03 April 2006

School monster

At parent-teacher conference in the fall, we learned that our first-grader was having trouble remembering to raise his hand to be called on; he'd just blurt out the answers to every question. It turned out that he didn't think raising his hand worked very well because, when he did, the teacher never called on him. She was trying to give the other kids a chance, since she knew he knew the material. That was our first indication the class wasn't quite his speed, but we didn't realize how bad things were until notes and calls describing the sort of behavior one assumes are the result of horrible parenting started coming in daily. I'll be the first to tell you our kid isn't TV Perfect (and we're not exactly the Cleavers) but he's very rarely awful and what the school described was waaaaay past awful - more like completely mortifying. Active behavior, noisy outbursts, running around in circles, crawling around on the floor, singing, and other forms of general classroom disruption were reported. No amount of asking, pleading, or reprimanding would get him to calm down. When his level of frantic activity would get disruptive enough, a classroom assissant would be called in to take him on a "calming" walk around the school. If he still wouldn't calm down, the principal would be enlisted to offer a stern but supportive word and suggest a new tactic for trying to get our son to sit still. Phone calls would be made, sometimes the teacher asking what we do to calm him down "when he gets like this at home" (note: he NEVER gets like that at home), sometimes putting our son on the line so we could try to talk him into a more cooperative mood.

Months of meetings and phone calls with the teacher and principal have followed. They implore us to work with our child to help him understand how important it is for him to sit still and pay attention to his teacher in school. We ask them to understand that the pace of the class is slower than what he's used to and ask if he might be allowed to do something productive or mildly educational, like visit the library, instead of just being walked around the halls like a skittish horse. He's not a bad kid; just really, sincerely, deeply, bored. His kindergarten class was small and filled with overactive smart kids. The teacher was thankfully energetic enough to keep up with them and, when they'd slammed through the official curriculum by Christmas, she started working on more advanced things. In consequence, he's covered most of the first grade work already and isn't mature enough to sit patiently, day after day while the other kids learn it, as his current teacher seems to expect. Seriously - what first grader is?

After what feels like hundreds of attempts to encourage different behavior from our student (god forbid the teacher should change her method at all!), we've resorted to flat-out bribery. Our "plan" includes small, almost daily bribes (a special snack after school, watching an extra period of hockey, having a friend over for dinner...), medium bribes (a movie, a special outing) for whole good weeks, and maxi-bribes which generally involve the whole family and a trip of some sort. The first maxi-bribe was a visit to Momo & Opa's and a live NHL hockey game. The next will be Disney World, in a few weeks. Another trip is planned over Memorial Day weekend. These are trips we'd planned to take anyhow, so we're sort of shamelessly reclassifying them as rewards for good days at school. As is always the case, bribery is less than effective when the recipient of the bribe suspects he'd get the booty anyhow. We have, however, possibly achieved equilibrium. Every now and then, our cherub will voice a desire for this or that, adding that he's sure it's something a boy would get, if he was well-behaved at school. In this way, we've gotten about three weeks in a row with minimal comments or complaints from the teacher.

Just as I was starting to think we might squeeze out the last couple of months until vacation in this manner, another mid-morning call came in from the school. A cheerful sounding woman identified herself as part of the behavior management team and said they'd been observing students in my son's classroom and that they'd be interested in having my son participate in a new program. She then launched into a description of the autism program, which made me balk. My son is at home with anyone. He talks to people, animals, trees, himself, his toys. He sometimes makes a three way conversation with himself and each of his hands if he wants to discuss something and can't find willing other parties. He is demonstrably empathetic. He is clearly not autistic. As it turned out, his empathy and ease talking to everyone and everything is exactly why they want him - they wanted him to be a peer model in the autism classrooms! Worried that they'd get him into the special classroom and he'd start behaving like a loon, I talked to the psych team about the problems he's been having. They were SHOCKED that nobody had contacted them about it. AMAZED that the enrichment teacher hadn't been brought in to devise special projects to help fill his time. HALLELUJAH!! At last, I feel like we've found people who can help make a comfortable place in the school for our kid. What a relief!


Delphi said...

I wish I could make my sister read this post right now. She has had similar problems with her older son. He's very bright but short on social skills. He was doing okay but then this year it all went to heck in a handbasket and his school was no help at all. The principal seemed to want him gone and called him a bully magnet-which is of course disruptive. It seems these days schools want children all to be the same. If they're not, medicate them. Sad.
Anyway, I will try to get her to read your post and thanks.

Blonde said...

I'm glad you've resolved the problem. I was going to suggest home-schooling, but it sounds like you don't need it!


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