I will start with a *Disclaimer – I do not lump all people, all educators into this blog. It is not meant to insult educators. It is meant to highlight a parents perspective on the strides that educators will go to help children. In my experience some are below par and some are going above and beyond. The thoughts on how we are failing our teachers and our children are mine. That said, I think that when people dream about being a teacher, they think about how funny kids are, how eager they are to learn and summers off are a plus, but we all know that they don’t get into it for the high pay. Believe me, I do not feel that our tax dollars are well spent in this arena. I know I would not have the patience to deal with kids and feel that those that do, thus they should be paid a mint. And I think colleges that have education degree programs should prepare teachers for all students – high IQ, low IQ, special needs, accomodation and a class in the benefits of an IEP as well. I don’t think that they do that very well, if at all, which is a shame for both the teacher and student as both could be far less frustrated. That is a whole nother soap box and not the point of my blog today. And my other concern is the fact that people trained to recognize these issues are not allowed to tell parents due to the HIPPA act. This act is more of a pain than anything else, again, a whole nother soap box. Any how, they don’t understand up front that not all kids learn the same, not all kids learn easily, not all kids are “normal” (what ever that is). Some kids learn extremely fast and become bored with the material and some need introduced to the material in multiple learning formats (visual, audio, hands on, etc.). Some kids need structure, check lists, common processes to be successful. And some kids require a special level of learning styles that they normally wouldn’t implement. Teaching any grade level is not easy, it is sometimes very much a challenge and requires assisting those children sometimes more than others.
So, any how, to move to the real purpose of my blog is to share my frustrations as a parent that had a very intelligent child that needed the additional tools to succeed in getting good ‘grades’. So, this is my experience and may not mimic yours. When the time came for Pre-school screening, I was excited and sad at the same time – my youngest was growing up. Brian had been in day care and social settings, but didn’t really interact with the other children, he was very much self entertained. Which, by the way, is not necessarily a bad thing – I grew up as an only child, it was a necessity. However, when I had an opportunity to play with other children, I took it! He didn’t test well for pre-school. He very much had a fear and screamed when within a certain spatial circle to people he did not know. Even though I sat with him and held him, he didn’t know the proctor and screamed bloody murder throughout the entire event. I gave up, obviously pre school was not his calling. And amazingly enough, he learned some new skills and coping mechanisms besides screaming at strangers so that by the time he was set to start kindergarten, he was ready. Well, so we thought. Hand to eye coordination was difficult, so use of scissors was challenging for him. Another issue was that he didn’t favor one hand over the other, so he used them both, which caused him some confusion as his brain would switch over from giving instructions from one to the other. This we worked on. I didn’t force him to be right handed. He chose to write with his right and eat with his left. His kindergarten teacher was very frustrated because he struggled with the simple things – he didn’t understand lining up in a boy girl line to go to the bathroom. We told the teacher that we didn’t do that at home, so it is new for him. 🙂 But her main complaint was that he didn’t pay attention, he didn’t follow the conversation with eye contact, he didn’t pay attention. Since we didn’t notice him lacking in any of the lessons of the day, we told her to call him out on it when she noticed it. She did and to her surprise, Brian repeated, verbatim, the last 3 sentences she said. At this point, she changed her teaching strategy with him and the rest of the year was pleasant for us all.
Between Kindergarten and first grade, Brian read all summer. We were shocked when the first grade teachers (it was a co-taught class) said he couldn’t read. Well, we told them that he read all summer, but they said he couldn’t read when asked to in class. This little turkey had decided he didn’t want to be called on to read to the class, so he opted to pretend he couldn’t read. One day, they paired up for math story problems. There were several in the class that had problems reading. Brian was paired with another little boy to complete the problem. When they were done, each pair read the problem (if they could, otherwise, they shared how they interpreted it) and gave their answer. When it was Brian and his partner’s turn, Brian knew the other boy could not read, so he started reading the story problem and the teachers were elated. Brian had the eyes of a deer caught in headlights… the jig is up. They contacted us and said, “He can read!!” Of course we weren’t surprised at all, we knew he could. I for one found it very interesting and comical that he had pulled off his ‘inability to read’ that far into the year. A true indication that stubbornness truly does run in my family. 🙂 So, the cat was out of the bag, he can read. During his first grade year, we were offered speech services for Brian to help him as he had difficulties in spatial questions – Who, what, why, when, where and how. If you asked who, he would tell you when or where.
