Friday, November 09, 2007

Worst. Parent-Teacher Conference. Ever.

I've spent over a week trying to process the experience of meeting with Havoc's third grade teacher. It has not helped. At all.

Yes, Havoc is my baby. Yes, I think Havoc is brilliant. No, I do not think he is perfect. But you know what? At this stage of the game - of having FIVE children, of having been a school volunteer, of having been a soccer coach, of having been a cubscout leader for years and years and years - I feel like I've got a pretty good handle on where along the spectrum of 8-year old boy behavior my son's falls. I happen to think he's towards the upper middle end. His teacher, apparently, thinks he falls much closer to the lowest pit of the deepest, darkest bottom end.

I had ONE note home from her about a month ago that said Havoc was having a little trouble talking during class. I wrote back and said we'd speak with him and please let me know if it continued. She wrote back to say things were much better. That's all I'd heard. Until the conference. She started right off the bat - Havoc was disruptive, "hyperactive" (I have NEVER had anyone say that about him before - ever), talked all the time, had to be separated from other students in order to get his work done, was behind in his work, didn't focus, didn't listen. The woman looked me in the eye and said, "He's just not creative. He's smart enough but ..." and I don't even remember what negative things she said there because I thought my head would explode. She had said not one positive thing about my child - well, unless you count the "he's smart enough but..." comment - which I DO NOT. She said definitively my child was not creative. NOT mind you "I'm having trouble getting him to write creatively," not "It's a challenge to pull him away from the facts and get him to talk about the story in terms of feelings and experiences," but "He is not creative." I wanted to SMACK her. (What kind of teacher talks this way? Is this the kind of thing she says TO my child?!! Oooh - it best not be!)

Now - I tried listen. (Do you know how HARD it is to listen past the verbal attacks on your kid?) Havoc can be spacey and forget what he's doing in the middle of it. He does like to talk. He likes people. He's social. His big brother Mayhem is ADD as hell, so maybe now is when it starts showing up in Havoc too. All of these bits of knowledge add up to the fact that it is entirely possible Havoc is causing this teacher SOME trouble. Well, clearly he was driving her crazy. But he seems like a totally normal third grade boy to me and she's a career third grade teacher! What floored me was how over the top she was about everything - eyebrows lowered, serious frown on her face, shaking her head side to side with every word she said. From what she was saying and the way she was saying it - you would think my kid was the worst, most disruptive and disturbing child this woman had ever seen in her entire teaching career. She spoke in absolutes and labels. It was awful. I kept thinking, "If he is THAT bad, why the heck have I not heard of this sooner?!! If it's this much of a problem, how is it not reflected in his work? How could I not know something this dire about my child?!"

I asked her. I said that I had checked his work (almost all 100's!), I had not had a single note about late or missing assignments - so how were we to know he was "behind", and why hadn't she written more than that one time in his weekly folder if he was causing such tremendous problems? Her answer? She went and got another student's reading response journal and flipped through it page by page to show us how good it was compared to Havoc's. She did not actually answer any of my questions! Also? Havoc's handwriting is beautiful and this "model" student's was horrible. (Just saying.) Havoc's reading journal did, in fact, start out quite paltry, but you could see day by day that his entries were getting longer and longer and he was answering more of the "How did this reading relate to an experience you've had?" kinds of questions. Linus noted Havoc's improvement and this woman GRUDGINGLY admitted Havoc was getting better. Bet asked, "What can we do at home to support him in this?" The woman shook her head again and sort of threw up her hands while making a "phh" noise. She said, "I don't know." She had no ideas - no suggestions - as if Havoc were beyond hope. Bet started asking things like, "Would asking him these kinds of questions and getting him to write more at home help? Should we check his work for him? Should we have him..." Really, Bet came up with three or four ideas and all the teacher could do was agree with her by saying, "He needs all of that. He needs whatever help he can get." Did I mention I wanted to SMACK that bitch???

She lost what tiny shred of credibility she may have had left with me when we finally looked at his actual report card and talked about the End of Grade (EOG) tests. His report card was FINE! His grades were as good as they could possibly be! (They haven't had an opportunity to do above grade level work in two classes so those had to be marked "meets expectations" rather than exceeds them but everything else was top notch.) In terms of the behavior categories, she had only marked that he "sometimes" talked out of turn and "sometimes" didn't follow instructions. The other options were "Often" and "Always" which she did NOT mark. It was unbelievable what a discrepancy there was between what she was saying and what she'd written. Then we got to the EOG pre-tests. They'd sent home the scores for the math portion but not the reading. Turns out they are re-norming the reading test so there were no scores to give parents an idea of where their kid stands. Fishing for at least ONE FRICKIN' POSITIVE COMMENT about my child, I said, "But we don't need to worry about Havoc passing the reading EOG's, do we?" I should point out that Havoc is an amazing reader and has always tested well - a point which I EXPECTED his stupid ass teacher to remember about him and at the very least say, "No worries there." What did she say instead, you ask? She was silent for a minute and then said, "Well. He should probably be ok." Bet had had to leave early and I think she was gone by this point, but I know Linus whipped his head around. "Probably be ok?!" he asked. "Isn't he excelling in reading?" The woman pulled out a sheet of paper and looked up his in-class, beginning of the year assessment. She showed us numbers that said Havoc reads on a 7th and 8th grade level, is in the highest vocabulary and reading group they have, and that his global comprehension skills were in the 99th percentile. "Probably be ok" MY ASS! He's in the THIRD grade! What more does she want? Well, clearly she wants him to shut up. We can work on that.

