Trouble at School

We have a Berenstain Bears book called Trouble at School.  In it Brother Bear gets the sniffles and has to stay home from school for the day.  Sister brings home a whole folder of homework which he ignores.  He goes back to school the next day, fails a math test and gets benched on the soccer team.  He’s so upset by this that he skips school on the third day and runs away from home.  Long story short, once he talks over his problems with Mama Bear and Papa Bear he suddenly can do the math that previously eluded him and is reinstated on the soccer team.

I’ve always felt that the book’s portrayal of a “problem” is a bit weak.  First of all, if I kept my kids home from school every time they had the sniffles, they’d probably never go to school.  It seems like at least a couple days a week one kid or another has a runny nose.  Sometimes it turns into a cold, sometimes it doesn’t.  Second, what teacher introduces a brand new concept in math (in Brother Bear’s case it was division) and then gives the kids a test on it the very next day.  From going through school myself and now having helped Brendan for a few years I know that teachers review a subject for days, if not weeks before testing a child on their knowledge.

But I am getting away from my original point here.  The point is both of my boys are having trouble at school right now, and working through the problems is much less clear cut and simple than Brother Bear’s problems.  Brendan’s problems really come as no surprise.  It seems that he struggles with the same things school year after school year.  But the upside to his problems are that we caught them early on this year AND he recognized that he was having a problem and told both his teacher and us so that we could all help him.

That right there is a huge leap forward.  Generally it’s taken some detective work and probing questions to get him to admit he’s in trouble.  Then the teacher and I have to piece together what each of us knows in order to get the full story.  Brendan’s problem is that he is physically unable to write as fast as his classmates.  So while he is just as smart as the rest of them he can not keep pace on the daily work that gets assigned.  His teachers have always been wonderful about that, allowing him to turn it in as he gets it finished.

Unfortunately after a while the daily work starts to pile up.  Once that happens, Brendan starts to feel overwhelmed by the pile of work.  Feeling overwhelmed basically makes him not know where to begin to get the work caught up which causes him to fall further behind.  It’s a horrible snowball effect that left unchecked can get completely out of control.

Last year this started happening while his teacher was on maternity leave.  By the time she got back he was so buried in work that I called a meeting with her on her second day back.  She went through a lot of the work and just weeded out what really didn’t need to be done to make the pile a bit more manageable and came up with the solution to keep all his unfinished assignments on her desk and dole them out to him one at a time.  This simple change worked wonders on him.  Even though he was still behind, he didn’t have to stare at the huge pile of work and worry about how much bigger it was getting.  If the pile of work got to be too big, his teacher would send some of it home and we would work through it at home as well.

The difference this year was two fold.  First, Brendan brought home a big pile of work last week and together he and I worked out a plan to have it finished by Sunday.  This meant that between Thursday and Sunday he had to do two extra assignments per night which he found much more manageable than trying to cram 8 assignments into a single night.  Meanwhile I was emailing back and forth with his teacher about his finger and she mentioned that Brendan told her that he was feeling overwhelmed.

The fact that he felt comfortable with his new teacher enough to tell her how he was feeling was incredible.  The only teacher he’s ever felt that comfortable with was his one from last year.  Better still, his teacher, in the course of the emails, asked if we had any advice to help him overcome this feeling and asked what teachers in the past had done for him.  Hallelujah!  Finally a second teacher who understands that we want to help them in every way we can and who isn’t afraid to seek advice on how best to handle Brendan.

I really think I am going to get along well with his teacher this year. She’ll never rate as high as his third grade teacher, but that bar has been set pretty high.  I do think, however, that she will take a close second.  I love it when I find teachers who are willing to work with me and alter their standard teaching techniques to help Brendan through tough times.

Then there’s Cameron.  We worried at the beginning of the year about Cameron adjusting to Kindergarten.  He had some behavior problems in pre-school that we knew wouldn’t fly in elementary school and figured that poor Cameron would spend most of his time down in the principal’s office.  He surprised us by getting an award for good behavior during the first week of school.  After that since we weren’t hearing about any problems we figured he must be better behaved in Kindergarten that we were giving him credit for.

About a month into school we got a progress report home saying that they had been monitoring and evaluating the kids on 8 different life skills such as listening, respecting others, completing work timely and efficiently, things like that.  I can’t remember now exactly what the 8 skills were, but what I do remember is that Cameron was getting a failing mark in every single one of them.

I was pretty angry about that at first.  Why in the world had it taken so long for us to be notified about this? And what in the world was Cameron doing at school to receive such low marks.  Well we’ve talked to him and his teacher and found that Cameron is suffering from the same issues we’ve always had with him.  He can not keep his hands to himself and he can not keep his mouth shut.  Once I knew we were dealing with the same old situation I calmed down a bit.  At least my child isn’t out there bullying others.  This I can handle.

We have been working harder with Cameron at home to help him understand that he must keep his hands to himself at all times.  In addition, there are certain times during the day that I will declare that we will treat whatever activity we are doing like it’s work time at school so he can practice sitting through an activity without talking.  He is improving on the second task but not so much on the first.

My biggest frustration at this point was that we had to sign the progress report and leave any comments we had.  I put onto it that we were very concerned with his report and wanted to help in any way we could.  I also requested updates on his progress, which we haven’t gotten.  It’s been about a month since we got the report and we’ve had no updates.  The only thing I can think of is that parent/teacher conferences are next week and she’s saving it all for there.  I guess we will see.

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