Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Paving the Road to Hell

Yesterday we had our last meeting at Natural Friends. This one was attended by a psychologist from the local Intermediate Unit, one of her colleagues, the Natural Friends school psychologist, the first-grade teacher (Teacher 1), and the Head of School at Natural Friends (Teacher Cranium).

The Intermediate Unit psychologist observed YD in the classroom, and tested her reading abilities. Younger Daughter scored in the Average range. The psychologist said the scores were lower than they might have been, because of YD's resistant behavior. So the scores should really be used as a floor; we know that YD is at least average in her reading abilities. The good news is that no-one has found evidence of any cognitive problems or learning disabilities.

The bad news remains YD's difficult behavior. Teacher Cranium's proposed solution was that we should do a mountain of paperwork in the hopes of obtaining a 1:1 aide, or "shadow", to follow YD around all day and deal with her behavior. I see this as a solution for the school's problem, more than a solution for YD's problem.

What I'd like to know is how much of YD's difficult behavior is caused by the school itself. This is a question the school won't even ask, let alone answer. Some of her restlessness and refusal is probably caused by frustration and anxiety at being required to do things that she just can't do. Here's an example that came up at the meeting:

Teacher 1: She can add two numbers together, but when you ask her to explain how she did it, she can't explain!

What a ridiculous thing to ask a 7-year-old child to do, especially a 7-year-old child with known language delays. Unfortunately, it's a basic part of their ridiculous math curriculum, Trailblazers.

Teacher 1 also said that YD loved listening to stories read aloud, and had "astute" responses to them. On the other hand, if you ask YD to demonstrate her comprehension of the dull-as-dishwater leveled books that they teach reading with, she doesn't answer the teacher's questions correctly.

What's the mystery here? If YD is interested in the proceedings and has something to say, she can say it. If she's bored and frustrated, she refuses.

Near the end of the meeting, I said to Teacher Cranium: "Why should we spend (insert large number) dollars to send Younger Daughter here? You can't handle her behavior, and she's behind academically."

To my amazement, Teacher Cranium had no response to this. He nodded his head and said, "Uh-huh". I was expecting him at least to launch into praise of Natural Friends, but he had nothing to say.

I feel that Teacher 1 and Teacher Cranium are basically kind-hearted, well-intentioned people, but that's not enough. They're not effective. They're not willing to turn a cold appraising eye toward their own practices and ask themselves what's working, what's not working, and what they might do differently.

For next year, we're considering the local public school, or a private school that specializes in teaching kids with language delays and disorders.


  1. This story is painful to watch unfold. I wish I had a suggestion. You know I'm not crazy about public schools, but we've stuck it out there, partly because we don't have many options, and partly because I'd rather not pay money to make all the same complaints. I think homeschooling's great if you can afford it.

  2. PsychMom adds:

    I agree with your sentiment, Chris. Choosing the private school route has been disappointing for our family as well and I've been dumbstruck (literally) by the non-reaction of the head teacher and class teachers when I ask the same questions about our curriculum. How can they not have an answer that asserts how their school is soooo much better!? How can they say to a parent who is paying big bucks...."sorry, take it or leave it."

  3. PsychMom, one of the many puzzling aspects of the private-school experience is the assumption on the part of administrators and teachers that we parents have a deep and abiding loyalty to the school, and will tolerate almost anything for the chance to keep our kids there.

    Maybe there are parents who feel that way, but I'm not one of them. I make the decision each year for each child, and if next year at this school doesn't look like a good bet for this child, I'm gone.

  4. PsychMom adds:

    I'm feeling exactly the same way. My daughter is going into Grade 5 and if she gets one particular teacher, the homework load will be extreme. It's a terrible way to go but I'm waiting for my daughter to start rejecting it so that I have more support from her to make a change.

    Parent teacher meetings were yesterday. I bit my lip when I saw what she had scrawled on her math workbook cover as her goals for math. "To not get into trouble", "To do more work sheets", "To get my work done on time".

    I'm not kidding about those...there were two others that I can't recall. The assessment from her teachers is fine...she's doing great.

    She's really learning how to be a good student.

  5. PsychMom, I'm not sure you should wait for your daughter to start rejecting it. She sounds like the kind of kid who will go along with what the school wants.

    When my Older Daughter started school, many moons ago, I thought I should keep my opinions to myself and not undermine the schools' authority. The result was that when my daughter started getting bullied by her math teacher, she felt completely isolated and had nowhere to turn. She didn't trust me to take her side.

    Now I've changed my tune. I wouldn't advise anyone to worry about supporting the school's authority.

    In this case, the school is teaching your child things that are against your own philosophy of life, for instance, "Education is about staying out of trouble and filling out lots of worksheets".

    If you support the school's authority, you're undermining your own. If you don't explicitly tell your daughter otherwise, she will assume you agree with everything her teacher says.

    Kids don't know what the alternatives are. It's our job to show them.

  6. A friend of mine who was paying upwards of thirty grand a year for private school and complaining about the homework overload, worksheets, and ineffective teachers, asked me why we pulled Dear Daughter out of private. I responded, "because I can get all that crap for free."

  7. HWB, that's exactly right. The public school doesn't have to do a better job than Natural Friends; if they just do a comparably so-so job, I'm saving (insert large number) dollars a year.

    It's even possible that the public school would do a better job, because they're loaded with special ed teachers and at least in theory can "differentiate" teaching for Younger Daughter.

    One of the mysteries of Natural Friends is that, while they have the smallest class sizes I've ever laid eyes on, they still teach all the kids the same way. If they were down to one kid per grade, I bet they still wouldn't design their teaching for that one kid.

  8. PsychMom says:

    Wow, I have been thinking exactly the same thing FedUpMom....if they had one kid, they still wouldn't change a thing.

    And what you said about my authority being undermined.....that's exactly right. And the galling part is that the teachers are adamant that I must come to an understanding that they have a right to impose things on my child that I don't agree with....