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What About My Child?

I’ve spent a lot of time up at our school lately, both in meetings and just chatting with parents. I’ve noticed one similarity in almost all conversations I’ve had. Questions about what the teachers are doing to meet the needs of their children, and complaints about “not enough” being done.

I hear:

GATE identified students aren’t being challenged enough.

GATE kids are the only ones who get attention.

Special needs kids are underserved.

Special needs kids are the only ones who get help.

Teachers don’t know how to teach boys.

Teachers cater to girls.

Teachers only care about kids who are achieving.

Teachers only focus on the kids who are falling behind.

Teachers don’t care about minorities.

Teachers only care about minorities.

How can ALL of these things be right? I hear ALL of these things. How are so many parents coming home with these messages every day?

Well, I can only address what I’ve seen in the classrooms I’ve been in, and in my own experience as a teacher. In our school, we’ve had TEN teachers. Only one of those teachers flat out told me that she was not focusing her attention on my child. Her words were these:

“Your son is working at grade level. My focus right now is on the children who are NOT working at grade level.”

I'm sorry... what?

My mind immediately pictured her sitting in a small group with the children who were struggling, while the high-achieving AND middle-achieving children were left to their own devices, or left to help each other. Since this particular teacher was not one to have parent volunteers, I honestly have no idea how she actually did it. Suffice it to say that my child did fine and didn’t end up floundering. I do wonder how some of the children who might have been on the cusp ended up doing.

Consider our classrooms. We have GATE identified students in the same classrooms with children who are labelled special needs who both have very different sets of circumstances and very different needs. In the same class, we have students who have little to no English language, with little to no English support at home. We have girls and boys who like to follow rules and sit and be quiet and learn and boys and girls who would rather talk and walk around. We have kids who come from wealth and from poverty. We have kids of all ethnicities.

There might be times that your high achieving child is bored, but there might be times when your high-achiever soars with challenging, appropriate material and tasks. There might be times that your special needs child is struggling, but there might be times when your special needs child shines with the appropriate support and care. There might be times when your boys get the right amount of activity vs. seatwork and gets to engage in something truly meaningful. There might be times when your girls are favored for their quiet behavior, but there might be times they get virtually ignored because the noisier children are getting all the attention at the moment. As for the minority statements, I’d hope our teachers are color blind when it comes to the students and truly see each child as an individual and nothing more or less.

Can I ask you a question? Do you meet all of your child’s needs 100% of the time they are with you?

I try to be a good listener. I really do. And I feel for a lot of parents. I really do. But I also know there’s more than one side to the story, and I also know what it’s like to be a teacher, so I think we all need to settle down for a minute and rather than complain about what’s NOT being done, take a look at what IS being done.

In most classrooms, there are 28-32 students. (Just three years ago K-3 classrooms had 20 students.) In these classrooms, the teachers are teaching to “the middle” while supplementing to the high-achieving and gifted children AND supporting the students who are struggling. In this six-hour day, they must fit in language arts (which includes reading, writing, spelling, vocabulary, and grammar), mathematics, science, social studies, physical education, and the arts. In this six-hour day, take away a 15-minute recess and a 45-minute lunch, and you have five hours. If you’re a teacher (or even a parent), you know that transitions – putting one book away and getting another one, coming in from recess, getting drinks of water, tying shoes, hanging up sweaters, putting lunches away, getting and sharpening pencils- eats away at your instruction time, as does any discipline that you must do. (I can say this from experience. As a kindergarten and a 4th grade teacher, I never had less than 28 students, and had 36 at the most. I sadly never benefited from the 20:1 ratio.)

That's a lot of 3rd graders!

That being said, I think our teachers are doing a pretty darn good job!

I also think that most teachers would love some help in the classroom.

I think that most teachers would love for a parent to volunteer to take a small group to read with, or work on math problems.

And before you complain or make a blanket statement, or point fingers at what’s NOT happening, try to see what IS happening. If you truly find that something is lacking in our classrooms, find out what YOU can do to help make it better without pointing fingers. Ask what you can do to lighten the load or bring your expertise to the class for a day. Ask what it is that will BEST help the teachers. I’m sure they would appreciate the help, and I’m sure you will feel better knowing you are helping alleviate what you feel to be the problem.

That being said, I also know that not every teacher is doing their very best every day. I know that there are teachers at EVERY school who are tired, who favor some students over others, and who don’t always meet the needs of every student. If you TRULY feel that your student is being overlooked, then do something about it. If you feel your teacher doesn’t care if your child succeeds or fails, then find out what you can do about it.

You are an integral piece of the educational puzzle. Please don’t leave your child’s success solely in the hands of others. Take your responsibility. Make your child take his or her responsibility. Make sure your teacher is held accountable. The three pieces of this puzzle have to be put together to make the whole picture. And try to remember not to compare your child to others in the class that are doing better or worse. You know what your child is capable of. If you know your child is capable of As and Bs, then help them find the focus and means to get there. If you know that As and Bs are really going to be asking too much of them, try to rethink what your expectations are. Setting your child up for failure is hurting no one more than your child.


3 responses »

  1. We never had a problem with a specific teacher, but, in one year, our son went from bright and excited about school to loathing it. The teacher he was supposed to have, was on maternity leave the first few months. when she returned, she found teaching less interesting and soon quit. Our son had at least 3 different teachers and probably more. That would have been fine, but he was also being bullied, because he was ethnically different, and the teachers were not picking up on his situation.
    We were’nt aware of it at first, because he didn’t complain. When we went to the teachers, they were helpless because 1) it was happening on the playground, not in the classroom, and 2) stepping in only made the matter worse by singling out our son. The large student teacher ratio didn’t help.
    So, our son started to hate going to school. Initially gregarious, he lost friends who felt pressured not to defend him. Our only solution was to remove him from the school, but the damage was done and he never returned to being excited about school. He did well and finished, in a Magnet (similar to GATE) high school with acceptable grades, but no real interest in the future. A year of University didn’t change his mind.
    Now he’s a college drop-out. I’m sure there are many other elements, but every time we try to help him get back on track, the ghost of that one bad year seems to come back.
    So much depends on how a child’s experience is. We should be doing everything possible to optimise it. If out state invested more in education, instead of less, I believe many of the other problems would “fix themselves” by producing young motivated people eager to work to change the world we live in.

  2. That makes me so horribly sad, Myki. I sometimes wonder what would have happened to me had I stayed in the second grade class I’d had before I was moved to a different class. I went from a grouchy old man teacher who was constantly squashing my creativity and gave me terrible marks on my report card to a nurturing creative environment when I was encouraged to sing and dance. My report card looked like it was written for two entirely different children. Despite dropping out of college, I hope your son finds something he’s passionate about – something that he can spend his life doing that he could even make a living doing.


  3. I never read blogs. But I’m stuck sitting here nursing my 8month old back to sleep so I thought what the heck, why not click on the link. Genevieve, I am so glad to have read your post about parent complaints. It is so sad that our classes are getting bigger and bigger and our good teachers are working hard to meet the needs of all kids. Teachers are pulled in so many directions it’s hard to even stay afloat some days.

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