Sometimes it is hard to hold your tongue when you feel your child is being mistreated or underappreciated in school. This becomes especially true for families who have children with learning difficulties. When your child has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 plan it becomes even more difficult to speak your mind because you know your child may have that same teacher multiple years in a row.
Parents, who have a child with disabilities, begin biting their tongues almost from the git -go of kindergarten. Most generally a child is often in the 2nd to 3rd grade before public schools will consider doing an evaluation for special education and related services. During this time the child has had the opportunity to feel failure on a daily basis, to feel different than the other kids and, in some cases, to be the brunt of child cruelty. Not a great set of experiences for a young child to be dealing with while trying to learn.
New research, beginning to be published in the fields of neuroscience and cognitive science, is showing that negative emotions such as fear, sadness, anger etc. effectively shut down a student’s capacity to learn. This is a phenomenon known as “downshifting” which refers to what the brain does when it feels threatened and brain activity shifts to a protect status and not a learning status. So, it is important that the feelings described in the last paragraph are minimized as soon as a teacher or parent sees them starting to surface. The less threatened a child feels in school the more they will learn.
So, if you are feeling your child is not being served well by her school system or teacher, here are 4 ways to let the school know your feelings and not cause more problems for your child.
1. Never Say
“I don’t think you like Annie.” This is going to put the teacher on the defensive and you won’t get an honest answer anyway.
“I am wondering how you feel about having Annie as a student in your classroom.” This question does not tell the teacher how she feels but opens the door for her to talk about Annie in a less defensive manner. You will be able to pick up clues about her feelings for Annie based on how she describes her being in the classroom.
2. Never Say
“You are being unfair to Annie.” You are pointing the finger and being accusatory. The teacher will more than likely become defensive (an instinctual human reaction to danger) and this will setup a challenging, defensive and most generally unsuccessful conversation.
“Would you help me understand how you determine grades? I have been wondering what Annie is doing different than the other students.” Asking the teacher to help you understand her evaluation process is doing two things” 1) it helps you to really know and not just assume how she determines grades and 2) it lets the teacher know you are concerned about the grades Annie is making.
3. Never Say
“I am going to report you to the Principal. As soon as you say you are calling in the “BOSS”, you have drawn a line in the sand that will be difficult to erase. Threatening is never an effective way to deal with issues. Educators and administrators have a code of loyalty, much like siblings have, that is hard to break. It is instinctual to protect your territory and those who are a part of that territory.
“It seems you and I disagree on this issue, is there some way we can compromise? If no compromise is possible then ask the teacher, “Tell me then, what do you recommend is our next step to reaching a solution for my concerns?”
4. Never Say
“You don’t know what you are doing.” This doesn’t tell the teacher why you are concerned or what is concerning to you. Thus, there is no way a solution can be reached. Saying something like this to your child’s teacher will almost certainly kill any chances that your child’s life in the classroom will change and in fact, it could get worse.
“I was wondering if you could help me understand what you see as my child’s strengths and challenges to learning and how we can help her at home.” This statement implies a partnership and that you value what your child’s teacher understands about your child.
You will be able to tell if the teacher knows your child when she talks to you about your child’s strengths. Most of the time schools focus on weaknesses and have a hard time seeing strengths in children who have learning difficulties. Once you get the teacher to identify strengths, you are going down a road that will let you ask for her to help you learn how to work through your child’s strengths to help with the challenges.
Learning how to be non-defensive and non-accusatory when communicating with your child’s teacher and school system is not something that will feel natural to you. If you feel your child is not being treated fairly, your natural impulse and reaction will be to defend and blame. Both of these natural responses will not help solve problems that require respect and collaboration; which school performance issues require.
If you need to talk with your child’s school or teacher and are feeling defensive and angry, sit down and plan what you are going to say and how you are going to be respectful. Be sure that you do not point “the finger” but rather talk about what is going on with your child not what you think the teacher is or is not doing. You will get a lot closer to your goals of your child learning if you focus on learning and not the teacher.