one bad apple CAN spoil the whole bunch

Grade One. Every parent’s dream. BoyGenius’ only concerns about Grade One were 1) “there’s no Lego in the classroom” and B) “they’re going to make me do math.” He wasn’t completely chuffed about full days of school as opposed to half days but still seemed okay with it. Class lists go up, he’s in a split 1 / 2, with a teacher that I didn’t really know. When I asked those parents who did know of her, I didn’t get a very warm feeling. Still, we thought, he’ll be fine.  What could possibly go wrong in Grade One?

What was I thinking? What could possibly go wrong in Grade One? Let me see. Migraines. Inability to sleep through the night. Separation anxiety. Anxiety! Total loss of interest in school. Full on desire for homeschooling … in his words, “right through to university.” Poor academic performance. Personality change from Mr. Social to Wallflower. All in a matter of weeks. HardWorker and I were at our wits’ end. What the heck was going on? My gorgeous son was a wreck. BoyGenius’ Grade One teacher had been off the year before due to health issues. She started his Grade One year teaching part-time; she was back full-time at the end of October.  By the end of November BG’s life was a disaster zone. We asked him if anyone was bothering him at school. Nope. Did he like his teacher? Yup,  she’s “nice enough but she does yell a lot.” We got notes home saying BG was easily distracted and needed help finishing his work; couldn’t come up with story ideas. Every week, the same notes.

I approached our school’s head of Special Education. I didn’t know what else to do. She advised she would observe the class and “see where the difficulty is being generated.” After one visit she advised that she was no longer observing, she was stepping in. My education angel took BoyGenius out every day for weeks and spent time with him in the sensory and gross-motor rooms, settling him into his work upon returning him to class. It was grand. He was, if not exactly happy again, at least less resistant to the idea of school. Report cards came home in February (well, to be honest, BoyGenius’ report card went missing and didn’t come home when everyone else’s did) . BG was sick with worry (again) and didn’t want to go to school anymore. His report was pretty good, but he told me — through tears — that anything under an A was bad.

His report card said he would be “encouraged to write in complete sentences” and to work on his reading. Now I knew that these reports are just forms with drop-down boxes so I sent a note to his teacher asking just how he was going to be encouraged to do these things. After not getting a reply for almost two weeks I spoke with our SERT (special education resources teacher) again and remarkably got a call from the teacher the very next day, setting a meeting for the next day after that. BG’s teacher wanted to give me materials to allow me to work with him at home. I explained that he could read and write just fine at home and wondered what they would be doing for him in class. His teacher asked me how he liked the homework calendar/notebook that came home. I truthfully said “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Apparently this was something that she had instituted a couple of weeks before our meeting .. but also apparently it didn’t matter that my son had never once brought homework back to school during those two weeks. She gave me a notebook and a calendar to take home. She said she had done a running record with him that afternoon; she reluctantly raised his reading level two steps. She said he struggled with comprehension on the lower level but was okay with it on the higher level story. Our SERT asked what the two stories were about and pointed out that he didn’t care what happened in the first one because it was about getting to school on time and BG didn’t even want to be at school. His teacher said he had problems with his “middle sounds” in words and that might be contributing to his reading issues. Our SERT did a running record with him the day after this meeting and amazingly his reading level jumped 4 steps … she wanted to go further but his teacher disagreed. The SERT put him on a computer program that she usually only started in grade two and found he breezed through about twenty levels and said he had no issues whatsoever with reading, pronunciation or comprehension. So what was the problem?

I started making BoyGenius’ issues general knowledge to any parent who would listen. They didn’t believe what they heard — not BoyGenius, he was “the coolest kid in Kindergarten!” I found that there were indeed a number of other parents who were experiencing challenges with their children in this same class. They all bickered and complained in the yard but only one other mother followed through with the administration. Others said “it’s too late now, it’s already March,” or “I don’t want any backlash from the teacher towards my child” or my personal favourite, “we’re just treating this year as a write-off.” Grade One — a write-off.

I did go to the principal. I did write a letter and have a face to face meeting. I did demand that something be done. I did put in a formal request for BoyGenius’ Grade Two placement. I did point out to the principal that the primary grades are the foundation for students’ educational careers and if they couldn’t be sucked into the culture of learning in those first three years then heaven help their teachers for the next ten. I did put the school on notice for the emotional well-being of my child. I did let them know that while I am definitely my son’s strongest advocate, I was appalled that I had to bring these issues to their attention when they should have been in contact with me since they saw him in this environment every day.

I did bring about a change. While BoyGenius’ Grade One teacher is still there, still teaching a 1 / 2 split, still being unable to exercise much control over what goes on in her classroom, the students she has this year are having a better time of it than those who had her last year. She is being more closely monitored by the administration, has apparently taken some direction. I feel less afraid and more happy for the grade ones she has this year.

What about BoyGenius, you ask? How is Grade Two? Night and day, my friends. He skips or dances to school every morning. He entertains. He is a “joy to have in the classroom” and quite frankly, back to being his brilliant self. He is apparently a natural leader as well as being one of the class clowns. He loves school, brings home one perfect math quiz after another and has the most diverse collection of books in his book box. His February report brought tears to my eyes and warmth to my soul. And he’s still complaining that there’s no Lego in the classroom.

Categories: family | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “one bad apple CAN spoil the whole bunch

  1. Running from Hell with El

    I am so proud of you, Mama. You did so well advocating on Boy Genius’ behalf. It shocks me–nay, it should not shock me . . . perhaps outrage is a better verb– that the school system did so little to supervise the teacher. And it disgusts me to think that parents were willing to write off first grade! Gah! How crazy is that?! I am so happy that your LEGO-lover is happy again this year!! xo.

    • Thank you, El. The most awful part of it is that this teacher has had these same issues for years. and. years. And I still can’t wrap my head around the “write-off.”

      He is truly happy, and that makes me happy. ♥

  2. Deborah the Closet Monster

    Yeah! I’m glad you pushed back, and that your pushing back had such positive impacts, both on BoyGenius and his successors. It would’ve been lovely if you hadn’t had to fight so hard, but . . . I’m grateful both that you did and that you wrote about it, as yours and El’s are examples I’ll have to call upon when Li’l D is a bit older! I thank you for that.

  3. Duffy

    As a former and hopefully one day again (Please, economy, turn around already!) teacher, I hate these stories. These are the teachers that make it hard for the rest of us to get the respect we deserve. These are the teachers that make it hard for some people to believe that anyone teaches for the love of it, for the future we want to see. Our biggest ally against this is a parent like you. So thanks.

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