Sunday, March 23, 2014

Chemical Warfare Part 2

(Please see part 1 if you have stumbled upon part 2 first)

Keeping to my word, after our first meeting, I sent suggestions to Ms. Footinmouth.  I inquired how Nehemiah was progressing on a regular basis until Christmas break. Everything seemed to be getting better, and my son was not crying as much to go to school. Though something still did not feel right, and I thought it was just the Mommy in me harboring some resentment from our first meeting. Sadly, I was wrong.

In April, after no news except for good news at the second set of conferences, I received a long email from the teacher. The email stated how she has been struggling all year with my child. She shared how his behavior was not allowing her to spend enough time with other students because she had to remind him to take out his materials, repeat directions and get him to focus. He was being sent to the principal's office that same day for his defiance during math, and she was really not sure what to do anymore. She requested a meeting with me, and said she would have "lots of data this time."

So, I called in a sub, left my job as a reading teacher in a high school behavior disorder program, and drove straight to the school. I was not sure what to do, but I knew we needed to meet immediately. I arrived at the school and went to the principal's office.  I walked in and the secretary called the principal out to chat with me. I explained that I wanted to discuss some problems we were having. When he brought me into his office my son was sitting in a chair, puffy eyed, scared and shaken. He was eight years old, but looked so much younger. I asked to speak to Nehemiah privately for a few moments to calm him down.

Nehemiah was crying softly, and when I asked what happened he explained that he had not heard the bell again. I was confused and further prompted to understand what he meant. The bell the teacher sets everyday to signal when reading was over and math was to begin. He had been reading, and had not heard the bell go off, and when the teacher came to his desk he did not have the math assignment done because he was still reading. So, she sent him to the office for not listening. I called the principal back in and asked what the reason was Nehemiah was in the office. He was very nice, and tried to explain that the teacher felt the office was a better place for him until he could focus in class.

I did not know what to do, but I asked to speak to the teacher for a few minutes. I really only had one question I wanted answered, and it was near the end of the day so we waited until she was free. Then I left Nehemiah and Evelyn in the hallway with a book, and went in to see the teacher. She was ready to go with her collected data this time. She had a statement from the PE teacher that Nehemiah did not always follow the rules, and ran around without knowing how to play the games. She had scores showing his math was not getting completed each day, and that his handwriting was awful. I went through the papers, and asked,"What is he doing instead of working on his math?

"Reading. He comes in from recess and is to read for fifteen minutes. Then when my timer goes off he is to put away his book and complete the math page I place on their desks after recess. He never does this. Instead he ignores the bell and keeps reading." Ms. Footinmouth answered.

"Do you ever tap him or remind him?" I asked

"Well, no. He is supposed to be practicing active listening skills, and this is another sign that we have a problem." She replied with a tight smile.

"You know, I love that he reads, because he had a hard time reading until last year. He had some trouble with phonics, and hearing the letter sounds. We did a lot of work over the summer and all through last year with his first grade teacher. I am so glad he is reading so voraciously now. Yet, I do not condone him not completing his work. On the other hand, have you ever gotten so wrapped up in a book you have completely zoned out the entire world? I do it all the time. In fact, I get so into my book I have to be doing something actively with my hands or everything disappears. So, it seems to me you are punishing a little boy for enjoying the fact that he can read now. I actually have all the data I need. Thank you for your time, and I hope you have a great rest of the year. I will address your concerns, and we will come up with a solution." I said as I rose from my seat.

I was met with silence, as I walked out of the school with my two children. That evening I spoke with my husband, Gavin, about all that had transpired. We both knew that there were issues in the academic areas and were not sure how to address them with a teacher who deemed our child as a troublemaker. So, we made an appointment with an educational specialist in Des Moines for the following week.

After four hours of testing she determined our son had a Central Auditory Processing Disorder. Where learning is a little more difficult because he has trouble hearing sounds, and processing a request with multiple steps. He needed to train his brain how to process auditory material. This will often mirror symptoms of ADHD and can cause reading and speech delays. Upon hearing the diagnosis, we knew it was our son. She also pointed out it was hereditary and asked if either of us had problems with noise as a child. I recalled crawling behind couches when we had a lot of people over, or when it was loud. I had frequent migraines starting at age nine related to noise, and I still have ear plugs I carry in my purse for when I feel overwhelmed with noise. We discussed our concerns with this professional educator and she asked how his demeanor has been throughout the year.

We explained that he was becoming increasingly apologetic, sensitive and cried more than he ever had. He was constantly thinking he was doing something wrong, and was in trouble at school because of his behavior. We do not condone bad behavior, but some of the things we had learned were happening in his classroom made us realize something was not right. This is when the educator shared that we needed to do what we were already contemplating and remove our child from this school setting. We had already shared this seemed to be our only option, and we could not see another way around it.

We drove directly to the Superintendent's office and informed him of our decision. It may have seemed drastic to some, but when it comes to caring for your children you have to do what you feel is right. I sent an email to the teacher informing her that her services were no longer needed for our child, and hoped that it was easier to do her job now.  She replied she was "so sorry to hear he was leaving, and really was going to miss him. She said she felt sad she never even got to say goodbye."
 Really?!? My faith allows me to give it all away and that is exactly what I had to do. For, I know that actions speak louder than words.

As for educating our son, our amazing mother's took over as teachers during the day. I created a curriculum and instructed every night after I got off work. Twice a week one of his grandmas would usher Nehemiah to and from Des Moines for some assistance learning how to process and focus. Every other day he would work on the material I had assigned.  This made such a vast improvement to Nehemiah's confidence level, and I know that we did the right thing.  It was a lot of work for our mothers,  and there is no way to repay them for taking on this task. We know we are blessed to have amazing grandparents for our children, and that Nehemiah was able to learn in an environment where he felt comfortable.

This is a key element in a successful classroom, and if you are lacking this your students do not receive the type of education they deserve.  We learned a lot as parents and educators through this whole process. It was a saga that has led to a lot of research and further fueled my passion in the classroom. I earned my Masters of Arts in Teaching in Special Education after this incident, and now use this experience to help me make better choices in my own classroom. My students deserve to have an educator who will do whatever it takes to increase their learning, and to allow them to be who they are. I truly believe that twenty years from now your students will not remember a specific lesson, but they will remember how you made them feel. Therefore, I hope to provide the type of education that lasts a lifetime.  An education that may have nothing to do with how well I mapped out a unit, how many tricks I used to teach multiplication facts, nor how effective my grammar lessons were. I hope they learn how to treat others with respect, care for everyone, and that solving a problem is not about medicating the symptoms.  I hope they realize that sometimes it really does take a village not a prescription for medication.

Please read, share and contact me with any questions or concerns. I am really glad I could speak with a few readers last week about ways to assist their children. If you know of anyone who would find this useful please send it on to them. After a few parent discussions I am planning out future blogs to answer specific reader questions. So, if you have an educational topics or concern you would like covered let me know. After all, we are all in this together. Please, enjoy some pictures from my own village/classroom below:

A classroom built by 4th Graders
Family Game Night