Saturday, November 15, 2008

School: when it isn't going well, Part 2

Communication is obviously the key to any relationship. So, when my non-verbal kid started school, one of my biggest worries was he wasn't going to be able to tell me if he didn't like it. Or if he had a problem with a teacher or another kid. I still worry about stuff like that but because Shea is in a Developmental Preschool you would think that the teacher would be sensitive to that issue.

Lesson learned; even though it should be true doesn't mean that it always ends up that way.

I found out Shea was having some problems in school by accident. His teacher described his usual classroom behavior as: anxious, stressed, threatening, angry and that he was "attacking" other students. These characteristics were described in a multiple choice questionnaire that the UW CHDD wanted his teacher to fill out before our full neuro-developmental screen last Spring.

When I got it back from the teacher, I was stunned. There was no explanation attached, no note saying please call if I had any questions, etc. It just seemed odd. I barely recognized my kid from her description.

I sort of sat on it for a while but grew more and more upset and concerned. I gave copies to our private specialists which is when my head popped off my body! Both, OT and Speech Pathologist were equally concerned with the behaviors described and asked for more detail. The UW CHDD was surprised and quizzical about the teacher's questionnaire because it didn't seem to jive with what they were seeing from Shea either.

I figured it was time to ask the teacher directly but I always wonder about the best way to approach a teacher on delicate issues. In writing? So that you can edit, re-edit and make sure you do not offend plus document the issue all in one fell swoop? Or in person, face to face? Over the phone? What really is the best way to do it? I still don't know.

In this case, I called the teacher and asked her point blank. I didn't go very well. She was defensive and dismissive. I suggested it was time to have the IEP review, she suggested bringing in administration staff. Oh boy! This sure mushroomed fast.

So much of life is posturing, this situation was no different. I remember going to the meeting with Jake and there were 6 or 7 to our 2. It would be pretty normal to feel intimidated or out numbered in a situation like that. Oh, and it was plenty uncomfortable but I have a trick to share. Bring a tape recorder. It doesn't really even have to work although if things get really contentious, I bet you would be glad to have the conversation documented. At the beginning of the meeting, quietly whip out the recorder, hit play and set it down in the middle of the meeting table and watch the mood change.

Another good strategy is to go to the meeting with suggestions, so you aren't just complaining but offering solutions too. My suggestions were; I wanted a different teacher for Shea the next year and I wanted consistent communication from his current teacher for the remaining of the year. I suggested that I would put a spiral notebook in his backpack and if any of this "angry, threatening" behavior occurred they were to document the situation in context so that I could reinforce appropriate behavior at home. The administration did not like me dictating his placement but they made sure it happened.

And, what ever happened to all that weird, scary behavior that I had never seen before? The teacher never mentioned or documented any additional occurrences. Am I to guess it sort of just "went away"? Good question.

Underneath is all, I think the teacher and Shea just didn't click. Maybe he was a lot more work than the other kids or they didn't particularly like each other. I am realistic. This will happen. But, any teacher still needs to hold to appropriate standards and practices. If they don't, it your right and responsibility as the parent to call them on it.

Call it parental advocacy. Call it squeaky wheel. Call it what you want but no one else will do it for your kid. After all, you are the expert on your child, sometimes you have to be aggressive.


Kay Klebba said...

Keep going sister!!! I have been in the IEP meeting with the "team", nine against one or two of us. Scary stuff. Just remember that you are your child's advocate, you know him better than anyone and you know what is best. We had to battle a team in our old school district, we held our son with Aspberger's back in first grade. He was 18 months behind, he needed another year. My favorite quote came from that meeting. Some yahoo from the district said it would be the "will of the team" what would happen with Cooper. WRONG. We did end up holding him back and now in fourth grade, he is doing great. Keep plugging along, don't doubt yourself, you know your kid. I responded to the "will of the team" comment with the fact that even though all the people in the room were in charge of many, many children, I was in charge of four, and at the end of the day, the world will only look to me and my husband if something goes wrong. I signed the paper, and we "won". We are in a much better district now and I don't leave the IEP meetings crying. I will pray for you, I have been where you are at. Take care and God bless.

Kay Klebba

Shea's Mom said...

Thanks Kay, I really appreciate your comments. You are so right and I am so glad Cooper is doing so well in 4th grade.

Keep up the good work! And, I am heading over to your blog to check it out.

Keep up to good fight!

Hugs :-)

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