Problems At School
This school year started off like all of the rest. My son entered 4th grade, I forewarned his teacher by providing a letter that outlined his diagnoses and what types of things she should expect along with my expectations of her. It was very friendly but to the point. The idea was to let he know that I’m on her team and need communication in order to keep my son on the right track. I did not get a response from the letter. Communication is the key when working with an ADHD child’s teacher. Two-way communication between parents and teacher is extremely important.
A month or two into the school year, I get an email from his teacher. We need to talk. We set up a telephone conference where she explained to me that my son wasn’t staying on task in the classroom and he was having a lot of trouble focusing. She uses a hole punch to punch holes in a piece of paper called a Behavior Chart for her students when they are doing something wrong. If they get more than 4 punches, they get no recess for the week. During this call, she informed me that she reached an agreement with my son that he would start punching holes in his chart for being off task and losing focus. She said this would serve as a physical reminder to him to stay on task. (ADHD doesn’t work that way) I told her we would give it a shot but that I didn’t think it was going to be effective.
I start noticing that the Behavior Charts aren’t coming home to be signed. If they aren’t returned on Fridays without a parent’s signature, no recess. If the child has more than four punches, no recess. One day, my son came home super excited because he only got one punch the entire week. I praised him and told him fantastic job and told him to get his chart so I could sign it. He tore his backpack apart and didn’t have it. He left it at school. I wanted to cry. He didn’t, I did.
With ADHD kids, we try to celebrate every success. We’re so used to the kids having a hard time conforming that they miss out on a lot. It’s not fair. He earned recess that week, but he couldn’t go because he forgot the stupid paper. LOL, I’m still frustrated with it. Anyway, I apologized to him and he kind of shrugged and said, “Oh well. I don’t care.” I hit the brakes, hold up, what do you mean you don’t care? You don’t like recess anymore? He explained he’s only gotten to go to recess 3 times this year (out of 18), so he’s found other ways to have fun during that time. Oh. Well…that’s not good…for many reasons.
So I sent a letter to the school formally requesting an Evaluation for Exceptional Education outlining how my son’s Section 504 Plan was not being followed as he was being punished for ADHD symptoms and excluded from class activities. A meeting was immediately scheduled for two days later. I met with the school principal, staffing specialist, school psychologist, and teacher. The teacher expressed concerns that he was severely struggling in math, not turning in assignments, homework, or tests. His math grade went from an A to an F in 9 weeks, but primarily because he didn’t turn in two tests. And she was concerned about self-abusive, aggressive behavior that he was displaying in class. She said, in math, he just doesn’t care to learn anymore.
I signed the consent form to begin the 60-day evaluation process. We talked about positive reinforcement and the teacher assured us he was getting it. The principal offered to set up a meeting with her, my son, and his teacher. She suggested they give him a pep talk, set some expectations, and help him understand what he needs to do to meet those. My son’s perspective was that the teacher was always mad at him because she kept yelling. He’s sensory defensive to sound though so we have to take that into consideration. I explained in the meeting that when he’s getting bad sensory input, he’s going to shut down. If he thinks she’s yelling at him, he’s not going to respond or perform. That’s exactly what was happening. I provided them a report from his neuropsychologist confirming the same.
The following day, I advised my son to begin communicating with the teacher. I told him she wants to help him succeed and that she doesn’t hate him. She just doesn’t understand what’s going on with him and he needs to be able to communicate that to her. She needs to know that he cares. So I advised him to go to the teacher and specifically ask her what he could do today to earn a stamp toward their “Star bucks” party. He came home and reported that she told him, “Nothing, we’re going to talk about that tomorrow.” Every day after that, I asked if there was a meeting and there wasn’t.
A week later, there was still no meeting, I told him to go to her again and ask her what he could do good. He said, “No mom, it’s too late. The party is tomorrow and I don’t get to go. But it’s okay, I’m not upset, I don’t deserve to go.” Well…I have a problem with hearing my son say he doesn’t deserve to participate with the good kids. My son is one of the best behaved kids around. He’s far from perfect. But he’s very well behaved. I asked him why he thinks he doesn’t deserve it. He burst into tears and said, “Because I only got one good stamp this year. I don’t know why, I just can’t do anything right this year no matter how hard I try.”
