I've written before about what I perceive as a persistence problem with Samantha, and the issue is cropping up once again. I don't want to cover all that ground again, but here are two posts that describe my concern. Rational Jenn just wrote a post about the same type of issue with her son, which is worth reading, and good background for some of the things I'll write about here.
Lately, I've been more comfortable with Sam's level of effort. She tries new things regularly, sometimes with hesitation or caution, but we have far fewer instances of outright refusal to try things that are just a little bit difficult or scary. She is taking dance class, and actually practicing moves that are difficult for her, and she just started swim lessons, which require her to put her face in the water and take other risks. Of course there are times when she just wants to be babied - I don't see those as a problem, but normal for this age. So overall, things are better.
But yesterday I got a shock when I picked up Sam from school. Her teacher is out for a couple of days, so the assistant is alone with the children in the classroom. When Sam ran up to me on the playground (where I pick her up) she sadly told me that she didn't listen to Miss R. that day. Then Miss R. came over and explained that there had been some crying. It took a long time for me to tease out of her exactly what the problem was because she was so concerned that I would flip out because Sam cried. These poor teachers are so defensive - I guess a lot of parents think children should never have their wills thwarted and if they cry it means the teacher was mean. But once I got through to her that I just wanted to know what happened, she told me. Sam had chosen a piece of work first thing in the morning, and then sat in front of it, not working at all, but just watching all of the other children, for an hour and a half! Miss R. prompted her to work or put it away several times, but Sam didn't do anything at all until she realized that she was going to miss circle time and not be ready to go outside to play. Then, she quickly did the work and put the material away, but not before having some kind of a meltdown about how she didn't want to do it. Miss R. noticed that when Sammy finally did the work, she did it correctly, so it wasn't that she didn't know how. She just wasn't choosing to do the work. I asked Miss R. if this happens often and she said yes, it does.
Now, this is playing into all of my fears. First, I have never been sure that Sam is actually working all day at school. When I ask her what she did at school, she usually mentions one or two activities, and they are usually the easy ones that she's been doing over and over since the first day of school. I've been assuming that she just can't remember everything she does. As I mentioned recently, she is making a great deal of progress through the materials recently, so I figured that she must be working. But, since Montessori children don't bring home a lot of work product and you can't really observe them in the classroom (if they know the parent is there, they don't behave normally), you have to rely on what the teacher tells you. And Sam's teacher, Mrs. L., is not a good communicator.
I think Mrs. L. is probably a good teacher. But it's really hard to tell what is going on in the classroom. When we have meetings or talk about Sam's work, I get that same sense of defensiveness from her as I did from the assistant (and which I've gotten from every teacher/caregiver I've ever worked with). Instead of giving me facts, she seems to have an agenda of soothing me. It's frustrating. But I've thought about it a lot and convinced myself that it's a communication issue, not a teaching issue.
But now, if it is true that Sam is sitting and staring into space half the day, I want to know why I haven't been told about this and what is being done to address it. Why did I find out about it only when Mrs. L. was absent? Does that mean that Mrs. L. handles it better or that she doesn't do anything about it at all? It's possible that it is not a regular occurrence, or that Sam doesn't do it any more than any other child - there is a bit of a language barrier with Miss R., so I'm taking her explanation with a grain of salt. I plan to meet with Mrs. L. to see if I can get a straight answer. That will hopefully solve the concern I have about how the classroom is run.
But if it is true that Sam is still not putting forth effort at school, and if it is not developmentally normal, then I'm back to fearing for her moral development. My problem is that I have no standards by which to judge whether this is "normal" or not. Reading the comments on Jenn's post was somewhat helpful. There seem to be quite a few other parents out there with children with similar behaviors. But it's obviously not true of all children. Jenn herself has two others, and at least one of them definitely does not balk at effort and persistence. I am willing to accept that these are temperamental differences, but I am not willing to accept that they are value-neutral. Effort and persistence are virtues, and if they don't come naturally to Sam, I want to do everything I can to help her see how they will benefit her. So far in her life, this is the critical issue. (Well, there's also her anger issue, but I'll leave that for another day.)
I also want to be prepared for the challenges of homeschooling a child who is difficult to motivate. If I could understand what is going on psychologically with Sam, I could develop better ways of helping to motivate her. My biggest fear with homeschooling is that she simply won't want to do any work at all (and I don't believe in forcing "knowledge" down a child's throat).
Like Jenn, Adam and I have techniques that we use to deal with this aspect of Sam's personality, and I suppose that we should feel pretty good about what we've been doing since she is improving. But again, I see this as such a critical issue that I want to educate myself about it as much as possible. I am considering asking Sam's pediatrician for a referral to a child psychologist to get an assessment, but I hate to open up that can of worms. I think kids are way over-diagnosed and labeled in every area these days, when most of the time, they are just the unique individuals that they are. At the same time, some diagnoses and assessments are extremely helpful. So I'm torn about that.
I haven't yet looked for any books on this subject. I suppose that is my next step. But first, I'll ask you, my dear readers, if you have any advice.