Thursday, August 11, 2011

Deciding To Homeschool - Part 7 - The Dramatic Conclusion

Fifth Grade Fiasco-  A Recipe For Disaster

If you're just joining us you can read the whole story from the beginning here or you can just jump right in.



A little background: Padawan has always been different. He's a really bright child and he had always tested above average. But, no one had ever taught anyone like him before, and by 3rd grade I was putting the pieces together that a lot of his quirks and behaviors were Autistic traits. We were told by his pediatrician that it would be no problem to get him evaluated and get help through the school system. Every school year there had been problems here and there, but never anything like what happened this school year. The staff and teachers for the most part had always been wonderful too. And for the record, I'm not one of THOSE parents that believes my child can do no wrong. 

I also I hope it doesn't sound like I am bashing the teachers. Like I've said in previous posts, I respect teachers and their profession. I would never have the patience to do their job, and I have always tried to make their job easier any way I could. I think hope my son's 5th grade story is a unique situation where one thing led to another and it created a snowball effect.

Here we go:

Mrs Z- Padawan's main teacher for everything except Language Arts/ Reading
Mrs. V- Assistant teacher for Padawan's class
Mr. M- Padawan's L/A and Reading teacher


I had high hopes that 5th grade was going to be a stress free year...ok, not really, but a mother can dream right?

However, I WAS experienced now in educating the teachers how to head off potential problems, and knowing that a lot of Padawan's quirks were Autistic traits was helping things in the cooperation department at home too. Even so, the events that ensued from August through the first week of November came as a total shock!

At some point during the summer between 4th and 5th Grade, I heard that still small voice whisper "Homeschool", but I didn't pay much attention to it. That was because I usually attribute God's little whispers to something that is "just me" if you know what I mean- until He knocks me over the head to prove otherwise.

Looking back now, I can see that a seed had been planted the last week of 4th Grade. Padawan told me that one of the girls that he talked to and had become friends with was going to be Homeschooled the next year. He was disappointed that she would not be at school the next year.

I do remember stumbling upon K12 charter school at some point, maybe it was in the summer, maybe it was during the first few weeks of school- I'm not really sure anymore. I thought it was a neat concept! Your kid could go to school..at home..on the computer...for free! I thoroughly checked it out as I do everything- and filed it in the "this could be an option" part of my mind.

As time went on during the summer, I found out from another Mom that there were many parents freaking out because of budget cuts. The reason for this was that classes were going to increase in size from 16 or 18 students to 25. Well, I personally didn't see any reason to freak out. I had grown up in the 70's and 80' when large and double class sizes were the in thing. I remember in 2nd grade we had two teachers, an assistant teacher, and 44 kids in one giant classroom. Honestly, at this point in Padawan's school career, class size was the least of my concerns.

This year I did not feel inclined to go to orientation with Padawan and my husband. I admit the first reason was a little selfish. Getting out of the house and basically being "upright" - especially standing and walking -for any length of time can be a real challenge for me on most days. So, I stayed home and let my dear husband go it alone. Also, since this would be Padawan's last year in elementary school, I felt that it would be a good idea to see just what would happen if I didn't give the teachers any pre-conceived ideas about Padawan's "issues", and let them get to know him own their own. Whether or not my husband did give them any inside information, I can't remember. I'm sure he at least mentioned that Padawan did not talk unless he warmed up to people first.

It turns out that decision may have been a big mistake- or maybe that's how God wanted it to be- after all I was following my instinct. Either way, God is faithful and in the end He used it all for good. As the events of 5th grade unfolded, a lot of things that I needed to face about my beliefs and expectations about his education were brought to my attention.

Note: The events described here may be out of order. In reality it all went down like a multi-ring circus!

The first week was looking promising. The "bus bully" had moved on to Middle School. He was now going to be a big fish in an even bigger pond, and we wouldn't have to worry about him for another year or ever if he moved away.

