Obviously school is a whole lot more than just academics and studious endeavours—it is also an ongoing major sociological experiment. Each school day offers a laboratory in which to study group interactions, as our kids navigate the ever-shifting playground dynamics. Successful students need not only to understand endless math concepts, science terms, and the conjugation of French verbs, but also bullies, first crushes, and the conjugation of unfamiliar slang.
Hopefully, as your little ones regal you with tales of their time in the school trenches, they will let you in on some of the hallway and playground interactions that make up their day. And, sometimes, not all the stories will be happy ones. So when do you intervene? What if your child tells you kids are using dirty language in the schoolyard or telling racist jokes? What if you learn another student is being excluded from group activities? What if kids are making fun of one of the teachers behind their back? As a parent, do you get involved? Do you tell the teacher?
Sure, we want our kids to learn to handle problems and to stand up for themselves. Yep, there are definitely occasions when we as parents need to step back and let kids make their own mistakes. Children need to spill a fair amount of juice before they master the art of filling their glass. But on the other hand, our kids also need us to be their voice when they can’t speak for themselves, and to protect them from some of the world’s difficulties.
So, to help you decide when to tattle to the teacher regarding your child’s playground problems, I’ll give you the same rules that I give my primary students:
I recently saw a Facebook post by a parent whose child had overheard an offensive, inappropriate term being bandied about by the “cool kids.” The parent wondered if she should tell the teacher. Not by rule one or two—no one was physically hurt and no one, at least no one the parent knew of, was in real or metaphorical tears—but, I’d say a resounding yes to #3. If it’s on your mind enough to reach out to your social media family, then yes, reach out to your child’s school, as well.
Of course, you can also share with the teacher any hesitations you had in getting involved. In my opinion, the teacher is a very small part of the team helping to raise your child, so unless it goes against the educator’s professional judgement, I think parents and teachers can make decisions as a team where your child is concerned. A common maxim in my classroom is “You (the parent) are the expert on your child.” Teachers want and appreciate your input on social, behavioural, and academic concerns facing your kids.
So I say, feel free to be a tattletale parent. The more experts on a concerning situation, the better!
As always, don’t forget to enjoy the journey!
What if your child isn't letting you in on the playground confidential or is lying about things? See Andrea Nair's "What To Do When A Child Lies" and "Looking to Connect With Your Teen? Do These Things Today!"
I recently finished reading The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius, by Kristine Barnett, which is a wonderful, inspiring read that I highly recommend.
However, one thing stood out for me while reading the book and has been rolling around in my brain ever since. Each time the author mentions the phrase “Special Education” it is said with disdain and disappointment. “Special Education” is shown as something to be avoided whenever possible and a label to be shunned. In the book, Spec. Ed. is almost set up as the villainous force that nearly kept her genius son from becoming the amazing kid he is today.
This makes me very uncomfortable, to say the least. I am a Special Education teacher, but I find myself constantly needing to justify that role, or to explain it. The term “Special Education” has often become synonymous with disappointment and with under achieving students. The view seems to be that a student in Special Education is more flawed or somehow less than a “typical” student. When I meet new people and they ask what I do, I always feel the need to explain about the students I work with, as I know saying “I’m a Special Education teacher” conjures up images of old — small classrooms filled with students with profound challenges and teachers instructing their charges on how to tie their shoes and make sandwiches.
In the book, that is the very example the author gave — namely that the Spec. Ed. class her son was to be put in set a goal for him to tie his own shoes by the time he reached his teenage years. May I just say: no, no, NO! A thousand times, NO! This is not the way Special Education is and this is not the way it is meant to be. We need to shatter the dismal connotations linked to this term. Spec. Ed. is there to support its students in going as far as they possibly can! These programs should never hold a child back, but rather provide the launching pad from which the child can soar.
First, let’s broaden the definition. Special Education is any education that falls outside the “norm.” That means our brightest students, those identified as Gifted fall within Special Education. Also, children with physical needs, ranging from visual impairment to mobility challenges fall under this umbrella term. If a teacher wears a small microphone so that a student with a hearing impairment can hear the lecture better, that is also Special Education. If a student needs a little extra help with one or two school skills, that qualifies as Spec. Ed.
Special Education can mean students leaving their classroom once a day, once a week or not at all. Spec. Ed. students can be serviced in a specialized program or they may never leave their regular classroom. In my experience, about 1 in 5 students will access Special Education in one form or another throughout their academic careers. Spec. Ed. students are our kids, our kids’ friends and the students that you pass in the school hallways everyday.
There are so many faces, styles and programs that fall under Special Education — we need to widen our view.
The biggest complaint against Special Education in the book is that the teachers’ expectations and the program goals in the classroom are set so ridiculously low that it is impossible for a student to reach their true potential. I have not found this to be true of the Spec. Ed. programs that I have been involved with — and I have been involved with many. The whole focus of the programs is to advance the students as far as possible. The goal is to provide the students with the tools they need to manage school.
Maybe things are a bit different in Ontario, where I teach, than they are in Indiana, the state that the book was set in. I’d like to believe that we are doing a better job educating our exceptional students here. However, I fear that the perception of Special Education here really isn’t all that different. I fear even to us open-hearted Canadians, Spec. Ed. is seen as something to be avoided whenever possible. And everyday, I strive to change that perception.
