Even though my past two posts were full of how great my kids are, we are of course, well rounded people. With issues and up hill battles and what not.
Which is why I now have an appointment in place for E to visit with a therapist.
I mentioned that during Play Weekend I had my first ever negative parent-teacher conference regarding E. It was a regularly scheduled (twice a year) conference, and I knew going in that she is not the perfect child. I think as she gets older, and school becomes more independent and more social, these imperfections become more obvious to the teachers. The structure is a little looser, but demands are higher.
I also went in feeling like a new kind of parent – one who doesn’t know everything about her kid’s life anymore. She’s a little more close-to-the-vest now with her days, and her friends, and whatnot. Oh, she definitely enjoys telling us what they’re doing in school and I get various stories, but I have caught wind that she’s had issues with her teachers that she doesn’t talk to me about. I was taking consolation in the fact that if they were big issues, I would have heard from the teacher.
The conference was opened with, “We’ll start with the hard stuff.” Then some blah blah about the transitions that kids go through in 6th grade, then “She makes me so angry that I feel like my head is going to explode right on top of my shoulders!!!” [I have repeated this quote so many times to so many people, I feel like it should be my tag line for the year.]
Before I go on – let’s put this into perspective. I had about 24 hours where I lacked perspective – between the conference and E’s report card showing up. From what her teachers were saying (actually, it was one out of three), I was thinking I would have Cs and Ds delivered into my mailbox on Saturday.
Not so. She had 4 A’s one B. They also have “effort” and “behavior” grading – 1 – 4. One is “excellent,” 2 is “good,” 3 is “inconsistent” and 4 is bad. She had mostly 1’s, with 2’s from this particular teacher. He told me she was on the verge of 3’s, but he didn’t give her 3’s, because he hadn’t sent home a progress report mid-marking period, which is supposed to alert us parents to improvements or deficiencies since the last report card.
Back to the conference. She makes him mad because she won’t go outside to recess. I could not understand. If I tell E to go outside, she goes outside. How can she just NOT go? But my first question was “why?” I asked, “do you know if she’s having difficulties with the other kids, that’s making recess difficult and making her want to avoid it?” The teacher-who-hates-her looked at me as if I either a) had two heads or b) was the stupidest person on earth. “That has nothing to do with it – she stays inside to work on projects.” Teacher-who-loves-her said, “That has everything to do with it – that’s always what informs the kids’ decisions at recess.” Teacher-who-hates-her took a minute to make his head stop spinning. Huh? Teacher-who-loves-her said, “she doesn’t have any problems – she’s getting along fine with everyone, she just wants to stay inside if her friends are inside.”
I was working very hard to not be railroaded at this conference (3 teachers: 1 parent), and so some pieces didn’t come together until later.
The complete recess picture: Kids stay inside to do other things. They are no longer required to go out. As of next year, it’s not even called “recess” but rather a “free period” and they don’t even go out to the playground. This year is a transition. The 6th graders who do go outside don’t “play” anymore. They wander around and talk. They sit on benches and talk. However, teacher-who-hates-her needs a break from E. Because his head needs to re-group and not explode. So E, and only E, has to go outside for recess. Unless he tells her to stay inside, which is often. Or unless the kid-driven activist group is having a meeting, which is once a week. Or unless one of the teachers holds a review session during recess. Which is often. Or unless one of the teachers wants to discuss something with a kid about their grade or homework or a discussion in class – which is often.
Sound confusing? The way we left the conference on the recess point was “I will tell E that she has to go outside for recess. Please keep in touch with me about this. There is no reason why if you say ‘E, go outside’ for her to just not listen. If I tell E to go outside, she goes outside. I need to know if this continues.”
On Monday, E comes home. I ask, “what did you do at recess today?” She says, “I stayed to talk to [teacher who wasn’t at the conference] and then I went outside.” The next day “What did you do at recess?” [teacher-who-hates-her] made her stay inside to work on a “card.” (not a school assignment, but a project that a few kids were assigned to make a thank-you for someone who came to speak to the class.) The next day was a meeting. The next day she went outside. The next day was a review session.
And he hasn’t called me.
