16 November 2012

Trouble at School

My son has always been gregarious. He talks to anyone who will listen, and will play with anyone who'll take the time. He's generally pretty good with his please and thank-yous, and does a pretty admirable job of explaining his feelings with words.

So when school conferences came around last month, the last thing I was expecting was to be told that my son was rude and that he was having trouble making friends. His teachers had absolutely nothing nice to say about his character. It was clear that this teacher was not fond of my son, but my biggest concern was how this year could start off so differently than the last.

Yes, I realize my son has trouble following directions and staying on task, and he can be antsy. We work with him on this, and I'd love any tips his teachers might discover that work for him. These traits can drive me bonkers, but you know what? My son is also sweet and sensitive and silly. He says the craziest things, and he's so much fun to be around. So, what's so different about school? I felt the conference feeling rather defeated, and sad for my son. While I certainly don't expect every teacher to like my child, the fact that he's dealing with this in 4K is very unfortunate. I'd hate for him to be put off school before it even begins!

Then last week, Aidan started coming home from school every day complaining that the kids were mean to him. He reported being hit by one kid, pinched by another, and that one kid was saying mean words to him. We talked about ways to deal with mean kids and hurtful words, and meanwhile, Aidan was getting clingier and clingier at home. Still, he was excited to go to school every morning, so I couldn't imagine it was really that bad.

On Thursday, Aidan came home again reporting a bad day. He said one child sat on his back and pinched him, so he hit him. He then said another kid was yelling in his ears. At this point, I knew there'd probably be a note in his bag, and sure enough there was a Red Light letter telling me Aidan hit one child and bit another. He bit another kid? Where did that come from?! When I asked Aidan why, he said the boy was calling him stupid. He also said his teachers called him "stupid bus" when he was put in time out.

And my heart broke.

So I wrote a letter to the school asking if something was going on with Aidan and the other boys. I wanted to know - from her - what circumstances led up to the hitting and the biting. Instead of writing me back, she forwarded the message to the Director. I also sent another note asking, "I am curious why Aidan told me you called him a stupid bus." I got a single line response staying she has never and would never use that word in her class, but still didn't answer my question. Why? 

So the Director sent me an email letting me know she'd be sitting in on his classes this coming week to see how she could help make Aidan feel safe in school. She advised me to let Aidan know that she'd be there, so he'd be comfortable talking with her. I wrote her back laughing that Aidan is not shy, and that she'll have no trouble talking with him.

So fast forward to the end of this week. The first thing I noticed was that Aidan came home every day telling me that everyone was nice and that no one said mean words. This was odd, because he's never come home talking about what a great day he had. I was worried that he might be coached, but I realize now that things really were better. When my mother-in-law picked Aidan up from school on Tuesday, she said it was the first time Aidan's teacher smiled at her. Obviously, these teachers are acting very differently while being observed by the Director. Integrity aside, at least my kid had a great week.

Then came the meeting with the Director. I can honestly say that this woman learned more about my son in three days than his teachers have learned in two months. She was expecting the "rude boy who has trouble making friends" not the outgoing boy who tends to get so focused on an activity that he tunes out the rest of the world. She gave an example of catching him picking his nose during story time. She brought him a tissue and asked him to use it. Aidan ignored her, so she put the tissue in his lap. Aidan pushed the tissue off to the side, and continued listening to the story. When he picked his nose again, the Director returned and put his hand on his shoulder to get his attention. She said he jolted, and looked up at her. She asked him again to use the tissue, and he said "Sure!" and started using it. She realized that Aidan wasn't being rude and ignoring her; he was simply so focused on the story that she had no idea she was there, let alone that she'd asked him to do something. She said the ability to tune out distractions is a very valuable tool for learning.

She witnessed Aidan making very mature choices, and working through problems with his classmates using words. She once observed Aidan taking some blocks that he didn't realize another child was using. The other child asked for them back, and Aidan said "Oh, sorry!" and complied. There is one little boy who tends to be a bit more scrappy, so the Director is advising the teachers to avoid seating them at the same table. Apparently this child once shoved Aidan for taking his blocks. He has older brothers and has trouble using his words - he is also the likely source of the nasty S word (though were the "bus" comes in is still a mystery).

We discussed the Red Light letters, and how vague and unhelpful they were. We also talked about how important it is on the other end of the spectrum to know when my child is the one being picked on. If another child does something to mine that deserves a Red Light letter, I would like know about it. Aidan will tell me one way or the other, but without adult perspective, I'm forced to assume the worse. If Aidan gets pushed by another kid for taking blocks, he's going to come home and tell me this very sad and exaggerated story. To him, that was a Very Terrible Thing that happened, and I don't want to cheapen his feelings by making light of them. Getting the teacher's perspective will allow me to more effectively discuss the situation with Aidan, so that it doesn't escalate.

As an added bonus, the Director was impressed with Aidan's storytelling skills. In particular, Aidan was telling him all about how his mom and dad go SCUBA diving with sharks, and that he once ate an octopus, and that he likes eating sushi with his mom. All of these things are actually completely true, but the Director was understandably skeptical until I confirmed that he was not just telling her about the latest Nat Geo special.

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