I’m having a bit of a crisis of confidence on behalf of The Boy this week. I’m worried that he’s not achieving as much as he could (or working as hard as he should) at school. Theoretically, he should be a high achiever; between us, DH and I have seven A levels at grade A (before A* existed), a first-class BA Hons, a 2:1 MEng, a PGDip with distinction and engineering chartered status, so really, there’s a strong genetic argument for The Boy to have at least a couple of brain cells to rub together. And throughout Reception, and at the start of Year 1, I thought he was doing really well, and so did his teachers.
Now, though, I’m not so sure. There has been a whole raft of little things that have made me question his progress lately. Facebook is partly to blame. It seems that every day, my news feed is full of people’s tales of their children’s achievements. Star of the week awards. Headteacher’s certificates. Letters home from teachers celebrating their work. Beautifully written, beautifully spelt stories and notes.
I don’t blame anyone for boasting. I would, if I had cause to. But I don’t. The Boy doesn’t get certificates. He doesn’t get awards. His handwriting is appalling – up and down, spaced out and squashed up, full of crossings out and backwards letters – and his spelling not much better.
Then there’s the fact that sometimes, he just seems so spectacularly dense. Last weekend’s homework – a numeracy task involving some fairly basic addition and subtraction – looked like it should be a breeze. On Monday morning in the playground, other parents indeed confirmed that their kids had raced through it in minutes. In our house, it was a half-hour ordeal involving mistakes, counting on fingers, and utter exasperation from DH and me.
On top of all that, The Boy has absolutely no interest in writing stories, solving problems, doing anything that resembles work, in fact. Homework sessions are always accompanied by whinging, fiddling, staring out of the window, completely failing to concentrate on the task in hand, and doing the bare minimum. If this is what he’s like at school, no wonder he’s never singled out for praise or reward.
And I blame myself. Okay, not entirely; The Boy has his father’s genes, and although he’s clever, he has no self-motivation at all. DH is one of the cleverest people I know, yet his GCSE and degree results were well below what he’s capable of. Fortunately, he’s developed a work ethic with age, and is now very, very successful in his career – so there is hope for The Boy.
But I do feel like The Boy’s current mediocrity is my fault. Firstly, I don’t think I’m pushy enough. I don’t want to be a competitive parent, filling every moment of his free time with work, but perhaps I should be making him put in some extra effort at home, whether that’s by learning a few spellings, practising his handwriting, or doing some numeracy exercises. Perhaps I should be one of the parents whose children come into school on a Monday morning having done extra homework.
I also wonder whether I’m too hands-off where school is concerned. The Boy’s teacher always has a long line of parents waiting to talk to her after school, whereas I’ve always intentionally kept a distance, trusting her to get on with her job and assuming that she would tell me if there were any concerns. But earlier this week, I had a conversation with someone who was saying that you have to make your presence felt if you want your child to succeed at a state primary school. Her theory is that teachers invest more effort in the children whose parents shout the loudest, just to get them off their backs. Perhaps she’s right. Perhaps I’m doing The Boy a huge disservice by standing back. The title of this post refers to me, not The Boy.
DH and I fundamentally disagree on how to handle this. He concedes that The Boy doesn’t seem as smart or motivated as we hoped he’d be, but says that at six, it doesn’t matter; that it might take him until he’s 20 to find his stride, but that it’s not a problem (it wasn’t for him, after all). But I keep pointing out that it’s different for The Boy than it was for us. When we were kids, there were two comprehensive schools in our town, both of which were much of a muchness, and neither of which had entry criteria. Here, though, our two nearest secondary schools are polarised; one is an extremely well-regarded super-selective, while the other is a pretty average comp that until recently, has had a dodgy reputation. Okay, so The Boy is still five years away from the Eleven Plus, and I am absolutely *not* considering tutoring at this age, but I do feel he’s not too young to be developing a work ethic.
So what do we do? I don’t know. I am adamant that I will not ruin his childhood by hothousing him, but equally, as a parent, I have to take some responsibility for his learning. I would be letting him down enormously if I didn’t encourage him in the right direction. But it’s hard – especially when I have such an unwilling learner on my hands, and not a whole lot of patience.
Next half-term, The Boy will get his first formal school report, and then I will find out if my concerns are valid, or if he has – as predicted at the start of the year – achieved higher than average levels. My suspicion is that he’ll be above average, but won’t have done as well as he could have (just like his father). Then I suppose we can make an informed decision about how much we push him at home.
For now, though, nothing would make me happier than him coming home with a certificate in his book bag. Just once…