Advice To Teachers From An Exhausted Helicopter Mom

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I have come to hate Mondays.

I don’t mean dislike or any other vanilla word that is polite. I mean hate, as in filled with a sinking sense of dread and doom – but not for the reasons you might think. I love Mondays when it comes to my work. I love the fresh start with five wonderful full days ahead in which our team can make progress on milestones, complete new projects, land new clients, begin new work. When it comes to work, Mondays are my favorite days.

No, the reason I have come to hate Mondays is because that is the day when my child’s teachers email me a litany of complaints, many of which are leveled with veiled accusations that it is somehow my fault that my child forgot his homework, did a project incorrectly, offered an unwelcome opinion during class or in some other way made their day less than ideal.

It is probably the thing I’ve found is the most difficult when it comes to raising a twice exceptional child – and that is saying a lot. Anyone who has raised a child who has both an exceptionally high IQ and a complement of learning disabilities to boot knows just how many challenges are attached to the role of parenting. The learning curve is massive, especially if you didn’t grow up with similar challenges. Learning how to help your child find news ways to work around challenges while trying desperately to give them opportunities to expand their insatiable hunger for learning is exhausting and overwhelming. Being the bad guy – that’s tough, too, when you’re the one pushing your child to continue struggling with something that has taken them four hours to complete when it took their peers a handful of minutes. And learning how to suck it up and not be hurt when your child takes out their frustration, hurt, anxiety and pain on you – that is a monumental task to take on when one is parenting a child with exceptions. Please don’t get me wrong – it has a plethora of rewards as well, and I wouldn’t want my children any other way than who they are. I love their complexity and creativity and zest for life. I love learning so many new things because of their own growing wealth of knowledge. I love who they are as people. I am just being honest here about the challenges that come with raising children with complex challenges.

But nothing for me has matched the difficulty of having to accept the necessity of taking on the role of the dreaded helicopter parent when I wanted to be nothing of the sort. When it comes to teachers and administrators who are frustrated with the challenges they’re facing because of having your child in their class – the amount of vitriol, anger, accusations, frustration, and sometimes downright ugly comments that are directed at you and sometimes your child? Hearing at home your child recall some of the petty, mean things that teachers say in class in front of peers? It is heartbreaking. It is overwhelming. It hurts. And it resurrects the fiercest anger I’ve felt – one that has to be kept in check so that my child does not bear the brunt of the fallout that would surely come if I let a teacher or administrator know the truth about what I thought.

Part of the agreement that was made during our last marathon of an IEP was that I would send out a group email once a week asking each teacher a series of questions that they would then fill in the blanks and email back. It was hoped that this new communication would allow the teachers more direct access to me and vice versa as we all struggled to find a better system to help my son remember to turn his work in, to do all of his assignments and to stay on top of his classwork.

Instead, what has happened is that those emails have become the permission that each teacher has needed (with exceptions – there are some who have been amazingly patient and supportive) to turn the faucet on full blast with a litany of frustrations and anger that they feel not only towards my son but towards me for somehow failing to be all they expect me to be.

So this is my response that I cannot possibly say to them:

Of course I know my child is more challenging to work with than some of the other children in your class. This does not come as a surprise, seeing as I have been the hands-on parent of this individual for his entire life. You really don’t need to keep saying this as if it will open my eyes to some new discovery. There is a reason he is in special education, and it isn’t because the school can get more money for him if he is. It is because the school system as it is now does not adequately create an equal playing field for him. It is your job as his teacher to do what you can to make it an even playing field so that he can thrive and enjoy learning, whether you have decided you like his personality or not.

I’m sorry his personality isn’t all rainbows and puppies. Well, actually, I’m not. I like him just as he is – a completely open book with the most amazing honest insights I’ve ever seen. I love his purity and his willingness to hear very hard truths without being crushed under the weight of what he has to hear. If I had to hear half of what he did on a daily basis, I would be curled up in a fetal position waiting to die. So maybe you could figure out that not every child in your class needs to be the type that follows the rules without question, that doesn’t ask questions when he feels like something said isn’t correct, that doesn’t challenge your authority when you’re throwing it around like a medicine ball without any respect for the individual you’re targeting.

And lastly, let it go. Seriously. Sometimes just let it go. The kid is brilliant, and he can learn faster than you or me. So if he doesn’t finish an assignment, doesn’t show his work correctly because it came to him in his head because that’s how it works for him … just let it go. Make an exception. It’s ok. The world will not fall apart, and you will not be discovered to be a sham of a teacher if you bend the rules because the rule doesn’t need to apply in this very specific instance. It will actually mean you are a better teacher, a master teacher when you arrive at that understanding.

And to all of the teachers who don’t continually direct their anger and frustration at the parent simply because they’re a safe target, please let me say thank you from the bottom of my heart. I know how hard your job is – and that the laws being passed seem bent on making it harder with each passing year. I deeply admire your commitment and your love of teaching. And I am forever in your debt for the peace you’ve allowed me to have, for the respite of anger you’ve given me. It was not lost on me, even if I failed to acknowledge it to you.

So, yes, I’ve come to hate Mondays with a passion. But there is an end in sight. In only a few short weeks, the school year will be finished and I will have three blessed months of peace before I get to meet a new set of teachers. But I’ll dread that tomorrow. I have enough on my plate today. I still haven’t heard from three of his teachers, so I’m not finished dreading today.

