Monday, March 29, 2010

Calling all teachers: advice needed

The background:
Geo loved kindergarten.  Ms. S is an amazingly strict teacher but then he functions well with hard boundaries around him (bless his heart, takes so much after his father).  With Ms. S I knew what she expected of him and me- strong adherence to the rules and consequences when said rules were broken (let's just say that she didn't appreciate me calling mother's by their first names instead of Mrs. _____ and she didn't agree when I showed up at school to help one day in my against-the-dress-code ripped jeans.  After those times I realized her rules for the kids, they applied to me too).  She is also a loving teacher - please don't picture her as some nun with a ruler waiting to pop a kid who does wrong.  She just communicated what she expected and expected what she communicated to be carried out.

Change scenes, new set.  First grade.

Geo likes first grade too.  There are certain growing pains that come from moving from 1/2 days school with play centers to all day school with only recess.  But he likes it and has adjusted fairly well.  The child prayed for the snow to go away so he could go back to school back when we had the blizzard- what kid does that?  And he loves math (again, like his father).  So I don't think the issue in discussion today is so much his issues with this year's teacher, Mrs. W, but more mine.

Each week Mrs. W sends home a red notebook with :) or :| or :( in circles representing how she feels the child did that week in respecting the rules of the teacher and others, listening while the teacher is talking, working quietly and staying on task, and having self control in actions and with talking.  The first week of school way back in the fall semester Geo received several :| faces.  So to show him that we believe good performance and following the rules are important, when LK took Geo to school the following Monday he explained that we had promised a Wii family night but we've told Geo that the Wii night only happens when our jobs (which for him is school, well that and cleaning the counter in the bathroom, but mainly school) are done well.  A sort of "no bonuses for employees who don't perform" motto- I mean we're not operating like Wall Street here with cut throat measures for "bonuses" we just want the job (obeying the expectations at school) followed.  And we want to teach him young that there are consequences to every choice he makes.

The result of that conversation: Mrs. W looked at LK in a way that seemed to say "why are you here talking to me about this" and said that she normally does not send home daily behavior comments, but would let us know this time if he was quieter.

Skip ahead to November/December- multiple weeks of :| on everything but respect and in trying to get my point across I tell Geo that if he can't get this under control himself it seems he is telling me he needs me to come to school and help him remember that he is there to learn.  My thinking on this - well I didn't really think because going to school with him really throws a kink in my schedule (and yes, in hindsight I should have checked about this with Mrs. W first, but I was trying to make a point while the :| remarks were still on his mind), but my thinking was that I wanted to get the point across to him now, while he's young and cares what I think, that we go to school to learn.  And that most people cannot learn when there is chatter going on.  To teach him that Mrs. W cannot do her job of teaching when she's having to help him control his mouth (which is not her job), so I'll take over that job for a day and let her do hers.  I hoped the threat of this would be enough, the next week it wasn't.

So, I sent her this email:

Mrs W
Geo showed me the :| face in his folder.  Geo and I have discussed that when you have to take time for his talking out of turn, it keeps you from being able to spend time helping other kids learn. So, I have told him from his continued talking it looks like I might need to spend a day in school with him so that we can work on his talking and you can be free to teach.  
I've told him I am checking with you to see if this will be productive for you. I am free on Tuesday if it is. If it is not, we have discussed alternative reminders- such as talking fines, in which we would dock his allowance for each :| he receives. So if me coming to school doesn't work, could you send a daily :) or :| next week?
His respecting you and the rules of your classroom to promote an atomsphere of learning that is mutually benificial to all is very important to us. So any other suggestions to help with this situation is appreciated. 

Her response:
Thank you for your support.  I don't feel you need to come to school to "shadow" him because it is not at that point.  Geo and I talked about your note and he agreed he did not feel you needed to come to school.  He is just having a hard time with self control in raising his hand before talking and not visiting during work time.  This is a very talkative class and I'm sure it is hard when others are also talking.  He is trying very hard and I will continue to give him reminders.  This week is one of the most difficult ones because they are so excited and very hyper.  He is a very smart boy and has a lot to offer!  Again, thank you for your support.
Is it just me or did I get yet another response "I don't think we're at that point yet, why are you bothering me" response?  At this point I was, and continue to be, completely puzzled with what the point of the behavior remarks are.  What she comments in the red notebook seem vastly different to me than what she described in her email response.

When school started back up in January, yet again :| in everything but respect.  Feeling like these faces apparently mean very little to Mrs. W and her desire to have me do anything about them that involved her (I'm sorry, I guess erroneously believed we were in this journey of educating and showing the proper ways to behave in a society together), so we took the Wii away until the next week's report.  And that seemed to help.  He knew that to have Wii time he needed a good report.  And those good reports lasted until March 12.

