Since we moved, things have been much different. School, especially, has been a hurdle we all have had to climb much more quickly than we thought. I’m going to let you in on a secret…people in Illinois do not think people in Indiana are getting a kick-ass education. Now, I’m not here to speak to the whole state and I can’t even speak to the whole school my kids are in but I can tell you in the two classrooms my kids are in they are getting an education that far surpasses their previous education.

Which, friends, is a double-edged sword.

I had to give a Friday Night Lights style pep talk (I miss that show forever and always) to my kids at the end of week two at the school. They were overwhelmed, their grades were all crap because they weren’t used to grades at all (previous school gave E for exceeds, M for meets, and P for progressing toward goal) and they didn’t know what to do with the Cs and Ds and even (I seriously almost fainted) Fs my kids were suddenly coming home with.

I steal all my best pep talk jamz from Coach Taylor. 

Even though I was terrified they were going to pull my kids out of the High Ability (HA) classroom and put them into the regular classroom, the first thing I had to acknowledge was that, if they did, that was okay. Don’t get me wrong, I nearly cried when both kids tested into the program because Oldest Sister is strong in reading and weak in math and Middle Sister is strong in math and weak in reading and I didn’t know how it would work if they only tested strong for their preferred subject and when I was informed they were both going to HA I was absolutely thrilled (who wouldn’t be?) and hoped we could bring up their weak subjects without turning my house into Brave New World or The Giver or some other awful place where children only do what they are supposed to and never have any fun.

I realized while I was in my pep talk that it really was okay if they ended up in the regular classroom. Of COURSE it was okay. But only if we made the effort – first – to bloom where we were planted.

Big Sister brought her grades up within a month. The hook of my speech was, “We only have two choices. Catch up or give up.” Big Sister had taken it to heart and I think everyone in her class being really kind and helpful made it easy for her to decide to catch up. The entire district has a philosophy to keep the same class together from 1st grade though middle school, so these kids kind of know they have to get along because they’re going to be together for years. It forms close bonds among children and parents alike because the class has it’s own identity as it passes from grade to grade. So it was fairly easy for her to catch up.

Middle Sister, on the other hand, struggled. She forgot to turn in a couple assignments and it was the end of a grading period so her report card had two Fs on it. She was getting run down. She had never felt any kind of educational adversity before. Everything has always been so easy for her and it was hitting her hard. She cried. She looked tired all the time. I ended up holding her and stroking her hair a lot when she just couldn’t do one more thing. I asked her if she wanted to give up and every time she would say in this quiet, sad voice, “No mommy, but I do want the hard part to be over now.”

“Soon, baby, it will be over soon and you will be so happy.” You know every time I said that I prayed with every cell in my body I wasn’t lying. I prayed that it would be over soon. That she would catch up before she just couldn’t take one more step. I had her read out loud to me and  I would read her the same paragraph out loud and then have her read it out loud. Back and forth for a half hour a night. I signed up for a free account on and had her do extra spelling practice a half hour a night. It started to work. She brought home a C+ and then a B+ on her spelling tests. She was reading with a little more fluency. She was starting to get a foothold.

Then we had a setback. A big one. They do timed fact practice at school. 100 problems in 4 minutes for now and I think they go faster as the year progresses. Every one would come home with an F or a D- on it. She was stuck. She didn’t know what to do. She was getting bad grades at math. A great deal of her personal identity is based on being great at math. My confident child was handing over papers and saying things like, “I don’t understand. I know all these. I just can’t go any faster.”

My heart broke.

I told her, “Well, you know your times tables, so the problem isn’t your knowledge it’s your speed so I need you to know first, last, and always that how fast you can do math is never a good way to judge yourself. These sheets are to help you memorize the times tables to the deep marrow in your bones, like they were part of your skin, little memories tattooed in your brain forever. This is not a test that judges how good you are. This is a test to help you be better, even if it feels like you’re failing, every time you’re remembering a little more.”

I’m paraphrasing myself and it was kind of a long speech. I talk until I can see the kid’s eyes focus back on me and hear what I’m saying. I may say the same thing ten ways until one of them hits the target and my kid really HEARS what I’m saying. I talk in a gentle, almost hypnotic voice because if I yelled it all none of it would stick. My kids aren’t horses and I don’t plan on breaking their spirits!

So when this came home today:

I’m not even going to lie, I got misty. Like, almost started bawling right there.

I made sure Big Sister heard my speech about the hard workin’ B and how important it was even she got in on cheering Middle Sister and being as supportive as she is able. I mean, she was fine, not mean or anything but I can’t even tell you how happy Big Sister is to be The One That Is Good At School™ since it has been Middle Sister’s title for so long.

Big Sister has bloomed since we have been at this new school and Middle Sister has experienced things that are not easy. Who knew two girls could get so many maturity-boosting lessons in 9 weeks?

