Posted in Gifted Education

Saving Our Boys

JF2I grew up with a brother who struggled with mental illness.

My parents must have looked at the boy and thought something was wrong. He wet his pants in his third-grade classroom or hesitated to mix in with other shirtless boys who didn’t mind getting their shoes muddied from outdoor activities.

As a talented and sensitive artist, my brother did not cope well with the conflicting parenting styles; while our father harnessed him with reigns and latches to man him up, our mother hovered around him to compensate for what she thought he didn’t get from her husband.

By the time I was born seven years later, my brother saw my presence as a reflection of his own incompetence and an emblem of shame. I was my parents’ hope of what he could have been. At a young age, I witnessed his unmasked agony, which was raw and wild, often manifesting itself in verbal and emotional violence against me.

Looking back, his world of what it meant to be a man was a collage of parental obsession, a false sense of masculinity, and overprotection. An already a sensitive child who loved simple things in life, my parents’ norms and pressure drove him to run after the things he abhorred: power, success, and masculinity.

 Parents must invite their sons to be sad, afraid, hurt, silly and affectionate, and must embrace them as often as they snuggle their daughters. Sweet boys learn early on that they can defend themselves against loneliness by reaching out and asking for support rather than turning into people who, literally, grab for power.   

-Faith Salie @TIMES “How to Raise a Sweet Son in the Era of Angry Men” 

In his early 50’s, he is still searching for the boyhood he never had nor will ever know.

Before Father passed away, I remember how he summoned his courage to tell me that, as a father, he had so much anxiety about raising a son who seemed aloof, distant, and fragile. He didn’t know how to instruct him as he himself was raised by a father who always expected his to be “the man”.

I am not sure how to navigate this field of boyhood, becoming a man, or even how to listen to them.

Perhaps there’s nothing I can do to help the parents and the boys who struggle. Maybe “help” is not a right word to use here. Perhaps that’s the point. They don’t need my help. I just have to listen and know that they struggle to come to terms with their spaces.

 

 

Posted in Gifted Education

Parents, Our Strongest Allies

Building a strong relationship with middle school parents isn’t on the priority list for many educators. Considering North Carolina’s teacher pay is ranked #35 in the nation,  who would want to carve out extra hours calling parents to introduce themselves and give positive feedback for every child? For that matter,  most conferences for the gifted children have been done around angry parents, Individual Education Plan(IEP), behavioral issues, or failing grades. What we end up doing is we keep empathy out and use hard data to justify that we are doing the best we can to do our job as educators.

And I’m tired of this fight of advocating for the children and parents of the gifted.

We as teachers forget that parents are not our foes. Parents don’t get to hear much about how gifted services are delivered in classrooms because most of my time is spent on managing neglect and lack of differentiation in classrooms. They want to know more but by the time they want to know more, it’s around the mid-year. The phones start ringing at both ends of school and home when something goes wrong.

As these children enter into the season of autonomy and communities of their own, parents and teachers are the ones to closely communicate with each other to hold our children accountable. It’s a must for adults to communicate to each other. 

So here’s my suggestion. First, I start early. Pick out a week to call the parents after school to introduce myself. There are many ways to introduce ourselves through digital means, but nothing is as productive and meaningful as phone calls or personalized emails. What this does is it opens doors for transparency and communications. 100 students is a lot to email but when we think about it, spending 1 week to make phone calls and emails isn’t too bad to set the tone for the entire year.

Secondly, listening to parents’ concern, struggles, and celebration is like gathering data on their children’s lives and all other areas I cannot otherwise observe in their classrooms. Through the mouths and eyes of the parents, I have access to their children’s private lives. Parents, too, need teacher support.

Thirdly, find ways to engage our parents as part of our classroom culture. Often times, they will have access to community resources that they bring to enrich our experiences.

In my tiny quarter in the 7th grade hallway,  I delight in engaging with the parents who care about their children. Our conversation ranges from what to do for their new-to-district child to how the child is doing in their classes. Surprisingly, I hear so much positive feedback on how our teachers are doing a great job recognizing the needs of their children. I don’t think we allow our parents to speak the truth about their children.

Parents are not aliens; they are our allies.