My son is having a really tough time with Kindergarten. We're on the edge of pulling him out of school and home/unschooling him for a year before trying again in first grade but I can't quite seem to find peace with that decision. I'm hoping I can get some other perspective from more experienced mamas.
In late October, we bought our first home an hour away from where we used to live. We had wanted to keep the kids in their snotty suburban school until winter break, but getting up at 6am and fighting traffic for an hour each way every morning was making everyone miserable and E begged and begged to find a school that was closer to our new house. Through a combination of luck and nagging we snuck into a spot at a really well-regarded environmental ed magnet school for half-day afternoon kindergarten. We toured, everyone loved it, and we signed the kid up and thought life would be grand.
The first day, E was joking with another kid and made a scissors motion with his fingers toward the other kid's hand. (note: no actual scissors involved here.) E got referred to a 'behavior specialist' and we got called in for a conference with the teacher to discuss our kid "threatening to cut off another child's finger." To be clear, this isn't behavior I'm wild about at all, but I also felt they were overreacting and was concerned that by coming down hard on E and "making an example" of him in front of the class that he'll start to see himself as "a bad kid" rather than a kid who made a bad choice, and that would create more problems. The teacher didn't listen and made a very public example of Elliot by making him sit alone in front of the class in the "naughty seat" on his second day of school.
Things went downhill from there in a kind of perfect storm. E was shunned by the rest of the class, bored by the school work (which was very academic with much more seat work and worksheet-based than his other school, which was far more play and project based) and got 'behavior points' for wiggling in his chair, which made him too scared to use the bathroom, which led to accidents and more discipline from the teacher. Each time he got in trouble made him feel worse, made him terrified of his teacher personally, and made the social issues bigger. He started acting out and hitting/pushing other kids, which escalated things even more. He was sad and withdrawn at home, scared of even trusted/favorite adults, having nightmares, refusing to eat and crying and asking to go back to his old school. Ten days in, he basically had a complete hysterical breakdown when it was time to go to school and DH and I decided we needed to call a time-out and talk to the school.
The teacher pretty much said, in as many words, that she didn't feel like any changes needed to be made and that we should keep on as we had been. She also said that any social problems E was having were his fault alone -- she was totally not listening to our concerns. The Principal was great, and offered to have some of the resource teachers shadow E in the classroom and help him adjust and fit in and felt like if E could get some more support we could get over the hump and he'd fit in better and feel less anxiety.
That was three weeks ago. We had some initial improvement, but now things back to being bad. E says that he is sad and lonely at school because none of the other kids will play with him or talk to him. He's having more problems with his teacher and is still having issues with hitting -- he says it's because he feels angry and sad and doesn't want to be in class (every time he hits, he's pulled out). I don't know what to do with that -- he has NEVER had a problem with hitting kids in other situations (preschool, daycare, daycamp, in the neighborhood) and rarely gets physical at home, although we're seeing more problems now. He says all they do is "Paperwork" and "tests", which is basically true... most of the day is worksheets and are already doing pre-testing for NCLB, which doesn't start until third grade. He's very, very unhappy.
Yesterday, he got in trouble for hitting when another kid had been teasing him with "mean words", and then started hitting him first. He was too scared of the teacher to tell her what happened, so he hit back. (Again, lousy judgment on the part of my kid, no question.) He was punished and sent out of class, the teacher ignored the other student. Elliot felt demoralized and cried for hours. Today, my husband took him to school and he went nearly catatonic in the car when it was time to go inside. He said "I'm too scared to go in there. Please don't make me go." and when his dad told him we're working on a solution, can he go to school in the meantime, he started trembling and twitching, his eyes got this scary fixed and glazed look and tears kept running down his cheeks, like he was so scared he could hardly even cry. Scariest thing DH ever experienced in his life.
