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My middle daughter is sick again. This has been happening a lot this school year. She’s had an illness or maybe a series of illnesses that the doctors have had a hard time diagnosing. It’s been going on for two months now, and she has had four different rounds of medication. On top of everything else, on one of the days she was well she managed to dislocate her kneecap in gym. All around, it’s been a horrible start of the school year for her.

Now, suddenly, the school is talking about educational neglect because of her many absences. I know she’s missed a lot of school, and although I have turned in several doctor’s notes, there have been some days when all my interactions with the doctor happened over the phone. These consultations, while helpful, did not count as visits and are not documented for the school. Also, my daughter has a history. She suffers from generalized anxiety. This leads her to want to spend as little time at school as possible. Of course it’s not the school’s fault—or rather it’s not this particular school’s fault. We brought her to this school after a traumatic sixth grade experience at another middle school in the district. This school worked hard to help turn things around. The staff provided so much more support than the other school did. They understood when she got sick or cried in class. By the end of last year, things had improved. This year was supposed to be so much better. Then she got sick—really sick, not anxious sick—and now I am facing the possibility of being reported for educational neglect.

I must confess I resent this. I resent the added pressure as I work with the doctor to figure out what is going on with my daughter. I resent the feeling that I have to send my children to school even though they aren’t feeling well and would probably be much happier at home. I resent having to come up with a doctor’s note every time someone has stomach flu or the creeping crud because my word as a parent just isn’t good enough. When did we start reporting to the schools instead of the other way around? I resent the drugs two of my children have to take just so they can function in school. I resent having to decide between sending my daughter to a high school that quite honestly scares me at times and giving up a four-year full tuition scholarship, along with the nagging feeling that whichever road I choose I will regret it. Oh, how I resent that last one.

I am beginning to understand why so many parents with special needs choose to home school their children. According to a report by the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE), 40 percent of home-schooling parents reported that their child experienced some sort of learning or behavior difficulty while in school. I am cognizant that the schools can offer much to my bright, curious children that I can’t—art, theater, sports, valuable social interactions, and a pretty good education. Our school district even offers a four year scholarship to nearly any college in state to those who graduate after at least four years in the district. However, sometimes this feels like some sort of weird Darwinian experiment. You may have free college—if you manage to survive the school experience to claim it. My oldest daughter has managed it so far, but it’s been a rough ride even with an IEP to help us. This daughter doesn’t have that.

I ended up keeping her home today. She threw up her breakfast, and I just couldn’t send her to school after that. I called the doctor and set up yet another appointment for this evening. As for the threat about educational neglect—well, the schools will have to do what they have to do, and so will I. I am a mother. I am my children’s first and greatest advocate. And I have a lot of experience with saying, “No.”

(Müller, Eve. Home Schooling Students with Disabilities – A Policy Analysis. July 2004. http://www..nasdse.org)

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I thought I would add a follow up to last week’s post.

Last Monday, my daughter auditioned for her school improve team, followed by auditions for a couple of outdoor plays which are part of a local park festival. It was a long day, and she was exhausted by the time she finished the last audition. She made callbacks for her school improve team. The two festival plays didn’t have callbacks. (For those who are not familiar with theater language, callbacks are when the theater calls you back for another audition. I should have explained that last week. Sorry.)

Cast lists were coming out on Friday—the same day that we went out of town for a band trip. My daughter fretted all through the drive to Mackinaw City. She fretted as we toured Mackinac Island and ate dinner there. She asked a friend to check the lists on her phone, but the friend couldn’t find them.

Finally, we checked into the hotel. My daughter had my laptop unpacked before I had finished bringing in my suitcase. First she checked the improve team. She wasn’t on the list. She checked the musical at the park—not on that list either. Then she checked the children’s play.

“I’m the doctor! I’m the doctor!” she shrieked.

“Which doctor are you?” I asked with a smile. We are huge Doctor Who fans in my family.

“No, Mom, in the play,” she said. “It’s my first part in three years.”

She began dancing the hotel room shouting “I’m the doctor!” over and over again. I half expected the hotel management to knock on our door, but I didn’t stop her. I love my daughter’s capacity for unrestrained joy. That’s something we lose as we grow older and become more conscious of the people around us and worried about what they might think. However, she has never developed that level of self-consciousness, and part of me hopes she never does.

