Monday, May 30, 2016

How the System Failed My Son: Part Two -- Confirmation Bias

The real problems began in 2nd grade...

I just want to point out here that no child should be having problems with school in 2nd grade, at least not problems arising from school itself. Or from the teacher. The kids are just kids. I mean, they are really just kids, and the teachers... Well the teachers should be the adults. [Including when dealing with obnoxious kids in 1st grade. You don't dump them out of your class because you don't want to deal with them. (If you missed the first post, go back and read it.)]

This part is actually very difficult for me to write:
1. Because my inclination is to go into all of the details, both about how the school works (it's a charter school, so not a "regular" public school) and about all of the things that happened while my son was in this woman's class (a 2nd/3rd class group, so he was in there for two years), and that would take too long. That would have to be many, many posts.
2. Because the teacher was not just a horrible teacher but a horrible person, and a large part of me wants to delve into how horrible she was.
3. Because this teacher is directly responsible for my son hating school, something he's never gotten over.

For context, though, undermining a teacher's authority is one of the worst things a parent can do when working in their child's classroom. Usually, it's just the teacher's authority with their own kid, but I've seen it where particular parents have undermined entire classes. As such, it's something I'm keenly aware of and take special pains not to do. Because of this, and because it was at the beginning of my son's first year in the class, I didn't say anything when the teacher began teaching about the "original 12 colonies of the United States."

Honestly, the first time she said it, and because I didn't know her yet, I thought it must just be a slip of the tongue, and I figured she'd correct herself. The second time, I was still in the mindset that it must be a slip, because why would anyone say that? Any adult, that is. By the time I'd realized that she was actually teaching the class that there were 12 original colonies, it was much too late for me to say anything. As it turns out, that was probably actually a good thing, because she was one of those "I'm right because I'm the teacher" kind of people, and nothing good would have come from me trying to correct her in the middle of class.

Instead, on the way home, I explained to my kid all of the correct information. Also, I let him know that he should always ask me if he had any question at all about what he was being taught, which, upon occasion, he did.

But none of this was the problem.

The problem was that he was bored. Not bored of being in school, bored of the work. He was bored of the work because he already knew everything they were doing, and he was tired of doing the same old repetitious stuff every day. We had a long conversation about it so that I could be sure that that's what he meant and not the typical "I'd rather be outside playing" that you'd expect from a kid. The truth was that my kid would have rather been inside doing scholastic-type material or reading, but he wanted something interesting and something challenging to do. He hated "busy work," and everything they did felt like that to him.

Before I go on, there are two things you should know:
1. He's a perfectionist, so he's willing to keep working on something until he has it the way he wants it. Nothing is "good enough" just because someone else says it's good enough.
2. Also, he tends to be rather slow and deliberate with the things he does, even eating. He's almost always the last person to be finished. He doesn't believe in speeding through anything just to get it finished.

And did I mention he was bored?
He didn't want to do the work, and getting my son to do anything he doesn't want to do is like trying to stuff a cat into a toilet. He's willing to just sit and stare, lost in his thoughts about things he'd rather be doing, than do busywork or stuff he sees as a waste of time. [We've spent a good portion of the past eight years or so, everyday, trying to stuff him into a toilet.] Everything they were doing in his 2nd grade class, he saw as a waste of time.

One other thing of note that you should remember in relation to what I am about to say:
Whenever the teacher needed someone to read aloud in class, she always relied on my son because he was by far the best reader. By far. He didn't just read the individual words (as did most of the kids in the class); he read the sentences and was able to read with appropriate emotion.

Now, I knew that he was well beyond the material they were working on in class, but I hadn't known, until he told me, that it was an issue for him. After we talked about it, though, I went to the teacher. I didn't go to her with a request for him to be promoted to 3rd grade, though, because that wouldn't have affected any change in his situation. He was already doing 3rd grade math and already in the most advanced reading group in the 2nd/3rd grade class. All I wanted was for him to be given some more challenging work.

Look, I get how difficult it can be to deal with one kid who is different in a class of 20-30 kids. One child with special needs. It can disrupt the entire class dynamic. The problem is that there is no provision for children on the upper end of the spectrum. If it's a child on the lower end of the spectrum, we have provisions for that... when they can be identified, not that that always happens, but the help is there for kids with disabilities or behavioral issues or whatever. I knew I was asking something difficult, asking that my kid be given special consideration.