Padawan was feeling more independent. He didn't want his Dad to walk him to class the first day. He had asked him to drop him off in front of the school and say his goodbyes there. He also had asked me the best way to tell his Dad without hurting his feelings that he didn't want him to come to school to eat lunch with him anymore, because he was a 5th Grader now, and that wasn't cool. sniff, sniff

About the second day of school, Padawan came home upset. His main teacher, Mrs. Z., had given the class a stern lecture about how they were supposed to be more mature now, and told them all about how hard 6th grade was going to be.

Yeah, its the first week of 5th grade and she's making sure she gets the kids all worried about how miserable their future is going to be.


Besides that, because they were supposed to be so mature now, she told them that she rarely gives permission for them to play on the playground, because the playground was for the younger kids to enjoy. He said, "Mom, I just wanted to swing."

For some reason that struck a nerve with me. Not letting 10 year olds on the playground! We had helped with fundraisers to buy playground equipment all these years and this is what we get in 5th grade. That led me to write an anonymous e-mail to the principle that ended up being not so anonymous. OOPS! A little piece of advice- don't use Outlook Express if you have a signature set up if you want to remain anonymous. At least it was my husband's email address and not mine.

The principle brushed it off, and said that the playground was being resurfaced at that point in time so none of the children were allowed on it until that was finished. I don't think he got the point.

The upside to this year was that Padawan only had one sheet of homework every week. It was a Social Studies page, and he only had to answer two questions a night. He usually did that willingly and with no problems at all.

The next thing that I remember happening was our first phone call of the school year. YAY! My husband happened to answer the phone for that one. It was some teacher that I had never heard of. We'll call her Mrs. V. She was calling to let us know that she had Padawan in the office with her because he refused to do _______. My husband talked to her about Padawan's stubbornness and other things and suggested that she talk to me because I was home with him more and usually worked with the teachers about his quirks and behavior issues that had come up in previous years. She had to get off the phone to take the children to the bus, but was going to call back. She never did that day or ever.

I soon found out Mrs. V was an assistant teacher or IEP teacher of some sort who stayed with the class most days, and she also followed Padawan's class when they went across the hall for Language Art with Mr. M. I'm not sure what her purpose for being there was, but over the next 3 months, she had a major part in making my son miserable and bringing out the worst in him that anyone had ever seen.

Mrs. V. must have known a little about Padawan's reputation from previous years, because Padawan confided in my Mom that she told him on the first day of school basically that she was onto him and she would be watching him. 

What a great way to start a relationship with a student you have never met!

Another time shortly after the beginning of the school year, Padawan came home upset because Mrs. V took him to a Kindergarten class (to humiliate him), because he refused to tell her his name. This made me angry, but it made my husband irate! You better believe he was at the school the very next morning to talk to someone. They assured us that they would talk to her.

It turns out that this teacher also played favorites. She would take some kids to the teacher's lounge and buy them candy bars out of the vending machine for finishing their math worksheets or answering questions. Usually the same kids over and over. Padawan would come home upset a lot of days, because even on days that he tried to do right in her eyes, she never gave him the opportunity to get a candy bar. He told me how hard it was to sit there and watch the other kids eat their candy in front of him. I mentioned this to the Mrs. Z., but she just didn't get it. I thought maybe if Mrs. V found some small thing he did right in her eyes and rewarded him that it would help things between them. Mrs. Z blew it off and insisted that Padawan just wasn't doing what he needed to do to earn a candy bar. She praised how wonderful Mrs V was and told me that she was successful in getting many shy children to open up to her. REALLY?!?

At the same time all this is going on, Mr. M. called to tell me that he couldn't get Padawan to open up or talk to him. He told me that there were times that Padawan refused to do something, but wouldn't tell him why. I explained everything to him, and told him to give him time. yada, yada. I also told him about the offer to have him evaluated- I was still under the impression that the schools had to do this if requested. And we still did not have insurance.