So. Obviously, no school. DH called the principal and they can't offer us a transfer to another classroom within the building. We can't get E into another school mid-year, but we're able to homeschool him pretty readily (he's actually not legally required to go to Kindergarten at all) and we have several options available for next year that may be better suited to his personality and learning style. So we can pull him out. I just go rounds and rounds and rounds with myself on whether or not we SHOULD. On one hand, I don't want to show E that hitting is anything but completely not okay and I don't want him to think that school is optional and if you fuss enough your parents won't make you go. I still kind of feel like he should tough it out, but when I examine that feeling it's pretty much based on an idea that school is something you "should" make your kids do (...because why? I don't seem to know) and that I don't actually believe that things will get better if we did make him stick with it. So, basically I'd be asking him to be miserable because that's what we "should" do. Which is stupid. On the other hand, school is OBVIOUSLY enormously and deeply traumatic to my DS and I kind of feel like making him constantly face something that makes him nearly catatonic with fear is almost abusive and really, really not okay. I worry that I'm protecting him too much and that he won't learn to deal with the "real world" and then I tell myself that my five year old went catatonic in the car this morning and maybe I'm just being a clueless and cruel jerk. I really, really need outside perspective here. Help?
Spending all of my money and time on this wild, wild life.
Imagine your dh was in a job that was over-the-top stressful to him, completely outside his comfort zone, which was making him feel useless and worthless, draining him of all his emotional resources. He felt like his boss wanted him to be someone he couldn't be. His job performance was poor. The stress was making him uncharacteristically unkind and volatile in his dealings with customers. He was miserable. He consistently articulated how much he hated the job. He dreaded Monday mornings, hating the trip to work, often hyperventilated and got the shakes on the way there.
Yet he had another job waiting for him somewhere else, one that was very different, where the stress would be gone, where he would be amongst people who valued him for who he was and what he could do, rather than blaming and shaming him for what he couldn't.
Would you tell him to keep his current job, since quitting would teach him he could "get away with" being unkind to customers? That it would shelter him from the real world to condone taking a job that was better suited to his needs and abilities?
Of course you wouldn't. I would suggest you look at your ds's situation from this perspective.
Mountain mama to three great kids and one great grown-up
Pull him out. Today. What is he learning from this experience??? Not what you want (from what I understand from your post).
This sounds like an awful situation to be in and this teacher sounds..oh well...no words here. He is ONLY five, he should feel great, awesome, capable and like he learns some things in Kindergarten. If he feels like this there is no learning going on, and isn't this what they should be in school for. Would you let people treat you this way in the 'real' world....?
me, wife and mama to ds ('06) and dd ('07), my miracle dd ('12) and surprise ds (5/14) and to plenty pets!
twins2/11, lost another twin 8/11
I saw this thread in preview mode and thought, "oh someone who homeschools is telling her to pull him out", but after reading your post I'm in agreement and I'm not a homechooler (although some of my best friends are ). Go ahead and pull him out. What I would say to him and everyone involved is that it was "not a good fit for him". It probably is a good fit for some kids, but obviously is not a good fit him. I would tell him that you will work to find a different school next year that will be a better fit for him. You don't have to tough this one out. I think you are absolutely right that you run the risk of them labeling him and him labeling himself as "bad" and a "problem child". You can find a better fit for him somewhere else be it at home or at a different school.
"All you fascists are bound to lose" — Woody Guthrie
Good luck findinga decision that works for your family.
He's 5...it's Kindergarten.
In the "real world" when your boss publicly humiliates you, targets you, shows favoritism to others, and is otherwise harmful to your mental health...you find another job and QUIT.
My dh had that attitude about ds "toughing it out" in K, and by mid-year ds' Aunt saw him in school and said he was the saddest child she'd ever seen. Though our ds had "real" behavior problems (beyond fake scissors and wigglies) the school mishandled him as well...including ignoring big honking red flags that he has severe ADHD and is likely Asperger's as well--I was told more than once that "they" didn't consider ADHD before 2nd or 3rd grade, and that he didn't qualify for Child Find because he didn't have articulation issues -- though two STs later separately identified the same articulation issue "s"s and "z", and he has significant deficits in pragmatics for which he is now receiving...Speech Therapy, at school . We moved ds from his new school in a well-off district to a smaller charter for first grade where he is doing much better--his cousins still go to the school we left.
Today, my husband took him to school and he went nearly catatonic in the car when it was time to go inside. He said "I'm too scared to go in there. Please don't make me go." and when his dad told him we're working on a solution, can he go to school in the meantime, he started trembling and twitching, his eyes got this scary fixed and glazed look and tears kept running down his cheeks, like he was so scared he could hardly even cry. Scariest thing DH ever experienced in his life.
I would pull him from the school for the time being to figure out what makes sense.