I also believe that that is the job of the teacher.

I say that as someone who has spent time in the classroom, not someone with some vague idea of what ought to be happening.

But I wasn't prepared for the response I got...

I explained that the work was too easy for him and that he was bored in class and that he needed more challenging work and... well... she stared at me then told me I was wrong. Not only did she tell me that I was wrong, she explained to me as if I was dense or a little on the dumb side that my child was learning disabled. Somewhere in there she dropped the word stupid. She cited how slowly he worked and that he was almost always the last kid finished with his work. I'm sure by the time she was finished I was staring blankly because I was having trouble comprehending that she was telling me the utter shit she was spewing in all seriousness.

Completely ignoring that he was the best reader of the 40+ kids in the 2nd/3rd grade block, completely ignoring that he was already in 3rd grade math, completely ignoring that he never needed help or further instruction on any of his work, completely ignoring that his papers were always 100% correct; she stood there and told me that my kid, because he worked slowly (and she didn't like slow workers), was developmentally disabled.

And that's where the real problems began...


  1. Wow, that's mind blowing. My kids and I have been lucky in our schools/teachers. My oldest brother, on the other hand, was taught to hate school in kindergarten. He had a teacher who called him stupid in front of the class multiple times, who said he was retarded because he couldn't color in the lines. She was one year from retirement. The school wouldn't do a thing to her. She berated him openly. He had a series of bad teachers after her, and he never learned to love anything about school. It's sad. My parents spent a LOT of time fighting for him. That shouldn't have to be necessary.

    1. Shannon: I had a teacher who routinely called everyone in the class stupid. Well, everyone except me and one or two others. But that's a story all unto itself.

      I don't even know what to say about teachers like that. I can't imagine how they were ever let into a classroom to begin with.

  2. I won't say that I always loved school, but I didn't hate it either. I had wonderful teachers who seemed to genuinely care about their students and their jobs. A lot of kids today are under too much pressure in some cases and in others they have not enough incentive to learn thus providing little positive stress/pressure.

    As for the 12 colonies, maybe she was considering the Carolinas to be one colony. Why should there be a North and a South? Maybe it's some new politically correct outlook.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

    1. Lee: I guarantee you that there was no spin going on. She just didn't have her facts straight.

  3. I'm an idiot and even I know there's only 11 colonies.

    (That's just a joke, people. A joke.)

    I... I really can't believe that happened. That's awful. And insane. And so rage inducing. If someone had called my (theoretical) kid 'stupid' I think they'd have to have security escort me, or rather drag me, from the building.

    I can't believe the problems at this point are only BEGINNING. Eager (well, as much as one can be) to read the next part.

    1. ABftS: Well, I have left out the story where I got called to the office for ripping her a new one in the middle of the quad for an equally inane comment that she made to me.

  4. As I read this I have tears in my eyes and anger so much anger.
    I had a similiar problem with my son. Super smart worked beyond his class level. Had speech problems and other ones also. But we were lucky that the smaller school district we lived in had some great teachers.
    I was a volunteer in every class and was in the PTA for so many years. I really had no life. I made myself the go to Mum. I picked out the teachers I though would be understanding. He had a series of therapists at school. It was a tough haul but you do what you have too.
    Some teachers should not be teaching.

    cheers, parsnip and thehamish

    1. parsnip: That's part of the problem with the system: You don't actually need to be able to teach or be any good at it to get to be a teacher.

  5. Why did you even talk to the teacher, and not the school itself? If you a problem, you address those who can fix it. Clearly the teacher was bad, so why talk to them? Tell the people above them.

    As far as your son is concerned, the fact that he as incredibly slow does go against traditional logic for intelligent students, who tend to go fast because it's so easy for them. Your description of him almost sounds like autism, or something like it.

    It sounds like everyone involved was making this situation worse...

  6. It's also worth noting that when you used the term "charter school," that might have been one of the biggest indicators of what's really going on here. Was this a deliberate choice? Why not put him in another school?

    1. Tony: As I said in the previous post, I had already talked to the school administration and they needed the recommendation of the teacher, so that's where I went.

      Also, I didn't say that he worked "incredibly" slow, just slow. He was careful and deliberate, the kid who was completely coloring inside the lines by the time he was four because he took his time to do so. At his birthday party when he turned five, we had a dozen kids with cake smeared all over their face, every kid except my son, who was spotless. There was and is no autism or anything remotely like it involved. He was/is just incredibly (now I'll use that word) smart with incredible (again) attention to detail. It made him work more slowly than other kids who were just trying to go play.

