By Barbara Schilling Hurwitz the author of the adventure novel, PANDU, now available for a sneak peak inside at Amazon.com
Obstacles to Progress
Progress is an uphill road with obstacles always cropping up to challenge success. Beware, be ready as a parent, coach, tutor, the Jake Pullman’s in your life do stumble. Bad habits are hard to break and new behaviors may be more resistant to form.
DON’T GIVE UP!
I reminded myself of this when I received the email from Jake’s Language Arts teacher. She began in a formal letter addressed to me, his parents and the school principal, “I am concerned about Jake’s lack of progress and his ultimate ability to pass 5th grade Language Arts.”
Oy, my heart sank. I knew the phone would be ringing, and I wasn’t ready to address Jake’s mom when the phone call came.
“Yes, I got the email. No, I was not aware that he had failed the unit grammar test, the latest literature comprehension quiz and had not yet submitted the essay due last week. I wanted to settle her angst, but this was her son and she was rightfully upset, but just possibly for the wrong reasons.
Why was this happening? Could Jake be over programmed, unable to commit his effort to school when his only commitment was to atheletics where he was rewarded with high praise for his achievement, where he spent positive time with his dad? Was she angry with me because I didn’t yet make the problems go away.
“My husband is ready to fire you!” But she was not ready to quit. The past few weeks had been so much happier. “The family wasn’t fighting. No,they had not yet had their family dinner, but that was because…. ” I saw she was prone to excuses too.
“This is not a magic,” I told her. “It takes time and great effort to change patterns of behavior. That only happens with consistent support. Yes, Jake fell off the wagon, but he can get back on. Things will turn around, but the key here is patience.” (Another one of my mantras.)
When I met with Jake that afternoon, he was not his usual smiling self. With his head hanging down he answered the door and mumbled a few words, “sorry….disappoint…” It sounded like a rehearsed apology. I let it pass and trotting off to the kitchen said, “We’ve got work to do. Let’s get started.”
The homework folder with the attached assignment sheet was just as we had left it. Nothing new added and the folder was empty. “What happened?” I asked shaking out the empty folder. Jake just shrugged, but I smiled. “Well, there’s progress. No excuses.” I stifled my laughter recognizing the grasp for any positive signs rising from this abyss. “Okay, Jake. You tried your way to be successful, it didn’t work. Then I came in and we changed to my plan, and we can see that’s not working so well either. What do you think we should do now?”
He shrugged again. I tore a piece of paper from my note pad and handed him a pencil. I looked at my watch. “Okay, 5 minutes, let’s see how many ideas we each can come up with to turn this situation around. I set the timer on my watch and counted down. “5-4-3-2-1, write.” I felt his eyes following my pencil while his body remained motionless. At least a minute passed before he picked up the pencil and began to write.
When the timer beeped, our eyes met for the first time that day. I smiled. “So what do you have there?”
Jake bashfully covered his words and said, “Nothing.”
“Nothing? It took a lot of time for you to write nothing. Okay, I’ll go first. Number one, drop one basketball team.”
He shook his head about to cry. “That’s the only thing I do good.”
Well, I couldn’t help silently correcting, but instead I said, “Maybe so, but it doesn’t have to be that way. How did you get so good at basketball? Were you innately talented and intuitive or have you worked to build your skills?”
“Your turn. Give me one idea. It’s just between us. No one’s listening.”
Jake stuck his head in the paper as if legally blind. “I could go to boarding school.”
He was not the first student to have suggested that option, words mimicked right out of the mouths of an angry parents, but it still made me squirm inside. I raised my brow and nodded. “Yup, I guess that is an option, but will that change your work habits?”
“I don’t know, but my parents’ll be happy to be rid of me.”
Hmm, I nodded and said, “My turn. Set up a regular after school study time at school with a teacher or student advisor.”
“I take the bus, so I couldn’t do that.”
“Is that a flat out rejection or just an excuse? Because I could arrange the transportation.”
He answered with only another shrug.
“What’s your next idea?”
“I don’t know. This whole thing’s stupid. I hate school. I’m only there because I have to be there, and as soon as I’m 16 I’m going to quit.”
Whoa, that was really unexpected. “What are you going to do then, Jake?”
“Move out. Make everyone in this house happy.”
“Okay, well until then, we’ve got 6 years to fill. I’m hoping we can use them advantageously. I want to come see you play basketball with the big leagues some day, but I’m guessing you’ll need at least we high school education to get there. So can we try to make the best of this time and work together?”
I didn’t want to hear any more of Jake’s suggestions as I knew we were heading down hill. I’d heard enough to get the drift. “Okay, Jake, what I see is a two fold problem. One you struggle with reading which for the most part makes academics other than math calculations challenging. Two, you struggle with organization and time management. I’m guessing you don’t really want to go to boarding school and you don’t want to give up any basketball time. So here’s my offer..
1. We’ll set up an after school homework coach to meet with you at school if the school doesn’t already have an after school homework club. You’ll work for approximately two 30-minute segments with a 10 minute break in between.
2. We will arrange for a reading evaluation to determine what needs are to be addressed by the school. (I believe an IEP needs to be set up, but will wait for the results of the evaluation.)
3. You’ll continue to use the study period to meet with teachers and complete assignments.
4. You’ll continue with basketball as scheduled unless it interferes with the homework plan.
5. You will continue to meet with me once a week to build skills, review progress and tweak our plan.
“What you do about school is your choice, Jake. Your parents can hire tutors, we can put homework coaches in place and get school support, but ultimately, it’s up to you. I’m confident you can be successful if you choose. This is the only plan I see that can work at this time. We can tweak it as we progress, but for now…this is it. You think about it. Share it, discuss it with your parents and get back to me.
Jake was speechless as I packed up to go. I reached for his hand, and smiled when he looked up. “We can do this, Jake. Just let me know if you want to.”
I called Hs mom on my way home. Keeping my promise to Jake to hold our conversations in confidence, I shared only the parental advice I had given her before. “The most important thing you can give your son is unconditional love and support. He’s only ten years old. Tall and muscular for his age, but don’t be fooled, a sensitive little boy is hiding behind that facade.”
Note: Jake Pullman and his family are all fictitious characters. Their resemblance to any persons is only coincidental.