So, I had another talk with Padawan about how it was important to tell the teachers what is bothering him or deal with the consequences they had for him. Well, Mrs. V continued to nit-pick everything Padawan did. He would try to explain himself- like I had been trying to get him to do his whole school career and she would get snippy with him and tell him he was being rude and disrespectful.

Enter the phone calls from his Mrs Z. She had called to tell me that Padawan had not turned in Math worksheets (something like) M2Z5 and M1XC and Coach 9 that she had these official names for. (Named after the standards instead of the topic). She talked so fast my head was spinning. I asked her to send them home and I would make sure Padawan did them.

It seems simple and logical enough, right?

I also thought that this was a good time to tell her about Padawan's quirks and Autistic traits, and the offer to have him evaluated. She said, "Great, I'm experienced in dealing with children with Autism and Sensory Issues." Things were looking up!  or so I thought.

During that phone conversation, I also told her about how much Padawan LOVED Science. She let me know that there wasn't enough time to teach Science this year because of all the Math and Social Studies. She said that maybe sometime during the year she would have a parent come in to teach science.

WHAT?!?! No time to teach science! Who decided Math and/or Social Studies was more important than Science? And parents teaching students! I was feeling like I was in the twilight zone at this point.


Also going on at this time was the fact that there was a boy and his two friends that decided to pick on Padawan daily. They were just slick enough to do it in a way that Padawan was the one getting in trouble. He came home on a few occasions almost in tears. He asked me why some kids had to be that way. We talked about bullies and I emailed the teacher without him knowing to ask her to keep an eye on the boys and let me know what was going on. She let me know from her perspective it was Padawan causing the problem. I didn't know what to think. I wanted to trust my own kid, and he was genuinely upset. I had to think about this.

Due to my email, Mrs. Z moved Padawan's desk away from the rest of the class and put him between her desk and the class water fountain. This caused her to overlook him every morning when it was time to sign his agenda. She told me he never put it on his desk; he told me she always had her back to him and skipped over him. Once again conflicting stories.

Padawan was also getting frustrated and down on himself because all of the boys that he had made friend with last year (besides his best friend who he got to see in boy's writing once a week) were in other classes this year. He felt like the boys in his class didn't want to make friends with him. I was coaching him on how to make friends and after a couple of weeks he had made friends with another boy or two. But the bully was still picking on him.

As the weeks went by, the tension between Mrs. V. and Padawan only got worse. He had now given up hope of ever pleasing this teacher. He would not listen to anything she was trying to teach. Instead he took up the (unacceptable) habit of finding ways to get under her skin. He especially liked to get up and wander the room while she was teaching. OH MY!

A minor point in his defense, Mrs. Z, who was the main teacher had let me know that she didn't mind the students getting up to get water or sharpen a pencil because since they were thinking about it instead of listening, they may as well do it. Anyway, I did what any good parent would do and disciplined him at home for his unruly ways, and wondered how was I ever going to make it til the end of May.

I tried once again to talk to Mrs Z. I let her know that Padawan was getting mixed signals. On one hand he had two teachers that wanted and needed him to express himself and on the other hand the teacher he that was talking to was getting onto him and telling him he was being rude and disrespectful. (Possibly so, I wasn't there) On several occasions I tried to tell her that my son would not learn from this teacher until she became the grown up and tried to fix this horrible relationship that had developed between her and Padawan.

The strife continued. This time she threatened to take him to 4th grade. This whole time I'm wondering why Mrs. V. is even teaching the kids instead of Mrs. Z.

When progress reports came out, Padawan's grades were actually not that bad, except for the F in Math because the teacher still had not sent the missing work home. I wrote notes in his agenda, I emailed her, and I insisted to Padawan that he needed to bring it home. He told me in a sincere way that he didn't know what those papers were or where to find them. I emailed the Mrs Z once again to let her
know and she insisted that Padawan was trying to manipulate me by telling me he didn't know basic classroom rules or where to find the materials. And that I should be tougher on him at home. She also let me know that they did not use their Math book, but I could buy a copy of the workbook they were using online so he could have it at home.

