Friday, November 12, 2010

My Thought Balloons

Apparently my family can't go six weeks without a school problem. I'm just back from yet another fun meeting, this time with the Head of School and my younger dd's first grade teacher. Now, younger dd can be genuinely impossible, and there are real problems that need to be addressed. But, as always, I come away feeling that I'm not really on the same planet as the people who work in schools. I'm so glad they couldn't read the thought balloons that kept popping up over my head.

Teacher: Sometimes she's upside down in her chair!

My thought balloon: Wow, she's even more athletic than I realized.

Head of School: She doesn't respect authority.

My thought balloon: I'm so proud! *sniff*

One strange development was that it turned out they hadn't even told us about all the behavior problems that were going on. I had to specifically request that they tell us about the problems as they happen, so we could talk to our daughter about it. Instead of telling me about the problems, the teacher's strategy was to pressure me to take the kid to a psychologist. Is that the usual process these days, to bypass the parents and go right to the army of psychologists and "experts"? Is it a private-school thing? What?


  1. PsychMom says:

    Wow..I had the same thought balloons you had!

    Yeah, I don't know why teachers and school administrators think they have to handle everything at's almost like "what happens at school, stays at school". They only tell parents when the problem is REALLY bad, or perhaps when there is some liability issue involved. If I detect something amiss, and I ask my daughter, she'll often say, "It got handled already, don't worry." Once a teacher even said something similar to me, "There was an issue, but it was dealt with." At the time, my daughter was present while I was asking, so I didn't push it, but I never got a call from the teacher afterwards and nothing was ever elaborated on.

    As for the referral (deferral) to "experts"? It saddens me that teachers don't see their classroom as a part of the issue when a child has difficulty. Blaming the child is so unhelpful, because more than likely the problem is contextual: when the child is in a different place with different people the "problem" is less of a problem. Most things with kids are this way. Adults have the choices and control over their behaviour and they have the ability to describe their feelings when they are uncomfortable. Children do not have the verbal skills and they have no choices about removing themselves from situations that make them uncomfortable. So they react, behaviourally.

    I'd ask the teacher to imagine sitting in a staff meeting all day long everyday for one week and ask her if she wouldn't want to stand up and walk around sometimes. And then imagine that she wasn't allowed to.

    The solution isn't to drug kids. The solution is to change the classroom and the teacher's ability to manage.

    What are you going to do FUM?

  2. I have a friend who has JUST been through this sort of thing and now she has been homeschooling for about three weeks. It just got to the point where she figured out that the school wasn't going to change to help her child, and she SURE didn't want to put her child into the public school.

    BTW, she is a working mom and sudden homeschooling like that can be a big whammy on the job. You realllly have to be committed and juggle those hours about, but it can be done.

    The other potential solution is to fight, but it will take a fair bit of energy and a commitment to stay in the school. And that IS hard when you are paying so much for tuition, and then to fight them to take the money and accept your kid, yk? So my thoughts are with you because that's a hard place to be.

    There are no easy answers, but has the teacher given your dd a wedge for her chair and/or "fidgets?" Look online at the Abilitations catalog to see what I'm talking about. Another help is velcro sticky under the desk... something to "play" with while the teacher is talking that is not distracting to others.

    Wishing you the best as you make decisions and phone calls, etc.

  3. Thanks, PsychMom and Mrs. C! As meetings go, this was actually a good one. We're not jumping ship immediately, though that's an ever-present possibility, and we will certainly research our options. We'll talk to dd and contact a "behavioral specialist", in spite of my deep skepticism.

    We have 2 daughters, the first by the traditional birth method (ouch!) and the second by adoption. Our adopted daughter is Chinese and we're not, so it's immediately obvious that she's adopted.

    One thing I've noticed is that when I'm out and about with my adopted daughter, I'm much more likely to be given advice from other Moms.

    Once I was out with the kids and another Mom, seeing me with younger dd, started to tell me I should be careful to keep her away from a rickety book display. Then I was approached by my older daughter. The advising Mom was completely taken aback. Her thought balloon read "Wait a minute! She's a real mother!"