As we went from each grade to the next, I would meet with the teachers to discuss things that I notice in Brian’s learning in order to help them understand how they can help him. Through many, many parent/teacher conferences, we noticed trends that affected Brian the most. The WORST class room experiences were not in the lessons, it was in the structure of the class. The simple things – rules to follow, a schedule. The teachers who gave the expectation to turn in your work before you sat down, was good enough for him to note, and do every day. The teachers that varied between passing it up to the front, handing it in at the beginning, then at the end, and sometimes when they got their book out for the lesson. These were awful! He never turned in his homework. It was done, he was overstimulated by the surprise that he would forget where he placed it, etc.
Brian attended this school from Kindergarten to Fifth grade. We moved the summer between fifth and sixth grade as I had had far too many parent/teacher conferences that went absolutely no where. The IEP goals were created and ignored by the teachers. The IEP conferences were not attended by the speech therapist, the teacher, the principal, counselor, other services as it should be a collective environment to share in the child’s progress. We had one meeting with all, but for the most part, it was us and the speech therapist. For all those parent/teacher conferences, I could tell beyond a shadow of a doubt which teachers were caring and which ones found him to be a nuisance. First of all, they would contact me with a constructively detailed concern and looking to meet with me to resolve. They were looking for my help. Second, they would actually meet me before school started, I did not have to leave work to accommodate their “prep” period. And third, they would actually take to heart what I told them and involve me in helping him be successful. This school never once offered up resolutions that included them tutoring on a one on one basis, they just wanted to claim ADHD. Poo on ADHD, it is not the answer to everything.
His fourth grade year, we had been contacted on a daily basis in some form or another with a list of grypes from the teacher. One or two of the teachers mentioned learning disability testing several times, but my husband was against the testing for learning disabilities, he didn’t want to put Brian through that. But we talked about it and I told him, we have to be able to help him. I need a good resolution, instead of stumbling through every year. I knew that there had to be something that I could do to help him. I scoured learning disabilities on the internet, I finally came across something called Asperger’s – high functioning autism and it described him to a “T”. So, during fourth grade, I requested the learning disability testing and was told to go through my pediatrician. So, I did. As I discussed the issues, (and this is why I love this doctor) he got really upset with the ADHD reliance. The entire time we were talking Brian was sitting quietly, being good. He had this pediatrican from the minute he was born. The pediatrican then gave me the rights as a parent – if the school district is requesting it, they need to perform and pay the costs of same. Further, the Dr. said, “he does NOT have ADHD or ADD” and noted that in his file. I then shared Asperger’s Syndrome and he asked a series of questions and agreed it was a possibility. He gave us a referral to a psychologist. This took some time, as all of the school records and medical records were sent to the psychologist for review. This was referred in the spring of his fourth grade year and our appointment was the following fall. From there, we requested him to go through the testing for disabilities. Much to my surprise, we were denied the testing because he was “an average student” per said fourth grade teacher that contacted us daily. And she shared that we were taking him to a psychologist for Asperger’s determination. Of course the board said no, they didn’t want to pay for testing and it was their way out. Really? I was enraged!! Apparently “Average” is D’s and F’s and a C or B thrown in? It became painfully obvious to me that this district that I graduated from had lost sight of what was important – educating children. It is just sad first of all, to be competitive in the job market, the economy, we HAVE to start putting the expectations in education of our children. I believe that I told her and the principal face to face that if that was this school’s expectations from its students that instead of diplomas at high school graduation, they may as well hand each one a McDonald’s cashier application, as they would be lucky to get that with the poor education they were given. Because who will be running this country when we are in nursing homes?? They will! So give them an excellent education. This was a very emotionally enraging time for me as a parent, as a graduate of the school district, as an American, and as a human being. Second, if he is average, why were they calling, emailing and scheduling conferences to grype about how they can’t figure out how to teach him. I asked her straight up, “Do you do this type of correspondence with all of your other ‘average’ student’s parents?” To which, in true politician style, she back pedaled. OF course all this would be done during the school day, because 1 minute after the buses departed, they were outta there, the school was locked down. Very convenient for people who work a town away to leave mid day. Especially those that work in a cruddy office environment that expected you to make up every single second or take vacation time to do so – again, whole nother soap box. I appealed to the superintendent many times who refused to do anything because it was a “building specific” problem. Gosh, I thought he was the boss over all the schools?? I don’t think he had a clear understanding of his position, with the exception of when pay days were. (I still haven’t figured out what his job was and quit trying since we have moved.) We had it, the teachers were not helpful, the kids were unaccepting (he had one friend and many, many bullies, because the school tolerated it) so we made plans to move to another school district. A plan that took a whole year to implement, but well worth it.
