Last week, I noticed that Bunny lost her smile.
Normally when I pick her up from school, I am (still, thank you, universe) greeted by the "MAMMA!" shout that makes me feel like a rockstar, and a big, bright smile. Last week, the smile went away. J. noticed it too, and asked if anything was wrong. I told him that I had approached Bunny to find out if anything bothering her and she just shook her head. There's nothing like a late-night discussion about the state of your child's happiness to bring the tears. I vowed to get to the bottom of it.
The next morning, Bunny crawled into our bed and snuggled up against me, her brow furrowed. No child should wake up after a good night's sleep with worry all over her face. I smoothed her hair and whispered into her ear, "If anything is bothering you, you can tell me, you know. That's what parents are for. There is nothing you can't tell me. I won't get mad, and I promise, I will make it better. As your Mamma that's my job because I love you."
She nodded and relaxed into my arms.
Then she told me that there was one thing on her mind. The first graders had started taking timed math tests at school and much to her surprise, she wasn't among the fastest students in the class, in fact, she was in the slower bunch. She closed her eyes and tears started to form. "I'm stupid," she sobbed.
My heart sank. Sank, then cracked in half. I hated math when I was her age and it was because of the timed tests. We didn't start those until second grade, but I will never ever forget being the last one done. Every. single. time. I will never ever forget Mrs. Byrne leaning over and whispering, "One of these days you are going to have to learn not to count on your fingers."
I told this to Bunny and her eyes widened in surprise. Yes, it was true. I wasn't even among the slow students, I was dead last. As a former teacher, this experience stayed with me. I shunned timed tests in my classroom because they didn't test knowledge, just speed. Anyone could memorize a math fact, but knowing was different. That experience shaped how I taught math, ensuring that I had an arsenal full of tools that I could share with students of different learning styles. I told all of this to Bunny. Told her that I would help her if she had trouble. That I'd teach her all the ways that I taught my students and myself so that I wasn't last anymore.
I thought about how she felt as a kid who knew all the answers, but just wasn't fast enough. Knowing is not enough, now you have to be fast. To this day, I am not a great quick-thinker. I am someone who takes things in, formulates my thoughts, then speaks. I am not nor have I ever been "quick on the draw" with responses. It can be frustrating quality for those who know me well. I don't like being put on the spot, sometimes even during the course of a normal conversation, and it's probably because of those damned timed math tests.
Then I made a choice to tell her the truth as I knew it. I told her (in a kid-appropriate way) that those tests were bullshit. That she was not, nor will ever be "stupid." That timed tests weren't a measure of her intelligence. I told her exactly why I didn't use them in my classroom. I told her that she could come in last every single time and still be one of the brightest kids I know. I told her not to ever let those tests make her feel bad and that when she was older she'd see that I was right. I told her all those things even though her teacher would probably wish I hadn't. Even though some parents would probably wish I hadn't. It's not that I will always give my kids the easy way out. She will have to learn those facts--that I don't deny--but not that way.
I could see the huge weight lifting off her shoulders and her smile returned. She'll get faster with her knowledge, but she'll go at her pace. She'll still take the tests, but she will take them wearing armor that won't let the results affect her so negatively. Because a six-year-old shouldn't hate math. A six-year-old shouldn't be afraid to talk to her parents about the anxiety she feels as a result of a test. A six-year-old should love school. And herself. And now she does again.