You are your child’s best advocate.
I’m frustrated and sad for my daughter. Recently, when asked what she liked best about school she thought for a moment and replied, “Nothing, really.” That’s right, nothing. Not even lunch or recess. Nothing. Mondays are the worst. She always complains of a stomachache and sore throat.
Most of the time I’m pretty even keeled. I meditate often. I practice being non-judgmental and unattached. But when it comes to my daughter’s experience in school, all bets are off. Now that I practice mindfulness, I can feel the anxiety as it takes over. I become slightly crazed. (I’m sure my husband would disagree with the qualifier.) And to be honest, when I’m anxious and crazed, I’m not at my best. (Kindergarten Turned Me into a Bear) So as you read the following, please forgive me if I sound elitist or ungrateful. I’m doing the best I can.
I’m getting ready to have a conversation with the principal of my daughter’s school tomorrow. I’m kinda dreading it. A few weeks ago we went to my daughter’s students led conference, an opportunity for my daughter to show us the work that is in her portfolio. She was delightful, charming and very proud of herself as she showed us her work: reading, writing, math and science.
The big problem is that she rarely gets reading instruction. For most of the school year she met with her teacher 4 times a month, but now, because she is reading above grade level, it’s even less than that. Her writing sample consisted of simple sentences and showed no sign of risk taking or even any details. Math? Don’t even get me started. She does math problems for fun at home and this week’s standard is something she mastered last year.
To be completely honest, I’d be fine letting the academics be mediocre (really, it would be okay, her dad and I are both teachers) if the social and emotional components were being done exceedingly well. Sadly, this is not the case. Reading books about social issues is not the same thing as helping kindergarteners build their social/emotional capacity. I don’t really see my daughter’s capacity to negotiate the complex kindergarten relationships improving in any way.
To make matters wore, there’s been no art from the art room and the fabulous climbing wall has been unused for months. The school’s hallmark is “expeditions.” Her class has spent the whole year studying insects. After most of the year my daughter can draw and label an insect. All I can say is “meh.” The one thing keeping us at the school is the sense of adventure that comes with overnight camping trips. And the amazing leadership team.
Back to my upcoming conversation with the principal. I know that going in with curiosity will be more helpful than starting with my laundry list of what’s not working. So I’m preparing a couple of questions.
- What enrichment is available for kids above grade level?
- For the rest of this year?
- For subsequent years?
And maybe a question about the value of having her tested for gifted and talented. Would it make a difference even if she stays at this school? I also have a meeting with her teacher coming up, so I want to ask the principal if he has any suggestions for talking with her teacher about my concerns.
I also know that it can be helpful to get clear about what I’d like the outcomes to be. In addition to the above questions, I am going in with a request. There’s a chance that my daughter will have the same teacher next year. My request is that she NOT be placed with the same teacher. To be fair, her teacher is probably meeting the needs of 80% of the children in her class. My daughter is one of the few not getting her needs met.
Ironically, at the beginning of the year my biggest concern was classroom management (it’s a big class, 27 kids in kindergarten). Classroom management happens to be the teacher’s strong point. She is a master at the ritual and routines that make the classroom run smoothly. However, one of my lingering concerns is that there isn’t actually enough novelty for my daughter, who thrives on the new and different.
There’s a part of me that wants to continue to hide my head and relax. I know that much of what I have just written, while accurate, is based on my own anxiety as a mother. School just needs to be good enough. I don’t really expect any school to meet my expectations for academics, social and emotional learning and provide engaging extra-curricular activities. But it would be nice if they could deliver something special in at least one of these three areas.
One week later:
The conversations went better than I could have anticipated. The principal was kind. He suggested that I talk with the instructional director. He shared the plan to switch up the classrooms and teachers for next year. The conversation with her teacher went well too. The next day my daughter came home thrilled (yes, thrilled) to tell me about the play she was doing in reading. I spoke with the instructional director who told me that they are hiring an instructional differentiation specialist for next year to help teachers meet the needs of all their students.
All this to say that you are always your child’s best advocate.
There is a time and a place to share your concerns.
There are ways to open a conversation with curiosity, to invite the other in, rather than come in with an aggressive agenda.
It’s also good to be clear about what you are hoping the outcomes might be. As long as you hold them loosely.
Here is a ten-step plan for parents who want to make changes that will support their child’s optimal development: “Advocay in Action” By Dona Matthews, PhD, and Joanne Foster, EdD
Advocating for your child: Getting Kids Through the School System By Nancy Schatz Alton
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