sure, there are still days when I get frustrated with her and she gets frustrated with me, but they are rare instead of commonplace. Homework is such a small part of life – and so are timed math fact tests. It’s more important to focus on the good rather than the frustrating – the big picture instead of the minutiae. Monitor and adjust.
I become a better parent every day, because she teaches me how to be a better parent to her. She’s an emotional little bundle of joy. She cries over Hallmark commercials and sweet youtube videos. She laughs with abandon. She dances to 80s music with me. We are enjoying each other again. I’m not the grumpy mommy who just wants her to get her homework done already. I’m the nice mommy who lets her go outside and play if she gets stuff done quickly enough. She needs to go outside and play. She needs to use the imagination in that amazing brain. I just needed to be reminded that her brain is amazing even if she can’t do 100 math facts in 3 minutes. There was nothing wrong with her. There was something wrong with my reaction to it. I think I’ve fixed that now. Even I still have to struggle and learn how to overcome adversity sometimes. Parenting is hard. Parenting an only child has its own specific struggles and challenges that are different than parenting more than one child. Yep, parenting is hard, but it is so worth it. None of it would matter if I didn’t love her so much. That’s why I try so hard and why sometimes I try too hard. But, I’ll get there. I just have to remember to monitor and adjust.