“Math. I’m really good at Math. Can you write that down, Mommy?”
It was 8:15 this morning, 45 minutes before Elisio’s parent-teacher conference, and I was going over the sheet of pre-conference questions in the car with him to get his input into what we should say.
“Is there anything you don’t understand or that you still need to work on?” I asked, rephrasing one of the questions to make it both gentler and easier for a four year old to reply.
He was thinking about it as we made the turn up the hill onto Church Street, his school up ahead on the left.
“Ms. Rosa said you are still learning to use your lower case letters,” I offered.
“I know all my letters,” he said, getting a bit defensive.
“I know you do, but do you always use them?” I asked. “Like when you’re writing your name?”
Writing his first name was one of the other items – of just five or six on the preschool skills evaluation they’d sent home – that was listed as “needing development” rather than “good progress.”
I was the one who felt defensive about that one, remembering back when he was only three and had spontaneously written his name on a paper ice cream cone and quietly hung it on the wall with the other kids’ names in the children’s department at the New Haven library. I could only assume that the lack of lower case letters, other than the two i’s with giant circles for dots, was the reason for his teacher’s assessment.
I had tried to make a conscious effort to focus on the positive marks as he’d opened the envelope and looked at the progress report on his own in the back seat a couple of days before.
“I know what this is!” he exclaimed. He looked at some of the pictures along the side of the grids for his ratings and told me which ones he could do. “I only have a few I can’t do yet,” he said.
I willed myself not to ask what those were and instead replied, “I can’t wait to get home so we can look at all the things you can do!”
When we did look at it together, I saw that he could do things I didn’t know he could – things I was, in fact, unnecessarily still doing for him, like buttoning buttons and zipping zippers. Other things I know he hasn’t practiced enough – tying shoes and bouncing a ball. But his sneakers are velcro, and when it came to balls, he is much more interested in kicking.
I saw that skipping was on the list – and that he’d mastered it, apparently. I remembered a comment from my father when my parents were reviewing my sister’s preschool progress report as she was preparing to enter kindergarten more than 20 years ago.
“They want to hold her back because she can’t skip?” They were overruled. My sister has turned out to be a smart and successful woman, even if she lacked the ability to skip when she started school.
Skipping aside, as we sat in the parking lot and wrote down the rest of our responses and questions of our own in preparation for the meeting with Elisio’s teacher and principal, I couldn’t help but think how similar the criteria were to reviews I’ve done each year in my working life.
How does your child feel about his interactions with other children and school staff? What aspects of the classroom does your child enjoy most? What do you feel are your child’s strengths? In which areas does your child need improvement?
Answering them with my son felt like a critical step in preparing him to succeed as an adult, and the similarities were underscored this afternoon when I had my own performance review. After less than three months in my position and just under a year at the company, I had completed a self-assessment back in November. I’d spent half an afternoon completing the “what” portion of the process; my responses had been detailed and data-driven, stressing my contributions to our department and the company as a whole. I’d put considerably less time and effort into answering the “how” questions, not sure how to quantify the way I interacted with project partners or made my colleagues feel.
My boss and I talked at 4:30, just before I left to pick up Elisio from school. It turns out I feel the most satisfaction – and have made the greatest contribution – not by just being “highly effective” at doing my job, but in criteria that could have been lifted from the pre-K form I’d completed a few hours before: cooperation, creativity, responsiveness, and respect. I was most proud, though also humbled, to hear that those I work for and work with greatly value and enjoy having me as part of their team.
I feel good about the developmental milestones my son is surpassing and all he is learning at school. Immediately after we agreed to review his progress report together at home, he picked up a book I’d gotten for him at the library. I glanced at him in the rearview mirror, and, for the first time, I saw that he was focused on the words. His lips were whispering the sounds of the letters – he was beginning to read!
But as proud of him as that moment made me, I have to say it meant even more to hear the type of person he is becoming along the way: someone who will succeed not only because of what he can do but how.
“Elisio is a model student and a good friend,” Ms. Rosa said as we walked out of the office after half an hour discussing his progress over the first half of the year. “He is just a pleasure to have in my class.”