Thursday, November 13, 2008

School: when it isn't going well, part 1

Even in the best school district or the school in the world sometimes it just doesn't go very well for your kid.

I remember learning about an idea called "disequilibrium" in relation to child development. The theory being that approximately ever 6 month the kid just naturally goes "bonkers"; acts out, fights back, regresses, pushes buttons, or basically causes the parents untold amounts of worry and stress. Somehow they sort of grow out of it or as they say work through "a phase" and then for 6 months all is dandy. Does this sound familiar to anyone?

I think disequilibrium may have something to do with school not working very well. But, there are also a heck of a lot of factors.

Special Education is probably even more susceptible to the up and downs, highs and lows. It could be as simple as disequilibrium or the teacher and the kid don't click. Or the teacher and parent not clicking. It could be unrealistic expectations for student, teacher or parent. Usually no one is really at fault but it may not be going well, none the less. So, what do you do?

First, I think it is really important to state for the record, YOU are the expert on your child. The teacher may be an expert in Early Childhood Development or whatever but you are the expert on your own child. That is valid. Now that doesn't mean you can run ruffshod all over the teachers and staff and make their lives miserable. A parent does need to have realistic expectations for what their public school can do for their child. Notice I say "public school"? Private school is a whole different kettle of fish.

We had a tough year last year and it all finally boiled down to the wrong placement for Shea. He was given a teacher that was much too structured for him, not very maternal and pretty hands off when actually connecting with her class.

It all started badly when I noticed Shea's class was starting before the "special bus" had even arrived. Our developmental preschool is blended with special and typically developing peers mixed together. So, when the special kids arrived they had no time to transition into the classroom setting yet the teacher insisted on starting at exactly 9:05. Yes, there were melt downs a plenty. Not to mention the fact that the typical kids are sitting there like "good little children" while the "special" kids were not so much.

Now, I only knew this because I rode the special bus with Shea for a while because he was nervous and not ready to go on the bus by himself. No transition time for a 3 year old was a big problem for us. I talked with the teacher, didn't get very far but I got around this problem by skipping the "special bus" and dropping Shea off myself a little early with the typical kids so he could have time to transition.

I consider this particular situation a victory because I was able to go around the problem and make sure my kid got what he needed. Sometimes it's just not so simple.

I guess when it comes to public school it means picking your battles. If you are going to go to the mat on an issue it better be important because you aren't going to have the emotional or physical energy to fight each one. Weigh it in your mind, think on it, don't do anything rash. Can you get around the problem? Can you solve it by yourself? Can you shed some light from the outside? Is there someone you can ask for help on the inside?

Many families do decide to pull their specials kids from public school. I think it's a shame. But, you make the decision kid by kid and decide what is going to be the best for them. Often these are gut wrenching choices.

As our bad school year went on, I couldn't help but chat amongst friends and acquaintances. I found out pretty darn quick that my concerns with the teacher were not isolated or even unique. In fact, I started to run into families who specifically pulled their kids from the public school system because of this teach. Sigh.... That isn't good news to hear anywhere. In a small town it is even worse.

So, what do you do? I did a lot of fretting, spinning my wheels, yabbering at my GGF. (Good Girl Friends) Frankly, I didn't know what to do. I kept close watch on my non-verbal 3 year old kid wishing he could tell me how he liked school or not. But, he couldn't and didn't. I found out that he was having problems in class not from the teacher but from a questionnaire.

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