Sunday, April 17, 2011

Parents must learn to advocate for their child's education

This letter is on the pjstar opinion page. It is my opinion that District 150 is too quick to track certain students (i.e. black boys) into special education classes. I would personally tell this mother to fight every attempt that the school is making to sideline her son. I would also encourage her or her husband to take some time off work, if at all possible and go to the school and observe what is happening in the classroom - that is the only way you will get any real answers. I know some teachers read this blog, what advice would you offer this parent:

"I have a 6-year-old boy who is in kindergarten this year. He was getting in trouble daily for talking, not following directions, silly stuff like being out of his seat. Then we got the questionnaire sent home to evaluate for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Really, six years old, first year of school and they think he has a learning disability already?

Our pediatrician feels that he doesn't have ADHD, just a little active and possibly a little immature. The conduct calendar was pretty much red after that. But then he started getting sent to the principal's office, three times a week for the most part.

But the latest trip really has me irritated with District 150. My son got into trouble - for what, who really knows because I don't - and was sent to the principal's office for two hours, which he spent sleeping. What kind of punishment is that? I feel like I'm getting the message that if your child is not behaving, we will just put them in the principal's office and forget about them. When did the teachers stop trying to do positive things with our children?

I have to work every day. I cannot be in school with my son. He does get disciplined every night and his toys do get taken away. My husband and I are really at our wit's end with this issue. Where do we go for help?"

Angela and Tyrone Johnson


Mahkno said...

For starters, I would suggest finding a way to organize your work life in a way that allows at least one of you to be more involved in the child's life. Pick the child up from school (not the bus).

Over the last eight years we had individualized years with discipline 'problems' for our son. I can sum it up as follows.

Boys are more physically active than girls.

Boys learn better by doing than by listening. Girls are better at listening.

Boys who are bored will be more disruptive. If the child is bored, your teaching methods are flawed.

Young children need recess/playtime. Lots of it, at the right times of the day.

The years with the worst discipline, had teachers who were the least capable of teaching boys. They wanted all the boys to essentially be like the girls. Quiet, focused, listening... not a lot of doing, not a lot of recess, not a lot of material that interested them. Not surprisingly they had difficulty controlling the situation. Lots of red cards, lots of detentions. Frustration all around. (fortunately one is not teaching anymore) Teaching boys requires the toleration of some noise...

Teaching to the lowest common denominator didn't help either.

After school discipline... red or yellow cards; no friends over, no TV, no computer, no treats. Detentions: all that got extended. You have to be there to enforce it.

One of you needs to be there. You need to regularly interface with the teacher. Hear her(or him) out. Make sure the child understands what is expected. Listen to the child too.... are they bored? If so... let the teacher know.

When we picked our child up. First question, what color were you? Second, why? Any questions... marched back into school to talk with the teacher. There was never any ambiguity to the child whose side you were on... the teachers. have the chance to follow up on other aspects of the problem.

This was a parochial school.... hopefully District 150 allows parents to be more involved.

Anonymous said...

As an elementary school teacher in D150 I will be happy to tell you WHY you child is being sent to the principal. Your child most likely is keeping other children from learning. It only takes one or two children to consistently disrupt a classroom to harm the learning of others. Would you be happier if I just told all the other children to go home and tell their parents that the reason they are not getting the education THEY ALSO DESERVE is because "naughty boy"
was up to his daily antics. Why aren't you going over and sitting in the classroom or conferencing DAILY with your son's teacher? What? You just send him to school and expect the teacher to MIRACULOUSLY teach him? I bet your son sits in front of a video game from the minute he gets home till he goes to bed. HOW much interaction do you have with him. Trust me, teachers KNOW the difference between rambunctious and ADHD because MOST children at that age are rambunctious. Your son's teacher is measuring him against ALL the other children of his age. She is not picking on your kid....give me a break! Teachers have way too much to do to create more trouble for herself by "making up" stories about YOUR kid. Emerge, I think you can see now, this is what the teachers in public schools are dealing with. The parents want US to fix their kids and not BOTHER them. This letter really ticks me off. The parents should be ashamed of themselves. The fact that their son was sleeping in the principals office speaks louder than words...

Anonymous said...

Well, there are two sides to every story. Mahkno, I agree with you. Actually, everything you said was spelled out in Bill Cosby's book, "Listen up People". My step son goes to a school outside of Peoria. He is a fairly normal little boy, except he is a little more immature, his birth day makes him the youngest in the class. When he was six his teacher said he needed to be on ADHD meds. I asked her to show me her medical degree. She said she did not have one, so I politely asked her not to practice medicine. My step son, like most kids his age is/was addicted to tv and video games. I gave the teacher my cell phone number and told her if she had any problems to call me. I would come to the class and talk with him. No, I don't beat him. He was immediately grounded from tv and all video games. She never once called me, but he continued to have problems. I work in Dist. 150, so I have a different idea on what being a problem is. She finally called and said he was out of control. I went to school and asked what he was doing/not doing. He refused to put his art supplies away, and would not stop talking. I had to ask her, "has he ever cursed you, kicked you, hit you?" She said of course not. I guess he was not out of control. He continues to have the same problems now, four years later. He gets no tv, no video games, and cannot play with is friends, other then corporal punishment, I do not know what else we can do. I again have went in and talked with the teacher, gave her my cell phone number and told her to call me anytime. She has never called me once. My wife cannot answer her cell phone at work, but has said, email me if you have any problems. The teacher assured us she would call or email us if any problems arise. She has not emailed my wife nor answered any of her emails. I have to admit, that I have to force my will on him (again not beat him), but if he thinks an adult is not serious he will do what he wants. Our biggest frustration is that we are concerned parents and try to help the teacher out, but she doesn't seem to follow through, just like his first grade teacher. His last two teachers had no problems with him at all. And his bus driver stopped me one day and said that my step sons were the best kids on the bus. It takes a village to raise a child, oh wait, that went bye bye a long time ago.

