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I walk the line June 24, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, older son.
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I’ve been watching the older son grappling with his courses for the past year.  He was taking courses through an independent study organization to finish up some credits he needs to enter college.  I didn’t feel comfortable with some of these (especially literature classes), so we decided to go this route.

In doing this, I’ve discovered that the older son has a deadly combination of issues: ADHD and perfectionism.  I didn’t quite understand how the two fed into each other, but I can definitely see it now.

The older son also had the disadvantage of not working in the classes with peers.  The first few he did were in print rather than online. He would struggle for days to complete a single assignment, and it didn’t make sense to me at first.

Another thing I found odd was how one of his teachers was initially very abrupt with him.  It didn’t take long before she had completely changed her tune and was being incredibly nice and encouraging, which I thought was odd.

The second set of classes have been online and part of the assignments involved discussing things in a forum, so the student could see what the other students had submitted.  This was an eye-opening experience for me.  It also helped me make sense of his teacher’s dramatic change in behavior.

After watching him and seeing what other students have submitted, I realized three things:

1 – He can easily and quickly finish things that are simple.

2 – When things appear to be more difficult and/or time-consuming, he has difficulty concentrating and finds himself unable to stay on task.

3 – Part of the reason things are difficult and/or time-consuming is because he has seriously high expectations for himself that are way beyond what is often required.

I’m not saying he doesn’t have ADHD, because he most certainly does.  We tried for years to forego medication.  One day, he came to me and said he couldn’t even concentrate on projects he wanted to do for fun, so we opted at that point to look at something to help.  (He does take meds, but it’s the lowest dose that’s effective.)

However, in homeschooling him, neither of us had a reference for what a ‘typical’ high schooler should be doing in his classes.  He would give me an assignment, and we would spend a lot of time revising it.  He worked very hard, but progress was slow.  In one or two cases, he would hand things in half done because of lack of time.

What surprised me is that even the items he handed in half done or that were rough drafts often came back with exceptional grades.  I remember one assignment full of rough drafts of short essays which he aced.  I couldn’t figure it out.

The problem is that both of us really expect a lot out of him, and I learned, after seeing work that other students were doing, that it was likely too much.  Far too much.  While he was going into a detailed analysis of similarities because characters from two different novels set in two completely different cultural and temporal reference frames, it appears his fellow students who likely are trying their hardest, are writing something much more simplistic.  They are being told to elaborate, and he’s being told to eschew obfuscation.

The thing that has me concerned is that college is around the corner, and I worry that he’s going to continue to hold himself to those standards, even when it is so obviously working against him.  He struggles with the idea that it’s better to just hand something in, even if incomplete (by his standards), than to turn it in late, though perfect.

A lot of perfectionists deal with this.  I have told him that it’s not a bad trait, but that he needs to save it for the things that are really important to him.  If he wants to write the Great American Novel that people will pore over and debate and analyze, that is the time to be a perfectionist.  If he’s handing in an assignment that fulfills the requirements laid out by the teacher, who likely will spend ten minutes skimming the entry, being a perfectionist is really not going to help.  He needs to learn to walk that line.  To some extent, we all do.

You could be a teacher October 16, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, education, feminism, research, science, teaching, work, younger son.
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math_teachers_tshirtAs we were settling in for the ride home after swimming, the younger son asked, “Mom, you’re good at math, right?”

The older boy snickered.

“I like to think so,” I responded.

There was a brief silence followed by, “Welllll………you’re good at math, and you’re a teacher…maybe you should teach math at a high school!”

What followed was a long explanation about how I just physically can’t handle the idea of teaching K-12.  Teaching 6 hours a day, grading, prep, etc.  Actually, it’s mostly the teaching.  Teaching more than 4 hours turns me into a puddle that can’t function until I’ve had a good night’s sleep.  Teaching high school is not the ideal profession for introverts.  There’s also the fact that, frankly, it would get boring to teach high school math after more than a year or two.  The math is what interests me more than the challenge of helping students to understand (though that is an interesting problem when the material is also sufficiently intellectually stimulating).  I think he gets it, but he still likes the idea of his mom as a math teacher.

This did bring to the surface some thoughts I’ve been mulling over.  Does he see me as a teacher because he already knows I teach or does gender roles have something to do with it?  I’ve been pondering this a lot because I get the sense that there are some academics who really do view teaching through a gendered lens and therefore think I’d be better off at a community or liberal arts college.  In fact, I imagine there’s a blog post where I discussed someone telling me as much, but I’m not going to dig it out now.

