February 20, 2013

Busy Day and Sixth Grade

Coincidentally this week we ended up with one million things happening. Today is one of the worst days of the week: we have, like, seven different things, several conflicting with other different things, several of them with uncertain end-times, most of them requiring Advanced Advance Planning such as sending Elizabeth's dinner to school with her this morning. I KNOW it will all end up fine, with me saying, "Huh! That turned out Just Fine!" at the end, and that helps a little, but I still had stress dreams last night involving not being able to remember what appointments I had, trying to figure out what time it was, children missing the bus, etc.

Also, William's grades have plummeted and we're trying to fix some of that this week. Our middle school has a neat thing where you can go online and see that, for example, your child (by which I mean "my child") has failed to hand in two projects and two dozen homework and classwork assignments. The problem at that point is that if you ("I") ask your ("my") child what the heck, that child may say "Uhhhhhh" and look squintingly at the ceiling, apparently unable to give any further information or even remember what classes we're talking about. So then you might have a stress dream where you're trying to make him get on the bus but you can't figure out how to make him do what you want him to do, and even after you get him on the bus he shows up back at the house an hour later because you don't seem to be able to control him while he's at school.

Rob's grades also plummeted in 6th grade, and when I mentioned this at the time to a friend she said, "Yeah, 6th grade is a sink-or-swim time." The work gets harder, and they're suddenly supposed to handle it with less hand-holding. They have multiple teachers instead of just one, and the teachers are MIDDLE SCHOOL teachers, not elementary school teachers; it's a different sort of person who wants to teach those different levels.

Rob did straighten out, so I have hopes for William. But on the other hand, their temperaments are so different. Rob is competitive, argumentative, a firstborn who likes to think of himself as superior. William is "la la la, cute cat gifs and constant jokes!" combined with "if I don't deal with the problem, maybe it will go away." So, like, if William gets stressed about a project, he's likely to just...not do it. Or mention it to anyone. He's sunshiney to have around the house, but it's hard to know how to get him to do stuff: he either makes it into a joke or he avoids it completely.

I HOPE my agitated-masked-as-cool lectures are starting to work. The most successful part was when I said that the situation was like Tetris: if you get behind on Tetris and leave a bunch of holes in the layers, you CAN just keep building from there, leaving the holes. But it's a LOT easier if you can work on filling in a bunch of those holes first. (This was to explain to him why he should try to catch up on missed assignments rather than just doing better from here on in.)

But even after that awesome, hip, youth-appropriate game analogy, he came home from school yesterday and I said, "Did you talk to your teachers about making up work?" and he looked squintingly at the ceiling and said "Uhhhhh."

19 comments:

StephLove said...

I had no idea we were raising the same sixth-grader, but we are. The second to last paragraph is very, very familiar.

We have that online grade-checking thing, too. So handy but also easy to get obsessed.

StephLove said...

Not second to last, third to last.

Still Playing School said...

LOVE the analogy!

Suzanne said...

I distinctly remember putting my mother through this for my entire middle and high school career. I would fall far behind until progress reports came out, then go to my teacher and cry about being so far behind, then turn in everything with A+'s for the rest of the year and pull B's. I never filled in all the Tetris-holes but when I got close to losing the game I would suddenly realize the situation was Very Serious and shape up. Maybe William is a last-minute type of student too. (If so, I'm terribly sorry, we're the worst).

Adah said...

Hey, I have toddlers and I have been teaching middle school for 9 years. I also teach 11th and 12th graders. Let me just tell you that SO MUCH HAPPENS between 6th and 11th grade and that these wonderful boys who seem to be unable to hold it together academically or organizationally in middle and early high school TURN OUT WONDERFULLY. And they go to college. And they become productive members of society (one of them is now a wonderful new colleague!). And they don't always seem that wonderful during this period (although they usually give us occasional reminders of how clever, funny, sweet or kind they can be - it's probably an evolutionary adaptation to not let us forget in the midst of the angst we have over not being able to control what they do). Anyway, I have seen it over and over through the years. And I'm not saying that they figure it out all on their own, but there also isn't a magic bullet (duh). They certainly need all kinds of help coming up with systems and learning to share a little bit and knowing that most of the adults in their lives are on their side, even though it doesn't always feel that way. But man is it awesome to know them during this time and at the end of it!! The contrast makes the end result so much better.



Slim said...

We have online grade-checking for middle schoolers, too. The kid who is subject to it is mostly a responsible guy, but I have been informed that it is not possible to study for math tests and that he only missed two questions on a quiz, so what's the big deal? (The quiz had five questions, so missing two meant getting . . . wait, would this count as a math test? Could you study for it?)

Tric said...

I'm also a middle and high school teacher and I second that William's behavior is so totally normal. Approximately 85% of 6th grade boys are a total and complete mess. I have a class entirely made up of senior boys and they are at least capable of turning in homework with minimal headaches. One thing that I've had parents do is come in with their child to get late work etc., but the parents make the kids do the talking. It's good to develop self advocacy skills and that way you hear the conversation too. I realize that might be hard to schedule, but its a thought.

