Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Year Of the Nut-job Parents?

I hate to say this, but the kids I have this year apparently don't have the stand-out personalities as the ones I had last year. Here we are, nearly 6 weeks into the school year, and I don't really have that many kids who've earned a nickname and their antics have worked their way into this blog. In fact, my kids from last year are still so - ahem - entertaining (Goober Boy and Goth Girl and the Full Monty come to mind) that they're still recurring characters.


That being said, I think the crazies this year aren't the kids. They're the parents. We must have the most bizarre, disfunctional, clearly wacky parents on earth. What's amazing is how normal their kids are...most of the time.

The first wacky parent that comes to mind is the one that is stepping on my very last nerve - and I'm not alone in that assessment. Her daughter, Faraway Girl (because most of the time she looks like she's far, far away), is a quiet, meek, sweet girl with incredible processing problems. She can't seem to get information from her brain, to her hand, and onto a piece of paper. There are days she even has trouble getting her name written on a piece of paper. She's medicated for ADD, but even so it looks like she's zoned out and visiting her own private Idaho most of the time. We had an IEP meeting the second week of school and we have accomodations like you wouldn't believe for this child. She is in the inclusion math, reading and language arts classes and the inclusion teacher, apparently, spends 99% of her time doing everything for this child - taking her notes, opening her book, and so on, while Faraway Girl just twirls her hair and sits there. However, she completes all her homework and studies for tests and usually passes. She's never a behavior problem, outside of the fact that the kids at her table in science tend to do everything for her (since the inclusion teacher doesn't come to science) and I've had to put a stop to that as they were spending so much time doing things for Faraway Girl that they ended up getting behind on their own work. Faraway Girl is capable of doing some things on her own, given the opportunity to do so.

Mrs. Faraway has discovered email and uses it liberally. One day I got four emails from her, including one that demanded to know why I didn't respond to her previous three. I finally grabbed a second and sent her a response telling her that I have students all day until 6th period, and I use the computer for instruction, and she would just have to be patient and wait until I had a time to giver her email my full attention. I had 129 other kids who needed me more, quite honestly. The whole problem, that day, was that she cannot apparently understand that we skip around in our science book (not my choice, I don't put together the scope and sequence) and thought that "Read Chapter 1, section 4, and chapter 18, section 1" meant to read chapters 1-18. She also didn't understand why I didn't assign all the vocabulary words in chapter 18, even after an email explaining that some of the words were duplicates and I didn't see the point in assigning the same word twice. She insisted that I call her and I ended up spending 45 minutes on the phone with her working through the weekly assignments page by page by page and then walking her through how to get to the school's website.

And then I got the note from her about how she didn't understand our study guides. I say "our" because the three of us that teach 7th grade science collaborate and do everything together - we've done this for three years and it works (our scores prove it). However, Mrs. Faraway didn't understand a study guide that wasn't exactly like the test. Ours is in the form of statements because, quite frankly, we're more interested in the fact that the kids know the material rather than parrot back packaged information. I explained to Mrs. Faraway that she could, if she wish, turn the statements into questions if that would help Faraway Girl study.

And then there were the emails where she wanted copies of the tests her daughter took, preferably the exact test she wrote on, because she received a 67 and a 72 and she never ever scored that low because she knew the information cold when she left the house and there must be something wrong with the tests, obviously. In fact, she could go to her files and pull out all the tests her daughter took last year and show me how well she did on them. I explained to her that students do not write on my tests (they are class sets and they respond on an answer sheet), so I couldn't send her the exact copy. I also explained that I was very uncomfortable letting these tests out of my room because of confidentiality, and that if they were sent home, they must be returned as soon as possible. (I agreed to send them, because, quite frankly, I didn't want to be trapped in my room with this woman while she went on and on and on.) I also explained that her daughter had her tests read to her, she had extended time, and they were modified.

To make matters worse...I am not alone. Mrs. Faraway is doing this to all the teachers on the team, as well as the inclusion teacher. She apparently drove the sixth grade teachers insane last year and she's well on her way to driving us all crazy this year. I've already talked with The Principal and told her that if this mother wanted me to change our study guides and change the tests to suit her, I wasn't going to do it - what we do is working for 99% of our kids (look at our scores), and if it isn't broke, don't fix it. Fortunately, The Principal (who knows this parent all too well) agreed. She made the statement that she believes Faraway Girl gets off the bus, Mom attaches her to her breast, and she stays there until she tucks her into bed at night.

I admire the fact that this parent works so hard with her daughter. I admire the fact that her kid comes first with her. But I do not agree with her insistence that we should put her daughter first over our other 129 kids. I also don't agree that we should be holding this kid's hand and doing everything for her.

And I say this from personal experience. I have an uncle with a severe learning disability, and there has always been a schism in the family about how much help Uncle needs to function in life (it's basically the older sister against everyone else). I, like my father, believe that Uncle can live independently, can hold a job, can shop, cook, and take care of himself just fine, if he's given the opportunity to do so. Auntie wanted him to be institutionalized when Grandpa died, and we all put our collective feet down and stopped that cold. And I'm glad we did. Uncle has his own nice apartment, he's involved in his church, he volunteers at the fire department, he has a job, and he has a lot of friends. If he was locked in an institution somewhere, his quality of life wouldn't be what it is today.

We need to give our kids, no matter what their learning level, the opportunity to have some independence.

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