What happened to my son's wonderful school?!? It was never like THIS. Everyone (well, most everyone had been so nice and helpful up until now). Was it the budget cuts? Was it the increased class size? Was it the fact that this was 5th Grade and the teachers just didn't care because the students were moving up to Middle School the next year?

At home Padawan was acting out more and more as time went on. I had NEVER seen him act like this. I was beginning to think he was hitting puberty early or something. He started refusing to do his homework, and usually went to straight to his room after school to immerse himself in his Lego projects. He told me that he was stressed out and wasn't going to do his work. That he needed to RELAAAX and take it easy this year because 6th Grade was going to be so much harder. Other times, he told me he was going to fail 5th grade because he didn't want to go to 6th grade.

Then there was the time he missed a day of school. This caused problems in PE. They had been assigned to find a group and make up a dance. Well, since Padawan had been absent that day, he did not have a group. Fast forward to the day they were supposed to do the dance. The teacher was upset because Padawan was not participating. He must have spoken up to let her know that he didn't have a
group. Well, she thought nothing wrong of asking the entire PE class who would like Padawan to be in their group... no one spoke up, because no one wanted him in his group. My heart broke when he told me this!

The next day he was brought to the office by the Music teacher and I got yet another phone call.(she had had problems with him in the past- usually for refusal to participate in groups or pairs). This time, the students were asked to find a partner to play the instruments. Well, someone else picked Padawan's only (sort of) friend in the class before he could. That meant everyone was paired up except for Padawan and one girl that apparently gets left out all the time too. After he got home, he told me that he decided that since no one wanted to work with him in PE or in Music, he wasn't going to TORTURE them by making them be his partner.

Ok enough is enough. I emailed the Assistant Principle. I had asked her to please get the school Physchologist out there to evaluate him again or do SOMETHING! I also inserted my newly acquired vocabulary word in the email that I had learned about no thanks to anyone there "IEP". She informed me that we needed to see his MD, and that the schools do not employ medical staff. (I later found out this is BALONEY.)

After progress reports came out, I had made a deal with Padawan that for every 100 he got on a test that he could have a candy bar. I also FINALLY got the missing Math pages and spent 2 weeks battling with him to get caught up. He brought home (5) 100's one week, and I hadn't heard anything else about missing work so I thought he was doing better. WRONG!!!

It was conference time shortly after my email. My conference was on the phone. Padawan's grades were horrible and he was still missing work, but now in all his classes. Since he was bringing home lots of papers and good grades I was shocked to find this out. Why was I not told? I found out that I was supposed to magically know to log into the school system website daily and check for myself.

(Both Mrs Z and Mr M had two jobs and Mrs Z was always way behind in getting the papers graded and returned to the students. She rarely was the one who did the grading.)

I did let her know that being in the dark was foreign to me because his previous teacher had sent home graded papers every week stapled together with a note for missing work for ALL the children.  

Just a little hint that I noticed her lack of organizational skills.

I also made a list of every single thing I could possible think of to help them bring out the best in Padawan. I could tell that my advice was not very welcome, and that they felt they knew what they were doing.

My email to the Assistant Principle had made some progress though (or so I thought).

Mrs. Z. told me that she was setting up a Response To Intervention.

Hmmmm...never heard of that one either, but at least it was something.

She said her part in this was that she was going to let me know exactly what work was missing and make sure it got home so I could get Padawan to do it.

Ummm....isn't that what I had told her we needed to do in the first place? It took a form to get this taken care of? ....

By the time I got off the phone with her my head was once again spinning and she talked so fast at times, I had no clue what I had agreed to. I was just happy that something was being done. She was sending the paper home with Padawan so I could sign it to make it official.