Lawyerish said...

This is so interesting to me, since I was such a high-strung student from first grade all the way through graduation; I cannot even BEGIN to understand the mind of a kid who doesn't do the assigned homework or skips a project.

I certainly went to school with a lot of those kids, though, and my brother was a bit like that, starting in junior high. He was always willing to do ONLY the amount of work it took to squeak by with a decent grade, like a B/B+. It made my parents INSANE. They knew he was super bright but he was just kind of like, meh -- I'll get by.

Lo and behold, in his career he is extremely successful. His work ethic picked up in law school and he has been nose-to-the-grindstone ever since. I, on the other hand, was so burnt out by the time I got to law school that I could only summon B/B+ effort except in the classes I truly loved.

So, you know, for many kids it all comes out in the wash. But I do think you're handling it well, and I am impressed by your ultra-hip Tetris analogy!

Jenny Grace said...

I'm not sure if this will be helpful or frustrating but I didn't do well in school at all until 9th grade when I decided to start getting straight As (that's literally what I did: "I'm going to get straight As now. I want to be a person who gets straight As). Prior that that I refused to ever do anything and got many Cs and even some Ds and not because the work was above me or anything. I just don't like homework. I still don't like homework.

Anyhow it took realizing that I needed to get good grades in high school in order to go AWAY to college. And then I decided to get good grades and did. Prior to that, there was absolutely NOTHING my parents could have done to make me do my work and do well in school. There were many conferences, lots of fretting, lots of "Her test scores are high, and she's such a BRIGHT and PLEASANT child, but she doesn't do her work..." followed by lots of me getting grumpy and staring at the ceiling and continuing to not do anything.
I'm uh...not sure how to inspire that sort of internal motivation.

Cherish said...

Im with ya sister. My 6th grader is a first born, but otherwise pretty similar. The comments so far are really encouraging, so I guess we just keep doing what we're doing? Maybe?

Jess said...

This is the kind of thing that makes me so crazy about my kids hitting middle school age. I didn't study or do all of my assignments to the best of my ability and then eventually I did fine in high school and college and am an intelligent productive member of society. But it will drive ME CRAZY when my kids go through it. Because if it's sink or swim? SOME OF THEM SINK OMG and I will be a mess until I know that my kid won't sink.

StephLove said...

My sixth-grader does his homework (when he remembers). It's turning it in that's the real problem. He fails assignment after assignment that he's completed and forgotten to give the teacher.

Laura Diniwilk said...

I love posts like this since so few bloggers (at least, the ones that I read) talk about older kids. I felt SO PREPARED for having babies thanks to my bloggy friends, so I am really counting on you to help me figure out how to be an older kid parent too. That Tetris analogy is just genius, and has been filed in my "Swistle Gems" brain folder for future use.

My parents had NO IDEA what I was doing (or not doing) in class so I am both intrigued and appalled that you can check in at that level of detail.

Gigi said...

This post immediately took me back to my son's middle school career. He was the EXACT SAME WAY! Up until about 5th grade he was an A student. And then in middle school it tanked. He even looked the teacher square in the face, during a parent/teacher/student conference after being asked how he felt about his grade (a C) and said, "Well, I feel pretty good about it because at least it's passing." I almost killed him then and there.

Finally, finally around 10th grade he began to shape up. Thank God. I truly think it is a boy thing because you aren't the only one I've heard complain about this.

Slim said...

Gigi -- A friend with two daughters would laugh until she sobbed if she heard you say it was a boy thing. Both the daughter who was always ornery and the daughter who was a golden ray of cooperative sunshine fell into the Abyss of Indifference.

Misty said...

This thread is so helpful for me! We are not alone! We are not alone! My 6th grader has all of a sudden decided that schoolwork is for the birds and hasn't done ANYTHING. And make up work? Sure, he could do it. But. He. WON'T.

I am expecting F's. I have even broke out the: Ok, so you want to fail? You know they will just make you do these same spelling lessons again. Don't want to do it the first time? How does TWICE sound? And those best friends of yours? You will not graduate with them.

I am mean, I know. But I have had it up to HERE. And we have struggled with January for years. January is when all bets are off and the world goes to Homework Hell in a hand basket.

Sigh.

kristin said...

Eep! My oldest will be going to middle school next year and we recently went on a tour of the school. I kept looking around and thinking, "All these children! Just! Taking responsibility?! FOR THEMSELVES?!" and feeling like there must be some big secret on how that is done. Still waiting for it to be revealed...

CARRIE said...

I taught 6th grade. I think every mother of every 6th grade boy in the history of man would write this exact same blog post.

As weird as middle schoolers are, I would lose my mind completely if I had to teach kindergarteners. Too yippy.

Mama Bub said...

Sixth grade is a notoriously rough year. It's the year where test scores plummet across the board, and teachers go, "Yeah. Sixth grade." That's unhelpful to your particular situation, unless it's helpful to know that it's not just YOUR sixth grader.