At the IEP for the beginning of fifth grade year (where only the teacher and speech/social work teacher showed, I told them that he had been dx with Aspergers and poo, double poo on HIPPA because the speech teacher (God bless her, she made the most improvement on him over all) said, “I have suspected that from the first time we met.” Really? Because of HIPPA, she couldn’t tell me – if she could have referred me to a specialist it would have saved us so much heartache and really helped us to guide him better. She was truly the only thing I missed about that school district. Their culture was poor, there was no accountability, and all the people that I had been able to rely on assistance had retired 3 years prior. The WORST three years ever, by the way, as far as our children’s education goes – even my daughter was having ridiculous issues.
So, at the new school, we visited prior to the school year started. We were cordially greeted by the custodian who showed us to Brian’s new classroom. Along the way, she took great pride in her work, detailing how it was a mess right now, as every year she removes all the furniture from the class rooms and cleans ceiling to floor, including the walls, shampooing the carpets, etc. This to me was a sign of great things to come, as at the old school, the custodians would rarely ever look at you, let alone greet you. We met with the principal, who had reviewed Brian’s file already and had positive suggestions and ideas. We met with his 6th grade teacher before the first day, she was new too. She was excited and bonded with Brian very quickly. This was a very comforting feeling because I knew with Asperger’s the power of change was very unwelcome to Brian. He never liked the new school year. However, she was very empathetic and willing to go the extra mile to determine what really helped him. He never had an issue with changing schools, moving, which was a great relief. She highlighted his strengths to the other students and made him feel successful, she investigated papers that had missed 90% of the questions. She found that he was taking the directions too literally and when she applied his outlook, the answers would have been correct. So she took the extra effort to help him see what the instructions were really looking for. She contacted me a few weeks into the school year, not to gripe, but to express her concern over Brian’s troubles in math. She asked if we minded if she tutored him after school two days a week with a few other children. What a blessed day!! It was then that we knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that moving was the absolute best decision we could have made. Brian felt like a champion, he made friends and the overall culture of the school was different. When we went to the first junior high open house, Brian had so many of his classmates saying hi to him and they had even nicknamed him, “Briguy”. So heart warming for us as parents to know that they made him feel like he belonged.
During 6th grade, the social work/speech therapist and I met to discuss Brian. When we discussed certain services for the autism spectrum disorder, she said that he was not eligible for them because the prior school district never gave him that label that would entitle him to them. I was enraged. So, in 6th grade, we completed the autism spectrum tests and paperwork to correct this issue. If you have ever taken these tests, they are full of questions like, “When child was 18 months old” “When child was 2 years old” “When child was 4 years old”. As so much time had passed by, many of the questions referenced things that aren’t in the baby book, activities, preferences, but my husband, daughter and I completed the best that we could. In fact, my daugther and I answered the question, “Does the child rock back and forth” with a no. I got up to put clothes in the dryer and out of the corner of my eye, Brian was working on the laptop, hands folded between his knees and rocking back and forth. So many of these actions had become a ‘norm’ for us that we just didn’t see them any more. I shared this experience with my daughter and we just kind of laughed at how we overlooked it. It is amazing the things you notice when you are asked if they happen. Since there were a couple of Asperger’s children, and the speech and social therapists were not too familiar, the school district sent them to a conference on autism and Asperger’s syndrome and they came back with all new ideas and strategies. It was a very ecstatic moment for us as parents to see the lengths that this school district would go to help its students achieve.
My wish is that all schools would go to this length. As teachers, educators, principals, etc., please remember that it is not always the algebraic equations that affect a child’s learning, sometimes it is just the culture and schedule of the class room. Being consistent may help improve some of the students that seem to be “unteachable”. Don’t write them off, spend a few minutes with them and get to know what makes them tick. They have so many strengths that other kids can really admire if you highlight them. Brian wasn’t picked to be in groups at first but once the teacher highlighted his intelligence and superb memory for facts and data, he was one of the first few chosen after that.
Don’t pass them to move them on to someone else, don’t fail them because they don’t understand the questions. Mainly because there may not be a someone else that will take on the challenge. They may all take the same road too and that fails these kids. These kids can all be successful in life, they just need someone to take a moment to believe in them, show them what they are good at and how to overcome their weaknesses. And if you are a parent in a similar situation – this is what I have learned. I should not have stopped at the superintendent, I should have attended every school board meeting and voiced my concerns as a parent. Talk to other parents, do they have the same issues? Get them on your cause, often parents don’t want to raise an issue because they feel that they are the only ones. And if that doesn’t work, I am just going to say that we lost money (thousands) on the sale of our house, but it was worth every dollar. In our new district, we gained time. Time not corresponding with teachers daily, not visiting the school to straighten things out, less time being angry and upset, less bullying (it is not tolerated there) and more importantly, I was relieved and delighted to know that my kids were cared for as people. When they were hurt, when they were doing good, when they were doing poorly, in all aspects, this school was in it for the education of the kids and that my friends is truly priceless.