The other issue: E does this thing that he calls “spinning.” He is not wrong. I call it “getting stuck.” E hits a wall in her own head, and she can’t explain to herself how to turn around and walk around it. It’s been this way since she was 3. The more I think about it over the past weeks, the more I think it’s a self-soothing skill that she’s lacking. So I suppose it traces back to me as her mother in her days of infancy. I held her too much. I shouldn’t have co-slept. I should have taught her to calm her own self down. I’ve been trying to do so – I’ve spoken with her since she was 1 about ‘taking deep breaths’ and ‘finding solutions’ rather than freaking out and getting hysterical when something is thrown in her path – but it hasn’t worked. (Clearly.)
This is how it looks to her teacher: He hands out a homework sheet during the morning. Explains it 1/2 way, has to stop because it’s time to go to Gym. Tells them to put it in their desk. At the end of the day, with about 20 minutes left to class, he returns to the sheet, tells them to take it out. They go into their desks and get the sheet. But E goes into her desk, moves some papers around, and frantically raises her hand. He asks her what’s wrong. “I can’t find mine! It’s gone! I think I left it on my desk and it got thrown away!” He says “E, I’m in the middle of explaining this to the class right now, I’ll have to go and make you another copy after class lets out.” She freaks out further “I can’t! I have to go somewhere right after school and I’m in a carpool and we’ll be late if I stay after class!” (true.) She is not calm as she’s explaining this, she’s sort of frantic. He’s pissed off. His head is starting to crack around the edges.
This was a story that he told during the FALL conference. So come spring, when the behavior is still presenting itself, he’s PISSED OFF. (And she knows it – he’s yelled at her for it, and singled her out during end-of-the-day-whole-class-lectures enough that she’s well aware of his opinion of her, and it has driven her to tears in class, which has resulted in him yelling at her more and sending her out of the classroom.) I spoke to E about this after the fall conference. I talked to her about what she could have done different. We talked about noticing the internal signs that she’s starting to get worked up, and early on, choosing instead to push the pause button. To breathe deeply, and realize that there is always a solution. I told her that we live right near the school. I told her that taking 2 minutes after class to tell her teacher that she had to go, and could he please put the copy on her desk, and she will pick it up later – would not have made her late. We talked about how if you can stop and think, there is always a way to work things out – that we always DO work things out. She said okay. I followed up with this conversation later – this was not a one time conversation.
Yet we were back to the same theme in the spring conference …
Hater-teacher then segued into the fact that she is not doing well in math. That she’s “lacking confidence” and “not using her resources” and “not trying hard enough.” The behavior he explains is very similar to what her 4th grade teacher identified, and things taht we have been attempted to talk her through at home.
Guess what it is? She hits a wall, and doesn’t know how to move around it without having her hand held. “I need help!” “I can’t do this!” “It’s too hard!”
I pointed that out to him, and again he looked at me like I either a) had two heads, or (this time) b) was an absolute genius. “Wow. I never that about that. You’re right.” Then he says, “Well, then. I’ll have a conversation with her.” Really? A conversation? I never fucking thought of that! Maybe I’ll go home now, and have a little chat, and then … waa la! All fixed! I told him, “Mr. Hater, we’ve been having conversations with E since she was 3. A ‘conversation’ is not going to fix this. She is not moving forward like she should be, and so we will have to look at other solutions.”
So I said, “so perhaps this is not only about YOUR irritation with E, but rather something that she needs to work out and deal with — what we’re all doing isn’t working. ” (Wha? Huh? Belittling and driving a child to tears isn’t helping her to work out some behavioral/psychological issues? why not?) “Perhaps we need to look at additional resources.”
“No. E is a great kid. these are small areas. She is an A student. She’s remarkable in English, Social Studies and Science – she’s the lead in the play – she has a lot of friends – she’s a good student. She doesn’t need additional resources.”
Teacher-Who-Loves-Her went on to say that he totally “gets” her – she’s a social person who does fantastic in those subjects that lend to social exploration of issues. She’s an excellent thinker and conversationalist, and she keeps all of her classes moving with her lack of fear of taking a minority viewpoint. The problem is that MATH is not a social subject. Kids don’t sitting around talking about the fascination of sums and negative numbers. You can’t bounce mathematical ideas off your classmates.
