These are my random musings. Hopefully they will be witty, insightful, and frequently updated.
My kid can't handle middle school.
Published on February 6, 2008 By singrdave In Parenting
I'm going to be honest with you guys and do something I've frequently hesitated to do: reveal a real, ongoing problem at home.

My son failed four classes last semester with no relief in sight.

Our oldest son, Ben, was in a charter school that focused on math, science, and technology. A perfect fit for our really bright son, we thought. But since his sixth grade year (he's halfway through 7th grade now), they've sent home hours and hours of homework in addition to the intense class work. And he couldn't keep up. He has four Fs on his latest report card, including a grade of 12% in Physics and a 58% in Algebra. Up till 11 PM every night for all the homework. Required science fair projects with no let-up in the workload in order to get him ready for it -- he still had four hours of homework a night with a teacher-approved (read: "ambitious") science fair project due. He had eleven classes -- for a college student that's unrealistic, but for a 7th grader that's impossible. He'd come home not understanding the lectures or even how to do his homework. Everything in our evenings got pushed forcibly to the side so I could tutor Ben in algebra, social studies, physics, Spanish, etc.

In fact, he got so overwhelmed by schoolwork that he'd become very introverted and sullen, mopy... in other words, clinically depressed. This afternoon we have our fourth appointment with a therapist to help him through this. But in the meantime, that school and its hard-ass work ethic had to go.

We've tried to work with the school, but since it's a charter school in its third year of operation it lacks the support staff we need. He'ss depressed but they have no counselors. He's failing classes, but they lack the teachers to allow kids to have more flexibility in their scheduling -- the principal explained to me that they're not able to reararnge his classes to accomodate being yanked from his Physics class without totally changing everything around -- something the school told me they don't want to do. Ben's algebra and physics teacher didn't want to see Ben go -- their argument was that Ben'd never get into good schools without advanced classes. My response? He's not going to get into any schools at all if he keeps getting Ds and Fs.

He's been yanked from his school by us for bad grades and put into an easier (read, "public") school. I know that sounds like a no-brainer, but we were very reluctant to pull him. First complaint: what kind of lesson does that teach him? If you can't handle it, your parents will ride to your rescue? Whatever happened to good ol' bootstrap-pulling, work harder till you get it? Second complaint: we're planning on moving this summer anyway, so he'll be in three schools in the course of three consecutive semesters.

That's life in the singrdave household. Hopefully things will improve as Ben settles into his new routine. The therapy sessions have helped, I think -- our therapist is very good and she specializes in transition to new things. I guess what I'm looking for is reassurance that by taking him out of the high-stress school that we chose right. And that this is going to have a happy ending.

on Feb 06, 2008
There was a serious lack of empathy from the school. That bothered me more than anything else.
on Feb 06, 2008

First of all, imho, you DID THE RIGHT THING!

My son is in 6th grade this year at a public school.  He tests in the "gifted" levels.  But I don't put him in the gifted programs, know why?  It adds even more homework than he has now.  And frankly, he's smart, but I wouldn't call him gifted.

As for "never get into good schools without advanced classes."  That's bull and somewhere deep down you know it right?  How many Americans that you look at now and think, "Wow.  Hope my son grows up to be like that."  Went to charter schools?  I'm willing to bet most of them went to ~gasp~ good ol public school.

As for what you're teaching your son?  Well, first, you taught him you aren't afraid to admit when you're wrong.  You were wrong about the charter school for whatever reason.  Second, you are showing him that when something isn't working, you don't quit, you find another way to do it.  He isn't quitting school, he's finding another one where he can learn and not be over run therefor able to move on with life.  But third, and imo most important, you have supported him.  He knows you want the best for him, and when things got too crazy you stepped in to help him out.  That's what parents do!  Yeah, we need to let our kids make decisions and let them fail sometimes...but this wasn't a kid problem he could fix, it was an adult problem.  And YOU, and only you, could fix it.....and you did.

Good on ya!

Sounds like sound parenting to me.


on Feb 06, 2008

I think you did the right thing.  I think leaving him in a school where he was consistently, struggling, not succeeding and not receiving the help he needs would have been a mistake. 

I hope he finds his place in his new schools. 

on Feb 06, 2008
Wait...7th grade and all that crap? Jesus. That's insane. My middle school years went by like a breeze, but we didn't do foreign languages and physics or four hours of freakin' homework...of course it was a public school, but still.

There's a difference between advanced and impossible. Advanced challenges you but doesn't destroy you. I did college prep through high school, but it was nowhere near that crazy.

Pulling him out was the best thing you could do, in my opinion. You should always push yourself, but never bury yourself under that kind of stress.

I'm in college and I don't even work that hard. Insane. A public school education can get you into a decent school. I'm at Miami University...that's a pretty decent one, or so I hear. Expensive, better count for something.

on Feb 06, 2008
I totally second (and third) everything Tova and Loca have said!

I am really amazed that the school refused to work with you at all. There is no excuse for them being so inflexible! For a school such as that, they need to re-vamp their support system!