There's no way he would ever enter the room of the first teacher, and I would write a detailed letter to the head of the school stating the behavior changes I had seen in my child, and request that the letter to be added to the teacher's personal file. The teacher needs to find a new line of work. If there is a governing board over the school, I would write them a letter as well. I would document the heck of this -- it's really appalling behavior on the part of the teacher.
We've dealt with extreme school anxiety at our house, I have a child on the autism spectrum. This is so, so far from normal behavior. In a neuro-typical child, this is a huge flag waving widely that his situation does not work for him.
You said this is a magnet, and I'm curious what your regular, local school is like. I'm curious what your long term plan was when you moved house. So, I'm not really sure what I would do in your situation, because I don't have the details about your other options. I'm not sure how I would feel about a different class in the same school -- I would need more information, maybe observe it and have a conference with the teacher before agreeing to placement. I'm not a fan of homeschooling (we are former homeschoolers, I've seen the dark side of homeschooling) but I wouldn't leave my NT child in a situation that caused them so much emotional trauma. You could pull him out now if that feels like the safest option for him for now, and sort out a long term plan.
The grown up world is so different -- a boss would never be allowed to treat an employee the way that his teacher has treated him. And if some one is in a job they hate/aren't a good match for, they can look for a new one. We get to make choices in life about what we want and what works for us.
Sometimes, the lesson to teach our kids isn't to stick with things, but rather, when to let something go because its time to try something new. Sometimes walking away is the right thing to do, knowing what that is can be tricky, but it is just as important of a life skill as sticking with things when they are tough.
I've had a hysterical child in my car at school drop off, but like I said, she has autism. And the school was working really hard with her and with me. They were so sweet to her and did everything they could. And it still broke my heart. In her case, it's because her brain works really differently. In your son's case, it's because the teacher is misusing her power.
but everything has pros and cons
He's hitting because that's the only reliable way he knows to get out of an untenable situation. Taking him out won't teach him that hitting is OK. It will teach him that his parents have listened to him. He's bored, shunned and terrified of his teacher. Why do you want to keep him there?
I wouldn't send him another day. It is obviously not working at all. We didn't send DD1 to K, I had planned on HSing, didn't do much of that either, we had a lot of anxiety issues going on. She ended up going into 1st grade with no problem, I know that would not of been the case had I tried to send her a year earlier. He is too immature to stick it out, a K student doesn't ahem those coping skills. He doesn't not need to feel this afraid of school at such of young age, he has many, many years ahead of him.
I teach high school, and I generally have a lot of sympathy for elementary teachers, but not this one. Pull him. You can check out your local public schools (they can take kids whenever they move in to the district), or home school for a year, or do some combination of the two. Your ds isn't learning anything at school at this point. His day is dominated by his anxiety. Any educational program you replace this with (including no educational program at all and no school attendance) will be more beneficial to him, both emotionally and educationally.
Isn't it nice to have unanimous agreement amongst the responders? I'm with everyone else: take him out now.
My dd13 had a really horrible first grade year and, like a pp said, the way a young child handles an untenable emotional situation isn't going to look like good behavior. Yours is acting out in class and hitting; mine sat at her desk crying in class (which is highly atypical for her b/c she is very private) and told me that she wished she had never been born and wanted to be dead. It scared the heck out of me. We took her out to homeschool and probably should have done it sooner than we did. She did later return to school in 2nd grade.
I, too, didn't want to teach her that it was okay to quit when things got tough, but I can give you a longer term perspective and tell you that isn't the lesson my dd got out of it. A five or six year old is way too young to be able to effectively negotiate with an adult who is scary to the child. There is a major power differential btwn a child that young and a teacher.
My dd has run into difficulties with teachers in later years but none as significant to her emotional health as was that year. She's older and more mature now and I'm letting her deal with the problems that arise when she can. She has a number of teachers she isn't crazy about this year but she's a high school freshman so she's working on advocating for herself and learning to deal with people with whom she has strong disagreements. We will all have people we don't like in life and it is reasonable to expect a high schooler to learn the skills of working with people you don't like. It isn't reasonable to expect a five or six year old to be able to do the same just yet.