I appreciate the support, nice-teacher-man, and I appreciate your constant counterpoints to the Hater.
However, the math issue is a small offshoot of the bigger problem (emotional issues – lack of self control/self soothing, self whatever). And even if it were its OWN problem, a kid can’t kiss math goodbye in 6th grade. The child needs to conquer this emotional barrier to an intellectual area that she is 1000% capable of doing well in.
Seriously – she had homework a couple weeks ago on the first day of their unit on negative numbers. She called me at work to say “I can’t do my math.” This happens at least 2 or 3 times a week. Almost every time, I say “Alright, E, save it for last, and we’ll look at it when I get home.” 9 times out of those 10, she pulls it out when I’m home, re-reads the instructions and says, “oh, nevermind, I get it now. I read the instructions wrong.”
This time, though, it was hard. I looked at the sheet and thought “crap. I don’t remember negative numbers.” But I sat down with her anyway, and we went through it.
I didn’t need to remember negative numbers. She understood it perfectly. If I could break down the steps for her, she could sail through them. She had a full understanding of the number line, and how to move up and down it with adding and subtracting of negatives and positives. She just needed to see it as a series of ledges, rather than the face of a mountain.
I used to think that her trouble with math was that it doesn’t come as automatically to her as the language arts/social studies area does. She can’t just dive into the middle and shoot from the hip like she can with literature, writing, history. She has to actually STOP and THINK, and to her, that feels “wrong” when everything else comes so easy. But I think I misread it – I think it is more the same exact issue as I described above – an emotional hurdle that she has, and that she needs to master.
I am not happy that her teacher doesn’t like her. I don’t like that he’s more consumed with his irritation than he is with solutions. I don’t like that out of the three things he raised as problems, he did not ONE TIME look for reasons, explanations, or underlying problems. That he was shocked when these connections were pointed out to him. I think it was nice to have the counter-balance of the teacher-who-loves-her, but the more I thought about it later, the more I felt that the Hater was out of line.
But the reality is, we would be better off if this happened in the younger years, and it is more than likely going to continue to happen (she is not going to have the good fortune of loving all of her teachers from here on out, and they are not going to all love her). If she wasn’t adored every year until now, perhaps I would have been forced to look outside the school to help E work out these other issues.
Her teachers this year have the entire grade on their radar. The kids are in classes of 20, but they rotate amongst the teachers for the various subjects. So while the Hater is her homeroom teacher, he also teaches the other two classes of 6th graders at various parts of the day. He can’t know every aspect of 60 kids. And perhaps he teaches 6th grade (as opposed to third, or kindergarten) because he doesn’t WANT to know every aspect of them. And this is only going to continue. Next year, the 7th grade teachers also teach 8th grade. In high school …. well, I don’t need to go on.
And so, I am looking to provide E with the tools that she needs to continue to be that A student that she is more than capable of. To even have the tools to deal with a personality conflict and not allow it to overcome her perception of school (so far hasn’t happened) and cause her to check out and become the C student her mother was.
I so don’t want her – with all of her abilities and talents – to become the C student that her mother was.
I don’t want her to spend 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th grades sneering at her teachers, like her mother did. I want her to keep loving school. Maybe even more than she does now. I want her to look at intellectual pursuits as fun. (Debate team, perhaps?)
I am not sure what the answer is. I toyed with tutoring – with therapy – and wondered if there was something in between. Is there a “behavioral training” or an “emotional coach”? I want her to have coping skills. Seems more concrete than “therapy.” I mean, I’m sure therapy is great, and will help her in an overall manner. Of course when i spoke to the intake coordinator, the second they hear that she lives with her mother and step-father, and her father and step-mother live out of state, they’re all over her – of COURSE she needs therapy!!! And perhaps that’s true.
But I really want to be sure that she gets real hard and fast tools as well. Something Beloved and I have tried so hard to give her, but nothing “sticks.” We talk to her about ways to calm herself down – to take a moment to focus her mind. She says okay, and we see her try for at least a week. But then she stops, and when we remind her, she rolls her eyes at us.
Read Full Post »