Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Home Visit from the Prinicipal

You know things have taken a turn for the worse when the principal needs to make a home visit.

Michael has been attending a different school for about 7 weeks. He's been in a program that was designed to help children with "mild to moderate" behaviour issues. At first I'd been reluctant about signing him up, but the teacher and the principal and the assistant principal said it was a great program. And with an 8:1 student/teacher ratio, I thought that perhaps it would just be a positive experience, even if they didn't figure out what makes him tick.

When I met the teacher in the program though, I was in smitten. He is a great guy with a positive, quirky personality. I knew Michael would love him - and he does. His behaviour has been stellar at the program. He gets a rating for each section of the day and most of the time he gets a 3/3. So far they have determined (surprise!) that Michael can take a long time with his work and is distracted easily. But they also have backed up the feelings that I've had for a good long while that Michael's confidence in his own abilities is low and this leads him to doubt himself. Since I realized this back in Kindergarten, I've tried to encourage him in every area related to school.

But the teachers are the one who hold the key. Last years' teacher did some serious damage to his self-esteem. This year they told me that he was reading below grade level. I knew this was not true so I asked them about their testing. After checking some details, they said it wasn't the reading... but the comprehension. Again, I knew that wasn't true so I asked how they checked his comprehension... they replied, by asking him questions. Aha, did they think that his low confidence might factor in to his inability to answer those questions, even if he did understand what he'd read? They didn't know. It wasn't in the parameters of the testing.

But Michael can read an entire Robert Munsch book without hesitating. He reads and understands complex words that are far above the grade three level. He's an excellent reader... and I don't say that because I'm his mom, I know it's his strongest skill in school.

Anyway... back to the home visit part...

Last week Michael wanted to attend the Christmas concert in his regular school. He'd been there for a half day 'reintegration' visit so he knew it was happening. In fact, he'd previously been really upset that he'd miss it. He looks forward to it each year - the confidence he has in performing is great. The teacher burned him a cd of the music and he went to the concert that night and did a great job. His class got up and did some handbells and sang Silent Night, but since he hasn't practiced handbells, he stayed at the side. Then he joined everyone for the finale.

There was a second night and Michael's dad took him - except this time I received text messages that Michael was upset and crying. Odd, I thought, since the previous night had been so positive. I spoke to Michael when he got home and what I heard really upset me.

(note, this is the story pieced together after talking to Michael and the principal)

Before the concert Michael asked his teacher if he could get up with his class during the handbell performance so he could sing Silent Night with them. She said he could. She sent the class down to the gymnasium with the other teacher. When Michael went to step up on stage the principal saw him and pulled him off... thinking he wasn't supposed to be up with the handbell kids as he hadn't practiced and didn't have a bell. He tried to tell her it was ok but she looked at the music teacher (who hadn't been a part of the discussion about silent night) who shook her head no. So Michael was kept off the stage despite protesting that he wanted to go sing. When he realized he wasn't being listened to, he began to cry. It wasn't long before the principal realized that there was in fact singing happening and that she'd been wrong. She tried to ask him if he'd go up, but it was the middle of the performance and he was embarassed.

I sent an email to the principal and the teacher, expressing my disappointment. I also told them that Michael was still upset and now was having very negative feelings about this special program he was in. In his mind it wasn't about the mistake that the principal had made, it was about the fact that he had to attend this other program and miss having fun at his school in the Christmas concert. I was heartbroken because this program has been so good for him. He has started to show more confidence and I'm hopeful it will show up in his regular school, even though there are more kids and it's more chaotic. But I did tell the principal that I wasn't sure the school was right for Michael. Perhaps another school might take better care of my son. There have been so many other issues... he is just not being watched closely enough in class. I've told them over and over that they have to get ahead of him. They have to know what he's doing if they expect him to be successful. His mind wanders, he daydreams.... he gets distracted very easily. That's what ADD - Inattentive type is all about.

The principal emailed me back and said she'd call me in the morning, which she did.

She offered to come to our house (just two blocks from the school) and talk to Michael and apologize. I was impressed by her offer (especially when she said this is the first home visit she's made in 26 years of teaching) and she was true to her word, she explained what happened from her point of view and apologized to Michael. He accepted her apology and said he'd forgive them and then we chatted a bit about some photos on the wall and his nearly perfect day sheet (just one 2, the reset were 3s).

I thought it was a classy act on her part. I think if I were cynical I'd say maybe the fact that I'm PTA president factored in, but I really don't think it did.... I hope it didn't. This isn't about me at all, it's about my son and his success at school. He has three weeks at the other school before he goes back full time to his home school. I know he's going to be a changed kid - I just hope the teacher can help sustain that change. In the classroom now he's both encouraged and held accountable in good proportion. He is rewarded consistently for good behaviour and prepared for success. (Example: instead of having him write the spelling test words in his nearly illegible scrawl because it's being written at the end of the day, they print it and send it home and now he's getting 100% because I can actually help him practice!)

Onward and upward. Only 9 more years, with this one at least!

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