Jan 5, 2009

Thinking about your approach to school

Ever had one of those days? You know the kind of day when the alarm doesn't go off, then you have a fight with your partner, your kids won't get out of bed, then fight non-stop when they do? Things just keep going wrong and by the time you get to work you are exhausted and your brain is frazzled. It is always those days that you manage to make a stupid mistake - not intentionally and not because you don't know the rules, just because on that day you were not at the top of your game, you were distracted and you just screwed up. I'm sure all of us have had at least one of those days.

How ironic is it then, that if the person having a bad day happens to be the teacher of our deaf/hearing impaired child, all that empathy just flies out the window? Where our children are concerned somehow we manage to lose sight of any rational thought process and go purely to maternal/paternal protection of our young.

Whilst this is a deliberate over exaggeration, it does highlight the fact that we as parents sometimes can be guilty of coming on too strong, or "riding" our children's teachers too hard.

If your child is in the very early years of schooling, helping out at school can be great for you, your child and the teacher. When you offer to go on field trips, help out with cooking/craft classes or other such things, make it clear you are just another parent there to help out. That way the teacher doesn't feel as if you will be hovering over your own child, checking up on the teacher to see if he/she is doing all that you think he/she should be, but rather you will just be there to help out. Taking the pressure off of your child's teacher by helping others in the class means a better deal for your child in the classroom too. It also gives you a great opportunity to observe your child and how they are coping in the mainstream classroom. You can observe how your child is included, and also to see just how everyone else's hearing children behave/cope in the mainstream classroom.

Same if you volunteer to go into the class to listen to children read - don't listen to your own child, you can do that at home anytime. Listen to all the other kids, then in your head you can gauge how your child is doing both in reading skills and in the vocabulary they use at home compared to their class peers. You might just be surprised at how impressed you are with how your child is doing.

Whilst parents are most definitely the expert on their own child, they are not the trained educators, nor are they responsible for managing the dynamic of all those other kids all together in the classroom with your child. Don't be afraid to let teachers know that - you recognise what you have to offer but also recognise their experience and knowledge and see that working together as a team with them, will be in the best interests of your child. Make no mistake these people spend many hours with your child in the classroom, it doesn't do any good to make an enemy of them. I also believe that the vast majority of teachers see their profession as a calling and really do want to do the right by your child. They may not always get it right but I do think they are, for the most part, really trying to do just that.

If you find things are not working well in your child's educational placement or in their Early Intervention (EI) team, then of course as a parent you need to intervene. Here is where paernts need to learn the difference between assertion and aggression.

The Macquarie Dictionary defines assertion as "to state as true; affirm; delcare. To maintain or defend (claims, rights etc).

Assertion is attacking the issues and constructively correcting problems

Aggression is defined as "offensive action or procedure; an offensive mental attitude; the emotional drive to attack"

Aggression is just attacking people not the problem

It is absolutely the parent's role to advocate for their child and to ensure that their child's needs are being met. It is asbolutely not ok for parents to become aggressive or abusive towards people involved in the care of their children. In fact to do so is counter productive. If a ranting parent goes off at the professionals involved and it is witnessed by all, then it is easy to right the parent off as a "loose cannon, an overly emotional out of control parent".

Aggressive people are "never wrong"

However the parent that is calm, rational, well informed and eager to engage in dialogue with the professionals in a bid to find a solution that works, so much harder to simply dismiss. Rather than try to deal with a situation when you are angry, walk away and give yourself time to compose yourself. Gather your facts - information is power! When you are going to a meeting involving your child, do your homework. This is where time spent in the classroom by you is so invaluable. Sometimes our kids suffer from being under the microscope; their every move scrutinised and sadly often put down to their hearing loss. Your time spent in the classroom will enable you to confidently discuss what you know to be age appopriate behavioural issues that are present in many others in the class, as opposed to issues that may be specific to your child or their hearing loss.

Assertive people don't mind being wrong

Get all the information you need and make summaries of pertinent points you want to raise, giving copies of the summary to all those attending the meeting. That way you can move through your list, and if people try to go off topic with irrelevant arguments, you can pull them back to the "mini-agenda" you have in hand. A parent that presents as well informed, especially in relation to legislative requirements and existing precedents in the school district of concern, has far more power to persuade. It won't take long before the professionals attending can see that many of their "old arguments" are not going to work and that this parent isn't going to take "no" for an answer and so they had better knuckle down and try to find a mutually agreeable solution with the parent. Similarly parents who present in this way, might not be "liked" as such, but they will be respected. They will gain rspect by being steadfast in their resolve but in a calm and rational way, and this gaining of respect has positive implications for future dealings with the same personnel.

As the old saying foes "sometimes you can catch more bees with honey".