Too Big to Fail?

Today was report card day.

I’ve got a kid in kindergarten and 1st grade, and I can’t make any sense of their report cards whatsoever. Their report cards say things like “on target” and stuff like that, but as long as they are not eating glue and are being decent citizens, I’m not too worried about them. I’m not apathetic, but I do know Beth is checking up on them, and she’s pretty good about letting me know if there’s a problem.

My two 3rd graders are doing well too. For the most part, they bring home A’s and high B’s. One is pretty darn smart, and the other is a really driven worker, so they tend to be neck and neck. I do always ask, “Did you do your best?” To me, this is an equally important component since our grades indicate how much we learned and our level of effort indicates our integrity and self-discipline.

However, my 4th grader is a different story. For the past two years, he has consistently been getting C’s in Math and English. There are a lot of reasons why I think this is.

  1. He has only been speaking English for about 18 months. While we have been in the US now for three years, we only began making English the official family language about the middle of last year.
  2. Three years ago, he could barely count. With so many transitions before coming to the US, he didn’t have a solid educational foundation poured, and he is playing catch-up in a lot of areas.
  3. He’s now going to an all-English school and doesn’t have the bilingual program that we had before. We’ve made Alabama a lot more diverse by being here. Before our family descended on our new Elementary school, they only had 3 Latin children, and all of them came from one family. Needless to say, they don’t have the need to put programs in place to help children with a Spanish background.
  4. School is just not his thing. He just doesn’t enjoy learning that much unless it is about dinosaurs or Indians.

However, at the end of the day, that’s just a string of excuses. He may have it harder than some, but we do not give ourselves permission to under-perform because of it. That sets us on a path of lying to ourselves and denying the reality.

For this reason, every report card he has gotten, we do the same routine. We see the C, we ask the teacher what we can do differently, and we keep working hard each and every day to make things better. It’s felt (even for me) like that part in “Rudy” where he keeps getting rejected to attend Notre Dame, but every time, he’s gone back and tried again. I’ve also been honest with him that if he slips further, failure was a very real option, and he could be repeating a grade with his brother and sister if that happens.

(As an aside, I’m tiptoeing that delicate line of always encouraging him to do better at school but making sure he understands that I love him no matter what grades he gets. It’s hard, but I think we’ve struck a good balance. Also, I’m saying some things in here that might be blasphemous for most adoptive blogs… If I wasn’t 100% sure he felt connected and loved, I would definitely be emphasizing that even more than I am now. I don’t want others (or him) to confuse my attitude about hard work and good grades as conditional love.)

I do believe he is trying his best, even though his best has been a C. A month or so ago, when we first came to a new school in Alabama (a month ahead of our old school), he redid his homework about three times, staying up until 11:00 pm to do it. He didn’t enjoy it, and there were a few tears shed, but he didn’t complain, and he worked his tail off. I’ve never been prouder of him, and I made sure he knew. Let me say, all too often we concern ourselves with moving strife out of a kid’s life when, if in a controlled environment, it could be good for them… I hated having to watch him suffer through it, but he not only learned the school material that night, but he also learned about grit, tenacity, and follow-through.

Though he hates it, I believe he is starting to value his education and understands why it is important. Case in point: his late-nighter was a significantly better outcome than last year when he told us his bad grades were Beth’s fault because she didn’t help him enough with his homework. Oooo! That little comment led to a 30-minute talk on personal responsibility. By the end of that conversation, he knew learning was his job, not his mom’s or his teacher’s.

All of that leads me to today. I came home to the happiest 4th grader in America… All A’s and B’s, finally! Rudy made the football team! Bear in mind, one was an 80.6%, but it still counts, and he was more excited about that B- than some kids are about making A’s.

Thank you to the two schools that had the courage to tell my son that his work was sub-par when it really was. Thank you to all the teachers that honestly assessed his work and gave him those C’s. You didn’t do him a disservice by lying to him and making him think his effort was great. You didn’t cheapen his education or coddle his emotions in the process by eliminating poor grades. You were and honest broker, and you helped him assess where he needed to focus efforts. You didn’t do it to make him feel bad. You did it because it was the right thing to do.

That string of C’s, those long nights at the dinner table, and the extra work at home and school have made this victory taste that much sweeter. His failures have amplified the success he has just had. We are not out of the woods yet, and he knows we have to keep up the effort to at least maintain what he has, but he knows that great feeling of working seriously hard for something and finally getting the result. I’m hoping this gives him even more resolve in the future.

A few years back, we, as a country, decided that there were certain companies that were “too big to fail.” Even though the free market was cleansing itself of poor performing businesses, a natural mechanism of this economy, the government stepped in and put those businesses on life support.

That’s a conversation for a different blog, but I will say, when we take away our ability to fail, we inherently take away our ability to succeed. We are never too big to fail, and if we can pass that lesson on to the future generation (always couched in encouragement and detached from acceptance), they will be better for it. For this reason, during Thanksgiving and the holiday season, I have been thankful for C’s and F’s, losing games, bench warming, and last chair in band.

At the dinnermesa,

Ty

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