Q. We’re only a month into the new school year, and already we’re off to a rocky start with my son’s second grade teacher. Each day when I pick my son up from school, I find myself on the defense as “Miss Brown” complains about my son’s inability to sit still. Our school requires me to work directly with the teacher to resolve our issues before getting the administration involved. I’m worried I will be pressured to have him assessed for attention deficit disorder, with the goal of medicating him so that he’ll fit with her vision of a calm, quiet classroom. So far, my focus has been on trying to get my son to behave. Begging, bribing, and threatening aren’t working. Any ideas?
It took me years as a parent of school-aged children to finally understand that while many great people choose the teaching profession, that alone doesn’t make them all great teachers. While some are gifted educators who have the knack for working with all kinds of children, others are simply not flexible or adaptive. Compounding the problem, it sounds like you’re working with a teacher who simply doesn’t have very many tricks in her bag, so she’s counting on you to mold your son to fit her expectations.
The first thing you need to do is figure out if her expectations are reasonable. To do this, you have to observe what’s going on. Therefore, step one is to sit down with Miss Brown and say, “I’m worried that we’re off to a rocky start, but I’m committed to helping you, as well as helping my son. First, though, I need to see for myself what’s happening during the school day.” Commit to spending at least five full days in the classroom—you must do this in order for the novelty to wear off for your son (and it will!). Be careful not to interact at all with your son—which means resisting the temptation to correct him or assist him in any way. You’re there to observe what’s going on, not to fix it (yet!).
After you’ve spent several days watching the dynamic, meet with Miss Brown again and have a constructive conversation about what you observed. Use a few assessment questions to set the stage for your conversation—and be brutally honest with yourself.
- Is your son behaving appropriately for a second-grader? Is he unruly, disobedient, disrespectful, uncooperative, or disobedient? Does he talk back to Miss Brown? Does he refuse to comply with her requests?
- Is Miss Brown consistent and clear in her directions? (For example, some teachers tell children they need to “listen” when what they really want is for kids to “obey.”)
- Does Miss Brown single out and embarrass your son, making it difficult for him to regroup when he has misbehaved?
- Are there ample opportunities for the children to be active in the classroom, or is it mostly a place where the teacher talks and the kids must sit quietly and listen? That would be a tough environment for any seven-year-old!
- Are other kids also struggling to meet Miss Brown’s expectations, or is your son uniquely unable to cooperate? Does Miss Brown seem to struggle with all the boys—or with all the kids you might describe as “high energy”?
After you’ve seen for yourself what’s happening in the classroom, you’ll be in a much better position to meet with the principal and ultimately decide if your son’s educational and emotional best interests require you to move him to another classroom or even a different school. You’ll also have a much stronger position from which to determine whether he needs to be assessed for ADD.
Teachers are allowed to have their own style, and the variations of teaching techniques helps to offer children a wide range of learning environments over the course of their education. But a teacher and student who just don’t fit together can make for a difficult and unproductive year.
If you’ve done everything you can to help your son to be successful in this classroom, if you’re satisfied that his behavior is age-appropriate, respectful, and obedient, and if your observations convince you that the atmosphere will never be right for him, he may need to be in a different classroom.
It’s a tough situation (can you tell I’ve been there a couple of times?), but in the end, the education of your children is your responsibility. This sometimes means making a difficult mid-course correction after the school year has begun.
Have a question about a teachable moment? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.