Advocating for your child at school Please don't rely on other parents to do the hard work

Last week, I met with the principal at my son’s elementary school.  I’m actually the third parent of a child in my son’s kindergarten class to meet with him.  A fourth parent has a meeting scheduled, and those are just the parents I know about.  My son’s teacher is brand new and having quite a few issues with classroom management and developmentally inappropriate expectations.

I have emailed the teacher on numerous occasions.  My husband and I have had a conference with her.  Instead of improving, things over the past two weeks have gotten drastically worse in the classroom and my son has come home unhappier than ever before.

We go to a neighborhood school and see many of the parents every day at pickup or drop-off.   Many parents are unhappy with what their kids are reporting, or what they’ve witnessed at school, or what they’ve experienced in talking to the teacher.   The largest group is unhappy.  A smaller group has let the teacher know of particular concerns.  And an even smaller group has finally gone to the principal for help (individually, not because we planned with each other).

freeimages.com/AnaLabate
freeimages.com/AnaLabate, featured image: freeimages.com/VivianStonoga

Why is this?

I know many parents are unhappy.  But I’ve heard varied reasons from them as to why they aren’t trying to help.   One said her daughter hadn’t been affected yet by the inappropriate punishment policy, and she was too “non-confrontational” to voice her concerns in theory alone.  Another said her concerns weren’t big enough to “bother the principal”.  A third says her daughter just needs to get used to it, because that is how school is.  And a fourth said she’d email the teachers about one particular concern, but that she also didn’t want to bother the principal because her concerns weren’t big enough, and her daughter wasn’t saying anything, so she must not be bothered.

But to me, as a parent working hard to try and work with the school to improve the situation, it feels like they are just letting other parents do the hard work for them.  I understand that it can be nerve-wracking to talk to teachers and principals.  It is for me as well.  But it’s also important enough that I work through my discomfort.

My son does tell me a lot about what’s happening at school, as well as how he’s feeling about it.  I do admit that probably makes it easier to take action.  But I know that when I was a kid, I had an experience where 2 fifth grade boys followed me around the playground my entire fourth grade year.  I never told anyone.  I hated it more than anything and it affected everything.  And I don’t know why I didn’t tell.  But it also taught me that just because a child doesn’t speak up doesn’t mean that something doesn’t bother him.

Don’t rely on other parents to do the hard work

I know it’s hard.  I know you want to do anything other than make those appointments and then actually go to those appointments with the teacher and principal.  But your child needs you.  The other students need you.  And the other parents need you.  I so appreciate knowing I’m not alone in my particular case.  But I would feel so much better knowing that everyone who has concerns was speaking up, because it would be helping all our kids.  Every parent brings a unique voice, and a unique set of concerns, because all individuals view even the same issue differently.  It can only add more information, input, and ideas to the conversation about how to improve problem situations.

 


Why am I not homeschooling yet? I know, I know...I can't believe it either

We had a lovely unseasonably warm day this week and headed out to the zoo after school.  We enjoyed the mostly empty zoo at a leisurely pace.  And I thought, why am I not homeschooling?  I should pull him and homeschool.  I see more signs pointing to this fact practically every day.  Questionable things happening at school, more and deeper unhappiness at home in the evenings.  I miss my son, and we’re experiencing negative behavior due to that disconnection between us.

We spent quite a bit of time with the penguins that day.
We spent quite a bit of time with the penguins that day.

I’m still struggling with the decision

I know all the above positives and negatives.   And yet, I’m struggling to make the actual decision.  Why?  I’m still trying to figure that out.

Why am I struggling?

All of the reasons I laid out in this earlier post about why I sent him to kindergarten in the first place.  They all still hold true.  We are still figuring the whole school thing out.

My son has mixed feelings. scan0001-1_20161031103006857 I’m not letting my 6-year old make this decision alone.  But I am discussing it with him, because his input is important to me.  And he wavers, depending on the day, about whether he wants to continue or not.