I spoke with two other mother's who have sons in the same class. I needed to know if I had lost all perspective about my child. I asked them both to tell me honestly what they thought of my child's behavior in the classroom when I wasn't there. These women are both straight talkers. They would not sugar coat it. (If anything, I think they would have told me if he was out of line in any way. They both know about the court stuff and I think they thought I was asking because of that.) They both (separately) told me not to worry at all about his behavior. I pressed them. Yes, he talked some. ("They all do!" is what they said.) Yes, he squirmed some. ("They all do.") Both moms told me that Havoc was polite and respectful and they wanted to know what was going on. When I told the first mom what the teacher had said, she was floored. "No way! I PROMISE you he is not like that." The second mom called her husband over to hear what the teacher had said. He looked at his wife and said, "See! I told you! She should not be teaching. Either she doesn't like boys or she picks favorites or something!" Turns out they had had the exact same experience in their conference with her. They had been stunned because they had NEVER heard anything like it about their son. I know - and ADORE - their son. I will have him over any day of the week and twice on Sundays. I can say that about three of the boys Havoc has ever been friends with. Not only did hearing from those parents make me feel better, but I've heard third hand that previous parents have had the same complaints about this teacher. Some kids she decides she doesn't like - and that is that.

It would have been so different if she'd said things like, "Havoc is a great reader but we really need to work on digging deeper into the story. He gets the plot details but what I want him to get out of third grade is the ability to relate what he's reading to his feeling and experiences. Here are some ideas, some leading questions you can ask him when you read together at home. You do read together, don't you?" Or if, on the behavior parts, there'd been any escalation of communication showing that his squirmy-ness was beginning to be an issue. I thought parent-teacher communication was THE POINT of the Wednesday folder with the line for comments. I thought treating these issues immediately was why they had the system of warnings and moving cards over with increasing disciplinary measures for each move! How am I supposed to feel comfortable with an experienced teacher who cannot come up with a single, solitary positive comment about my child? How am I supposed to entrust my kid to her each and every day?

It is ridiculously frustrating to know that my kid is stuck in a classroom with a teacher who is completely biased against him. I hate knowing that he has to put up with a teacher who has such limited mental and emotional resources, that she can't cope with him. He may have some issues but they just cannot possibly be as severe as she made it sound or we would be hearing it from more than one source and we are not. I know that it is not at all helpful to the educational process that her attitude and negativity and unprofessionalism have made me unwilling to hear anything further she has to say about my kid. Sigh. I guess there's always hope for fourth grade.
Peace.

9 comments:

Sandra Glewwe said...

Oh, I cringe when I hear tales like these! Do these teachers forget that they are influencing lives and can completely change how a child feels about school? It's amazing to me that there are still so many men and women out there who are knowingly acting with anger and aggression toward young children; they need to find new work or simply quit their jobs! I am so sorry that Havoc is going through this, and you guys, too! Hopefully she will cause minimal damage and he can move on to the next great thing...

Lilymane said...

Oh Sandra! Thank you! I thought of you - and your fabulous, gentle and sometimes firm and funny ways with your students! My teacher pals are so NOT like this kind of teacher that it caught me completely off guard. You know Havoc. You would have told me if he was a teacher's nightmare, wouldn't you?? -L

Richard said...

Wow. Amazing. And yet, I'm sure, all too common. Is there any way to move him out of her class?? I guess not, otherwise you'd have done it.... this is the kind of nightmare story that makes me distrust public education (but it's not like I'll be able to afford private!).

amuirin said...

I'm with Richard, as I read this I was thinking you really need to get him out of there if there's any possibility at all. The damage that an influential adult can cause with negative bias is hard to quantify. If a kid starts hating school, or getting down on theirself because of how an adult treats them...

I'd get him out of there so fast. I'd also make a formal complaint to the school's administrator and schedule a conference with the principal going through each point that you went through here. I have had some uncomfortable school conferences (daughter in third grade also) but every teacher my child has had has made some effort, at least, to reinforce the positives and encourage my daughter to grow.

Your son's teacher is so off the charts, it's atrocious.

Julia said...

I agree with all of you. Get him the f out of there!! Lilymania, I KNOW some of the teachers you had grwoing up! And I know exactly how our parents would have reacted if this had been the situation. Your son probably isn't "perfect" - or at least I hope not - that would be scary and boring! But for her to not attempt to act as a teacher, a guidance in his schooling! BS - total BS - for whatever reason - stupidity, ignorance, laziness, prejudice - who the hell knows. IT IS LITERALLY HER JOB TO TEACH AND TO HELP THE NEXT GENERATION OF FOLKS BE THE BEST FOLKS THEY CAN BE. Okay maybe I'm naive? But at least I am NOT a F'ing Bitch like she is!

Just remember the source when you think of her comments and then get him through as best as you can!

Megs said...

As a teacher, I agree that you should get him out of that class if you can.

No teacher, no matter the circumstances, should ever speak of a child in those terms. Ever.

Cetta said...

I am shocked and horrified by this. By all means, talk to the principal and see if Havoc can be moved. Make sure you let the principal know what this teacher said... heck, bring the blog entry!

vikki said...

Yikes. I have a 6 year old that sounds similar to Havoc in a lot of ways and we've never had a teacher fail to see the gifts that offset some of the challenges.

titan said...

whoa! what a bitch. you're really handling it well, though...talking to your son and explaining that he needs to do everything possible to follow her rules. so many parents believe their students are perfect angels and should never be punished, but few actually talk to their kids about responsibility and compromise and that life's not fair. its so sad when an 8 year old acts more like the grown up than the adult.

sounds like the teacher is ridiculously insecure to berate a child so badly. or power hungry. eff! can i get in the "smack this bitch up" line?