The Day My Ego Trip Derailed

I remember one fleeting moment when the results on my kids’ first IQ tests came back – a screening at the mid-school to determine if they were eligible for advanced math placement. Both of the older kids qualified (the youngest was still a wee toddler fighting Darth Vader and not yet ready for the world of IQ tests and advanced math).

And when I found out both of my kids scored in the gifted range, there was this big moment of pride I had as a mom.

I reveled in the fact that my kids were advanced. Woo-hoo. My children were going to be valedictorians and doctors and admired and respected by their peers and their peers’ parents and their teachers and, heck, everyone else, too. When I went into teacher conferences, I’d be showered with accolades about how amazing my little geniuses were. It was easy street for me from that point forward, because my kids were going to do their homework on their own and make up new problems just for the fun of it. They would start (and finish) major projects the day they were assigned, seeing as my kids now had test results to prove they were too smart to procrastinate. They would love school and bask in the glory of their own genius. And I’d bask in the glory as well, since they were half of my genes. I mean, seriously, I helped make geniuses. How cool was I?

Yeah. I had a real “moment”, one I’m not in the least proud of. And, as you might suspect, my ego trip derailed with a phone call from the school brought me back to reality.

“We need to have a conference with you about your son.”

Was he up for some award already? “Sure. What time works for you?”, I asked.

“This afternoon. The sooner the better.”

It must be some big award.

It was most definitely not some big award. It was pretty much the opposite. I arrived with my younger son, light saber in tow. While he twirled in a corner of the room, the school counselor and several teachers informed me that my son was failing not one but every single one of his subjects. And not by a little bit. He was failing on a grand scale. As in zeros across the board, in every single class. Oh, except band. He had an A in band.

I left that room a very defeated mother. I had failed my son, and I wasn’t quite sure how to fix it. I’d dropped the ball and bought into the whole pop-culture assumptions about kids with high IQ’s.

When he arrived home, I was waiting. At first, I thought the whole ranting, angry mom routine was called for, but somehow I managed to stop myself. Instead, I asked him to sit down and talk with me. And I told him of my meeting, of the shocking news I’d received from his teachers.

To my surprise, a little smile tugged at the corner of his lips. It seems some teacher who, like me, thought that a high IQ meant that the understanding of all subject matter came easily, had chided him and embarrassed him in front of the rest of the class. We’d just moved to a new home across town, so these weren’t students who’d known him for years. These were new kids, and middle school kids at that. They’re like vultures when it comes to someone being different.

“He told me I was too smart to not know the answer to his question,” my son explained. “He kinda made fun of me for not knowing, so I decided to teach them all a lesson about just how dumb I was.”

“So you just quit doing your work?” I asked, incredulous at his logic.

“Oh, no. I did all of my work. Every problem. I just made sure I got every single answer wrong, and you know, that’s not easy. If you don’t really know the material, you can mess up and get an answer right by mistake.”

So my dear, sweet, smart son had purposefully chosen to do all of his work wrong. And not a single teacher noticed that the answers were all filled in, and that simple odds would tell you that some of them should have been correct.

But once your kid has zeros in all of his classes, convincing the school that your child actually needs tested for the gifted program, is, well, pretty laughable. And that’s what the counselor did when I asked her to begin the screening process.

“Are you kidding me?” she asked, almost offended at my audacity.

“No, I’m not. He isn’t doing well in his regular classes, and while I thought he would fit into the class better than this, he isn’t. So now it’s time to begin testing so that his needs are better met,” I said.

“I’m sorry, but gifted classes are for those kids who are doing so well that they need challenged more, not for students who are failing their classes. This doesn’t seem like a solution, since it appears this is more of a parenting issue.” Her smile was tight. “I can provide references if you would like to look into some parenting classes or family counseling.”

I waited a moment until I was calm enough to talk. “I believe that what I learned in college where I studied special education is that the definition of special education is to provide appropriate services for students whose needs are not able to be served in a regular education classroom. Gifted is not a reward; it is a necessity.”

Her tight smile never wavered. “You cannot imagine the number of requests I receive every year from parents who desperately want their child to be gifted. But the testing is rigorous, and it is the kids who are crushed when they are unable to make the scores that will make their parents happy.”

I actually laughed out loud. I couldn’t help it. “Are you serious? There are parents out there who would wish being gifted on their kids? They obviously don’t know what they’re wishing for, because as much as I wouldn’t change my kids since they’re amazing just the way they are, I promise you, being gifted is not a ticket to easy street. It usually means a whole new set of challenges and struggles to deal with.”

She looked genuinely horrified.

I opened my purse and pulled out a piece of typed paper. “This is my written request to have my son tested. I believe under state law, the school has 90 days to comply. Please let me know when the testing is scheduled so that I can make sure my son is prepared and rested.”

She didn’t wish me well as I gathered up my little Darth Vader and left her office. It was okay with me. I don’t I wished me well right then, either. I’d failed to see the signs and let my son dig a hole for himself because I’d assumed he was doing ok. Here’s a hint. Your kids are never doing ok. They always need you nosing up in their business and asking about grades and homework and friends and life. They need to be parented, no matter how awesome they are.