Only she didn't put it in an envelope, and Padawan apparently had seen or heard of that
form before. He came home angry at me for signing him up for Special Ed. In his eyes, that was social suicide. So, I had to diffuse that situation and explain what it was all about.

Now that Mrs. Z had been questioned by several parents during conference week about the lack of Math homework, she decided to give the students 8 pages of Math homework every Monday to be turned in on Friday.

Oh wait, it gets better....

She made sure she let the students know that the extra homework was because the parents asked for it. Two of those pages were 100 single digit addition problems on the front and 100 single digit subtraction pages on the back. Give me a break! Now, not only was I getting Padawan to make up missing work, I was having to get him to do more homework that was clearly a payback for the parents who asked for Math homework.

By this time, I was getting so stressed out and I was so over it. I began seriously checking into Homeschool. It was too late to sign Padawan up for K12, but that was a good thing. I had determined that at this point it would have been to structured.

I found out that we had to do 4 1/2 hours a day of Homeschool. I did the math. I was doing nearly 3 hours every day just trying to get him to get caught up on all the other stuff, and teaching him the Math that he didn't learn in school. I added the time it took to get him awake and ready for school, and I could clearly see that I was putting more time and effort into this whole education thing than necessary! And I was finding that I was having to compromise my own principles at times to deal with behavior issues that could have been avoided.

Why was I doing this?  Mostly out of fear that I couldn't homeschool Padawan.    
Oh, yeah, and the socialization thing..

Ding!  Ding! Ding!

HELLO!!!

"Yes, God. I finally hear you!  I AM doing homeschool already! By their rules!"

And the "socialization" he was getting had totally gone into the gutter this school year. It was causing unwanted stress and chaos in our life. It had to go! There are better places for him to find social interaction.

However, I knew that I could not just make a big change without considering Padawan's opinion first. I talked to him about it. He was strongly against it. He was afraid that other kids would think he was stupid or weird. This went on for a week or so.

My next step when things continued to deteriorate was THREATENING him with Homeschool if he didn't just give in and do what he was supposed to do. My only other option was to find someone to take custody of him for the school year, because obviously I was a failing as a Mother at this point. (Ok, I wouldn't REALLY do that, but I was running out of solutions. And no one was helping me.)

His bad relationship with Mrs. V continued to escalate. His relationship with Mr. M and Mrs. Z was going downhill fast. And I was at my wits end.

One day, I got a phone call from Mr. M letting me know that he had the students swap papers and to grade them, but Padawan refused to grade papers. Mr. M had told the students that he was going to start making phone calls to parents when they wouldn't listen. So he did. I told him that it may have been that Padawan was tired of getting sick from germs and school, and didn't want to touch other kid's papers.

Later I found out that Padawan determined that Mr. M got paid x amount of dollars to be a teacher. Grading papers was part of a teachers job and he got paid nothing to be a student, so he was not going to do the teacher's job for him.  OH MY!!! We didn't raise him to be this way. REALLY!

Around this time, I called the Board of Education to make sure I got all my ducks in a row for Homeschool, because I could clearly see that at least one of us is not going to make it to the end of this school year if he stays in school. I was pretty certain that person was going to be me. (NOT REALLY, but you know what I mean.)  I started looking for curriculum, and I decided that whether he liked it or not, I would withdraw him at Christmas Break. That seemed like a good time to do it.

Well, things just kept getting worse, so I had to change plans. I was now trying to stick it out until Thanksgiving Break. Padawan was going back and forth between wanting to homeschool and wanting to stay in school depending on the days events.

One day in the first part of November, Padawan came home from school  irate because another kid "stabbed" him in the hand with a pencil because he giggled at something funny while a parent was recording some of the other students perform a skit in the classroom. I wouldn't say he was stabbed, but there was a red mark where he had been poked with a pencil. I also got an email from Mrs. Z letting me know that this had happened.

(I have always been open to the notion that I know my child is not perfect and that there are two sides to every story, and I had let Mrs Z. know that more than once.)