      There was no problem with the charter school. It was a really good school on the whole with this one horrible teacher in it. Regular public schools are much, much worse for any kids who work outside the norm.

    2. The problem is, that's what everyone says now, and because we have things like charter schools as alternatives, we keep believing that public education is terrible. And yet, both my brothers, who never skipped a grade, graduated as valedictorian, and continued being high achievers as collegiate scholars. One of them is a math/robotics teacher in, yes, a public school. I'm well aware of the stigma of public schooling. My high school was roundly demonized by elitists. Nothing is ever good enough for elitists. Including charter schools.

      How can you possibly say that the charter school itself was ultimately not the problem when it seemed to deliberately trap you in a catch-22? You need approval from the bad teacher to do anything? Really? That's insane. The easy solution would have been, if faced with such a roadblock, to take your son elsewhere, as soon as humanly possible.

      I keep wondering how old your son is now, and why you're placing such a heavy emphasis on how the school system failed him, when he continued to produce stellar results. What is it you were seeking? Confirmation of his genius? Why is that so important? The results speak for themselves. There will always be bad teachers. The best way to deal with bad teachers, or bad apples, is to find a way to deemphasize them. And yet at every turn you seem to emphasize this person, to make them more and more impossible to get around. If your child was spending all his time being as careful as possible, clearly he was never going to have ill-effects from the teacher. But you just wouldn't let it go.

      There's a question of ego in this problem.

    3. Tony:
      1. Charter schools are generally part of the public education system and, therefore, have to meet the same standards as any regular/normal public school.
      2. The charter school was not the problem, itself, because that was the district standard, not the specific school's standard.
      3. BECAUSE he was in a charter school and things were more flexible, he was able to work above grade level, just not far enough above grade level to keep him interested.
      4. As I have said already, he had siblings in the school, and we didn't want them all going to separate schools. Besides, we couldn't predict the long term effects this one teacher would have on him. We did, indeed, think we could just tough it out through this teacher and everything would right itself eventually.
      5. I'm talking about the system, because I'm looking at the long term effects of what happened. It's a system issue.
      6. Also, I'm speaking as someone who has been in the system as a teacher. The system works to put people into boxes, large boxes at that, and, if you don't fit one of those boxes, they try to cram you in anyway.
      (7. One of my best friends in college graduated valedictorian of his high school and, yet, could not pass the English entrance exam for college and had to take remedial English course before he could get into college freshman English.)

    4. Fair enough.

      The only time I looked good in math was when I faced one of those when entering my freshmen year. I had no problem.

  7. Oh boy.

    It can be tough for an institution to deal with specific individuals; but schools aren't banks or government agencies, and so should have a bit more flexibility. Especially a charter school.

    Saying "learning disabled" often times helps shunt away responsibility from people who otherwise have to do something. We have a niece who (we were always told) had an (unspecified) learning disability that kept her from reading at her grade level. One time at a family gathering she was in the side room just reading "Twilight," which whatever its faults was above her grade level at the time. I asked her about it and she told me the entire story, demonstrating that she could read and comprehend the material just fine.

    The problem there wasn't that she couldn't read. It was that (like your son) she was uninterested in what the school was having her read. I say all the time that part of the fault for my not applying myself more in school is my own, but that wouldn't apply to a 1st or 2nd or 3rd grader. At that level especially the school has to try to find a way to get the kid interested in learning.

    1. Briane: That reminds me, some school counselor said of me when I was in 3rd grade or so that I was developmentally delayed... because I wasn't reading Hardy Boys or whatever it was other kids my age were reading at the time. What I was reading were science-y books about dinosaurs/paleontology, astronomy, and zoology. I don't mean books on those subjects meant for little kids, either. I don't know anything about that until years later or that my mom had believed her, which might explain how I ended up with a collection of Hardy Boys books.

      Interestingly enough, the school librarian knew the truth of the matter and that I was the most talented reader in the school. But, you know, I didn't fit into the mold that everyone else did, so I was "delayed."

      With my kid, he was interested in learning. He actively wanted material that was interesting and challenging, but they wouldn't give it to him. He ended up getting all of that at home. I'm now realizing that that probably was an early reinforcer of his idea that school was a waste of time.