Oct 13, 2012

Group Work

At Gavin's parent/teacher conference last week, the teacher had only good things to say about  how well he was doing in relation to his grades (only).  And then he paused a moment and addressed Gavin, "How do you feel about group work, Gavin?"

With zero emotion on his face and in the most monotone, lowest voice he could muster he pronounces once and for all, "I don't work well with others."

Yes.  Read that again.  My son actually said that ALOUD to another human in a position of authority and leadership that could affect his overall grade and life.

I was scrambling to help save face.  I know my son infinitely better than this teacher who has known him for all of 6 weeks.  I know his antisocial tendencies.  I'm intimately familiar with his lack of enthusiasm when it comes to talking with other human beings.  And I don't consider any of these things a negative because I know who he is.  He is a highly introverted thinker.  He hates to interrupt when others are talking (which you often have to in group work situations in order to get heard).  He is a very private person.  He rarely shares his emotions, even with me, partly because he has no idea how he is feeling.  He is a person who is stuck in his head most of the time.  And there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with that.  He is comfortable in his skin.

But in public school, where the one-size-fits-all mentality thrives, that becomes a big problem.  It becomes a liability.  Because most schools, be they private, public or co-operative learning centers, expect group work to be done regardless of each kids' individual learning style.  The extroverts come out shining in most group work scenarios.  The introverts end up either doing all the work because the rest of the group doesn't care as much about the project as they do, or they got stuck with the least appealing part of the project because they are too apprehensive to speak up (I only know this from experience).  The introvert also tends to get looked down upon because they don't thrive in this environment  therefore, the conclusion goes, they must not be giving it their all, not trying hard enough.

Without apologizing for my son's statement or excusing his behavior in group work away, I simply explained to his teacher that he is highly introverted and not comfortable in larger group situations (he does just fine in a group of 2 or in situations where you can pick your group).  Simply because he doesn't happen to possess group work skills does not equal that he does not understand the assignment or subject he is being taught.  I told him that Gavin is aware that group work will be very common in his high school classes and even though he doesn't necessarily like it, he knows the challenge of it will make him grow.

Thankfully, the teacher seemed satisfied with my answer but looked warily at Gavin.  My momma bear instincts are on high alert.  I left the conference with the statement to the teacher that this happened to be Gavin's favorite class which seemed to make the teacher happy, even if he couldn't fathom Gavin's honest answer.

After that awkward little moment, I decided it was time to coach Gavin in the fine art of making things sound better than they actually are.  I informed him, "Honey, please do not tell another adult, or anyone for that matter, that you don't like working with other people even though that is a true statement.  Put a positive spin on it like, 'I work great in groups of one or two people.'  Doesn't that sound better?"  I have been his social skills teacher his entire life and apparently dropped the ball on this one, I never saw it coming.

It's the quirks of each of our children that make them special to us and the world.  Why does the world insist we all fit in the same box?  Why can't these beautiful differences be used to the best of their advantage?  Why are kids made to feel bad, weird, self-conscious about their uniqueness?  I definitely see the benefit of doing things you're not good at to help grow you mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually and academically.  Both Gavin and I accept that years of upcoming group work are inevitable and that he will indeed grow through it and become a good 'faker'.  But he never has to give up being who he is at the core just to please people.
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