One thing that has occurred to me is that, if I want people to look at my research, I may actually actively have to avoid things that will stick ‘teacher’ into their heads when they think of me.  That is, it’s probably a good idea to actively avoid involvement in education conferences and societies except at a cursory level.  Teaching should be kept at a minimum.  I enjoy the service work component and the idea of exploring interesting aspects of STEM education.  I also really enjoy interacting with students (but not all day long).  I don’t like the idea that it means that my other abilities and accomplishments will be overlooked.  Maybe that’s taking things too far, but I don’t really know how to cement the ‘researcher’ thing into people’s brains unless that’s the only thing they see when looking at my CV.  Maybe once the ‘teacher’ version of me has been wiped clean, it’ll be okay to begin dabbling in serious educational research pursuits.

That’s obviously not what my son was worried about.  He simply wants me to have a job I enjoy…and maybe there’s a bit of an ulterior motive as he hopes I’d be home more during the summers.  It’s a nice idea, but the other nine months of the year probably wouldn’t be all that enjoyable for me…especially if doing research was secondary, or worse, nonexistent.

All that being said, I think that if I do ever become a math teacher, I want the above tshirt.  (You can get it here, if you’re curious.)

Too easy… August 15, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, older son.
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The older son began his schoolwork for the year.  We looked at what classes he needed to finish in order to get into college next fall, and we decided that he should probably take some high school classes via correspondence. (That’s the old-fashioned term…I guess they’re now all ‘online’ courses.)  This afternoon, he sat down to get started on one of his social studies classes.  After an hour, he had finished reading the first of 8 units and had done one of the three or four assignments for that unit.

“It just seems too easy,” he said.

“That,” I responded, “is what high school classes are like.”  I hadn’t realized it before he said something, but except for math, all of the classes he’s done the past couple years have been college-level.  I guess realizing that made me understand why it was such a jolt.

I imagine that it’s also a bit frustrating to have to go back and do work that seems overly simplistic, but he understands that this isn’t so much about him learning something as it is about jumping through the hoops in order to get into college.  Given the classes he’s already completed, he knows he’s capable of doing college-level work, but the admissions counselors seemed doubtful.

Maybe I need to get him one of these to take the edge off:

Observation as a parent of a gifted child: laziness March 23, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, math, older son, societal commentary, teaching.
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The older boy couldn’t seem to make it out of bed to get to high school on time, and when there, couldn’t make it from one class to another in the allotted amount of time.  He was spending time in between classes socializing, and outside of school, he wasn’t doing his homework.

In the past week, however, he’s been getting up at 7 a.m. without fail so that he can catch a ride to the library and study economics for a few hours each day.  He’s made it through two chapters, including doing all the study guide problems and writing out definitions for vocab words.

His plan is to finish the economics course by the middle of May so that he can take the CLEP exam.  This was the course *he* really wanted to do.  When we were going through the list of possible topics, he picked it out and said he wanted to do it.

Lazy children don’t do these things, so he’s obviously not lazy.  On the other hand, it was pretty obvious his high school classes just weren’t doing it for him.

When we went to a specialist in gifted assessment, she said, “I don’t believe in lazy.  Kids aren’t lazy, but they can be unmotivated when presented with something that isn’t sufficiently interesting and stimulating.”  That was about seven years ago, and I didn’t believe her.  I started to wonder about it when, in sixth grade, the only class he did well in was the only one that was accelerated: math.  For the record, he really isn’t all that crazy about math.  It wasn’t until last year, after the older boy studied like crazy for his US History CLEP exams and passed them, that I had to admit that she was right.

Now I’m wondering what he’d be doing if he’d been able to accelerate at the high school.  The school doesn’t allow students to take AP classes until their junior year.  Doing early enrollment at the college (without his GED) wouldn’t have been possible without his counselor signing off.  (Given she fought my parents tooth and nail when I was in high school, and he had the same counselor and was doing poorly, I doubt that would’ve ever happened.)  But looking at him, I’m seeing what a huge mistake they’re making with these policies.

I feel like I ought to tell them this.  But I am also tired of fighting it and feel like it’s just better to focus my efforts on my own kids.  This mental fatigue is the kind of thing that makes me see why so many people pull their kids out of the system.  There’s just no energy to deal with it, especially when it’s obvious what the solution is.  The school, in the meantime, has mired itself down with pointless rules that keep people from excelling, and in some cases, succeeding.

