Sunday, February 5, 2017

Confessions of a Mom with a Disorganized Kid

       This post is from the perspective of a mom, and what I've learned from that as a teacher.  My son is in 7th grade this year, and as a 7th grade teacher it's been interesting for me to see things from the other side.  It has really made me stop and think about some of the assumptions I have made about some students and parents over the years.

      First, let me tell you a little about my son.  He is loving and devoted to family.  He still hugs me goodbye every morning and waves to me as I pull out of the driveway.  He loves to play video games and board games, and he loves watching superhero TV shows together as a family.  And he has he gets distracted in the middle of getting dressed.  He also has slow processing speed.  I've always known this about him.  If I ask him a question that I know he knows the answer to, like "Do you want macaroni and cheese?", he still stops to think about it for like 10-15 seconds.  I'm just starting to realize that this slow processing is a real thing, and not just for my kid.  Oh, and he has anxiety too.  Like we're talking him throwing up every morning before he went to school for the first month or so of school.

     So with all of this information, I was terrified about sending him to middle school.  I was terrified that he would be late to every class.  I was terrified that every assignment would be late.  I was terrified that his locker and binder would be a war zone.  I was terrified that his teachers would think he was being defiant when they asked him a question and he seemed like he wouldn't answer.  I was terrified.

      Some of this has turned out ok, and some of it....not so much.  Let's start with the good news.  Luckily, he has not been tardy.  I'm pretty sure this is because he has an amazing and flexible group of teachers that have absolutely taken him under their wings and done what they could to help him be successful.  So, no tardies for the win!  Shockingly, his binder and locker don't seem to be huge disaster areas.  He loses a few papers, but certainly not all of them.  So that is good news too.  As mentioned, he has awesome teachers who have gotten to know him.  They appreciate how difficult it is for him to answer in class, and build his confidence when he answers.  Honestly, his teachers have been nothing but supportive and wonderful this year.

       But let's be honest....this year has been an adventure.  And not always a good one.  There's been lots of issues that have caused this year to be hard and I don't really know when I see some of them getting better.  It's given me a lot of time to reflect on my practices as a teacher.  These are my take-aways as a teacher.


1.)  The more communication from the teacher the better.  
I will admit that as a teacher I don't always love communicating with parents.  It's a hassle sometimes.  You often worry that your attempt at alerting a parent to a problem will somehow turn into a storm that you didn't mean to cause.  But those daily e-mails from the teachers are a life-saver for me.  I can predict how the homework conversation will go every day....I ask my son if he has homework.  He tells me no.  I tell him what the email said, and he tells me the teacher didn't mention that was homework OR that he doesn't know what that is.  I go through his binder and find something resembling what was in the email, and we try to get it done.  EVERY. DAY.  Thank goodness I have the email, or my son would NEVER get anything done.
So as a teacher, I've tried to do better, even if just to send a quick email about that kid I'm worried about.  Yes, I still worry that it will cause a storm, but I'm hoping if I tell why I'm concerned, with no trouble attached, the parent will take it the way I mean it.

2.)  Parents that email all the time are not trying to bug me, and they probably did try to get an answer or action from their child.
I can hear all of the things I've said over the years. "It's right there on the calendar." "Why can't you just ask your kid?  Why do you have to ask me?"  "OMG, 's mom just emailed for the fourth time this week!".    
And right now as a parent, I wish I could take all of those things back.  I pause before I send every single email.  I worry that the teachers think I'm an idiot, or that I should talk to my kid, or that my kid should be handling some of these things.....all things I have thought as a teacher.  But as a mom, I'll just tell you....I do talk to my kid.   And he doesn't have useful answers, so I try to figure it out by piecing together what's in his binder compared to the email.  But every now and then, I need to hear from the teacher.

3.)  As a teacher, I have no idea what has happened at home when that assignment doesn't get returned.
I think this has been the hardest lesson for me.  My son has struggled with late work, and I think he will continue to struggle because homework is slow for him.  Painfully slow.  So teacher, I know that you gave time to work in class, and I know that the assignment is a reasonable length.  But an assignment that takes most kids 10 minutes takes my son an hour. I would say we spend two hours a night on homework, almost every night.  Plus a couple of hours each day on the weekend.  In two hours, we're lucky to get two things done.  Once or twice a week, I get my son up half an hour early (5:00!) so that we can get a little extra homework done.  And sometimes that is still not enough time to get his assignments done.  Do his teachers know this?  Probably not, although they have been great about letting me shorten some of his assignments for him.
As a teacher, I'm trying to do better to not just assume that kids didn't get their homework done because they didn't try.  Maybe that's true sometimes (maybe even most of the time).  But sometimes, that kid might have tried their best and simply not been able to get it finished.  And it doesn't cost me anything to give kids the benefit of the doubt.  Plus, even when we do get something finished, it often takes two or three days before my son remembers to turn it in.  Every morning, I clip the completed assignments to the outside of my son's binder so he won't forget to turn it in.  And each afternoon, with a little bit of dread, I ask if he turned in the completed assignments.  It's pretty hit and miss....about half the time he remembers.  If not, I cross my fingers for the next day.

4.)  Just because a kid has missing work doesn't mean the parents aren't checking their grades.
At any given moment, I know almost of my son's grades.  And I know what assignments he is missing.  And he still has missing work.  I look at his grades every single day.  But when new homework gets assigned every day, and we try to get that done, we have little time left for missing work.  It doesn't mean I don't care.  We're doing the best we can.  We're working hard.  This is our best.

5.)  If teachers can coordinate days that they assign homework, it really is helpful.
I've already mentioned that I love the daily email from the teachers.  But I will also tell you that I approach it with a certain amount of dread.  When I open that email and see homework in four classes, my stomach ties in a knot.  Because I know that we will never be able to finish that much homework in one night, and I know that my kid was not able to finish any of the assignments labeled as "homework if not finished in class".  So then I start to try to figure out which assignments will get done, and which ones will have to wait for another day. It isn't that we want to get further behind, but after two hours my son starts to melt down, and I can't really blame him.
I know that as a teacher, there are times that a certain assignment has to come on a certain day.  But if there are ways to give families more time and flexibility, maybe I could help out.

So there it is.  That's our school year.  It's been a rough year, but maybe I'll be a little more understanding moving forward.