Confidence

I wish I knew how much of our confidence we are inherently born with and how much we gain from our environment.  And I’ve wondered what can promote or decrease the level of confidence we have.

Confidence is generally described as a state of being certain either that a hypothesis or prediction is correct or that a chosen course of action is the best or most effective. 

Self-confidence is having confidence in oneself. 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confidence

I love the 2006 Academy Award winner for Best Animated Feature film, Happy Feet.  Many insightful aspects and metaphors stood out in this movie but there is one thing that stands out among the rest; Mumble’s confidence.  Even though he appeared to be different, he doesn’t allow his differences to hinder his confidence.  When others criticized his dancing feet and pointed out his lack of vocal skills to his parents he remains sure of himself.  When his parents began to question whether or not their son was “normal”, Mumble quickly dispels their doubts and reassures them that he is okay and nothing is wrong.

Can you imagine being different from everyone else, not fitting in to the perfect mold that has been carved out by your environment or maybe your family.  Being told that you are not normal because you appear to be different or that your skills do not match the criterion that has been established by the leaders.  Seems kind of crazy, doesn’t it?  But to some extent, this happens every day.

I’m not a big fan of the term “Gifted and Talented (GT)”.  I think the title given to students at such a young age (as early as first grade) is misleading.  It gives the impression that only some are bestowed the honor of gifts and talents, as if they are the chosen few.

We are all born with spiritual gifts and talents.

Several of my son’s  friends were selected to go into the GT classroom after Kindergarten.  My son, however, was not.  And that was fine; except when the kids and even the parents would announce often about their GT status.  Example: “My son’s GT classroom, her GT teacher, the GT students,” instead of, “my child’s first grade class, his teacher, her classmates, the students.”  And this was during casual conversations where no distinction was needed at that particular time.

I don’t have an issue with students who are educationally advanced being placed in a separate advanced placement classroom and classifying them as academically advanced, which in my opinion is a more accurate assessment.  Students who are able to process information on a faster level should be free to advance among their like-minded peers.  But when other kids are made to feel as though they’re not gifted and talented or their gifts and talents do not matter as much as some of the others, that is when I take issue.

Jaren often talked about his friends in the GT classroom with decency and respect.  He never appeared to be jealous.  If anything, it made him work harder on his academics.

I remained neutral at home, refraining from any positive or negative remarks about the GT classroom.  I wanted Jaren to be happy and secure in his classroom environment.  I knew he was gifted and talented.  I didn’t need his elementary school to define that for me or my son.

When Jaren was in the fourth grade, he took the initiative to ask his counselor if he could take the GT assessment tests.  Previously, either the staff or the parents of students made these request.  I had known about Jaren’s desire to be in the GT classroom so this was not big surprise to me.  His counselor sent home some paperwork for me to read and authorize.  I signed the form and spoke with Jaren’s counselor.  I explained to her that this was Jaren’s idea.  However, I also assured her that I was supporting my son’s choice.

I prepared Jaren as much as I could.  I knew this was important to him.  But I also knew that there were two possible scenarios that could happen.  I wondered if my son was prepared for either.  We prayed about it and I reminded my son to do his best.

Jaren had to take three GT academic tests.  He was required to pass with a specified grade percentage on at least two of the three tests.  Jaren’s counselor called me and said Jaren qualified on one of the three tests and also came very close on a second test, missing by only a few points.  I let Jaren know how very proud of him I was for trying his best.  Mostly, I was proud of him for having the confidence to ignore the boundaries that had been previously established and seeking a goal that mattered most to him.

That’s self-confidence!

When Jaren was in the fifth grade, he, along with a few other students in his classroom competed in the Spelling Bee contest.  Previously, the contest was reserved for the GT students only.  But Jaren’s fifth grade teacher requested that her students be eligible to compete.  That year, the two top winners came from this non-GT fifth-grade class with Jaren taken second place!  I was honored that his teacher believed in her students so much so that she wanted to break the tradition that had been previously set out.  She wanted all the students to have an opportunity to excel and show their skills and talents.

Confidence is having the courage to make a request and feeling like you already know the answer is going to be yes.  It’s walking on a stage in front of hundreds or thousands of people and feeling as though your presence will inspire those listening.  It’s having the assurance to rally your team to great success.  And maybe, it’s believing no matter who you are in this world, you matter.

