Sunday, March 16, 2014

Chemical Warfare...Part 1

Climbing A Mountain of Snow
Parent Teacher conferences are one of my favorite times of year. I love to have the opportunity to brag about "my kids" to their families. It is a great opportunity to see the kids sharing what they enjoy most about school, and discussing strategies to help in areas of weakness. Though, each year I flash back to the worst and best parent teacher conference of my life. This one was with my own child's teacher, and it is one incident, which helps me find perspective when I face a challenging student.

"Welcome! Would you mind if a student teacher is allowed to sit in on your conference this evening?" the teacher questioned as she guided me into the room.

"Of course, I do not mind at all." I said happily. I was introduced to the student teacher, and we all settled into our chairs.

 "I am so glad you could make it tonight. I wanted to talk with you about putting your son on some medication for his ADHD," the teacher stated seriously.

"What? Wait. I am confused. What are you talking about? On second thought, just one minute." I replied, as my mind raced as a parent and my jaw dropped as an educator.  I took a deep breath, held up my index finger, promptly shushing any response from the teacher sitting across from me. Then I promptly turned to the student teacher.

Dog pile on Bubba

"I am really glad you are in this meeting with us today. I am an educator myself, and I really hope to help you learn a very important lesson tonight. Your mentor teacher has just created an opportunity for some powerful learning.  First, you should NEVER, EVER start any meeting with a parent suggesting medication. You should also never diagnose a child with any disorder because that is not your job, nor are you qualified. Also, before you start a conversation with concerns about a disorder you may suspect, in October, you had better have some reasons to support your thoughts, and some data to back up your educated observations. Otherwise, you just have an opinion that might piss a parent off, and pit them against you. Oh, and NEVER wait until parent conferences to discuss an issue you have been having in class." The student teacher was holding her breath, and I was just finding mine as I swung around to look into the red faced teacher opposite me.

"Now, what are your concerns Ms. Footinmouth (not her real name). I will give you some time to share your data and discuss ways to assist my child in your class." I stated curtly, and waited for an answer.

Camping at Denali with his best friend, Otis
"Uh... I...I ...Um..." Ms. Footinmouth stuttered.

"Okay, let me ask you this, Do you have data?" Ms. Footinmouth, shook her head and looked down at the table. I felt my blood boiling beneath my skin, but knew at this point my need to scream would not be productive. I had already proved my point, and now I just wanted to know why this teacher felt qualified to diagnose my little boy with a disorder and automatically request medicine. So, I took a deep breath and tried to separate my emotions as best I could.

"Explain what you are seeing in class that makes you feel he needs to be evaluated by a medical professional for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder." I gritted through my teeth.

"He is constantly distracted and off task. When he is reading, and our math bell goes off, he should put his book away. However, he completely ignores the bell and keeps reading. He is constantly staring off into space, and seems to be in his own world. He has to move a lot and will not sit still in his seat. He is not reading well, and his math scores are low." She rambled after more shaking and stuttering.

Little Susitna River

"This is the first I have heard of these concerns. I wish you had come to me sooner. But for now, have you sat in his seat?" I asked as I thought about my little, tiny boy sitting in this room under her direction every day. The little boy who would categorize and log rocks based on their properties in his notebooks at home. The little guy who sat for hours setting up farms with his toys, and climbed trees to read books in the quiet.

"What? No, I do not sit in their chairs." She scoffed as if I were an unintelligent buffoon.

"Okay, get up let's go sit there now." I said as I stood, and stared down at her. Eventually, she rose and walked me to his seat. I slid into the seat and looked around me. I observed aloud.
Historical School @ Hatcher's Pass

"I see the beautiful trees through the window directly in front of him. I bet the wind blows and the leaves dance and create cool designs. I can also tell you he probably enjoys watching the cars go down the street directly in front of him. In fact, he could probably tell you when the postman comes each day. The pencil sharpener is to his right. So, I imagine the kids who come to sharpen their pencils spend some time talking with him, and the sound of the grinding may be pulling him out of the educational environment. I also see that his desk is in a straight row, but they are also touching the desks around him. I can imagine the continual vibration and movement of others creates a distraction as well. Do I need to go on?" I asked, as I slid out of the chair. Ms. Footinmouth shook her head, and we wandered back to the meeting table where the student teacher sat quiet as a mouse.

"Look," I sighed. "I am not opposed to hearing your thoughts on the needs of my son, but if you
World's cutest students
are going to jump to medicating my child for being a boy you need to understand that I will never wage chemical warfare on my children. No one can convince me medication is the answer, especially after you have no data showing specific behaviors or interventions. Part of our job as educators is to learn how our kids learn best and create an engaging environment for them. I know this is difficult, but simply stifling a child's natural need for movement and expression only creates an environment of negativity devoid of imagination and creativity. I will speak to my son about behaviors, and hold him accountable. I am also going to hold you accountable for creating a better seating arrangement and will send you some strategies to best assist students who have trouble focusing. Until then I expect that you will discuss strategies with your teacher intern to develop better communication skills between the teacher and a parent. I also hope you will let me know when you find something that works, and let me know what does not. I will gladly support you, if you can find a way to support my son." I said as I gathered my purse and rose from my seat. Ms. Footinmouth sat in stunned silence as I shook the clammy hand of the student teacher. Then, I walked out of the room, and cried the entire way home.

Nehemiah, our fun little guy at age 7
  I cried not because I felt sorry for myself. I cried because I was completely embarrassed for the profession I love so much. I cried because I knew there are some parents who would be making a doctor's appointment right now. I cried because our society has become accepting of diagnosing every single issue so we can throw medication at it. I cried because I was feeling awful that my child had probably been dealing with the wrath of this impatient, uncaring teacher all year. I cried because I realized he had been trying to tell me in his own way every day. He cried almost every morning before school, begging not to go. So, I cried for failing to find the reason behind his tears as I rushed him off to the bus in frustration.

To be continued...