Raise Your Glass

At the start of summer we received my son’s school report. End of Year 4 in the primary school, he’s ten years old. His marks per subject were pretty much what we had expected – very strong academically, just getting by in activities. But the overall commentary the teacher had written came as something of a shock. He was described as something of a sociopath (my word, not the teacher's) – "needed to be more tactful, uncooperative, a loner". We thought this might have been mentioned during the school year, at parent teacher meetings, in notes home to us, but it hadn’t.

I know my son pretty well. He’s a chip off the old block. Very attentive to detail, studious but impatient, strong with figures and language but reacts badly to criticism, mediocre at sports, not too interested in investing energy in friendships. A bit of a lone ranger. Well, as they say here in Ireland, he didn’t lick it off the stones. He and I, we may well both be somewhere on a behavioural spectrum but life has been, is and will continue to be good. After a few minutes of “that’s my boy” I asked my wife to pull out the previous year’s report.

The individual subject performance was virtually identical, although it had been a different teacher. The overall commentary was full of positivity, encouragement and hope. But it said exactly the same thing as this year. Except that, for last year’s teacher, the glass was half full. This year’s teacher was a glass half empty character. We asked our son what his opinion was of the teacher this year versus last: “She didn’t like me, the one this year. Last year’s teacher was much nicer.”

So, when we received a bad behaviour note home (a rare event) in week three of the new school year from the new teacher, we were on the case. He and another lad were accused of being disruptive during a visit to a local secondary school – one he might attend in two years’ time. When we took him to task over the note he denied the misbehaviour and insisted it was a misunderstanding or a case of mistaken identity. Discreet enquiries at the secondary school (which his elder sister attends) suggested he hadn’t been any rowdier than the other thirty kids in the room. We met with the new teacher and she said the note and punishment (confiscation of all points earned for good class performance) was based upon his admission of guilt. He had already told us he had admitted to whatever to avoid confrontation and embarrassment. Another story was related where the teacher had opened the last few lines of his homework poem up to the class of thirty ten-year-olds for improvement and he had "clearly felt uncomfortable about accepting constructive criticism". 
We all smiled, nodded and decided to let life go on, no serious issues. By the end of the week we were receiving worried phone calls from other parents about various notes sent home and punishments meted out. A new teacher straight out of college. Strict disciplinarian. At least we know where we are. Glass half empty.

Last Saturday my son and I competed at the Best of the Best martial arts competition in Dublin. It was his first time and he won a gold medal for weapons (sai dagger form performed to Animals by Martin Garrix) and a bronze for points sparring. I was beaten 7 – 4 in sparring by a veteran black belt, enough said about that. As we got into the car to head back to Kilkenny my son said it was the best day of the year so far. I asked what he had enjoyed the most and he said the sparring bronze medal was his highlight as it was more of a challenge. He wants to compete in divisions where he has to push himself to achieve success. His glass is (at least) half full.

When half full meets half empty, two worlds collide. How full is your glass today?
C'mon and raise your glass.


JO said…
I'm just back from ten days in Ireland - and my glass is very full. Do hope your son finds teachers who understand his wonderfulness.
Nick Green said…
All veeeeeery familiar. School reports seem to be getting more and more like Amazon book reviews. It depends so much on who is meting them out. And I think boys and summer children get a particularly raw deal, being less mature at critical times. Then, unchannelled intelligence can look like unruliness.

Aside: my dad, when a teacher, had a favourite report comment to use in certain cases: "Absent-minded when present. Often has the presence of mind to be absent."
Lydia Bennet said…
I'm a glass half full person but I tend to worry about what it's half full with! Schools generally have had a long running love affair with 'team' talk, and a tendency to use words like loner, lone wolf, quiet, reserved, as problems to be tackled. Once outside the world of school, people who work best alone or like spending a certain amount of time alone have and are an asset - there's a place for everyone on that spectrum. school is an artificial world and the US high school model (jocks, nerds, cheerleaders etc) inflicted on us by media, films and sitcoms, is a problem IMO.
Susan Price said…
I so agree. Valerie!
Susan Price said…
And Ruby - love that video. 'Right in all the wrong ways...'
I'm a glass half full kind of a person, especially when it comes to working with students or writers. But I so recognise the prejudice against rugged individualists! And I too think that school is such an artificial world that bears small resemblance to anything in the real world. They seem to have no idea that the ability to work alone, to follow your own star doesn't equate with an inability to work within a team if necessary. It's such a facile view of things. The two aren't mutually exclusive. I think this is becoming worse within our current education system and we are seeing it in spades here in Scotland. There's a terrifying book called The Rise of Therapeutic Education that tackles this and explores some of what is going on in our schools now.
Lydia Bennet said…
sounds sinister Catherine!
It's called The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education - by Kathryn Ecclestone. I heard her deliver a keynote lecture at an academic conference and she was electrifying. But couple her accounts of what can sometimes go on in 'circle time' with what is happening here with the imposition of 'named adults' (i.e. a social worker for every child) and appalling questionnaires being given en masse to kids in Scottish schools asking such questions of ten year olds as 'when did you last use illegal drugs?' (all without the need for parental permission) and I would think twice before sending a child to a Scottish school at all these days.
Lydia Bennet said…
omg that's awful. why aren't people voting about that?! God I'm glad I"m past being at school or having my children at school, all that stress for years and years...
Most people don't know about it - or at least they don't until their kids come home and tell them about the survey. The Scottish Review has been waging a single-handed campaign against it and slowly but surely people have started to see what is going on. Some of the questions in a previous version of the survey were even more unsuitable.There's a bit more about it at the link below and in previous issues of the same magazine. It seems to be directly contrary to European Data Protection laws, but our government doesn't much care about that. http://www.scottishreview.net/KennethRoy170.shtml
julia jones said…
Actually Ruby those comments made about your son made me quite cross. I hope you and the other parents won't carry on smiling and nodding indefinitely because it seems to me that we're talking about children here who are only ?8 or ?9 and if the parents don't eventually say something, who will? If this latest teacher is straight out of college s/he will be being mentored and there is therefore a way of getting some adult feedback sent back before injustice turns the kids stroppy. Send in the troops, I say!
@Ruby_Barnes said…
Thanks all for the comments. Yep, I will be bringing my samurai sword to the next parent teach meeting.
Lydia Bennet said…
don't forget the balaclava!
glitter noir said…
Sounds to me like your son is on the right track, Ruby, and blessed to have you in his corner.

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