Sadly, kids can’t use all the words they need to help us best parent them into adulthood, but they will often give you some clues. Please do not ignore the soft signs.
This week I got a call from Mr. Ornery’s homeroom teacher. He got in trouble midweek at lunch for acting out and causing a scene – the classic “attention-getting” behaviors, she said. He came home with a “behavioral slip” (which he tried to get the sitter to sign-off on so he didn’t have to show it to Mom!).
But the key thing is that as the teacher talked with him, he mentioned that his goal is to act out until he gets expelled. Who says that at third grade? A kid who is not connected is who.
Here’s what I know now. He spends forty-five minutes with his homeroom teacher (Mrs. L) and has her for a science/social studies period. He is then in a different class for math (Mrs. R), another class for English (Mrs. K), another class for the “enrichment” time slot (Mrs. H), in other classes for specials (art, music, library, gym – 4 different teachers). On top of that, he is pulled out for “reading support” (Mrs. C) and for “speech therapy” (Mrs. T) and sees Mr. M twice a week for orchestra. Mrs. M watches him for recess/lunch (my boys seem to prefer to act out for her) and Mrs. B is the school counselor who “touches base” occasionally. When I sit with him and ask him to tell me who all his teachers are, he can’t name them all. I just listed thirteen that I can figure out and there likely are more!
This boy is eight and he is walking all over the school to different classrooms, just like a middle-school and high-school kid. And do you know what he’s doing in the hallway? He’s dragging his feet and getting to class late. He’s “hanging” out behind a door and skipping his English period completely. He’s essentially “skipping” school while within the school – at the age of eight.
So who is this kid connected to, I asked. Who at the school has the power to speak into his life when he starts to act up? Who is consistent enough to keep him grounded? To make him feel worthy? To make him feel empowered to do his best? To help him develop confidence? To help him develop a love of learning?
I asked this of his teacher. I asked this of the assistant principal the next day. We set up a meeting to review his schedule. You see, this school is apparently so focused on academics that they are frequently doing assessments and altering the students’ schedules to place them in “just the right” classes to target “just the right” academic level. They seem so pleased with this concept. So I ask, “It seems that you are targeting academics beautifully. But have you stopped to consider what this is doing to the kids social-emotionally? Have you considered how fundamental and foundational the first three years of school are? Have you thought about how important consistency is? Have you considered paying attention to the soft signs of a student who is lost in the shuffle?”
Do not ignore the soft signs. Do not ignore an eight-year-old considering ways to get himself expelled. Do not ignore a third-grader suggesting that he’d like to skip school and hang at the skatepark like the teens do. Do not let a little kid continue on a path toward truancy and drop-out because you love your academic assessments and beautiful matching of precise academic levels. Do not ignore the importance of childhood. Do not ignore the cries of my little boy.
Because I will not allow this bright child to lose his light and his potential.
He and his brothers hold my heart.
It is amazing how long the “soft” signs last. I find them in my college students also. The student who always has a good reason to skip a class, the one who doesn’t know how to use the online helps, the one who refuses to go to either the disability or testing center because they don’t want to be seen as needing extra help. The ones in this latter category include returning veterans, those currently in the military, and women, who have to, for the first time, earn a living, and they are in their 40s. These are the ones who come to my class early, stay late, stop to talk in the cafeteria, or follow me to my car at night. They need connection, and consistency, not being sent all over the campus. They need a teacher who looks at them, one who sees them and remembers who they are. Unfortunately most teachers and school systems don’t know how to provide this. It’s called the human touch and response, and every learner needs it. I wish you every success in finding this for your boys.