I believe that what my dd got out of us taking her out of her first grade class wasn't that it is okay to quit whenever something gets hard but that you do the best you can and, if the situation is completely unreasonable for you, you find a way to make a change. She also learned that her parents were going to be there for her to support her emotional health when something was too big for her to handle on her own. She's really a great 13 year old now who is very centered, very persistent, and not a quitter.
My favorite quote, "do the best you can and then walk on." It isn't like you haven't tried to make this work. There are some things for which there just isn't a way to make it work.
I don't get this? a public school MUST take him--if you move mid-year public schools must take you
I do agree this is not the place for him, but I'm not sure HS is best in this case.
You do have options, Check all of them prior to your decision-IMO.
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Count me in for "pull your child out of that school NOW."
We just had a similar situation with our younger daughter. YD was in a private school, and as the year went on, we got more and more complaints about her behavior -- she couldn't sit still, she was disruptive, she interrupted the teacher constantly, etc. The school wanted to get YD diagnosed with a medical disability so she could qualify for a 1:1 aide who would follow her around all day and take her out of the classroom if she was being disruptive. They recommended various specialists for us, who observed YD in the classroom and then wanted to pin all kinds of labels on her. She was also way behind in reading, and the school wanted her to attend summer school (on our dime!) We left for a family trip about 6 wks before the end of the school year, and told the school we wouldn't be coming back.
In the fall, we enrolled YD in our local public school. Guess what -- all of a sudden she isn't a behavior problem anymore. She's focused, she's appropriate, and she's learning. We're tutoring her at home to bring up her reading skills.
It turned out that the reason YD was freaking out in the private school was that they used teaching techniques (whole language reading) that didn't work for her. She was frustrated with lessons going right over her head, and the result was that she behaved badly.
Bad schools create behavior problems in otherwise normal kids. This isn't your son's fault. He won't learn anything from being made to "stick it out" -- he'll just learn to hate school and hate himself. It is absolutely positively not worth it.
Yes, you are doing the right thing. My son had a great kindergarten experience in an urban public school, and I am horrified by the disciplinary techniques you describe. A naughty chair? Scolding children who need to pee for not sitting still? I think you should take him out, reintroduce positive group and social experiences gradually, and enroll him in another school at the beginning of next year.
Don't worry that your child is going to think he is getting away with something. Tell him you don't think this is a good school for him and that you're going to look for one that is. The first experience of school has to be positive, not negative. A person doesn't become confident that he can learn in a classroom if the classroom is a totally adversarial place.
I also agree with the poster above who said you should write a letter about your experience with this teacher to the administration.
Divorced mom of one awesome boy born 2-3-2003.
Thank you, everyone, for your great advice. I sat with everything each of you said all weekend and feel a lot more in our decision to take him out of Kindergarten. We talked about it with him this weekend, and he is already a happier and more comfortable kid knowing that he doesn't have to go back to school Monday morning.
We're formally pulling E out tomorrow morning, after another terrible interaction with the principal. He is now pushing us to get E formally diagnosed as Autistic, even though we know that he's nothing of the kind. I'm super lucky that we volunteered right after he was born to join a developmental cohort study through one of the better pediatric mental health/autism centers in the nation. We've been meeting with those doctors periodically for five years so they can study E's attachment and developmental milestones and NONE of those docs think there is anything to Elliot being on the spectrum. (There is, as one of the neuro-psychiatrists pointed out, a huge difference between being shy and nerdy and being autistic that seems to be lost on lots of school personnel.) I feel really intensely lucky that we've got reams and reams of documentation at our fingertips if this is something that the principal decides to push, either with the district or with CPS, but it's still scary. As, I suspect, he means it to be.
Anyway. Just to answer a couple questions folks have brought up.
A couple of people wanted to know why we can't get E into another public school in his district. The school he is in is a public "magnet" school, which we tried hard to get him into because our district uses this crazycakes system where everyone is assigned a 'neighborhood' school which they are legally entitled to go to, or can lobby to get in to one of these magnet schools within their attendance area. Our attendance area is currently way, way over capacity (on account of frankly stupid and lousy planning by the district) so Kindergarten classes at his neighborhood school are running 35+ kids. (Plus, the school isn't really a good choice for E) We could hoot and holler to get him in, but after already having a traumatic year, I don't think that's wise. But if we want him in a magnet school for this year, he'd have to go to the neighborhood school and get added to the end of the waiting list, with about a zero chance of actually getting into a magnet before we start all over again for 2012.
