21 March 2008

The power to change

I threw the newsletter down in disgust when I read, reviewing last week's class newsletter from my daughter's teacher, "we will have a relaxing time sharing books," at the end of a paragraph in which she invited all the kids to bring a favorite book and small blanket from home.

The thing was, I had asked my daughter about that day and she said, "We all read our books to ourselves."

Huh. So much for the sharing.

What can I do? Whip out my laptop and blog, for one. Vent some steam.

This is just an example of what this year has been like. At every turn, my kid's teacher, her primary role model besides me and her dad, just seems like someone who wants to retire already. She's often snappish and fed up with the kids, especially the ones like mine who aren't easy and confident already. We all know those ones will be fine. The beautiful, articulate, confident ones already know how to charm, how to love and be loved. But then there are the other ones, the dreamers and the ESL kids and the differently-abled learners, whom Ol' Teach seems to think are just a pain and if they'd just behave better all these other problems would just go away. I had that mistaken belief until I realized my kid couldn't "see" in any sense what I was trying to explain or describe or write. She's just starting to now, but she certainly couldn't then. And for a brief time, I kept approaching it as some kind of behavioral issue, because she just wouldn't even try, and I backed off of helping with homework because we always ended up mad at each other.

Now she's starting to be able to perceive and read and write and compute, and I can see just how difficult it was for her to do any of that before all these interventions and just naturally growing into being able to learn to read. Part of me wants to just change my kid's chronological age for school records, but that would be too weird. It has just felt like my daughter's chronological age is not her developmental age. And the educational system tries, but hasn't until recently been allowed do her many favors. She was tested at school to see if she qualified for special education services and when the team of specialists gathered to announce the results to us, some of them were just about throwing off sparks in their excitement because she is so strong in certain areas (verbally, and with a near-freakish ability to remember and repeat back a string of letters or numbers), and so impaired in others (visually, motor skills of all stripes). To them, her problems are identifiable and therefore solvable, which helps us see the possibilities as well. We have been encouraged to enrich our daughter's sensory inputs, her "sensory diet," as the occupational therapists like to say. We're good about it in some ways yet lazy in others, farming it out to others to some degree but also taking on more at home. Her strengths are getting more and more evident every day, too.

But at school, nothing has changed in her classroom. And it would take more than both of my hands to count the times I have come into the classroom and found a certain bright, curious, and Latino kid at a desk by himself. I volunteer in the classroom every week and see how it is, especially under the militaristic glare of my kid's teacher. There is no accounting for cultural differences and learning-style differences on some fundamental level in our school, if people like my kid's teacher get to keep on treating the ones who don't get it as miscreants. We need cultural cross-training. Often I think it's not fair the way some of these kids are expected to behave at school, when home life is nothing like this weirdly careful, quiet atmosphere.

The worst thing is I see how I exert some of this kind of pressure on my own kid, too. I'm middle-aged. It's a fact of life, and my kid is only a few years old. I'm one of those women who didn't have babies early, and now I have a much lower threshold than I did even before my kid for high noise levels (especially if it's noisy). And I'm a middle-to-upper-middle class white lady, right? I was raised with certain expectations about how a parent relates to their child and how kids are supposed to "behave." I find those same sets of expectations spilling out of my own head and mouth at my daughter, even though she's rarely done anything to deserve all those antiquated ideas.

So we all -- I include myself -- need some cultural sensitivity training. I live with a kid who is much louder than I am, and I suspect she came from people louder than ourselves. (Certainly she got used to more noise and tumult in the orphanage than she experiences here.) I came from quiet parents -- when one in particular wasn't drunk and picking fights, anyway. I think about the families who walk over to our school from the trailer park, where they share their 400 square feet with the rest of their family, however large or small, and I think you'd probably have a lot more noise if you lived so close to everyone, cheek-by-jowl as we old WASPs like to say. Then you'd go to school and everyone would be telling you to be quiet all the time, even though you were just starting to understand it all and were so curious you had a million questions. Wouldn't you just be in shock? Wouldn't school feel like a long, excruciating game of "freeze" most of the time?

1 comment:

Kathleen said...

Here's the picture I still have in my head of my sixth-grade home-room teacher (whom we had for all but three periods of the day): she's sitting at her desk, filing her nails and admiring her engagement ring. I'm not sure she ever actually filed her nails at school. But we certainly all had the sense that she was just biding time until she got married.

I'm moved by the sense of hostility you're picking up on toward your daugher and other "different" kids in her class. I have a feeling it's not so uncommon. Just sending my best.