Eventually, she settled down and started exchanging texts with her little sister who was also in the play. (Her first part!) Then she started talking to her friend about the play and the part and all the best doctors on TV and in movies. The doctor wasn’t the biggest part in the script, but to listen to her you would have thought she had the lead. My high school drama teacher would have loved her for that alone. She used to say, “There are no small parts, only small actors.” From that measure, my daughter is the biggest actor there is.

Before going to bed, she came over and gave me a big hug.

“I’m going to be the sixteenth doctor,” she told me.

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The Six Page Essay

My daughter, who is in high school, came up to me while I was writing and announced, “My history grade is about to improve. I wrote a six page essay on my test yesterday.”

The ex-college teacher inside me winced. In a cautious voice, I asked, “Did your teacher want a six page essay?”

“Well, he said he had extra paper if we needed it,” she told me, glowing with pride, “and when I handed it in, he said, ‘Wow, you really had a lot to say.’”

I bet he did, I thought, picturing the look on his face. I struggled for something to say, but she had already walked off with visions of A’s dancing in her head.

I felt a stab of sympathy for this teacher with multiples classes of 30-40 students presented with a six page answer to an essay test question. At the same time, my heart soared with pride for my daughter who found six pages worth of words about a subject she generally has no interest in. She is really trying in school this year, despite trouble with bullies and a grueling sophomore schedule. I hope she gets her A.

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Fighting the Homework War

My kids are all back in school which means they are bringing home homework—every day. I heard yesterday that the reason for this is that the superintendent of our school district decided that all the children in the district, regardless of grade, should have homework ever day. The rationale is that it’s to prevent students from falling behind. I am not sure whether I agree with that. Depending on the environment the student comes from, supportive or unsupportive, I suspect it could lead to some students falling farther behind faster.

Whatever the reason, I am now spending hours at the dining room table working with my children on homework. The homework my younger girls bring home gets done pretty fast. Generally, it’s just one or two worksheets. My oldest is a different story. At first she claimed she didn’t know whether or not she had homework. By the time I found it all, she felt there was too much for her to do it all by the end of the week. As a result,we spent most of last week in a take-no-prisoners battle over doing homework. I tried logic with her (there aren’t a lot of jobs for middle school dropouts), bribes, threats, positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement—you name it. Homework consumed my evenings. Along the way, I found I had a few myths that needed to be dispelled.

  • Myth #1: I can gather them around the table, and they will work while I go from child to child, helping. It’s a pretty picture isn’t it? Well, the truth is that they all want my help at once. Also, if I get caught up in helping one child, the rest are guaranteed to wander off and play until I can rope them back together again.
  • Myth #2: If I spread it out over the days of the week, it won’t take up too much time on any one day. You’d really think it would work that way; however, the truth is that not all days are created equal. Some days are busier than others, and the homework has to be shunted to the next day. These conflicts can come from the schools themselves, who schedule open houses and PTO meetings during prime homework time, not realizing that if I’m there talking to teachers, I am not at home helping with homework. Regardless, of what happens during the week, everything is due on Friday. So Thursday evening ends up entirely devoted to finishing it all off.
  • Myth #3: The homework from my daughter’s middle school should only take an hour and a half per week. This one came from my daughter’s principal. I have the handout to prove it. I don’t know where he gets his numbers, but they’ve got to be based on the assumption that the child perfectly understands the problem, concept, book, etc. (Which kind of makes me wonder why he/she would need homework.) If the child doesn’t understand what she is doing, it takes a LOT longer. I spent hours last week teaching my oldest daughter everything I know about fractions—so much so, in fact, that I am beginning to wonder what, if anything, she is learning in class.
  • Myth #4: If I tell them that they have to finish their homework before watching TV or playing computer, they’ll work hard and get it done faster. Okay, this has worked with the younger two. Unfortunately, my oldest has already figured out that by the time she gets done with all her homework it’s bedtime. There is no time left to watch TV or play computer.

I have one belief that I have yet to put to the test.

  • Myth #5: If I establish homework routines now, they will become habits and will continue even if I am not around to supervise. I have no idea about this one. I haven’t gotten there yet. I do know that in previous years when I taught night classes, nothing of that sort happened while I was out of the house.

A friend of mine told me that her mother, who was a teacher, believed teachers should be able to teach the students what they need to know in the seven hours that they have them at school. And I must admit that it seems unfair to sit the kid down after seven hours of learning, which is nearly equivalent to a full-time job, and expect them to do even more work. Nevertheless, that’s what I do—every day.

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