Everyone has a personal narrative — moments in their life that become integral parts of their own story — and mine started in kindergarten, when my teacher, Mrs. Redd, decided I should be moved to first-grade reading. Every morning, my 5-year-old self would join the older children for a reading lesson, and I would feel both special and smart; those feelings imprinted on my little brain in a big way. In my mind, that formative experience set me on a path for many years of academic success. Not to brag (OK, maybe a little), but I managed to graduate near the top of every class, from middle to graduate school. Being "good at school" is a big part of my self identity, and it all started in kindergarten.
Watching her has taught me a lot about what really matters when it comes to my children's education: that they discover a love of learning.
So when my own child started grade school last year, I have to admit, I was both curious and a bit anxious about how she would perform. Would she immediately excel as I had, or would she struggle? And if the latter was the case, how would we both deal with it? Would I be disappointed in her, in the school, or in myself for not preparing her properly? Could I separate the importance I put on school achievement for myself from her own academic journey?
The answer wasn't what I expected. My daughter, now about to finish first grade, isn't the top student in her class, though she's done fine, pleasing her teachers with her reading and math abilities (which she happens to believe are stellar), but even more so with her quick wit, kindness, and general positivity. While she might not be the most academically advanced student in her class, she is one of the most enthusiastic, and as a parent who values her happiness far above what any test score might say about her verbal and math abilities, that's far more important.
Watching her has taught me a lot about what really matters when it comes to my children's education. Yes, in an ideal world they'd be reading as toddlers and naturally and generally gifted, but in the beginning of their schooling, what's really most important is that they discover a love of learning. I know that love will take them farther than any test score.
Accomplishing that doesn't come from forcing them to practice the times tables or by expressing disappointment that they missed a couple of spelling words I'd spent a week drilling them on. It involves letting them find their own paths, successes, and identities as students, so the 15-plus years of their lives, most of which they'll spend in school, are a joy, not a burden.
It's been surprisingly easy to not put my own academic expectations on my daughter. After all, she's been her own person since birth — a blond-haired, blue-eyed, highly emotional human that came from my brown-haired, brown-eyed, emotionally reserved body — and it only makes sense that her school experience would also be different than my own. Just because I got straight As doesn't mean that she has to. It's much more important to me that she's a happy student than an exceptional one.