Sunday, April 02, 2006

Teachers vs. Parents

Some of my online friends are probably wondering where I've been these days -- for the past week or so, I haven't even been answering all my email. Well, I've been teaching and parenting, and there have been some very important issues going on so that I just haven't been able to concentrate my energies online at all.

First of all, as some of you know, I got a long-term sub job in a special education class, which will probably last until the end of the school year. And, I've been having a great time. I'd subbed several times in this class, and was familiar with both the teachers and students there -- it's a very friendly and supportive environment. Even though special ed students can be difficult, it is a much more "mellow" environment that the regular classroom. The class is small, and there is a lot of adult help. You do have the occasional meltdown by one of these kids (one of the teachers asked "Why do I always get the ones who kick?), but even then, everyone keeps their cool until the storm passes. But the room is chronically short-handed, since the needs of these kids are such that all of them really should have a one-on-one aide. One of the other teachers is a sub, like me, who has been there since the beginning of the year. I think, too, that the main teacher tries to do more with these kids academically than most Special Ed. classrooms do -- which is a good thing, because these kids are quite capable of learning.

The biggest thing going on now is that an autistic boy, who was completely non-verbal when I first met him last year, is now beginning to talk -- and even to read a little! We're all so excited, and we pass on to each other the latest thing he said. Of course, we aren't talking about scintillating conversation here -- it’s along the lines of “I want toy” and “No juice.” Although yesterday, he saw a Willy Wonka poster in the library and said “Chocolate” several times. These are moments of excitement in Special Ed. His parents are ecstatic -- they come from Mexico and they said that down there, this child wouldn’t have even been able to go to school at all.

So, now that I’m working steady, I have less time for everything else -- housework, volunteer work, and, of course, the Internet. But I’ve also got something else going on that’s consuming my non-work hours and a good deal of my emotional and mental energy: I’m fighting my daughter’s school about an unwise decision they are making about her future.

Teachers and parents ought to be, and actually sometimes are, natural allies -- they are, after all, concerned about the welfare of the same children. However, they are frequently antagonistic. Being a teacher myself, who has heard many conversations at many schools about many children and their families, I can’t remember the last time I heard anything complimentary about a parent. The general attitude hovers between patronizing and contemptuous. And, to a certain extent, this is understandable -- you see children who are not being taken care of at even the most basic level, or who are allowed to stay up all hours watching t.v. while the homework is neglected, etc. Oh, a nice smile is trotted out for parent conferences, but at bottom, teachers generally think that parents are really stupid. Since I also sit on the other side of the fence, I know that teachers and school administrators can be infuriating -- making judgements when they really don’t know all your home life circumstances, critical, and with a condescending “We’re the experts and we know best” demeanor.

I have, up until this point, generally gotten along with all the personnel at my children’s schools, with only a few minor differences over the years that blew over fairly quickly. My daughter has had a lot of trouble, and I have always been supportive and sympathetic about the teachers’ difficulties with her. But now, a line has been drawn in the sand:

We have been led to expect one thing, and now they are insisting on another. In short, we have been lied to. We insisted on a meeting to discuss the issue, and we get back a Student Study Team form that set up a meeting to discuss something else -- and it took us two faxes to the principal to make it clear that our issue is to be discussed. When we got this meeting, it was clear that our wishes would get no serious consideration and that, from their perspective, the whole point of the meeting was to convince us that they knew best. It’s no picnic, to sit around a table where you’ve got six people there telling you you’re wrong. The worst part of all was that, the school counsellor, who basically ran this meeting, controlled it very tightly. Any time things went in a direction he didn’t want it to go, he very deftly redirected the conversation -- and therefore, some very important points were swept under the carpet. Like the fact that we were misled about what the school would do about Tory’s difficulties. I politely observed that there had been some lack of clarity about the school’s policy, and recounted what we had been told by the principal last year. The principal opened his mouth to answer, and the counsellor rapidly changed the subject so that issue was never pursued.

They shouldn’t have screwed with me. Because now I’ve carefully read the school board’s written policy, and the education code, and have discovered that there are several required procedures they have ignored -- and they have lied to us about what the policy actually is. Also, since the counsellor ran straight over the top of us at the first meeting, we are bringing a lawyer to our appeal. What is clear to me is that, because our daughter is a difficult child behaviorally, they are willing to completely disregard her academic welfare -- figuring, I suppose, that she’s impossible to teach anyway.

So, my husband and I are prepared to take this up the chain as far as we have to, but being basically non-confrontational people, we’re hoping we don’t have to. It may very well be that simply bringing a lawyer with us to the next meeting will be enough to make them cave. We aren’t planning on a lawsuit, we just need someone there to make sure we are heard. Because right now, nobody wants to listen.