I was hopeful, excited, and nervous as I walked up the steps to my son’s first parent teacher conference several years ago. My son was in 3 year old Pre-K, and I was so proud of how well he knew all his letters, numbers, and shapes. This was the first preschool he had attended, and I couldn’t wait to hear his teacher’s impressions of him.
As I came in, the teacher smiled, but she seemed nervous. Why was she nervous? My son was delightful, and people told me how funny and smart he was all the time. She went through his kindergarten checklist with me, then she stopped. She said, “I know you’re probably not expecting this, but I think your son needs to repeat PreK 3.”
What, now? I looked at the name on the folder in her hand to make sure she had the folder for the right child. There was my son’s name, written clearly. I felt my face flush, then my whole body felt cold. Why did I feel embarrassed and devastated? “You’re a teacher too,” I told myself. “Listen and keep an open mind.”
His teacher went on to explain that although he knew all the academic content for the class, he was less mature than many of the other children, he had difficulty following directions, and he was one of the youngest in the class. She said he just needed more time to mature. With a late summer birthday, he would continue to be one of the youngest in his class for his whole school career if I sent him on each year.
“Just think about it right now,” she said. “You don’t have to decide now, but give it some time to really consider. ” I thanked her and numbly walked back to my car. I knew she was a good teacher, and I knew my son loved her class. But especially with this being my first child, I was in shock.
I went home and told my husband about the parent teacher conference. He was shocked too, and we both felt like we just needed time to think about it. As I looked at the schedule of parent activities coming up at school, I suggested that we both take part of a day off work and come watch how our son interacted with others together. We freed up our schedules to both come to the Easter party at school, and we stood together as the children did an activity. While the majority of the other children participated in all the different parts of the party, our son and a couple of his friends ran around the room. My husband whispered in my ear, “Yeah, he can repeat.” I was thinking the same thing.
What came through all of this was some pretty big parenting realizations. Some of them I really already knew subconsciously, but this brought them to the forefront of my mind. I am not objective about my own children. I can see and recognize many of their strengths and weaknesses, and I can predict their thought processes, but I am totally biased with them. I love them more than anything, and it is almost impossible for me to be completely objective because they are my boys. I see them through the lens of being their mother. Their teachers care for them deeply, but they can also see them more objectively. They can see them in comparison to a group of other children away from their parents. They can see them in a way that I can try, but cannot completely grasp. And for that reason, I really need to listen to them. Since I am a teacher myself I already knew all this, but when it’s your own children, it’s just different.
We made the decision to let our son repeat PreK 3, and it was one of the best things I feel like I have ever done as a parent. The next year that he was in the same class, he became more of a leader. He was able to follow directions consistently, and he wasn’t bored because his teachers gave him more challenging material when needed. He was able to work and play with his friends more cooperatively. In his case, I feel like he just needed the gift of time. Since then, he has been consistently academically strong each year, and he truly enjoys school and his friends. He is in fifth grade now, and I feel like he’s right where he needs to be.
If you have been in the same situation, I can’t tell you what you should do. Every parent who gets this suggestion from a teacher will need to decide on their own. However, this whole process reminded me that teachers can see our children in a way that we sometimes can’t. Their suggestions and advice are invaluable. As parents, we know our children inside and out, but teachers can see them through fresh eyes.