I've had a bit of a difficult school year myself with our 13 year old who is also in middle school. He has been having a hard time due to his slacking up because he thought he had time and could make up his grades. He was getting Ds - a mistake he's learning from. He then had an accident/injury, broken arm, surgery, physical therapy. That was quite an eventful situation for us. His grades got even worse, all Fs! During this entire period, I worked with his teachers, who were all very accommodating. Giving him home assignments, and oral stuff to do because he couldn't write. One teacher even had the other students take turns and write his notes for him! I was so grateful for that! We gave up on his getting his grades better for that semester last year. Now, he's turned almost all but one of those Fs to As and Bs! The one class he's having trouble with is (Science) the one teacher who was difficult and wouldn't work with me. I've even told the teacher that he may have given up on my son, but I refuse to, that' probably sealed his faith with him, but I'm not giving up on him! And I'm also not giving up on the teacher either! I'm going to get back to him to follow up with what is going on because here in Florida, high school science is important for the start of high school. My son said he's bored in the class and it's not interesting. I know he does get distracted too, so I'm not blaming the teacher. But I do not like the fact that he doesn't seem to be trying. I'm able to go on the school website and see what's going on with my child's other classes, if he missed assignments, what is upcoming, etc. The Science class has nothing on their program!

Anyway, it's never easy with kids, as you know, and being there is what we can do for them and you are doing a great job!
on Feb 06, 2008

UP to midnight?  I understand your concerns about pulling him, but that is just ridiculous!

Children need to learn.  But they have to have time to be children as well.  Mine never were in the national spelling bee, but they got good grades, and had fun being kids.


on Feb 07, 2008
My middle school years went by like a breeze, but we didn't do foreign languages and physics or four hours of freakin' homework...of course it was a public school, but still.

Ben's 7th grade schedule -- all ELEVEN CLASSES:

Algebra I
Mathematical Foundations of Physics
Academic Writing
Social Studies
Art of Social Studies*
Spanish II
Chinese I
Physical Education

* the school couldn't afford to hire a separate art teacher, so they asked one of the social studies teachers to teach art.

And you read right: he was taking Chinese and Spanish. At the same time.
on Feb 07, 2008
When I took physics, they required algebra 2... which you couldn't take until algebra 1 was done... which means your kid is probably being taught advanced algebra and basic algebra at the same time. While learning physics which uses all that from the beginning. Never mind the writing, history, and foreign languages.
on Feb 09, 2008

I wouldn't worry about him learning the wrong lesson re: parents bailing him out. You're not bailing him out, but assisting him in adressing this issue. He has to know that he can turn to you when he feels overwhelmed like this and so, so down on himself. Additionally, as has been pointed out before, the state of his education was in peril and he will still be attending school (and I feel doing much better with a different curriculum).

And you read right: he was taking Chinese and Spanish. At the same time.

I find it hard enough to try Iraqi and Farsi at the same time, and I'm already a 3/2+ (on the reinstated DLPT IV) Arabic linguist with a 130 on the DLAB. Maybe they don't count Spanish as a language because it's not a CAT IV?

Craziness. As you pointed out, 11 classes would be unrealistic for a college student: at Virginia Tech (at least at the time I was there), you'd be carrying something like 30+ credit hours, attending over 30 hours of class a week, and doing certainly over 30 hours of homework/study as well. I knew only a handful of people at the college who regularly did more than 20 credit hours/semester, and they tended to be ultra-competent, Type A, nose-to-the-grindstone, overachieving types; they often had double majors and ridiculous GPAs, so really don't stack up with your typical 12-year old.

Poor Ben. I hope that the transition to the other school will go smoothly for him, and that he recovers well from this. He's a good kid, and I hate to hear that he's so sad.
on Mar 15, 2008
I understand how you feel and your concern for not making him pull through it.

I had a similar experience when I tried teaching middle school math. I had the lowest of the low kids. Many of them were borderline mentally disabled. I was given 6 classes with no planning session and this was my first year teaching. I ended up quitting after 2 weeks. It was a very hard thing to do but my sanity was being compromised. I may have been able to make it if I were able to pull myself together but I was beyond that point. I got to the point where I had to just concentrate on walking. I couldn't tell you which way was up or down much less make common sense decisions. There was no common sense.

So, I totally understand the conflict that you went through in pulling your child out. You do not want to teach him to just give up when the going gets tough, but you are concerned about his mental well being. Maybe he was capable of pulling it off, but once he got into a certain mind frame, no matter what you do, he's beyond the pail.

You want your child to succeed but you also want him to be happy. Rest assured that you did what you had to do. Maybe he was failing but that doesn't make him a failure. It takes great strength to rise up after you've fallen. It takes more strength to do that than to ride on the coat tails of prior success.
on Jun 25, 2008
I understand it sound like he might have a problem with organization try going through his backpack on a daily basis at first and as he gets organized you can cut down, contact the teachers they may not be aware of the situation and might be able to help {most have email it is quick}, if you feel that he is getting distracted by other than school activities then they need to stop

My daughter got into this rut and we took away her computor time, cell phone, phone in general until her grades improved and she was more organized and she is now an A/B student.
I hope this helps
on Jun 28, 2008

hey, brother, it's doyne.  sorry about having disappeared.  I've been in and out of the country doing the work thing.  shoot me a message when you get a chance.  See if we can't get together.