Emerge Peoria said...

Thanks for your comments Anonymous, I do realize how difficult it is to get parents to come to school and check on their children.

I know that sometimes you have to reach out repeatedly to the parents and practically beg them to pick up the phone. Then you have to deal with phone numbers constantly changing. It's difficult.

It almost seems like you should be able to call DCFS to check on the situation after not being able to reach the parents a certain number of times.

Additionally, I don't doubt that the little boy's behavior is interferring with the children who do want to learn. But attempting to so quickly classify him with ADHD (which I believe requires medication)is harsh. His pediatrician didn't pick up on ADHD.

Emerge Peoria said...

Personally, I am a parent who has had the experience of a teacher not communicating even though you beg for it. Even though I was trying to do my part and support my student, the teacher did not seem willing to make me a part of the team.

Sharon Crews said...

I do agree that jumping to the ADHD solution should be done with great, great caution. Amazingly enough, I don't have many opinions about little kids because I am amazed that any teacher is able to do anything with 25 kindergarteners--I am doing well with one each of preschool, kindergarten, and 2nd grader at the same time. However, I might add that all three of them get good reports for conduct from school.

Sharon Crews said...

On second thought, I do have a limited opinion. Whenever I have visited Whittier preschool (a program designed primarily to get kids socially ready for school), I have been amazed at how well the children behave and follow instructions. By no means are they asked to sit silently. They divide up into various work/play stations and sometimes gather for group activities. There is certainly considerable moving around, etc. I could well understand how one or two children acting out could totally disrupt this process. Of course, it depends on whether or not the disruptions are exceptions (because little kids will have "bad" days) or habitual.

If a parent believes his/her child is being unduly punished, etc., I believe I would first start asking other parents how their children are faring. Frequently, when I have the children over for dinner, we talk about school. If other children in their classes have misbehaved, they are prone to telling the stories--in their cases, major disruptions seem to be exceptions to the rule--but that's Whittier.

Frustrated said...

As evidenced by the comments, sometimes different and/or all parties involved share responsibility for the student's performance and behavior. But Emerge is correct -- at the end of the day, parents have to be an advocate for their children. A teacher has 20 some students he or she is charged with and simply does not have the vested interest in the success of each individual child, she is charge with success of the collective.

The Johnsons (both parents) need to meet with the principal and the teacher and ask what "WE" are going to do about working to improve the situation. A plan needs to be developed for the rest of the school year, the summer, and pre-selection of a "best fit" teacher for your son for next year should be made so that you can speak to this teacher before school is out this year and have her help you with a summer activity plan for your son. As a parent in this situation, I would expect weekly, perhaps daily, communication from the school until the situation improves.

But the Johnson's must take ownership of this situation. Visit the doctor again. Ask for your son to be evaluated by a specialist trained in diagnosing learning and/or behavioral conditions in children. AND meet with a trained professional (or read some books) that can guide you in diet, sleep schedule, discipline at home. My children always performed best in school when a schedule and routine was adhered to.

I applaud the Johnsons for taking some initial steps to help their son . . .but now they have to step it up and work collaboratively with the school to achieve a different outcome. They just have to stay on it and remain pleasant but PERSISTENT.

Anonymous said...

frustrated. the johnsons prefer to blame the school and teacher....again avoiding any responsibility for their childs behavior and planting it squarely on the shoulders of a teacher who has more than just their childs future to be concerned with. they have already admitted that they are receiving daily conduct guess is that they no longer take phone calls from his teacher. it is easier to blame the teacher than to raise their child. You made raise him.

Lea said...

I would also recommend that the parents take the child to a psychiatrist. Althought pediatricians are able to prescribe ADD/ADHD medication it doesn't necessarily mean that they are able to identify the signs. I highly recommend that they get an opinion from a psychiatrist. As stated in an earlier post, the parents need to reinforce consequences at home (ie red card=no TV or treats, etc)

Also I would encourage the parents to ask what modifications has the teacher tried for their son. Such as preferential seating (i.e. near teacher), what are the consequences for talk outs (loss of recess, etc).

For the teacher, I would recommend doing a on task/off task chart (or some other observation)to have data to show the parents. The more data this teacher has to prove to the parents his/her point the better.

Sharon Crews said...

The above advice isn't just to help the teacher defend her judgments. If this child does have some problems that affect his/her ability to focus and to learn, this is the time for the parents to acknowledge the problems and work on them while the child is just starting his education. The problems will only get worse if they are denied and/or ignored.

Lea said...

Sharon--I just made statements about the teacher having data because sometimes it is much easier for parents to understand something when they see it in writing. People like numbers, charts, graphs, etc. to help them understand.

I am not placing blame on the teacher at all, but education has gotten to the point where educators are expected to accomodate or use different strategies before recommending special education or 504s.

Sharon Crews said...

Lea, I meant to reinforce, not contradict, what you wrote. Thanks.