BAD TEACHERS? WHOSE ON YOUR LIST? Mark Katz, author of On Playing a Poor Hand Well makes the point that teachers teach the way they learn, for the love of their subject, or for the love of children. As someone who learns very differently from the average, and suffered, I have spent most of my working life advocating for children who learn differently.
The worse teachers I’ve had to deal with loved their subjects, couldn’t find another way to be with that subject, didn’t care particularly for children or adult students, had no ability to teach so different learners could learn and had sadistic streaks. If a student isn’t learning or can’t do the work, the blaming begins.
The teachers blame the parents and the parents blame the teachers. Not helpful at all. Neither individual teachers or parents deserve the blaming that gets thrown their way. Neither gets the support needed from each other or from society. I will be sharing two stories. The first deals parent blaming, the second with teacher blaming.
I discovered I had a learning disability from my sons. Once each entered the world of school and turned from happy, bright boys into sad, unhapppy, ones. They crawled out of the pit of depression weekends and vacations. We had our eldest son tested at the beginning of third grade–not by the school but by an independent psychologist who specialized in figuring out how kids learned. BIG TIP: Let the school test a child but get a second opinion and not from someone the school recommends. Not always easy to find, but always possible.
This particular psychologist nailed each kid’s learning differences straight on. Predicted they would have trouble in school, that teachers would probably not be helpful, but with our support and luck, they would make it in life. Each son had a different way of learning. One son could read well, learned by listening, could dictate or tell someone what he learned, but couldn’t get it down on paper without many seemingly careless mistakes. He inherited all that from me. Other son added reading slowly to the list and learns better by doing. All three of us have difficulty remembering certain kinds of facts–facts not related to a narrative. Tell me a story and I can repeat it back to you. Give me a list of number facts and not only can’t I remember them, the tricky little things have a way of reversing themselves. Math is out.
The story of the blaming school. So son number two shares this problem remembering number facts. His school had specific directions from the psychologist about what he could and could not do. Tutoring would not work with number facts–I have to work to remember my social security number and remember no number facts after 5 x 10 = 50. So when I went to one of those dreaded school/parent conferences I was astounded when I was told we had to see this son was tutored in number facts over the summer; calculators, as recommended by our psychologist were not allowed until Junior High. I rebelled, and a bit loudly; he wasn’t going to be helped and the few months when he could relax would be ruined. I was seen as a difficult parent and told my failure to cooperate might mean a call to the local child welfare authorities for educational neglect. A call to the principal by our lawyer kept that from happening.
TIP TWO Have an advocate. I foolish attended the meeting in question alone. I thought the school was on our side. When I directed mental health crisis programs, I sent six or seven of my staff to all the formal planning meetings. Five or six school people attend those meetings and matching them number for number leveled the playing field. Not all spoke, their presence was enough, but there also needed be someone designated to speak for the parents. I was fortunate that my program included parent advocates who teamed well with clinical staff and were not afraid to speak for the parents who often felt over whelmed.
Teaching Blaming Story. During my work as Director of a Community Mental Health Program, I was asked to observe a teacher. She was told I was there to observe a student, one who did have major problems, but the real agenda was that her principal wondered why she had so much difficulty control her third grade class. Well, she had 24 students and from sitting in her class room for an hour, I was amazed she had as much control as she did.
The student of concern was one of the most I had ever seen in a regular class room. He hallucinated during most of the class and when upset the only way the teacher had found to prevent a major temper tantrum was to either let him go sit in the closet or clean. He spent the time I was in the class room, cleaning the window sills. He, however, was only one of five problems. Three other students were both hyper-active and oppostiional–a combination that often goes together. The fourth student of concern was electively mute. She rarely talked in class and when she did, she whispered what she wanted to say in another girl’s ear and the other girl spoke for her. The principal wasn’t happy when I handed in my report, praising the teacher and suggesting complete evaluations for five students. Too much was asked of one teacher in this situation and sadly more and more is being asked. All are suffering.
Please be aware, I am not one to lightly suggest children need mental health evaluations. l I don’t like labeling kids, but when I see something as blatant as a third grader openly hallucinating, another unwilling to speak except through another child, three others so hyperactive and oppositional that just coping with one in a class room would have challenged a teacher, I do not remain silent. Finally, not only were their problems interfering with their learning, but the rest of the class was also suffering.
One final word about teachers. The good more than out weigh the bad. One study showed that just one person caring can erase much abuse and often teachers were the ones providing that caring. Another study looked at three young men who graduated from an inner city school where many dropped out and these three went on to graduate with honors from college. A student researcher was curious about this. He looked deeply into why these succeeded when so many failed. He discovered that for some reason these three boys had had the same teacher three years in a row. That was a fluke and seemed to the only thing distinquishing these kids from all the others. She was a very good teacher. Teachers make a difference just as parents do. Both need to be supported.
A note about my sons, one made it throough two years of college, then left to find himself and did. He runs his own business, bought and renovated an apartment house, is a great father, and a great son. Second son dropped out of high school, got his GED, dropped out after six weeks of a college that had open admission, worked at all sorts of jobs, stood on street corners, thought he was going to be a chef at one point, but spent a summer planting trees and that turned him on to landscaping. He returned to school, going first to a community college and then on to Cal Poly were he graduated at the top of his class with honors. Part of the credit goes to his wife Amy. He too is a great father and loving son. TIP: Pray a child with learning differences finds a supportive mate. I know that has made a difference for both my sons.
Share, care and stay strong. Rushing to get this up. Hope it doesn’t have more than a few mistakes.
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