How’s the school stress level at your house?

I’m not talking about your kid’s stress level over school. No, I’m talking about you. Had any curve balls thrown at you early on in this school year?  Let me tell you, I’m still reeling from one pitch that I didn’t see coming.

During Curriculum Night, all parents of eighth graders had to go to a special meeting just for them to hear about an important mandatory test their kids have to take. It’s held on a Saturday in October from 8:15 a.m. until almost noon, and… wait for it… it’s a key factor in determining their placement in high school next year.

In addition to this three-hour-plus test, the high school counselors will look at the students’ fall MAP scores.* Never mind that the kids are just off a summer break and are only now getting into the rhythm of school again.  Never mind that they’ve just started 8th grade.  These scores count.

So two sets of test scores get plugged into a computer somewhere and out spits your child’s placement for high school. Sure, they’ll talk to the middle school teachers if the numbers and the kid’s grades don’t match up, but (and they kept repeating this) it’s really important that the kids don’t “blow off” either one of the tests.

This alone stressed me out. I try to think that all this testing is good practice for college entrance exams, but as a gal who was never good at taking standardized tests, I worry that my kids are going to inherit my inability to pick the right answer.

But what really got me, what freaked me out even more than the placement process, was what the high school counselor told us next.

“We’ll have determined their placement by December. In January, you will be making an appointment with your child’s high school guidance counselor to complete a four-year plan for your child.”

Wow, they’re not messing around, I thought. But I like plans and organization in general, so I tried not to be too alarmed by the abruptness of mapping out his school schedule all the way to 2017.

“Of course, it can be changed along the way if necessary, but it’s important to have this plan in place. And it’s not like they have to know what they want to do career-wise yet…” She paused for the low chuckle to rumble through the crowd.

“But it helps.”

And with that, my mind was blown.

She went on to explain that knowing what you want to do can play a big role in the classes you take at high school, the colleges you choose to apply to, the majors you might declare, etc., etc. I think I might have heard half of that because I was completely overwhelmed on behalf of my son that so many decisions that he made now could seemingly determine his life-course.

I didn’t have one clue what I wanted to do at his age. I couldn’t imagine being older than 30 at that point. What career did I want? I was 13, for Pete’s sake.  All I wanted to do was get through high school with good enough grades and activities to make it into college.  Honestly, I was still thinking of careers in terms of jobs mentioned in toddler board books:

  • Doctor? Uh no, I hate blood.
  • Lawyer? Maybe, but I dislike paperwork and confrontation.
  • Teacher? Also maybe, but at what level? Elementary school? High School? College?
  • Firefighter? Well, I have a paralyzing fear of fire and no upper body strength. Probably a pass.

In my wildest imagination, the teenaged version of myself wanted to be an artist in Paris or a writer tucked away in New England, but no one takes you seriously if you actually say those words aloud. They smile a little wearily and say, “That’s nice. But let’s focus on what you really want to do.”

Maybe career counseling today is far more sophisticated than what I remember. But how would someone only 13 years old decide to take a less-traveled path? How could someone so young know himself and the careers out there so well to say, “I want to found a non-profit organization dedicated to international rights for women and children” or “I will probably be an actuary because I like statistics, probabilities, and a steady income with health insurance and employer match for my 401K”?

I know there are lucky people in the world who have always known what they want to do.  I think that’s amazing and wonderful, but I’m not sure that most kids have that same vision and self-awareness.  I know I didn’t.  Heck, if I were 13 today, I’d probably be trying to figure out how to succeed on “American Idol” rather than looking up stolid career options.  Isn’t that part of growing up?

Anyone else stressing out about this? Am I the only one freaking out that suddenly everyone wants to know whether my son has a life-plan?

*What’s MAP? It’s a computerized test to determine how much you know about math, reading, grammar, science (in some grades), etc. In our district, the kids take them three times a year (fall, winter and spring) to measure progress. Placement into advanced, regular, or remedial classes is determined in large part by the all-important score. Do you guys take these too?

About thethingaboutjoan

Mom of three who knits a little, bakes a lot, crafts a bit and blogs about it all.
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9 Responses to How’s the school stress level at your house?

  1. wow! That blows my mind! That’s a lot of pressure…you the kids and YOU!!

  2. amyp22 says:

    I feel for you. I was in your place last year less the MAP test. Seems crazy to place that much stress on both parents and child so early in the process.

    • It is crazy! How did you get through it? My plan right now is to freak out on the inside (and to other moms) and try to look calm on the outside in front of my son. I guess we’ll get through it…. 🙂

      • amyp22 says:

        It helped that I used to help high school students plan their schedules…back in the day when they weren’t expected to have a life map at 14. I also have contacts from my working days so I was able to communicate with them my fears and loss of a plan. I’m hopeful my old school uses my thoughts to improve their scheduling process.

  3. Totally understand your stress level Joan. Wow!! I agree that it’s way too early in the school year for this strict regimen. How can the kids explore and try out different activities? Especially in high school. Wow!! I would want to ask the counselor if they get advise from the local colleges on this type of program. Or maybe where is was originated? Good luck.

  4. Katie B says:

    I am so glad we are not there yet. This would freak me out as well though my son will probably say he wants to be a paleontologist every day until he finds out what is really required to become one.

    One line that struck me in this post, “I have a paralyzing fear of fire.” You married well my dear. I’m sure S handles all fire related duties – with glee.

  5. As an ex-college professor, I saw a lot of students entering college with career plans like intellectual property right lawyer, forensic crime scene investigator or commodities broker. Yeah right. Those ideas generally came from their parents or TV. I encouraged all my advisees to look at their first two years as going to a buffet: sample, sample, sample. They may stumble upon something totally unexpected that captures your heart, mind and soul. That’s an indication of what they should major in. They can always minor (or double major) in something to appease your parents.

    • I cracked up when I read the career plans you mentioned! I had no idea what a commodities broker was at 18! So. Funny.

      I agree with you about encouraging students to explore different avenues with their electives. I really wish tuition costs would come down some so that kids wouldn’t think that they are “wasting” time and money exploring their options. The more I think about it, the more I think that the emphasis on having a life-plan mapped out so early is to save money/time in getting the young folks to be qualified for their careers. I get that — believe me, I’ve got 3 kiddos to get through college — but I think it ratchets up the pressure on teenagers to know RIGHT NOW what they want to do for the long haul.

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