First of all, the big news in Polymath's life: the daughter for whom my wife and I have been waiting for a long time now is no longer an abstraction. We got the phone call, amid nerves and tears (of joy and relief—it has been a seriously long wait), during my winter vacation, and we got e-mails with her picture about an hour later. She's still in China, and we will be traveling there in about 4 weeks to pick her up. It's now hard to focus on teaching sometimes. Either there are bureaucratic details to take care of, shopping to complete, or daydreaming about her to do. Again, for reasons of anonymity, I can't post her picture here. But suffice it to say that she is extremely cute, even by not-her-parent standards. My wife has, for a long time, imagined what it will feel like to physically hold our daughter: her hair, her heft, her skin, etc. Until we saw her picture, I didn't really think about her in those terms. But now seeing her picture makes me want to pick her up and hug/comfort/play with her.
I've spent so long waiting for this that it hardly seems possible that it's actually happening. For more than a year, my wife and I were the only people in our day-to-day lives that knew for sure that this adoption was truly underway. Other people only had our word, and even we only had a bunch of papers. It was more like a story—a fiction—than our actual future. The reality that we'll have her home in roughly six weeks is overwhelming. My wife and I keep standing dumbfounded in front of baby supplies in the stores. Sometimes we just don't know what it's all for. Sometimes we know what it's for, but we don't know enough about our own child to know what to buy, which means we have to buy almost everything for the trip to get her. We know her and we don't. We have a child, but we don't. We're adopting, but we're no longer "in the process", but we're not quite past it. This is a very strange time. And wondrous. And exciting. One of the biggest new chapters in my life in a long time. I'm nervous, thrilled, and apprehensive all at once. I'll hold her for the first time soon. Wow.
But on to the boring stuff you've been waiting for: the part where I talk about teaching.
Let n = n – 2.
Which is how my ancient knowledge of BASIC programming would have reassigned the variable n—the one tracking my total number of students.
One student, who was unhappy at our school, withdrew to enroll at a boarding school far away. I suspect that was probably best for her.
The other was one of the students who had been struggling pretty badly. She's the one who, as reported in my last diary post, got only about 50% on her final exam. So: big conference with the parents. One teacher (me), one department head, one advisor (last year's math teacher, as it happens), two counselors, one of whom specializes in learning disabilities, with which said student has recently been diagnosed, and one principal. Missing was her math teacher from two years ago who (absolutely correctly, as it turns out) recommended that this student be placed in a slower-paced class for the following year. All six of us professionals agreed that this student should probably never have been in my class to begin with, but the parents had insisted, because they wanted to be sure that she could get into the very best colleges (we're talking about a choice made after 7th grade here, remember). After much discussion with great diplomacy, the parents finally admitted that they could see the writing on the wall, and that she should be switched to the slower-paced class. They complimented the department by expressing their faith that even those slower-paced classes were taught at a level higher than most public schools (which is true). And then. After 6 professionals whose teaching they claimed to respect (7 if you count her 7th-grade teacher, who wasn't there) told them that their child belonged in a different course, one of them said, "Well we can shove her into this other class for now, but what does it mean in the long term?" An off-hand comment like that betrayed their true feelings: their little girl was being railroaded by a bunch of teachers who didn't know what was best and didn't want to have to take the time necessary to give her the necessary help. And they had the nerve to ask whether there was any chance her grade could be changed so that colleges wouldn't see it and keep her out.
It's the parental message I loathe the most: We are very happy your teachers have high standards—it's what we pay you for; but if those standards result in a poor grade for our child, we kinda wish they weren't so high. All of us at the meeting were shaking our heads all day long and rolling our eyes about it. Not very professional, I know, but they really were just unbelievable.
But...well, she's gone. She's in the class she should have taken in the first place. Best for her and for the class, I think. But I'll have to live with the knowledge that I personally kept her from her destined career path because she won't be going to Harvard now. I don't think I'll lose any sleep over it.