Anyway, Mrs. Z punished both the boys by keeping them in at recess the next day, because she just knew the other boy would not have done anything like that unprovoked. Then she asked the boys what they could have done differently. The other boy answered her and apologized to Padawan. Padawan was already angry for being the victim in this situation AND being punished, so he did have an answer for her. The other boy got to go out to recess and Padawan had to stay inside. From his perspective (right or wrong as it may have been), all he saw was that he was the victim and he was the one that got the most punishment.  This set off one of his meltdowns. Mrs. Z. yelled at him, told him to get out of her classroom, and made him stand out in the hallway during the math lesson. So, once again he was getting behind in math assignments. SIGH! I emailed her about this once again, for what good it would do. She was doing the opposite of everything that I had given her advice about.

One thing that she said in her response to me was the last straw. I withdrew him the next day. And haven't regretted a minute of it!

I quote: "Perhaps Padawan, in seeking control over himself prefers on some level to live in chaos or disruption instead of in an organized social way."

Ummm...excuse me? 

I could tell exactly where the chaos was coming from. Padawan may have been the one acting out due to the chaos, but the chaos was not coming from him.

Later I did find out that Padawan was not the only one having trouble with these teachers. Another parent, who had a child who was normally an A student, and never had discipline problems was struggling in both areas too (with one teacher in particular.) I found this out from a mass email that she sent seeking other parents experiences. Her daughter also did not know where to find assignments and class materials, and was just as confused about things as Padawan was. She said that the teacher often yelled at the students and treated them poorly. One parent jumped in to defend her, several others spoke up that they had problems too, and the rest were silent. So that set my mind at ease and restored the trust my son that I had been questioning.

I want to end my saga on a positive note. The day I withdrew Padawan from school, I had this overwhelming sense of relief and freedom. It was the same exact feeling that I had the day I brought him home from the hospital. The world was ours again! PURE FREEDOM!!!! And in the days and weeks that followed, and still to this day, I had never heard my son say "I love you, Mom" so many times over and over for no special reason at all.

I realized that he did need me to make that decision for him, and maybe I should have made it a little sooner.

We've done a lot of healing since last November. And we have decided that we don't need to seek an official label at this point. I have also researched more on Gifted traits, and it seems that sometimes there is a fine line between Giftedness and Autism Spectrum Disorders, and some kids have both. Either way, he is who he is, and now that he is home we can work on things in a calm and loving environment where he can develop his God given gifts and talents in the ways that work best for him.




To See How Our First Part of the Homeschool Journey Turned Out, You May Also Enjoy Reading:

5 comments:

  1. Awesome, awesome post! (FINALLY...) Your school nightmare was much worse than ours. I think if I'd have had to deal with as much as you did, I'd have gone to jail.

    I cracked up about the "anonymous" email using your husband's email address!

    And I got teary when you described the feeling you had on the day you disenrolled him from school.

    Bravo on this post!

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  2. Yeah! Finally! I sucked it up and stayed up all night getting it done. Only 1 week past my self enforced deadline. Nah...I don't procrastinate much. haha

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  3. Wow - I just read this story. It is so similar to my Video Boy's!! School can be such an institution and it is such a relief to homeschool and not have to bash heads with the school.

    The counsellor who saw Video Boy said "he's just exhausted from trying to fit in and do the right thing". Being gifted is being different from everybody. If you add a second exceptionality (in our case dyspraxia/executive functioning issues), or ADHD or dyslexia or autism, then it is even harder work for the kid.

    We still have issues at home, but we are finding our way. Our way! Thank you for sharing - you are NOT alone!

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  4. Yeah, its definitely been great to finally be able to do things OUR way! Not perfect, but MUCH MUCH better than before!

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  5. VERY awesome, very similar to our story. Our daughter is "somewhere" on the autism spectrum (Asperger's/PDD-NOS/something like that) but I believe she is gifted in some areas as well. We are right there with you!

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