This post is a follow-up post to Celi Trépanier’s wonderful guest post, Three Words to Never Say to Your Child’s Teacher.
B has made it through the first quarter of school. Some of the first few weeks were difficult, and there were moments in which she was ready to throw in the towel and return to homeschooling. She had made an agreement with her dad at the beginning of the year to stay in school for a certain length of time (seven weeks) to make a valid assessment of how she felt about it and she was struggling.
I am far more emotional than my husband, so when she came home from school after a bad day crying and stating she wasn’t going back, I was willing and ready to toss the magic seven out the window and bring her home. I had seen some teacher behaviors in the classroom the same week that I wasn’t very happy with, and I was anxious to protect B. Instead, we had a family talk, and my hubby helped parse out exactly what was bothering her (the boys giving her a hard time, the work is not challenging). He and I decided that it was time to chat with the teacher and B decided she could give school a few more weeks and see if things improved.
I’ve been a public school teacher, a public school parent of an “easy” child, and a homeschooling parent of two very intense kids. I’ve never been a public school parent who needs to advocate for my high ability kid until now. Thinking of walking into a classroom and asking for more for your child is daunting, especially after hearing the many, many stories from parents whose teachers/schools have been less than supportive of their child’s needs.
Back in May, Celi from Crushing Tall Poppies wrote a fantastic guest post here about what NOT to say to your child’s teacher while advocating for them. I took that to heart as well as a few other excellent resources and advice from many parents and teachers. We met with B’s teacher and after a bit of a rocky start, the meeting had a favorable conclusion.
So then, what should you say to your child’s teacher?
1. Give the teacher the opportunity to share what they’ve noticed about your child.
Ask how your child seems to be doing in the classroom and how the teacher sees them progressing. If your child gets a glowing review, it begins the conversation on a positive note from which to build. If the teacher has concerns, this gives you a good starting place to discuss what you are noticing as well.
2. Share what you see.
If possible, start with the positives. In our case, there are several things about school that offer B what she needs – Spanish, music, and math are all subjects in which she is learning and looks forward to. Move on to the areas of concern using words like “challenge”, “encourage”, “cooperate” and “quick learner”.
For instance, “Mrs. X, B seems to excel in (subject area). She wants to be challenged and learn as much as you are willing to teach her. She is a little frustrated at the level of work that she is being given currently, and would love to do something more in-depth. She is a very independent and quick learner, and if you are willing to encourage her growth in this area, we will do all that we can to cooperate and support that at home.”
Again, do your best to keep it positive. You know that saying about catching more flies with honey…
3. Ask the teacher for his/her suggestions. If they don’t have any, come prepared with your own.
End your words above with, “What are your thoughts? What do you think would be the best way to challenge her more?”
Some teachers just need to be asked, and they are full of ideas and excited to implement them. Others will circle around the question and talk about the 19 or 27 other students in their class and how you can’t expect them to teach yours individually. Try not to bristle, and offer some suggestions of your own. Your child deserves to learn something new every day just as much as the others.
Some ideas we brought to the table were to let B go to the next grade for language arts, have her work on the same topic but write a report or something more in-depth, more project-based work, and less fill-in-the-blank.
4. Offer to help.
If you are able, be willing to put in some volunteer time, especially in the case of the teacher who is overwhelmed by the idea of differentiating while teaching all of the other learners in her class. I offered to come in several times weekly to work with her behind-level kids, work with my girl and a couple of others in the class who could also use more challenging work, or wherever else she needed me.
In our circumstance, there were many good ideas talked about, and the conversation felt positive and hopeful. However, several weeks later, nothing had changed.
5. Get squeaky.
You know what they say about that wheel…Don’t be afraid to take it to the next level if the teacher is unwilling to try something new or doesn’t implement the ideas you agreed upon.
Set up a meeting with the principal and share your concerns. Begin positively if you can. Share how the meeting with the teacher went and the solutions you and the teacher came up with if applicable. If the meeting with the teacher did not go well, start with #2 and work your way forward with the administrator. Best case scenario – the administrator will understand your concerns and work with you to meet your child’s needs. Worst case scenario – they won’t, and at that point you’ll have to revisit your options. I always hope for the best and expect the best out of others. Sometimes people rise to expectations, sometimes they don’t, but either way I find that optimism helps my personal perspective a lot.
I met with our school administrator about B, and it was a warm and encouraging talk. I shared my concerns about the teacher, and although she was quick to support her staff, she was also supportive of finding a solution for B. She agrees that putting B in a higher grade level for language arts is a good idea, but wants to wait until after the winter break for an easier transition. (I wanted to ask “for whom?” but decided to bite my tongue.)
In the meantime, B is frustrated with the lack of challenge, and half of the school year will have passed by the time we try something new. It’s difficult to stay positive and patient sometimes. We’ve made a new compromise with B – stay in school until January to give the new class a try, and take a “mental health” day now and then. We could just withdraw her from school and homeschool again, meeting her academic needs, but the school atmosphere itself is wonderful and I’d like her to be able to keep enjoying it while learning something every day too.
Every situation is different, and some teachers/administrators are much more difficult than the few I’ve dealt with. That said, I hope sharing our experience gives you a starting point to begin the conversation and advocate for your gifted child. I’ll let you know how it goes in January.
Imagine a World Where Gifted Kids Don’t Have to Wait, Paula Prober
Advocating for Gifted Children for Beginners, Planet SmartyPants
7 Ways to Advocate for Your Gifted Child, Elgar Mummy
Are you an Advocate for the Gifted?, Sceleratus Classical Academy
Yes, My Gifted Child is a Know-It-All: A Case for Acceleration, Crushing Tall Poppies
Hoagies’ Gifted: Academic Acceleration Page – so much good stuff here!