    I wonder if younger dd's teacher sees me as an adoptive Mom, and therefore less competent and knowledgeable than a "real" Mom, and that's part of the reason she's pushing "expert" intervention.

    There's a great deal of prejudice against adoptive mothers, and as a mother both ways, I get an unusually clear picture of it.

  4. Oh, to Mrs. C., I mentioned that some fidgety kids are given a "medicine ball" to sit on instead of a chair, to use some of that energy. She was familiar with the idea, but was apparently waiting for an "expert" to recommend it, or something. Actually, I'm not at all sure why she hasn't already tried it.

  5. Oops, the "she" in the comment above is the first-grade teacher.

  6. From PsychMom:

    Being an adoptive Mom myself, I can't say I've ever felt like people thought I was less competent (except for my own family!!). But that's may just be my naivete...or total lack of noticing. I have asked for advice from teachers at my daughter's school, related to parenting issues, but also related to adoption (asking how other kids adopted from China have fared socially in the school).
    But no advice, per se, has come unsolicited.

    It's a really interesting observation you've made though..I've never thought about it...

  7. PsychMom, I was thinking of you when I wrote that. As I say, I have the unusual position of seeing this issue from both sides, and I can see that I do get treated differently when I'm perceived as an adoptive Mom.

  8. PsychMom says:

    As the mother of a spirited child ...(I have seen my child upside down in the circle chair (it's a soft comfy chair)) at school....I'm sure that some people have questioned my parenting skills when they see some of her behaviour. Maybe they think that because she's adopted, I must be lacking in some basic understanding of how to parent.

    I worry too that my arguements against homework are discounted because I'm perceived as a harried single Mom who doesn't have the organizational skills to make sure my child does her homework. "Poor dear....if she just didn't spread herself so thin, then she'd have more time to do the important things"....kind of thing.

  9. PsychMom, don't let them take the attitude that you're just spread too thin! During my third and final discussion of homework with my daughter's first grade teacher, I told the teacher that we find time for what's important to us and that my research suggested that the homework may not just be busywork but may actually be harmful. Then I added "You wouldn't want me to encourage something I consider harmful?" That put an end to the conversation and I plan to trot out the "harm" thing next year if I need to. That seems to scare them, because I think that they hear "harm" and think "lawsuit." As for classroom behavior, I agree that the educators often try to blame the kid rather than thinking about how they can change the class to better serve the kid.

  10. Kim says:

    I think that they hear "harm" and think"lawsuit."

    Brilliant! I think you've cracked the code!

  11. PsychMom says:

    I worry too that my arguements against homework are discounted because ...

    PsychMom, I actually think it doesn't matter how you fill in the space after "because". It's because you're the Mom. The system isn't set up to take you seriously.

  12. FedUpMom, I learned the "harm" thing while I was working as a Federal Investigator. My boss would ask me to do things that seemed dicey and I would say I thought they were dangerous and he would say "Well, I can't ask you to do anything you consider dangerous," and I remembered that when all this homework foolishness started rearing it's ugly head. As with most situations in life, learning the "language" and what makes a system or a person tick will give you the key to navigating the system or managing the person. As you noted to PsychMom, the system is not set up to take parents seriously, but they do love "studies" and "experts" so I usually arrive with a sheaf of printed studies and quotes from experts. I also phoned the institute for Ed. Reform at my local Ivy League U. a couple of times and made the telephone acquaintance of some researchers whose articles I'd read. It's amazing how willing academics are to talk to "just a mom" who's interested in what they're working on. I love being able to casually throw out to the principal or teacher, "I was speaking to Dr. so and so at the Annenburg Institute at Brown the other day and he noted..." I'm actually enjoying each interaction at the school since I feel like somehow I have much more information at my disposal than the "actual" educators.

  13. Kim, you've got some great ideas. If you'd like to write up a post for this blog, just let me know.

  14. FedUpMom, I'm not sure I'm ready for prime time quite yet, but I'll let you know when I've got something more solid to offer. Thanks.