March 12 the :| started again, and again this week (the week in between being Spring Break).  This time it was a whole line of them (except in respect) with the added note:
I know a lot of his talking is because of his neighbor, however I need Geo to stay focused instead of talking with this person.
My question- and the reason for writing this hugely long history of Geo's behavior is that I'm at a loss.  What I want to ask her (and yes, I'm fighting back the sarcasm wrapped up in this), I want to ask "oh, so are we at that point now?  Is this the point where you expect me to care and do something, or are we still in the just sign the thing and send it back phase?"

Since me being involved in the process with her has seemed to annoy her more than help her- I'd like advice from any teachers out there, or parents who've dealt with teachers- what to do now.  Yes, the Wii will be removed next week if the faces aren't happy.  Geo understands that.  But I feel, at the same time, that I'm punishing him for something that doesn't seem to be addressed by her during the week.  From the response I'm getting it seems more like a hands-off-rate-them-at-the-end-of-the-week approach than actually working with them to find solutions for how to improve behavior.  Geo and I have talked about possible ways at home, but I feel like I then send him into the "zone" where there's no help from her.  And I feel that trying to talk with her about this is seen as so much more of an annoyance than a help.

I want to raise a child that understands the rules and respects them.  A child that has the tools to control himself and knows why he does what he does and knows why he doesn't do what he shouldn't.  Am I shooting for the moon?  Maybe.  Am I being a "helicopter parent" I don't think so.  I don't take him his lunch if he forgets it, I don't do his homework for him, and I don't make excuses for him (all things I associate with overbearing-uber-protective-hovering-parents).  I don't believe my expectation that he has the ability to learn from these situations and with Mrs. W's help at school and my united front at home, learn how to be the person I want to raise is a completely crazy idea.

So here's my SOS-- where to go from here?  Because right now, my plan of action is to make a calendar, count down the days until summer, and start praying now for a 2nd grade teacher who gets me.

Advice much appreciated,


Emily said...

As a teacher, here are my thoughts: First, let me just say, FOR ME, I would LOVE to have a parent that wanted to come up and sit in my room! To me, that is (I'm not kidding or being sarcastic) a dream. It gives parents SUCH a unique perspective of what being a classroom teacher involves. But obvs, Ms W does not agree with my philosophy.

Maybe you need to ask her for a little more explanation on the :):I:( system. Maybe :I means fine but not excellent. In her email, she made a point to not just harp on Geo but to also point out some good things, so maybe there is just a miscommunication as to what is going on.

My next suggestion is to call her on the phone and explain that you want his :I to be :) and what can we do to get him there. Try to approach her as if you and LK are on the same team as her.

I know it can be super frustrating trying to figure out teachers. And from her perspective, she not only has a whole class of kids to figure out but whole class of parents.

And you can take Geo his lunch if he forgets it until 5th grade w/o being a helicopter parent. I promise that won't make the teachers talk bad about you in the lounge. :)

Gena said...

I agree with Emily. I would approach her as (if) you are on her team, despite the fact that you may be boiling inside. If the neutral ;| faces continue, I would send her a brief e mail or quick call asking what Geo needs to do to receive happy faces. Just tell her you are not trying to be a bother, but that you want to make sure he is doing his best at school.

I don't know why she wouldn't want you in the classroom. Maybe her definition of :| and your definition are two totally different things.

I think you're doing the right thing. If all else fails, there are only a few weeks left this school year. Just be grateful that he has survived and still enjoys going to all day school. That is huge.

See you Thursday. :)

ComplyKated said...

Thanks for the advice (and just so you know- he doesn't go hungry if he doesn't have his lunch. He has caf. points that he can use).

I think it would have been helpful to have an explanation of what the faces mean. You know, like the pain chart used during childbirth. I don't know what the :| means and have interpreted into her system what I think it means. A little conversation about that would be helpful.

Sara Keeth said...

Are :I faces "meets expectations"? Do you have to be exemplary to get a :)? Or are :) the standard, and :I is bad? That seems like a key point to me. I'm dealing with "thirteenth graders," but it's so hard to get them to realize that a C means "meets expectations," while an A means "wow you totally knocked my socks off."

ComplyKated said...

I would think :| meets expectations if that's what he got most of the time. But for several weeks he would get :) and then boom :|.
This is good information because I had never considered that I would need a "defining the terms" conversation" because I've been putting :| just slightly above :( and perhaps it's just slightly below :)
I would rather A-F. I understand those terms-- I think.

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