M got his first term progress report last week and I was pleased to see that he was doing reasonably well in most of his classes. Except art. According to the teacher’s notation, M hadn’t handed in any of his work. Not surprisingly, she rated him as “does not meet expectations.” Basically, he’s failing art.
How can anyone fail art?” You draw or paint what ever the teacher tells you to do and you pass. I know it’s not M’s favourite subject – he indicated at the beginning of the year that he didn’t think he was very good at art. His dad and I told him that he didn’t have to be good. His teacher, we explained, didn’t expect him to be Picasso – he just had to do the work. We did suggest he talk to his teacher, which he did, but I gather she wasn’t very sympathetic. She told him that she’d heard the same thing from other kids in previous years. She added that many of these kids had ended up liking art. Apparently M remains unconvinced.
From time to time, I asked him how art was going and M would grumble about his fact that the teacher wasn’t very nice to him. I didn’t pay too much attention, as M has never been a “glass full” kind of kid – if he doesn’t like something (or someone), then it “sucks,” no matter what anyone tells him.
A couple of weeks ago, his homeroom teacher called to say that M was having problems with some of the other teachers at school. If a teacher M didn’t know and/or liked asked him to do something (or not do something), he was frequently rude and confrontational. Not a big surprise to me – M’s not a big fan of following instructions and he rarely does something just because an adult tells him to do it. In elementary school, he often got into conflicts with supply teachers because they asked him to do things that he was unaccustomed to doing (sitting still, for example) or in a way that was different from the normal routine (such as standing in a line, rather than always being first).
Fortunately for M (and his parents), his homeroom teacher is terrific. He “gets” M and understands that he needs to know why he has to do a particular task before he does it. In addition to taking him around the school to meet other teachers, he explained to M that sometimes a teacher doesn’t have time to give him a full explanation of why he needs to get down from the tree he’s climbing or stay on school property. However, his teacher also laid down the law and told M that talking back and being obnoxious was not permitted. I understand this was followed up by a meeting with the principal and the vice-principal.
After talking to the teacher, M’s complaints about the art teacher made a bit more sense. She may have been crabby with him from time to time, but I figured that this was probably a reaction to something he said. However, when I read his report card, I was surprised to find out he hadn’t submitted any of his work in art class. M’s still getting used to doing homework (his elementary school had a “no homework” policy), but all the art assignments were in-class, so he didn’t have a really good reason for not completing anything.
When I talked to M about his art grade, he blamed the teacher – I heard a lot of “she’s not nice to me,” plus some “she’s a terrible teacher.” I pointed out that I’d had plenty of teachers I didn’t like and more than one who were downright awful, but that a difficult teacher wasn’t an excuse for not doing the work. “Not as bad as my art teacher,” replied M. I told him that I’d had plenty of horrible teachers, including, one of my Grade 4 teachers, who was about 101 and had an enormous hairy wart on her armpit. Since she favoured sleeveless dresses, even in winter, I saw a lot of that wart. Plus, I distinctly recall that she didn’t like kids. Then there was my Grade 6 math teacher who yelled at the class all the time.
While M’s rudeness is inexcusable, it does sound like art class is probably not that interesting for him. The last few weeks have been spent learning how to draw lines, which in his words, is “boring.” For a kid with ADHD, who’s already defensive about his art ability (or lack thereof), drawing is probably a tough assignment. It requires patience and practice – neither of which is M’s strong suit.
In the long run, failing art won’t make or break M’s academic career. But he needs to learn how to get along with people he doesn’t like. More importantly, he needs to learn to get along with people who don’t like him. He’s been fortunate to have had a number of very good teachers and he developed very strong relationships with them. However, the further on he goes in school and in life, the more likely he is to encounter people he just doesn’t get along with – and he needs to be able to cope. Particularly when that person is in a position of power, either a teacher or in the future, a boss. I’ve worked for plenty of people I didn’t care for and vice versa, but I still had to show up every day and do my work. It’s not fun, but that’s life.
M also needs to figure out how to manage in all his classes, not just the ones he likes. He has a tendency to give up when confronted with a subject or task he doesn’t like or feels he isn’t good at it. M used to complain about French, but he recently got 100% on a French test and realized that he’s very good at congugating verbs (my least favourite part of elementary and high school French class).
So maybe art isn’t M’s thing. But unlike math, there’s no right answer, so it’s hard to fail. After Grade 8, he never needs to take another art class again. For the moment, he just needs to put pencil to paper and hand it in.