" I feel I am very sane about how crazy I am." -Carrie Fisher
"Own your Crazy." -Kim

Monday, June 28, 2010

She'll Start High School with More Math Than I Graduated With...

I have to admit I am a bit of an underachiever. I suppose it is all relative and while there are certain segments of the population out there that would look at me and think I am an overachiever, really, honestly, for the most part I am a bit of an underachiever.

It started in high school, my sophomore year, when I sat down in my counselor’s office to review my academic progress thus far, and look at where I was headed in the next two years. I was doing well, college bound, with no real issues. The counselor said my future was bright and I could follow one of two paths. He then proceeded to lay out the two paths for me. One involved attending a university and the other a state college. The prestigious university path involved a rigorous two years of math, science and foreign language. The state school path involved a slightly rigorous Jr. year followed by, from what I could tell, a breezy Sr. year. I have stated I am a bit of an underachiever, so there is no real need to tell you which path I took.

The underachieving continued in college. My choices were state colleges located up and down the coast of California, and at college choice time my parents were going through a nasty divorce. I decided the best way to choose my college was to decide which one was the farthest from my home and attend that one. San Diego State it was. It turns out San Diego State had a lot of other perks too, but distance was its greatest attribute for me.

My father sent me off to college with one line of advice, “Get a good liberal arts education, learn to play bridge, and handle your liquor.” Really, every underachiever’s dream direction as you head out into the world.

Every college course all had one thing in common I quickly discovered…the syllabus. Every college course started with the instructor going over…the syllabus. The syllabus was just another version of the speech my high school counselor had given me. The syllabus laid out several paths for you. One path led to an A, the other a C-. I did a quick analysis of my future and life ambitions. I thought about job interviews and applications, I checked around, and nobody who actually functioned in the adult world could remember having to share their GPA from college, just proof that they had graduated. Thus, this syllabus girl jumped right on board with the c- path, and went to work on learning to play bridge and handling her liquor, except that I still can’t play bridge.

This being said, my life as an underachiever has gone remarkably well, except that now I have children, and it turns out my children are not underachievers. So, I have now gone from underachiever to hypocrite in a quick blink of an eye.

The reality of this hit me when I walked in late to Back to School Night for my oldest child’s sixth grade year. I teach, I have four children…I have led and attended hundreds of Back to School Nights, all fourth grade and below. I was completely unprepared. The teacher was basically laying out expectations that would prepare the children for college. College? Seriously? I got ready for college in my Jr. year of high school. We have five years to go before we think about college. It turns out we didn’t.

Before Jr. High my daughter had to decide which classes she would take. It turns out there were “2 paths” involved, one of regular classes and one of Advanced Placement classes. She chose all advanced placement. I said, in my still present underachiever voice, “That’s a pretty big load. Do you want to take maybe one regular class so you are not bogged down with too much homework? Where’s ceramics? I took ceramics in seventh grade, it was great.” She said (with extreme exasperation and somewhat snotty look on her face), “No, I qualified for all of these classes and that is what I am going to take. Why would I take the regular classes if I can do the work for these?” Yes, exactly…and there it was, my shift from underachiever to hypocrite was underway.

This theme would follow me for the next few years. There would be Back to School Nights at the Jr. High, meetings, math practice sessions, and the list goes on. Luckily, I have a monitor in my brain that is somewhat in place most of the time. This monitor would keep the things I thought about saying safely in my head, while I would respond to things with what appeared to be a thoughtful head nod of agreement. For example…

At the seventh grade orientation day a parent said, “Thank goodness they are in these great math courses. You can’t do well in life without a really firm grasp on mathematics.” In my head I was thinking, “Oh, but you can, you really can…look at me, I am doing great and I still add on my fingers.”
But, what I did was…a thoughtful head nod.

The next year, at the eighth grade Back to School Night, I found myself with a “free” period because my child and several others had chosen “office help” as their elective. A parent said, “I think this “office help” is a huge waste of time. It won’t help them in the future at all. I wish the girls had taken French instead.” In my head I was thinking, “Are you kidding? This is a really popular choice, this is great. This means our kids are cool.”
But, what I did was…a thoughtful head nod.

That same year, at conferences in April, a very nice Science teacher laid out for me which science classes my child should take in high school (turns out there were 2 paths). He very politely steered me away from Earth Science in an explanation that implied Earth Science was a ridiculous waste of anyone’s time and that by taking said Earth Science class my child would be unfit for any kind of successful future. In my head I was thinking, “Wait…I took that earth science class and got a C-, it wasn’t that easy.”
But, what I did was…a thoughtful head nod.

High School starts next month. We have had our talk on expectations for this upcoming journey. There were “2 paths” for me to go with during our talk…underachiever or hypocrite. I did not mention ceramics or that her load might be “too heavy.” I did not bring up “office help” as a choice. Instead I find myself on the computer trying to find classes at the Jr. College for driver training and health so that she can take AP History in their place next year. She is NOT signed up for earth science, but some crazy biology class, and she will start high school with more math than I graduated with. When we discussed her GPA expectations, we said a 4.0 is what she should shoot for. She said, “Well, what if I get a couple of B’s.” I said, “Well, people will be checking your GPA for college, it is VERY important.” You got it, I went with hypocrite.

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