In which I am proud and disgusted

I mentioned yesterday– or at least I think I did, play along if I’m wrong– that after work I had to go to a parent-teacher conference for my son. This was a regularly-scheduled event and not one of those “your kid is a shithead, you need to come in now” sorts of things, and I wasn’t expecting any particular surprises from it– my kid does well academically but is, I think, a moderate behavioral challenge when the mood strikes him, and most of his teachers have tossed a “he could get better at paying attention” type of line at us from time to time. And they’re not wrong; he could. And this is a thing that we work on; he’s not perfect. So I wasn’t expecting all candy and roses but I wasn’t expecting an unpleasant conversation either.

I have spent a decent chunk of the last couple of weeks administering a standardized math test to my students that we take three times a year. 90% of my students are done within two class periods and the rest of the time is catching kids who were absent or the occasional one who needs more time. This test is given nationwide and the norms are referenced nationally, so a kid’s percentile score, for example, is against all kids who took that across the country and not just the ones at my school or in my district.

And as it turns out, the kids at Hogwarts took the same test this year, for the first time. The teacher introduced it somewhat hesitantly, admitting that she wasn’t completely familiar with the data she was given, and … well, I don’t have that problem, both by training and by inclination, since I’m a huge data nerd and I love this shit. So, yeah, I know exactly how to read this report that you’re handing me.

And I was simultaneously thrilled and disgusted by the results. A bit more background: the way this score is tested is that all grades are scored on a continuum, so there isn’t really a maximum or minimum score but they expect an average 8th grader to have a score of around 230 or so and an average 2nd grader to be in, I dunno, the 180s or so. But it is possible for an 8th grader to score below that second grade level and it is possible for a 2nd grader to score above the 8th grade level.

And my kid outscored about 80% of my fucking 8th graders, in both reading and math. He was in the 99th percentile in achievement in both reading and math, and he was in the 98th percentile in growth for math and 80th percentile in growth for reading. So he killed this fucking test. My reaction was not quite “You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me,” but it was close. I knew the boy was bright, but … shit. And the fact that his teacher showed me these results and then immediately began apologizing because she doesn’t think she’s challenging him enough … lady, if the boy showed up at the 98th percentile in growth, it means he’s hoovered up every single fact you’ve thrown at him all year long. I would kill for results like this from my students. And she’s acting like she’s embarrassed by it.

If my kid isn’t showing growth, then maybe the teacher has at least a justification for an apology, although as the teacher of a number of kids who are failing to show growth (and, to be fair, a larger number who are; my overall numbers weren’t bad at all relative to the other teachers in my building) I’m not about to be making a bunch of phone calls. But if the kid is improving by leaps and bounds like mine apparently is then it is a hundred percent fair for the teacher to crow about the job she’s doing with him a bit.

And it’s weird, because as a dad I’m proud of him, but as a teacher I kind of want to break things, because now I have to swallow the sentence “My second grader took this test and beat your score by thirty points” with a lot of my kids, and … gaaaah.

I just wish everybody could get the education he’s getting at Hogwarts, and I wish enough of my kids gave a shit that they had a chance of getting that type of growth from me. I had one kid in the nineties in growth, but she barely spoke English when she took the first one, so it’s not exactly a surprise. It’s a whole damn different world over there.

In which I gain a level in Nerd Dad

The boy, who remember is eight and was never provided with a sibling, is forever crafting games that he wants his mother and I to play with him. They are damn near always some sort of Pokémon pastiche of one kind or another; “We create characters, and assign them powers, and then we battle!” only battle basically means that all of the moves he’s made up for his characters destroy all of our characters automatically. He, uh, hasn’t quite mastered the concept of game balance just yet.

“We should really get you into Dungeons and Dragons,” I said to him the other day, not expecting anything to come of what I meant as an idle comment.

Yeah, that backfired. He’s been talking about it for a solid week, and I’ve been kind of tossing around ideas for quickie adventures I might be able to run for him and my wife, and then I happened to be at Target tonight, as one does, and came across the D&D Essentials Kit, which frankly has far too much crap in it for just $24.99. There’s a rulebook (not really necessary, as I have the 5E hardcovers,) the adventure itself, some dice, a bunch of character sheets on nice paper (nonetheless, easily photocopied for backups,) a DM screen, and a bunch of little cards for status reminders and quests and magical items and other shit like this. An early look through the adventure reveals that what it actually is is a bunch of mini-quests set in the same area, so it’s going to be possible to do a bunch of shorter sessions that will be better suited to the attention span of an eight-year-old than the marathon gaming sessions I remember from high school and college.

I’m actually looking forward to this. I kind of feel bad not buying it from The Griffon, but that’s the nature of impulse buys, and I’m sure it’s gonna trigger spending a crapton of money on other stuff, and also holy crap have the nerds won the universe. You can get D&D stuff at Target. That’s kind of mind-blowing.

Merry Christmas!

Raise our hand if your wife bought your 8-year-old son what is obviously a drinking game for Christmas!

(Looks around)

Just me, eh?

Okay.

In which something works the way it’s supposed to

My biggest sin as an educator– other than my cynicism, anxiety, various and sundry mental issues, and recent conviction that society will not be around long enough for an education to actually help any of my current students in any meaningful way– is that I am terrible at parent contact. I’m good at email, but a lot of my parents don’t use email and it can be difficult to collect email addresses that work via any method other than brute force. I despise calling parents on the phone to complain to them about their kids. Absolutely hate it, and I’ll do anything to avoid doing it– including just continuing to put up with shitty behavior when it’s possible that calling home might actually help. Does it always? Of course not, and unfortunately the kids with the most issues most frequently come with parents who aren’t going to help me out. Not always, but frequently.

