By now, your children have been in school for 6 or 7 weeks, and, as the saying goes, “the honeymoon may be over”. We’d all like our children to have an amazing, inspiring, skillful, patient and engaging teacher—wow, I’d like to have friends and co-workers like that, too!—but the reality may be considerably less satisfying.
Sometimes, parents have heard rumors about a teacher’s style, or an older child may have had this teacher, and you are already worried about how it will work for your child. Sometimes things seem good for the first few weeks—your child seems happy and successful. Even if you had concerns, you stay calm and wait to see how things work out between your child and this teacher.
But what if your child comes home and says:
- I don’t understand what the teacher is teaching
- I don’t understand this homework
- The teacher doesn’t like me
- I’m confused
- I can’t keep up with the work—it’s going too fast
- I don’t have any friends in this class
- I don’t want to go to school
Fortunately, it’s early in the school year. There is time to ask questions, consult with the teacher, make changes—even change classes, if nothing else works.
- Talk with your child. Write down the problems as clearly as possible.
- Meet with the teacher (or teachers, if appropriate). Bring the list of difficulties or concerns.
- Listen to the teacher’s point of view. He or she may have a different perspective about what is happening, and why
- Resist the urge to either believe your child (because he’s yours) or the teacher (because she’s the one “in charge”) automatically. Instead, listen to what the teacher says, and compare it to your child’s concerns.
- Ask what could be changed to help your child feel better and be more successful.
- Make a plan. Set a date to meet and review the situation.
- If appropriate, start the process of referral for an evaluation of your child.
- If you truly believe that this pairing is harming your child, meet with the principal, guidance counselor, or academic dean to discuss a class change.
- Be sure your child understands the plan, and is willing and able to “do his part”.
- Monitor the situation and keep notes on things that improve and things that do not.
In my book, No Parent Left Behind: Navigating the Special Education Universe, chapter 2 deals with developmental expectations at certain grade levels, to help parents evaluate whether their child is “on target” in a number of areas. Chapter 4 discusses what an evaluation should contain and tell you as parents. Chapter 11 discusses the uses of an observation by an outside professional. This is another avenue to try if your child and the teacher seem to have a seriously different view of the problems. An observation will tell you about teaching style, social interactions, personality conflicts, and expectations. All of that will help you ask for the changes that will help your child to be successful.
It’s really important for parents to advocate for their child’s needs early in the year, before he or she is too far behind or too unhappy. Depending on the extent of his special needs, your child may have a harder time feeling comfortable and successful in class, but it is certainly the goal. No child can afford to “lose” a year because of academic, social, or emotional problems that prevent her from learning. You and the teachers will hopefully be working together to “make school work” for your child this year.
Good luck, and as always, please contact me with questions or comments.