There are a couple of magnet schools we would be interested in for 2012, and we'll put in school preference cards for them when they open up for that in January. Frankly, though, after the interactions we've had with this district and some of the things DH is seeing through his teacher licensure stuff, we're building a pretty negative outlook on the local district. Right now I don't feel confident anymore that this was just a teacher-kid mismatch or that the discipline strategies and push for more testing and worksheet-based academic work aren't district wide choices. Luckily for us, our district has gone very heavily in the direction of Charter schools of lots of different flavors and philosophies. We've identified a handful that we're really interested in and toured one that is currently at the top of our list and will guarantee E a spot if we put in a preference card before April. Since the preference card doesn't require us to enroll him, we're planning on doing that, and then also applying at whichever of the other charters are appropriate since they're all lottery based. In April, we'll identify what schools he gets into and make the best decision possible, which gives us the summer to meet other kids at the school and get him ready to go back.
So. That's the plan.
Again, thank you all so much for your wise counsel. It really helped me get past my weird mental block. :)
Spending all of my money and time on this wild, wild life.
long term, he won't remember being pulled. he will remember being relieved that he doesn't have to go there. homeschool for the rest of the semester at least. start looking at other schools for mid-year... or maybe for next fall as a first grader.
i think things got screwed up for him with switching schools in october. he will be better with an entirely fresh start. maybe you should just plan for 1st grade. maybe at an entirely new school. in the meantime, while you are homeschooling, give him more "classroom" experiences that are positive.
can you find a nice play-based preschool that has wonderful teachers who use redirection instead of shaming for discipline? to give him another round of "school-is-fun-and-positive" to counteract the negative experience he's just had?
combined with homeschooling, this can put him back in line for re-entry into first grade. personally, i'd do an awesome play-based preschool, lots of library programs, especially ones that the kid goes to without the parent in the classroom, park district classes that he attends independently of you, etc., etc. also playdates with kids in his new neighborhood, so he can start off the next school year with buddies that are already on his side, before he goes into a classroom. isn't that soooo important in school, to have a buddy?
good luck. but, yeah, no guilt over taking him out. i would only feel guilty keeping him in this situation, which would only solidify his dislike of school. time to break that pattern, mold a brand new pattern, de-brief him on the experience and help him process it as a situation that "school is not supposed to be like that" -- here's what school is supposed to be like, etc.
also, mama, YOU need to talk with other moms in your area and find out if all the local schools are like this, or not. make it your business to become an expert on all the local options, AND which teachers are the best. you can use the time of this coming spring to plan for next fall.
Glad you came to a decision that will work for your family.
I went through a lot of what you described last year with my 1st grader. I should have pulled him but didn't want to "fail" him in some way. I lost my sweet boy for almost a year as he became very sad and angry. His teacher was convinced something was wrong with him and whenever we pushed back she'd just pull in more experts.
We made the decision to homeschool him for 2nd grade, told him in May and had him finish out the school year in June (wish I hadn't made him do that). It has taken me 6 months of work with him, trying to repair the damage, building his confidence in himself again and helping him remember how much he loves learning.
I finally have my amazing kid back and we are on a great path but it still doesn't erase the guilt I feel for making him stay in a situation that made him so miserable.
Wow, the behavior specialist who observed our daughter wanted to diagnose her on the autistic spectrum too. Ugh. I knew this couldn't be right because she didn't show the weird behavior anywhere else -- not at home, not at her best friend's house, not at summer camp, not at speech therapy. If the bad behavior only happens in one environment, how can that be the child's medical problem?
I'm so glad you got your son out of that terrible situation. I second MistyMommy that the only thing I've regretted with either of my kids is not pulling them out of bad situations sooner.
Also, I second the advice to talk to other moms. They are your best source of information as to what the local schools are actually like. When my older daughter was having problems at public school, I used to buttonhole moms in the neighborhood, and say "Tell me everything you know about the local schools!" It was a tad obsessive but I got a lot of useful information, and the consensus that I got ("try the Quaker schools!") turned out to be right on.
Congratulations on your decision!
I can't remember the last time there was this much agreement on a thread.
I'm still a fan of writing a letter about the experience to the governing board of the school, including the principals latest blunder.
but everything has pros and cons