Today, I signed them up for a softball camp. Three Saturdays of hitting, stealing bases, learning about sportsmanship and doing whatever other cool things softball players do. There is a big sports culture in this town and even if my girls turn their eyes to books and drawings I still want them to try and experience as much as possible so they have fewer “what if” moments as they get older. Middle Sister is loving the board game club she is in now and has applied for the next session. Big Sister has signed up for a coding workshop that starts in March.

Today is the first day I finally stopped holding my breath because today is the day I know both of my girls not only chose to catch up, they followed through and are going to be okay.

Breathing brings me great happiness.

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31 Comments on Catch Up or Give Up (or Welcome to the New School)

  1. I love this to the marrow of my bones. We too have recently undergone some changes to the “school routine” although not a new school … that’s still on the horizon… but with change comes obstacles… and I love knowing I’m not alone is this struggle. Giant just brought one of his class grades from a 13 (!!!!!) (that’s not a typo) to a 72 and I too got a little misty. It’s a process and I love you for sharing it with us.

    • Thank you for sharing, too, because man…it is SO hard to admit that yes my children are having trouble in school and they have to work hard to get their grades up. I would be SO FREAKING PROUD of his 73. In fact, I am 🙂 I’m always worried they’re doing too much work, not enough work, I’m helping too much, I’m not helping enough. Gah! We also have the online grade books and – WOW – it’s sure something to get used to. I try not to check it obsessively but it’s difficult. Change comes in so many forms and you don’t have to go to a new school for things to shift. You’re such a good mom and I know if I’m doing what you’re doing … I’m doing okay.

  2. Here’s tip for the online gradebook… I used to have it alert me for the failing grades… but then had a conversation with a friend and we talked about how we are only noticing the bad. Now I have it set to notify me anytime a grade drops below 110. And when I see those higher grades, you better believe that the Giant gets a text message of praise. Just a tip… don’t be surprised if I turn that into a blog post too lol

    • Ah. I love common core. That being said i respect and understand why people dislike it.

      I was just informed by my husband Indiana repealed common core. I’m lost now! LOL

    • We struggle with common core too. My daughter struggles with math anyway and I can’t help her because I can not wrap my head around the concepts of it.
      I am glad your girls are getting it. It can be so hard when they struggle with something that they were always so good at.

    • I looked it up after commenting (inaccurately) on the prior comment. Indiana repealed Common Core … but … they’re still using the Everyday Mathematics system and following everything that I know to be “Common Core” in their school subjects.

      All the reasons people hate it seem to revolve around the adult having trouble not getting it and not looking for help. I’ve offered to help friends with their kids’ elementary math homework (because I’m pretty good at math, which I didn’t know until I was almost 35) and most parents say it won’t help and shut me down. They give up and don’t want help. That is, of course, only my personal experience which is why I don’t go around being an activist for it or something. To each their own.

  3. Watching children through their struggles is such a heart wrenching thing to go through! How great to be able to see that your child’s work is paying off. 🙂 🙂 This post made me smile!

  4. My son has struggle to this year. It’s his first year of high school and he has to college classes and it’s harder then he thought so he is struggling but like your girls he is choosing to move forward. I am so proud of your girls as i am of my boy they all are amazing kids.

    • I can only imagine. I mean, I just figure that high school problems are bigger because the kids are older and have so much other stuff going on in their minds and around them, too. I’m so glad your son is moving forward and that you’re there for him. Kids with a supportive parent are really lucky kids.

    • That is really tough when the teachers have leeway but either don’t know they can use it or aren’t sure how to go about using it. Especially because by and large they all just want the kids to be happy and learn stuff just like the kids and the parents and guardians.

    • There are some beautiful parts! When the come home with little Valentines and when they make friends and the first time they tell you they learned something new. It’s not always a struggle, for sure, which is why it’s worth fighting through the low bits to get back to the highlights!

  5. That is just fabulous. They put their minds to it and did it. You have every right to breath again and be proud. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Great job!! Hard work and determination always pay off. No need to be perfect, doing your best and trying is their hardest is what is most important!

  7. My son had a really hard time with times tables when we moved to a school where all of the kids had been doing them for years. Eventually we did a half summer course in math while I tutored him with a math workbook I bought. It helped so much and the A’s returned!! Sometimes the school’s curriculum just isn’t perfect for every case.

  8. Thank goodness my children are grown – I see my grandchildren’s homework and and I am so confused with the new math. Thank goodness my daughter understands it!

  9. Wow, what grades are they all in? That’s great that they all took your talk to heart and tried so hard to do well! AMAZING kids! I’m glad you are happy with the new standards. I wonder what the deal is – I’m not a huge fan of Common Core – I think it teaches to the least common denominator.

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