This is one of those long past due blog posts. It is probably best this way as it has some time to mellow, and because it was a sensitive thing that happened with my oldest in school last spring. We didn’t discuss it much with our friends because... because I am not sure why. We had enough conversation at home about it and weren’t terribly interested in every one else’s opinions of what we needed to do. Maybe critical reviews of where we weren’t doing enough? I don’t know.
This fall starts the second year of our middle school. Last year was ROUGH at the school. I heard many times, “it’s our first year and we are trying our best”. I told the staff at the school after this last incident that I was really looking forward to this fall because they could no longer use that as an excuse.
Leif ended up in Leadership in the spring semester. He didn’t end up in most of the classes he requested and we had trouble even getting him into the classes he qualified for (hello Algebra?). He wasn’t enthused about Leadership to start, but his Advisory teacher was the instructor and Leif really liked him. Slowly, Leif came around with the class and even started talking about volunteering at the school (SO not Leif), participating in community events (he participated in the women’s march), and was volunteering in the cafeteria after lunch. And he had a solid A, which his GPA needed.
One day he came home and told me that we needed to go to an evening meeting at the school because he was going to run for ASB - Associated Student Body (I think). I was actually really surprised and we discussed the really big commitments that he was going to have to make. Like being at the school nearly every single day at 7am(zero hour bus), and being available A LOT. He was game.
We went to the meeting where the teacher in charge gave us a HUGE packet of paperwork to complete, and a signature sheet. Leif filled out the schedule sheet so that she could contact each of his teachers to get approval for Leif to run for student body treasurer. A formality. Paperwork isn’t Leif’s big thing, but he worked really hard on this, I edited his packet (not with a heavy hand mind you) and it was good. He got 50 student signatures including signatures from several staff members at the school. He worked freaking hard. We wrote a speech that would be recorded and played for the kids. And since I was going to be on travel, we bought the materials (correctly sized huge paper, paints, markers) and we assembled a group of his friends to help with posters and campaigning. Phew. It was a busy few weeks of work.
Everything was filled out and completed on time. We practiced the speech. I went on travel. After my first day at the meeting I called Leif to find out how his speech recording went?
“They didn’t do it,” he said.
“What do you mean, are they doing it tomorrow?” I asked.
“No. I got there and lined up and they came up to me in line and told me that I didn’t have the teacher approval,” he was upset.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You know how they e-mailed the teachers?” He asked me.“ They didn’t approve me to run and they told me when I was in the line to record my speech.”
I was livid. I phoned Hans, we talked. He called the counselor - who, of course, didn’t phone him back (par for the course at the school). I e-mailed the teacher in charge and the counselor.
I received a semi-snarky email back from the teacher indicating that she told us about the teacher permissions required and that his didn’t meet minimum standards to run. I got this - I truly did - but she missed the point completely. Honestly I know my kid and I know the reasons why the teachers probably didn’t feel that he had what he took. But I am always seeking opportunities for him to rise to the challenge, to be and do more because I know he can.
The counselor e-mailed a simple one liner to me and the teacher, “excellent explanation Mrs X”. That is the only communication I have EVER received from his counselor and it’s not for not trying.
I sat down and responded that we well understood this going in as she had explained, and I also know my son and could guess probably why the teachers didn’t approve, however, I was very upset with HOW he was told as I had described.
He was told he didn’t qualify in front of his peers, at the last minute, after preparing for the speech and completing ALL the other requirements.
They had embarrassed and humiliated my son through their lack of organization and communication.
At that, the teacher backed way way down. Suddenly she was very apologetic, told me that his packet was actually one of the best, the writing was excellent, etc. She, not knowing Leif, was surprised he was rejected by the teachers. REJECTED by his teachers.
Let that sink in.
Then she promised to phone me in the morning. (Spoiler? She didn’t.)
In parallel efforts, AB called the counselor who told him that she didn’t have anything to do with the election process and all was up to the teacher in charge and that she supported the teacher in charge.
The counselor didn’t care, he was “rejected” by his teachers, but the teacher in charge did offer a commitment to help Leif advertise his chess club and be more of a leader at the school. Nothing was really resolved, but I believed that maybe I had been heard, that she got it, and that the process might be improved. Or at least that’s what I tell myself?
Or, I believed that until this fall when Leif picked up his schedule. Last spring after the election debacle the kids selected their classes for fall. Leif, always determined and not deterred from his difficulties previously, selected Leadership as his number one choice. Shortly after that they sent out the SAME exact packet used for the election to the students who had selected Leadership, along with a letter informing everyone that Leadership was now a one year course with very high demand. They asked the kids to fill out the packet and they would be soliciting teacher recommendations in order to get into the class. Sigh.
I contacted the teacher in charge (same one as the election) and asked her if it was even worth it or if we were just in for round two of misery when his same teachers said the same things? She reassured me that was not the case, and that if we signed the release, she would pull his previous packet and he didn’t need to do anything, and instead, he would just get in since he has worked so hard towards this.
I kind of felt vindicated. Some kind of success?
Flash forward to last week when Leif got his schedule. Leadership?
We talked about what to do - do we go make a stink and pull the email from last spring where he was guaranteed a slot? Do we simply inquire about what happened, is it by chance that they decided to make it a semester class after all?
I don’t know what it is, what is the reason? But Leif agreed that we not pursue it. He was actually, way more interested in getting Debate class lately anyways he said. And if he had Leadership his chances for debate dropped. And frankly we were happy with his current schedule.
This summer AB and I spent most weekend nights after Skadi and Silas went to bed watching “Thirteen Reasons Why” with Leif. Probably one of the best things we did all summer was watch the two seasons with him. (I had previously watched Season 1 on my own. I knew it was gritty.) He was hooked at the first episode and pressed for it at every opportunity. He got off the computer and came and sat on the couch with us. He loved the show. We talked about nearly every episode in depth - whose choices were wrong, right, who did we side with, who do we behave like, what did AB and I see happen in high school ourselves that was similar. It was a great experience despite the very difficult to talk about topics. I told AB at one painful point in the show that I needed to prove that I could sit with him through a difficult topic TV show as an example at this early age that I will always sit beside him in any difficult topics.
Aside from the examples of how the kids behaved poorly, there were huge examples of how the school district, the teachers, the counselors fell short too.
I don’t like to put more on our already overworked and underpaid teachers, but there is a responsibility put on these teachers, counselors, and administrators to provide opportunities to all students, not just the popular ones. What we saw from the teachers and counselors last spring was pure evidence that in reality, they pick the student body leadership and that if a child doesn’t fit the mold, that there isn’t even a real chance to run for an office.
I resent the amount of time that they let us be led down the path of belief that he actually had a chance TO RUN FOR OFFICE. We put in several hours and money into the effort to fulfill his wishes to run for the student body treasurer. And he didn’t need to win - actually we all, Leif included, suspected he would have been a long shot in reality - but to have a teacher callously tell him in front of others that he didn’t get the teacher approvals when so much effort had already been put in, was just wrong. He should have been told one on one and before weeks of effort had been put in.
This is not going to be the only time when we will be rallying beside our kids. I have repeated to my kids that popularity is overrated - for some of these kids, this is their only time to shine; give it to them and move on knowing that you have your entire future to shine.