A reason to celebrate March 19, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, older son.
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A couple months ago, I mentioned that the older boy had been kicked out of school.  Today, however, we’re celebrating because he took and passed his GED last week, and we got his scores this morning.

I was rather nervous that he might not pass one or two of the sections, but I ended up being very wrong.  He was in the 98th or 99th percentile (and aced the science exam) on all but one section: writing.  I’m actually surprised he did that well given he’s really never had any high school classes in any of this stuff.  He’d done a lot of stuff in math online, and he had taken the US History CLEP exams last year.  On the other hand, I’m not surprised that writing was his poorest test.  It’s not that he’s a poor writer, because he’s not.  However, he has significant difficulty with the physical act of writing, which really slows him down.  Also, they asked him to write on sports, of all things.  Poor kid.

However, he did pass the exam, and now he’s said he wants to go to college.  I told him that he’s got about a year and a half before getting his apps in, so he needs to figure out where he wants to go and what he wants to do when he gets there.  I’m curious to see what he decides.  In the short term, however, he’s studying for another CLEP.  After that, he gets to join the adult world for real: it’s time to start looking for a job.

Book Review: Crazy U April 6, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, older son.
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I have about 10 books on my nightstand.  Looking at them a couple weeks ago, I decided that none of them sounded fun to read. I’d recently read an article on the book Crazy U and thought I’d check it out because I needed something more light-hearted than the physics books and biographies lying there.

For those of you not familiar with the book, it is written by Andrew Ferguson about his son’s experience applying to college.  Given my older boy is a teenager and there have been more than a few discussions about college, I thought maybe the book would give me a humorous perspective on the whole experience.

I guess I’m very surprised at how my son is approaching this because it’s very different from what I did.  I was the one who chose where to go, did all the leg work on the applications, wrote all my own essays (and can’t even remember if I asked anyone to proof them for me – I may not have), and agonized all through high school about how I would manage to pay for it all.  I was blessed with a bit of guidance on the application process from a professor at the university.  My parents’ contribution was to pay for an SAT prep course and to fill out my FAFSA, late (that is, after my first choice college had passed the financial aid application deadline).  It’s not their fault: neither had college degrees and neither had ever tried to go any place for college except for the state school, which has minimal requirements.  They had no idea what it was all about, other than that getting a college degree was important.  Given what a big deal it was to me, I’m perplexed by my son.  He’s more of the I’ll-worry-about-it-junior-year type.  I guess that’s better than waiting until senior year.

Ferguson begins his journey during his son’s junior year, when promotional materials from a couple schools show up.  He decides to look into professional counselors for some guidance, and is told he’s started about 3 years too late…or maybe more.  His whole perspective is very funny, and his cynicism is refreshing.  Reading the book, however, has been a more sobering experience than I thought.  Being in grad school with hopes to stay in academia perhaps has given me a very skewed view of the university.  The book is written from the perspective of someone who is not in academia and hasn’t been since he left college.  When you look at it from the outside in, you kind of realize how ridiculous the whole rat race is.

The book is well researched and informative…and this is what gives rise to the cynicism.  By the same token, this person is one who desperately wants his kid to go to college.  He talks about several contradictions in what colleges say and what they do, such as how they don’t want to have to market their schools and yet spend tons of money to do so.  He talks about US News rankings, getting the perspective of the statistician who supervises all the calculations.  He then discusses how schools simultaneously condemn them and yet do a lot to make themselves look better, including changing their data.  He talks about how the schools are all similar – similar materials, similar emphasis, similar groups on campus, and even similar tours.

And reading through this, I have realized how ridiculous all of it looks.  As a parent, I am thinking that maybe it’s a good thing my son isn’t drinking the kool-aid.  This was especially obvious when Ferguson discusses a tour of Harvard, realizing, with all the other parents in the room, that Harvard wants everyone to apply, even if it’s obvious a person doesn’t have a chance…which, realistically, they don’t.

I appreciate a lot of the insight in how parents feel while going through the process.  One very memorable discussion is how preparing a kid for college is, in essence, making yourself obsolete.  I know this is true of parenting in general, but I wonder how I’ll feel about it once I’m staring it in the face.

Overall, I have really enjoyed the book.  I like books that are informative as well as funny, so I consider the different perspectives and information on the process a bonus to the humor.  And really, the best perspective I could have is to realize how ridiculous it is…and that maybe waiting until junior year won’t be the travesty I’d feared it could be.


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