Being the parent as opposed to the educator is a bit of a task for me. Balance eludes me even though Dee has been in public school for six years now when preschool is factored in, and I still find it hard to silence myself or pretend not to know what I know about the politics and practice of being on the educator side of the desk.
Last night was Parent/Student Conferences. This year conferences have been separated completely from report cards, which won’t be sent home for another month. The entire affair is student-led with the purpose being student demonstrating what they have learned.
I facilitated student led conferences in some form or other – on and off – since the late ’90’s. By and large, they are neither good nor bad practice where evaluation is concerned. Many parents despise them and with good reason. Most kids are woefully unprepared to present evidence of their own learning and progress.
There is a lot of work and preparation involved in getting kids ready to lead a conference or even perform the most minor dog and pony show for their parents. And most teachers don’t have the time to prepare kids properly with the end result being painful for child and parent alike.
Dee is painfully shy under the spotlight. It stems from her slightly OCD tendencies and her fear of being wrong. What exactly she thinks will happen if she messes up, I don’t know. Rob and I try to reassure her that grade three is simply not – in the long-term – such a big deal that making mistakes here and there don’t matter, but it’s a fine line. After all, we don’t want her to develop an impression that elementary school isn’t an essential part of what she needs to do in order to move on from childhood to teen to adult. But honestly? It’s lower stakes than one is led to believe by raving politicians and media analysts.
But it’s not stake-less.
Basic skills like simple arithmetic, ability to write a complete sentence and eventually a paragraph or two and the ability to read gradually complex materials with understanding are huge.
It’s no secret that Dee struggles with her reading. She has since preschool – where yes, they were pushing reading already.
I have questioned – closely – every teacher Dee has ever had about my feeling that Dee perhaps had problems that went beyond the need to work a little harder. And they all brushed me off.
In grade one, the brush off at the fall conference was followed by a later admission that maybe Dee did need a bit of intensive one on one. She was put into a program designed to catch up kids who were lagging but not special needs and she did indeed make strides. But reading was still not easy and it seemed to exhaust her.
Grade two, I had to go in and arrange a meeting with the teacher mid-year to insist on Dee receiving some additional assistance. This also seemed to help but didn’t solve the problem. Dee simply can’t sound out words. She can sight-read. Once she knows a word, which can take repeated exposure, she remembers it, but it can be an exhausting process.
This year, I voiced my concerns early and was again told that Dee’s issues fell within the realm of developmentally accepted parameters.
I accepted this – only after checking with my friend, Sis, who is a Title One teacher back in my former school district. I had her run Dee’s “symptoms” by her supervisor and a few other reading teachers we know and they agreed that it could be the case.
Not long ago, however, I’d had enough and insisted on Dee being tested. Frankly, I wanted her tested in grade one and was told no.
We’ll have the results soon. I am pretty certain I will be vindicated but not pleased with the fact that too much time has elapsed since I first voiced my concerns.
Dee was able to cut losses the last two years because her teachers had time to work with her one on one. Alberta sets class sizes for grade two and lower that are small by US standards. They also allow for more remedial and special education for the youngest children, but not the older ones. She is now, unfortunately, not likely to get much help because most special education funding is eaten up by physically and behaviorally disabled kids.
There is an autistic boy in the grade behind Dee who has an aide all to himself who – according to Dee – “plays with him in the hallway all day”. I’ve observed this little guy up close on a few occasions and my guess is that in terms of being educable – he isn’t. Not that this should condemn him, but I question a system that spends a lot of money to babysit a kid in a school setting that he will not benefit from while kids like Dee, who could be helped greatly with just a tenth of the attention, are left begging.
The biggest issue this year is my own fault.
On the first day of school, I read the names of the other kids in her room and realized she was once again a buffer kid.
I know buffers. I rearranged class lists and seating charts with them.
A “buffer” is the quiet, obedient student you use to put space between the pains in the arses in your classroom.
Dee’s teacher refers to these kids as “characters”, which is the politically correct way of referring to the “time sucks” that every teacher has and sometimes in overabundance.
And yes, these charged up characters deserve their education and the time and attention they receive, but the truth is that they get it at the expense of kids who are quiet and sweet and sometimes in more academic need than they are.
Dee has spent the last three school years as a buffer kid. I should have gone straight to the office and planted myself there until she was moved to the other class. But Rob and I didn’t want her to get the idea that she could simply rearrange life when it wasn’t to her liking.*
So we told her to “suck it up, Buttercup”. And, being our daughter, she did.
But the cost has been heavier than just her social life.
Dee, for personality and learning need reasons, requires a calm learning environment. From the first, loud look-at-me kids have repelled her. Part of it is just who she is. Confrontation seekers or kids seeking to dominate her are not welcome in her sphere. She is not a leader herself but she is no mindless follower. If she follows, it’s out of genuine attraction to people. Anyone seeking to make her a pack member had better parse their invitation with care. Additionally, when she is engaged in activities that take quite a bit of effort – like reading – any distraction will derail her. Once off-track, she frets and worry leads to inertia in a hurry with her.
Her teacher assigns seats, changes them frequently and doesn’t allow the children to choose their work groups. None of this is out of line, but because the boys really outnumber the girls, Dee sits and works with rough, tumbly “characters” a lot more often than is good for her learning style**.
The only break we’ve caught all year is the fact that she doesn’t share a cubby, but otherwise, her poor little psyche is under assault for hours a day and as a result her progress has ground slowly to a halt from which I don’t see an easy jump-start. At this point there is no way we could hope to get her moved to the other class because of the numbers. Grade three is huge. But, next year we will not be gracious at all if Dee ends up with the Loud Boys again.
My final observation is one of irony. Back in my old Iowa school district, the province of Alberta is looked upon as a model of education practices. From what I have observed, the schools here face the same short-ball mentality that plagues the US, so the government continually bleeds the system with cuts that pretty much mean the Canadian version of special education is teacher assistants in the classroom and individual education plans that may or may not be implemented if the budget is short that year.
Dee was to be subjected to the Alberta version of standardized tests., PAT’s. If not for that, I wonder if her teacher would have broached her concerns about Dee’s reading at all. From the look on her face when Rob announced that Dee wouldn’t even be in school the week of the tests, I get the feeling that she or the school or both are evaluated based on the tests outcome.
My personal opinion of standardized testing is based on 20 years of having to give them and on my own experience writing them – they are slippy tools.
One can make a test sing and dance to just about any tune one likes and because of this, they are mostly valueless.
It would be easier, I think, to send my child to public school if I’d never taught in one, but having no alternative save home-schooling – which I am not ruling out – I work on my balance.
And my balance is being sorely tested.
*In addition to her classroom being “bad boy” heavy, none of her friends were in that class. She gets along with everyone, but she has no one in the class with whom she is close. She often talks about how no one shares notes with her or talks to her at lunch or asks her to join in games when weather forces them to remain indoors for recess. She is such a social creature and craves being included that I am amazed she doesn’t complain more than infrequently.
**Although I am guilty of using students as buffers, I avoided placing struggling learners with tumbly characters regardless of how mild-mannered they were. Ultimately, a child’s learning was more important than the control factor level of the room.