 

We are having a really negative teacher experience.  You might think that would make me run even faster.  And it is definitely a push, as it is majorly contributing to the negative feelings surrounding school.   But she’s new and might improve.  And she is not the entirety of the school experience.  I hate to let her make us miss out on any positives he’s experiencing.  And I met with the principal just days ago.  He seems great, and really seems to understand the issues we’re having.  He has a plan to help.

We’ll see more if we stay longer.   My son is excited for the art show at the end of the year, where he’ll have one or more projects on display.  He’s experienced a school party, a school book fair, and a couple school fundraising events.  He hasn’t been on a field trip, or seen an assembly.  There are a lot of school things he’ll see just this year that he won’t experience if we pull him.  Overall, I think that’s not a huge deal.  But I do want him to experience some of these things to know they exist.

I worry both of us will have a hard time keeping up with friends we will no longer see every day.  My son and I both have friends that we see because he’s going to school.  We can try and keep up with them, but once schedules change and we no longer see them by default every day, that’s easier said than done.

And I’m overwhelmed…

It’s a hard decision and it feels more permanent that it really is.  I know that we can change what we’re doing and make any number of different choices, including public and private school, part-time school, or homeschool.  No choice is permanent.  But every change requires a lot of thought and effort, at least for me.

It’s hard to be different and go against the norm.  Ahh, the biggest reason.  It’s hard to know that this non-mainstream decision is the right way to go.  I don’t have any experience with homeschool outside of the past couple years researching it, and many acquaintances who are homeschooling.  It feels really overwhelming to opt out of the choice that everyone else is choosing.

The Silver Lining

All that said, I’m fairly certain we’ve already decided we’ll homeschool next year.  Full-day school (as opposed to this year’s half days) is just not something I want for my family at this time.  Knowing that, I feel more comfortable with my current indecisiveness.  If things get worse at school, we’ll pull him.  But for now, we’re floating along a little further on the cloud of indecision.

A letter to my son’s kindergarten teacher regarding rewards

Dear Kindergarten Teacher,

My son came home very upset on Wednesday and it lasted through bedtime.  He’s told me that everyone but a few kids, including him,  received 4 reward stickers.   He said he wasn’t talking when they were given out and he isn’t allowed to ask you about stickers or he’d “get in trouble.” It seems that giving many students the large reward of 4 stickers is pretty obviously a punishment for those that didn’t receive them.

My son has had a rough start to school emotionally and has regularly not wanted to come.  As I told you in my email and at our conference, it’s been only two and a half weeks since he’s actually been fairly happy to come to school.  All because of a fun science experiment and because he’s had the chance to connect more with you as a person.  After last night I feel like we are back to square one.  Wednesday night in bed he asked me to tell you he moved so that he never has to come back.

We don’t use rewards in our family because we are working really hard to help our children develop intrinsic motivation and to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.  There is a lot of research available to support our beliefs in this regard.  I know you said at curriculum night that you don’t believe 5 and 6-year olds will make the right choices without rewards,  but research doesn’t agree. I’m linking a couple articles that are well-sourced with research articles noted. http://www.alfiekohn.org/article/risks-rewards/ and http://www.alfiekohn.org/article/case-gold-stars-2/

Obviously,  I’d love to see you do away with rewards all together,  as they are truly just the other side of the coin from punishment.  Kids are smart and they know that. But I mostly want you to know that what happens at school has long-lasting impact at home.  Even if his perception isn’t 100% what happened, it is still what happened to him, and illustrates another reason why rewards are a slippery slope.  My son’s school day negatively impacted the rest of the day for him (and us as a family),  and the next morning was not much better.  For a child who,  according to you,  understands and follows the rules,  that seems like a very harsh punishment.

I know you are concerned that they learn self-control and to work independently.  But my goals are different.  I want my son to further develop his love of learning and learn to appreciate being part of a school community.  I want him to learn that school is an enjoyable place to be, because without that how can it be expected that kids will want to be engaged, active participants? I want him to know that his teacher is a person he can go to for help. I’d really love to work with you to achieve those goals.

Thanks,
A concerned parent

A few other resources if you’re interested :
http://www.livesinthebalance.org/walking-tour-educators

http://www.naeyc.org/dap/10-effective-dap-teaching-strategies