Once upon a time, there was a student who touched my life. I was a new teacher taking some additional training and a young man came to address the group about his experiences as a Special Education student. This boy had a profound Learning Disability and was unable to read — not one word. He said he could recognize his name, but that was pretty much the extent of it. The letters just moved around on the page and his brain could not make sense of written word. This eloquent and humorous teen told us stories about struggling with menus and bathroom signs, not to mention his seemingly insurmountable difficulties with school. But this kid did not let his inability to read hold him back. He learned how to use assistive technology to read all his textbooks to him. He used voice-activated software to write his papers. He had learned how to read without actually reading.
Like so many students with Learning Disabilities, other parts of his brain worked just as well, and often even better than the brain of the “typical learner.” Just because he couldn’t read did not mean he couldn’t think, or that he couldn’t learn or that he couldn’t follow his dreams. At the time he was addressing our group, he had recently graduated high school and had been accepted into the University of Toronto to study Political Science. This kid knew he may have to work ten times harder than everyone else to get through school, but he also knew that that was just the way it was. I remember him saying that a teacher wouldn’t tell a student who couldn’t walk or a student who couldn’t produce insulin that they would never be able to attend university, so why would we ever say that to a student who couldn’t read?
I think of this kid so often and I am reminded of him every time I see one of my students struggle with something particularly hard for them. And I am reminded; there are no limits with Special Education. It is about giving the students the keys to open the doors to their futures, not about adding more locks.
Special Education, like all education, should give our students wings to fly.
Whatever the path, be sure to enjoy the journey!
As a teacher, I’ve moved schools a number of times and have been lucky enough to experience teaching in some vastly different communities. In a recent shift, I went from working at an inner city school serving one of the poorest areas of Toronto, to a school nestled in a wealthy little pocket surrounded by massive houses worth millions of dollars. The average family incomes in these two settings are at utterly opposite ends of the spectrum, and each community comes with their own unique strengths and needs. And yet, somewhere at the core of it all, kids are kids and teaching is teaching. And, the students seem to have more commonalities than they do differences.
In any community, I strive to create opportunities for students to get involved and have experiences outside of their classrooms. To that end, I always volunteer my time and energy working on the “school production.” My heart swells with delight watching a group of seven-year-olds trip through a dance number or a gaggle of grade five kids belting out a catchy tune. In my experience, the joy that the school play brings to the audience is only surpassed by the pride felt by all those little actors when they take their final bows.
I was surprised during my most recent directorial encounter by just how much this particular community had to give. Many of our student performers had years of dance and music classes to draw on. There were parents donating skills and time for all aspects of the production—from arranging the perfect costumes to printing professional quality programs. At this school, an expert artist constructed and painted the sets. Well-trained dance teachers came in to choreograph lively numbers. We even had high school students from the School of the Arts coordinating specialized stage lights and sound cues (not to mention, letting us use their oh-so-professional stage). I was bowled over at every step of the process by just how much support our production had.
In my previous school, things were a little more catch-as-catch-can. Costumes were pieced together out of the students’ existing wardrobe, embellished with handmade decorations. Sets were created and painted by the kids, usually on giant rolls of butcher paper, then duck taped to the back of the gym walls. The sound system might have consisted of one shared, not-so-reliable microphone, and the lighting entailed turning off the fluorescent lights above the audience. A well-meaning teacher (me) choreographed the musical numbers, drawing on my less than professional training (unless you count the endless adolescent dances performed in my bedroom to an audience of stuffed animals). Programs consisted of a student-made cover, processed repeatedly on the trusty photocopier, and the dollar store reigned supreme in the props department.
The results? Really not all that different. Sure, in the one school the production was all glossy and high quality, and certainly more enjoyable for my family, whom I drag along to all these things. But, at the heart of the matter, the benefits were the same. The applause was just as thunderous, and the satisfaction, just as sweet. Both groups learned the value of teamwork and perseverance. Both groups shouldered the burden of hours of rehearsal and balancing their time with other responsibilities. All the kids put pieces of their soul into creating the finished production, and all their faces shone with pride when the final curtain closed (no matter what that curtain was made of).
And in each auditorium, the smiles on their parents’ faces were just as wide, and everyone went home with hands warm from clapping. Well, if you are a parent, you know. You’ve watched your kid perform something they’ve been practicing hard for. You’ve seen your little one, so busy waving at you from the choir that they forget to sing. You know the feeling that it puts in your heart and the lump that it puts in your throat—independent of a sleek program and professional makeup. Parents don’t need fancy stage lighting, because for them, the spotlight naturally falls on their child and the performance is Oscar-winning no matter what.
While the bells and whistles may be a nice touch, I also think there is something wonderfully heart-warming about a student-painted set and costumes made from construction paper. In any community, the school play brings a lot of hard work, extra hours, and nervous tension for all involved, but I got to tell you—every year it also brings some of my very favourite teaching moments. So, no matter the setting, I say, the show must always go on!
Auditions are coming soon—enjoy the journey!
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