One of the best things my mother ever did for me happened when I was in the sixth grade.
I was drowning in depression. Gawky, unpopular, picked on by Jason A. to the point where he pushed me down when I was on crutches, and turned my sprained ankle into a broken ankle. My only friends were others who were as big misfits as I was. I hated school. I would spend study hall drawing complex geometric patterns with my four-color ink pen.
I was miserable.
To complicate matters, I was not well liked by my teacher, for reasons which I will never understand. I didn't do anything to get into trouble, but I was not trusted or liked.
Mrs. N never collected assignments directly. There was no, "Pass your papers to the front of the row," or direct handing in of assignments. Assignments were put in a stack of letter trays. Because of this, my sixth grade teacher regularly "lost" my assignments, or else they were pulled out of the pile by others in my class.
I nearly failed sixth grade.
After the first several assignments were labeled as "late" or missing, I couldn't see the point. I worked my ass off, and got nowhere, so I stopped trying in her classes.
A's and B's in the classes she did not teach, and D's in the ones she did.
One particular assignment that I remember very clearly was a narrative for a contest. We were to write an essay, in narrative form, about something significant that happened in our lives. I wrote an eight page story about what happened to my family in the Manson Tornado, double-spaced, punctuated carefully, words looked up in the dictionary, rewritten to where there were no mistakes at all, no cross-outs. Perfect.
I was told I was a liar. That stuff didn't happen. I was too young to remember, and someone else wrote this paper for me. I was stunned. My paper was not submitted to the contest because of this.
The sheer unfairness of this blind-sided me.
Later, when my report card came out, I was stunned to see that I was in danger of actually failing the sixth grade. My mother was extremely angry at me, understandably. How could I be failing when I spent so much time on my homework? Why wasn't I turning things in? She put the fear into me so badly, that I went back to class, stopped hanging out so much with my misfit friends (or anyone, for that matter), and kissed so much ass that I felt like a phony.
I squeaked by. There was no way in hell I was going to repeat that year of hell. No way.
Starting in seventh grade, I worked my ass off in every class, and got good grades again. I was on the honor roll from then on. I also never had a teacher quite like her again.
I worked hard because I wanted out of my hometown. I wanted to make something of myself. I wanted to make my mom proud, and I never wanted to be on the receiving end of a lecture like the one I had when I was failing sixth grade. You don't want that type of screaming. Trust me. ;)
So tonight, after going to my son's conference. I realized that I was going to have to make that same type of lecture. He's not failing, by any means, but he also is not applying himself, not turning in work, and is not paying attention like he should. He has the capacity to get A's, but is not working up to his potential.
I hated to do it. As his homeroom teacher said, "He's not a bad kid. He never causes trouble." In a way, it would almost be easier if he did cause trouble. He'd get the attention that he needs.
So, I came home, put aside my inner sixth grader, and made his ears ring. I focused on positives, set down rules, and expectations. I grounded him from video games during the school week, and from drawing during school hours (except during lunch - this was one of the problems he was having in classes). I will be inspecting all homework, the planner, and he will start studying for tests three days in advance. I am not letting this slip, or next year will be a fiasco.
I did not let myself feel awful during this. It is completely necessary. Something has to change. It is not enough to be smart. You also have to have the grades in order to make something of yourself. I don't want to let him throw away the opportunities he could have.
My mother must have felt the same way twenty-four years ago...