The Magic Show

Jaren has always been a unique and entertaining child.  There was never a dull moment in our household.

As a youngster, he had an inquisitive and peculiar mind which spawned him to say things that many times left me literally questioning his thought process.   When I brought an avocado home, he wanted to save the large round seed in the middle so he could plant it and grow avocados.  When we went to a craw-fish broil, he asked the host if he could take one home for a pet, which we did.  We named her Lulu.  Jaren also enjoyed singing, being on stage, and never minded being the center of attention.  He had a spiritual knowledge and insight far beyond his young years.  But all that creative energy sometimes left him restless and he went looking everywhere to exercise his mental interest.  On top of that, Jaren had asthma and allergies.  The medications he took to manage these conditions also contributed to his hyperactivity.

Kindergarten was a challenge for Jaren.  He suffered from some behavior issues that were mostly related to him not being able to sit still, focus, and follow directions.  And he was a talker.  At the beginning of the school year the students had a weekly chart that was marked daily with colored mood faces expressing each child’s behavior, that ranged from green(good), yellow(fair), orange(warning) and red(bad).  The charts were sent home daily so parents could acknowledge and initial the behavior noted for that day.   After the first couple weeks, Jaren rarely brought home a happy green face.  His charts mostly consisted of yellow and orange (with green and red being more rare).  It was somewhat discouraging.  Then I got the dreaded notice.  I needed to go to the school for a special parent/teacher conference.

Honestly, I was on defense at first.  I wondered if they were singling out my child for some social, political reason or if there was a real concern for my young son.

I drove to the school to meet with Jaren’s teacher, the counselor, and the vice principal.  I felt outnumbered.  I walked in sheepishly, trying to preserve my self-confidence and was ready to fight on behalf of my child.  Jaren’s teacher had all the examples that she recorded on paper of Jaren’s bad behavior moments.  The vice principal asked how Jaren was doing academically?  His teacher said he was a good student when he was capable of getting his work done.  Then, we were re-directed back to the issue of his class behavior.  They suggested I take Jaren to one of the local offices to have him tested for ADD/ADHD but maintained that it was my choice and that Jaren was still young and could very easily grow out of his challenging behavior.

Although I know ADD/ADHD is a real medical issue, I felt like the school was looking for an easy way out to help make their job easier.  Jaren was so young.  I thought it was too early to assess or label him as having ADD/ADHD.

I was hurt and mad and tried very hard to hold back my emotions.  As I was leaving, I walked with Jaren’s teacher down the hall.  I couldn’t hold back my tears any longer and told her that I was sorry.  I further explained that I had tried everything at home; talking to Jaren, punishment, taking privileges away, but nothing seemed to be making a noticeable or permanent impact.  I said, “I feel like a terrible mom.”

As single parents and working mothers, it feels like we do so much and no matter how much we do, we still can’t do enough, and our best isn’t good enough.  We have stretched ourselves to the max with little or no reserves for unexpected disruptions.  We are trying to uphold a family balance and sometimes the slightest breeze can throw us off course.

My child’s teacher’s response surprised me.  “You shouldn’t feel that way.” she said. “You are a good mom.  You’re here trying to help your son.  Think about all the parents who don’t show up.”  She put her arm around my shoulder and assured me that she and the school would work together to help Jaren.  I immediately felt comforted.

The counselor and Jaren’s teacher formed a new plan for my son.  From that day on, instead of Jaren getting daily charts and weekly rewards, they began giving him progress updates throughout the day.  He could look at his chart that was taped to his desk and see his behavior progress.  It gave him a goal to work towards.

One day, Jaren asked his teacher if he could perform a magic show for his class.  Jaren’s teacher thought it was a great motivational opportunity and told him that he needed to get a certain amount of good behavior reports.  If he did, he could perform his magic show for his classmates.

Jaren worked hard on his class behavior at school and practiced his magic skills regularly for me at home and all that hard work paid off.

To prepare my son for his magic show debut I bought him a cape and a top hat.  As I beheld Jaren standing in front of his animated audience, I watched a problematic kid be transformed into a charismatic star pupil that day.  He was focused and poised.  His classmates were truly entertained by his magic.Image

Thank goodness for teachers like this, the ones who allow all their students to shine in unique ways.

Magic Show