I sent a long, concerned letter to the school about the meeting not happening yet and my son’s confidence level being at rock bottom based on what’s going on at school. I ended with, “Where do I go next to get my son some help and encouragement in the classroom?” I received a response the same day and the meeting with the teacher and principal were the following day. I received an email from the teacher and from the principal that day of the meeting. The teacher’s email was very long and expressed concern that my son had completely declined during the week since the original meeting. She addressed each of the concerns I had brought up in my email. And her side of the story was very different from that of my son.
She stated she had told him specific tasks he could do to earn stamps and he didn’t do a single one. She had given him all of his behavior charts for the year to bring to me, upon my request, and he hadn’t given them yet. She had given him a permission form for the hearing test for the evaluation I requested…but he never provided it to me. He completely stopped turning work in and she hadn’t seen any homework. Something wasn’t adding up. I realized at that point that things aren’t quite as bad as my son is reporting. However, they wouldn’t have gotten to this point had the teacher been communicating with me to begin with. This isn’t a foreign concept.
This is the biggest tip I know of to help your child succeed at school, open and regular communication with their teacher(s). It bothers me a great deal that my son’s teacher was concerned about self-abusive behavior that she considered to be highly aggressive, but she didn’t feel the need to communicate that to me. She had every number that reaches me plus my email address. It turned out that the behavior is a tic and it’s not self-abusive, it’s something he can’t help. But it should have been communicated.
When my son returned home from school that day, it was time to have a talk and get to the bottom of things. I was very strategic with how I approached this talk. They say to get the right answers, you have to ask the right questions. I hadn’t been doing that. I was taking most everything at face value from my son. That was a mistake on my part which led to an apology to his teacher. I apologized for my level of frustration and asked for more communication.
I asked my son for his Behavior Charts. He gave them to me. As I looked through them, I asked him how many stamps he’d gotten toward the party he wasn’t allowed to go to. He told me again, one. I looked at him and asked, “Are you sure you’ve only received one the entire year?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Then how come I’m counting 16 on your behavior charts?” He said, “Well I only remembered one.” I see. Sixteen in 18 weeks is a lot easier to digest than one. My son just confirmed for me that things weren’t as bad as they seemed. It wasn’t the teacher just being mean, like it seemed.
So as I explained to my son, here’s what we’re going to do, as soon as school starts again after the holiday break…things will be much different. I will be printing math pages off of the internet for him to practice each night with his homework. This will help him practice his math skills. For every day that he forgets to bring his homework home, he will get two extra sheets of practice. I don’t figure it will take too long for him to start remembering. I will be emailing his teacher each and every week asking for a status report on his class assignments and tests. For each assignment not turned in, he will have two extra assignments at home. He has until the end of January to get back on the right track, or he loses outside play time on week nights.
His behavior chart will be put in a sheet protector in his binder each week where it will stay until it’s time to turn it in. This will help him to not lose it and will ensure that I see it each week. He has asked that I print off a reminder to add to the front of his binder reminding him to put his homework in it each day. We did this when he started chorus because he kept forgetting to go. After two weeks of doing it, he started remembering on his own. So I’ll gladly accommodate his request and I praised him for helping think of ways to solve the problem. He is now excited about school again and understands how the little details can have a big impact. (We had a long, serious talk.)
I will be writing a behavior contract that he will sign, I will sign, and his teacher will sign. It will outline the expectations we have for him and the consequences of not meeting them. It will explain how to meet those expectations and how to earn privileges back once he’s lost them. I will put a checklist on front so he can keep track of the expectations and put a copy in his binder so he can check it each day. We’ll see if this gets him back on the right track at school and helps the communication between his teacher and I.
I will write up another post at the end of January to give an update on how this is going. Happy parenting!
If you have any questions or would like to share your personal experience, please be sure to leave a comment below by clicking on the response link next to my name. I welcome all feedback and will respond to each comment.