I was half an hour early for the Parent Teacher Meeting of my five-year old, and even after going through his Progress Report and all the class-work and tests had more than enough time to eavesdrop on the conversations the other parents were having with the teacher and their children.
“Is this how you brush your teeth?”, demanded a mother of her son. “One hand should be in your mouth, you stupid boy, not sticking out like this. Do you brush your teeth with your hands like this?”
“How dare you give my daughter a ‘B’ in Maths?”, argued another. “She’s got 16 out of 20 in all her tests. She should get an A for it.”
“My grandson always spells all the words correctly at home. If he is making mistakes in class, it is because you pronounce words differently. She knows all the words.” The lady was so agitated, she could barely sit still during the entire conversation.
“My child always topped in class in her previous school. Are you sure you are giving her enough attention?”
I was almost ashamed at myself for not having any such grouses with the teacher. Her remarks, I thought, described my son exactly as I know him. And while I wasn’t happy with the Bs he’d got in Mathematics and Computers, I knew I would have graded him similarly had I been asked to do so.
Maybe I should just up and leave. I couldn’t bring myself to bargain with the teacher over my son’s grades, and yet that seemed to be what was required of me as a parent. I spent a few minutes trying to psyche myself into becoming a parent ambitious about her son’g grades, but the whole exercise seemed utterly futile – did the grades that my son received in the first half term of Grade 1 really matter in the larger scheme of things? Would be he required to submit those grades when he applied to Universities ten years down the line, and did I really want him to apply to Universities that may require him to do so?
I was clearly a misfit among all those competitive parents, but I knew I could not be otherwise.
“I have to tell you how much my son loves his school”, I told the teacher even as I was easing myself into the seat. “Of all the four classes he has been in, I’ve never seen him as happy ever before.”
“You don’t know how happy you have made me”, my son’s teacher said. “I was having a really bad day until now. But you have made me feel so good.”
“The credit is all yours”, I replied. “I can see how much my son has grown since coming here. And he couldn’t have done that unless you encouraged him.”
We spoke about this and that. About the areas where I had seen an improvement in my son, and the areas where he needed reinforcing. I shared my concerns about his short attention span and she assured me it was fine for his age. I came away feeling happy, because I knew exactly how my son was doing and where he should be going.
“It is so refreshing to have a parent like you”, she told me as I was leaving. “You aren’t over ambitious the way other parents are, and you don’t push your child like they do.”
She would never know how competitive I used to be. About how during the fist year or two I used to obsess if he did not attain every milestone in the shortest possible time. But then I realized that both my sons were unique individuals with their own special talents. They will not excel in everything they do, but neither should they be expected to.
And I wish more parents realize that before they inflict irreversible damage on their kids.