O's report card came in the mail today, and there's cause for celebration: he got eight As and two Bs, which puts him on the high honors list. He got As in all his major subjects (math, science, English, etc.), including an A+ in science/chemistry. My father, a chemist, will be thrilled to hear that since I was such a disappointment in this branch of science.
On top of this, O scored in the top 2% of fifth graders on the science portion of the MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) last spring, and placed in the "above average" category for math and English.
Normally I wouldn't brag about my kid like this. But two years ago, when he was in fourth grade at a private Montessori school, he was an unhappy, poorly performing student. He kept telling me he was bored, and his teacher was frustrated that he couldn't/wouldn't get his work done. We went in circles with her, trying to get her to understand he needed more structure and more challenging materials. She, and others at the school, went so far to tell me we should consider holding him back ... which, if you ever met O and talked to him for two minutes, is ludicrous. This is a kid who wanted to do a science project on astrophysics (and was shot down--no pun intended--by said teacher). Montessori wasn't working for him anymore, but rather than admit this or open their eyes, the school was willing to keep him in their program -- as long as we held him back. We couldn't get out of there fast enough. I wanted to pull him out in March, but he wanted to stay because of his friends.
He started fifth grade the following September in our local public elementary school, and we warned the principal and his teacher that he'd had problems at the private school. Putting him on the bus that first day was nerve-wracking for me. The Montessori school had about 100 students total, with only two other students in his grade. The elementary school had 180 students in fifth grade alone! When the bus dropped him off at the end of the day, he came running across the lawn toward me with the biggest smile on his face. "I love it!" he said. "I can't wait till tomorrow!" I heaved a sigh of relief. Later that week his teacher e-mailed me, puzzled by what his old school had said about him. He was clearly a bright kid and he was fitting in with his classmates.
He did wonderfully in fifth grade, earning high grades and the respect of all his teachers. He made dozens of new friends and was chosen for student council. Moreover, he would come home at night and do his homework without being told, something he still does to this day. Our only problem? He was grumpy on Friday nights because there was no school on Saturday and Sunday! Public school is much more structured, unlike the Montessori school, where a lot of learning is self-directed. O is definitely a kid who thrives with structure, likes knowing when to do X and knowing when Y is due. This year he's in middle school. The transition has been harder moving from elementary to middle school than it was going from private to public school, but obviously he's coping well.
I'm writing this as a reminder to myself that a lot can change in two years. Many of my friends have had similar challenges with their children and they put a lot of faith in the system that's supposed to support their kids. I was one of them two years ago, even though I had an inkling my son wasn't the problem: It was the school's philosophy/teaching style that wasn't working for him. I try not to be angry with the old school; it's hard because I feel like they came close to crushing O's self-confidence and one of the administrators behaved abominably near the end of our tenure there. I have few kind thoughts in my heart for her! Today when people ask me about Montessori, I'm careful not to disparage it; some children thrive in that kind of learning environment. O also had several wonderful teachers there: his first-grade teacher "R" who he adored and we still keep in contact with; his kindergarten teacher who was such a gentle presence in the classroom and clearly loved all "her" children, and even a couple teachers who never taught O but who were interested in his development. When I feel bitter about that last year, I try to remember the good teachers he had -- and thank the heavens that all it took was a change in learning environments to help him thrive.