Yesterday was rough as hell. Everybody in the building was in a bad damn mood all day, and every single one of my classes was substantially more poorly-behaved than usual. I sent more kids to the office yesterday alone than I have for the entire first, what, four weeks of the year combined, including three from my seventh hour class, which is far and away my roughest group, to the point where the other five barely even register in comparison.

My principal emailed me and asked me– ha, asked, he says– to contact the parents of the three and let them know what had happened. Which I dutifully did, hating every second of it, but for two of the three I had a decent conversation with a parent and the third I left a detailed message.

Today was a better day across the board, and there was a notable improvement in behavior from all three of yesterday’s miscreants. And I should point out, to be fair, that two of the three are rarely problems, and in fact those two often help to rein in the third, who is more prone to having issues. They just didn’t yesterday, and each of them being dismissed from the room one at a time did not help things. But, point is: today all three gave me no trouble at all. So not only did the two parents I spoke to talk to their kids in a meaningful way, but apparently so did the third, based only on the voicemail message.

I pulled them aside at the end of the day and gave them the option of a second phone call today, one passing on that today featured good behavior, and all three of the boys seemed pretty excited by the idea and said I should do it. Which meant that I got the exquisite and fairly rare pleasure of calling three parents in a row– because this time the voicemail parent answered the phone– and savoring that first moment where they’re pissed off because if I’ve called two days in a row it must be because somebody fucked up and then giving them good news instead.

It’s not something I get to do often, but I enjoy it quite a lot when I do.

Turns out this isn’t complicated

Around a year ago, give or take, Instagram suggested I follow what was clearly a secondary account for one of my friends. It was a new account, with one picture on it, and in that picture my friend was wearing eyeshadow. My friend was not the type of person for whom randomly choosing to be photographed in eyeshadow was a terribly surprising thing, so I thought nothing of it and followed the account, then forgot all about it.

A few days later my friend’s wife texted me and asked if I had any questions about her — and this is the point where I can’t come up with a coherent way to not choose gendered words, so for the moment I’ll go with “husband,” because at the time that was the word I would have used– making the decision to transition.(*) Apparently that account wasn’t really meant for full public attention yet. Whoops! I laughed and said that I’d found it in suggestions and followed it and not thought about it for another single second and then went on to have the type of conversation that you typically have when an adult makes a decision like that.

My son is seven. He and their youngest son are just a couple of weeks apart in age, and have been best friends for more or less forever despite them having moved a couple hours away a few years ago. They regularly communicate via the Facebook Kids Messenger app and play Roblox together. My son is aware that his friend now has two moms, and has literally never asked a single question about it or displayed the slightest bit of confusion about it.

The other day I was sitting in my recliner while he was on the couch talking to his friend, and the iPad is loud, so it’s kind of hard to not overhear their conversations and I try to keep half an ear on him while he’s on the thing anyway just because, y’know, parenting. And I hear his friend tell him that he has decided to change genders and be a girl, and that he wants to use feminine pronouns now, and be known by a different name. And, well, I went from paying halfassed attention to listening carefully quick.

And … my son says “Okay,” and immediately starts arguing with her about whether “dude” is a gender-neutral term or not, and whether “dudette” is something that he should be using now, because that’s where his priorities lie, and went right back to playing Roblox.

Now, has he been great about not deadnaming his friend? No, he hasn’t– he’s pretty much sticking with “dude” most of the time, and I’ve definitely heard far more uses of the original name than the new one over the last couple of weeks. And there was a brief discussion between the two of them later about whether his friend could really be a girl or not, because girls can have babies and boys can’t. This led to the only parental intervention I’ve had to make in this entire process, where after they were done with the conversation I pulled him aside and explained the difference between gender and sex, to which he reacted by absorbing the information and shrugging and saying “Oh, okay.”

We were over at my parents’ house earlier this week and their family came up in conversation. My mom was aware of the parental transition but not the kid’s, and after a few minutes called my son into the room and asked him what he thought about it.

“Oh. Yeah, he changed genders. He’s a girl now.”

And that was the end of it. He was done talking.

So … okay, not great on pronouns, but he’s seven. It was as if his friend had changed favorite colors or something. In my son’s head, it’s no big deal.

This is the second time in a few weeks that my son has encountered the concept that people exist who are other than cis and straight, and just like the first time, he just rolled with it. And it’s not because either my (cis, straight) self or my wife’s (cis, straight) self are some sort of woke paragons of allyship. We aren’t. I’m pretty sure we’ve literally never had a direct discussion about sexual orientation with him. It’s because this isn’t actually all that complicated to explain to kids and because if kids see their parents treat something as normal they will too.

Some kids have two dads.

Some kids have two moms.

Sometimes men love men, and sometimes women love women, just like Mommy and Daddy love each other.

Sometimes people decide that they aren’t boys or girls anymore, and sometimes people decide that they’ve always been a boy or a girl and that it’s okay to let the world know that too.

“How do we explain this to our children?” is a cop-out, and it always has been. It’s just not that goddamn complicated. You just treat it like it is: normal.

Happy Pride Month, y’all.

(*) If at any point in this post I fuck up my phrasing, call me out on it and I’ll fix it.