Jaybird has been at a half-day Montessori preschool since September. Initially, we really liked it. It’s close to us, sweet and small, one classroom of mixed 3-5 year olds. The other parents and kids seem very happy there. When we went to the open house and did an observation, we were both impressed: the atmosphere seems peaceful and nurturing, the kids engaged in their “works,” content. There are a variety of materials and the teacher supplements traditional Montessori with a world cultures curriculum.
Well, fast forward some months. Jaybird has been crying and saying he doesn’t want to go to school. We’re frustrated with the teacher. I’m feeling bad, like this is the wrong fit. From the beginning, it’s been hard on him socially. He’s the youngest by about 6 months and the other boys can be mean to him or get annoyed with him; I’ve seen it after school a number of times. There’s one boy I just can’t stand. Isn’t that awful? He’s four! We like his parents, too, but he’s kind of a bully and he tattles and lies and just ugh. He often accuses Jaybird of doing things that he hasn’t done. Jaybird is fascinated by the other boys and follows them around, and sometimes they seem to get along, but I think he’s often left out. It breaks my heart. We have talked to the teacher about it before, but I don’t know that it made a big impact. We have also tried play dates outside of school, wherein they get along better. I do think that his speech can hold him back; he’s reluctant, it seems, to talk to his friends – he’s more physical in his interactions. He talks so much at home that this is a little confusing for us. He does talk a lot about his friends at school, lists their names, loves the older girls, asks for play dates with everyone. So he doesn’t seem as bothered by the dynamics as we do. Again, confusing for us. How much do we intervene? I just feel so Mama Bear about this whole thing.
The lead teacher is also very focused on academics, on letters and numbers, learning the three-finger pencil grip, etc. At his first conference, she shocked us with her negativity: he can’t do this, he can’t do that. He only scribbles instead of writing his name. And so on. I’m thinking: he’s three! Three. She said he didn’t speak in three-word sentences, which he absolutely does at home (ten words or longer, easy). His articulation is behind the other kids, and she was worried about his speech to the point that she wanted us to get him tested. We went through the process with the school district for early services. They declined to test him based on the information we provided, stating that while he’s in a “late bloomer” category, his errors are all within normal developmental range. Which, frankly, we knew. He has the hardest time with blends like “tr” and “dr,” and often pronounces “g” or “k” as “d,” but he’s chatty and improving all the time and we’re just not worried.
Then the teacher called us to say that she thought he wasn’t “internalizing concepts.” It was such an upsetting phone call that poor Uno had to field. She was shaking when she got off. We have never heard such a thing from anyone who spends time with him, including his grandma, who is an early childhood education specialist. In fact, she was stunned when we told her about what the teacher said. Basically, the teacher thinks he doesn’t understand these concepts like which one is bigger / longer (he does! I’ve seen him do it at home) and she says he gives her a “blank stare” regarding activities. The child is a lot of things: impulsive, strong-willed, yes, but also bright and curious and playful. He loves to read, to draw, to pretend, to help me cook, to ask questions, to do things himself, to cuddle, to run and climb and pedal his bike. I just can’t understand why the teacher doesn’t see these things. Also, he IS learning letters, counting well, recognizes written numbers up to 5, remembers song lyrics and the names of the continents and what have you. Uno and I aren’t worried about him academically, and certainly not now. He’s three and a half. We want him to feel free to explore. We want him to have successful social experiences, to feel safe and to feel encouraged. I don’t give a flying fuck if he can hold the pencil with the appropriate grip at this point in time, or write the letter “J” to the teacher’s satisfaction. Of course, after someone says your son isn’t “internalizing concepts” you feel awful, scared, like the ground has moved under your feet. So even though we’re confident about him, our confidence has wavered and I am frankly furious with the teacher about that.
I don’t want to be the kind of parent who hides her head in the sand and blames the teacher. I don’t want to shelter my son from valuable lessons and experiences. It’s okay to experience failure and to try again. But I want to help him and stand up for him, and this teacher has all of my protective hackles raised.
Yesterday at pickup, she gave me the “I’m concerned” face and said he’d had a pee accident. Furthermore, she said, he had one almost every day last week. “How’s he doing at home?” She asked. She has this way of asking…it’s so alarmist. Anyway, I felt defensive of him. He does have potty accidents. Not every day. And hey, never a poop one. He’s getting so much better at telling us when he has to go. He’d been doing really well at school. So I said, “he’s great.” I explained that we’ve been doing a star chart and that seems to have helped, as has backing off on reminders, though I remind him more lately. She just kept frowning, told me she reminds him frequently, that he goes to sit on the potty, but then he pees at circle time. Ok, I get it, that is totally frustrating. But I didn’t know what else to say! Then she said, “it’s like it doesn’t even register.” Again with the implication that he’s actually incapable of comprehending her.
I was not at my finest. Jaybird started to run up the sidewalk. I burst out, “I’m stressed!” Turned to follow him. She was apologetic and said we could talk later and that was that.
Last night Jaybird was crying about going to school. He said, “sometimes [the teacher] is loud.” Uno emailed the teacher to tell her this and to express our concerns. Said we should meet or at least connect via phone. Now I’m kind of nervous about seeing her today at pickup, but something’s gotta give.
I should end it by saying that this place is popular with parents. It’s known for being a special, magical little school. He does seem to like going there, most days, and the second teacher, who he has every other day, seems to really enjoy Jaybird. I’m not under any illusion that any school experience will be perfect. Then again: he’s three and a half! I want school to be wonderful right now. Not stressful.
If we do take him out, well. We can’t really do it, childcare-wise, for the rest of the school year. He’ll be home this summer. For the fall, it’s hard. All the other preschools have waiting lists. I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.