Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Why I'm Upset Right Now

As I spend more time tutoring, I recall more and more of my own childhood schooling experiences. I identify very closely with the child I am helping. His learning style is very close to mine, and I have found it easier and easier to teach him as we spend more time together. What is so shocking is to hear feedback from the adults in his life consisting conglomerately of, "This child is doing very poorly in school. He has ADHD, and possibly a learning disability. He is being given Ritalin to help improve his symptoms."

Deductive reasoning would tell me that I, too, at this tender age, would probably have been diagnosed with a learning disability! I see nothing irregular or unbearable about this child. As a teacher, in fact, I consider it my duty to solve the initial puzzle of Learning Style. If a child in my studio fails to grasp a certain concept, and I find myself having to repeat it every month, I consider it failure on MY part to have communicated it to him in a manner clear to him. This is the way all parents should be with their children. They look to us for life, knowledge, and purpose. Life, we give them instinctively. For purpose, we point them to Christ. But knowledge, too, is in our hands, and we must sort it and shape it to fit into their minds! We embrace the thought that our children are individuals and cannot be "molded" to fit a standard, but then we expect them to mentally conform to a shabby, poorly-thought-out scholastic standard for the rest of their childhood and into adulthood. WHAT IS THAT?! If children are, indeed, unique individuals, then they also have Unique Individual Learning Styles

I have a heavy burden on my heart right now for children labeled "LD." This is a trend that comes from a herd mentality wherein a child who does not glean the concept of "5 vowels: AEIOU" from a classroom dictation is considered "Disabled." Why would we not consider the TEACHER ill-equipped in explaining the concept? I mean, the teacher's had 25 years to get a good idea of what Vowels are, and should definitely be able to explain it to 25 kids. Additionally, she should be able to KNOW if a child's missed out on that concept. The child, on the other hand, has only been in this world for 6 years, and spent 3 of them just learning what the heck we were saying with all that English Jibberish Mumbling! Why, oh WHY would you blame it on the child????

Unfortunately, it's the POSITIVE results that work against us.  In a room full of 25 children, it may be that 20 of them have already been exposed to the concept of "5 vowels: AEIOU." This could be from educational toys, casual explanatory conversation with parents, older siblings, or educational t.v. In the end, 20 children manage to convince the teacher by one way or another that they grasped the concept of Vowels. Perhaps even 2 of the remaining 5 accidentally "got it right" on the test. The teacher is busy, how would she notice? The remaining 3 children might not have ever heard this concept explained before, and do not understand the teacher's explanation (because of classroom disruption, possibly, or just "not paying attention" at the crucial moment---again, how would the teacher notice? She's busy with 24 other children.) These children become a minority, and are too few to use as evidence against the teacher (or the material) and they stick out like a sore thumb. The 20 who "understand" (by virtue of their grade) the concept of Vowels are "proof" that the teacher's explanation was good enough, and the materials are doing a fine job of keeping the State's Education Budget on track. They therefore conclude there is a learning disability on the part of the 3 children. What else is there to conclude? *sarcasm*

As I dig into this flawed thinking pattern, I begin to see towards the bottom of this is the erroneous belief that All Children Learn in the Same Manner--which I have already spoken about. 

Returning to my little student, I am appalled at how no one in his life has ever questioned the material being used for him, or the manner in which his teacher introduces new concepts (what her learning style might be, and does it conflict with his), or even what supplemental material might be used to fill in the cracks in his learning! Much less have they ever checked his incorrect answers on his tests! There could just be a common mistake he's repeating.....or a basic concept he might be missing, which, if corrected, could solidify other information for him and bring his grades up eventually. 

And about that........when I was being homeschooled there was no discussion of grades and no success measured in percentages. When tests were taken, only Perfection was acceptable as a "free pass" to just go out and play. If there was a wrong answer, we were to sit down, talk about what went wrong, and practice the application several times to make sure we wouldn't continue making that mistake. 

Does this sound strict to you? To me, it just MAKES SENSE. If you are teaching concepts to a child, and you want him to actually take in the information and use it to further his life and knowledge, you darn well don't want him thinking that 80 out of 100 of those concepts is good enough to get by. What if "5 Vowels" is the 20 out of 100 that he gets wrong? How will that serve him when he's learning to read? Will you accept 80 % as a "good enough grade" and send him out to play? Grades only get you through the first 18-24 years of life! It's the perfectly-understood concepts that are going to make you rich, successful, satisfied, and fully-equipped to forge ahead into the rest of life!

*Whew* So, that is my tirade. I'm too incensed right now to go over this post and polish it up. I know most of you know me, and can fill in blanks I've left based on what you know about me. Let me know if I've made any gross errors, and I'll correct them. For now, I'd like to leave you with this Learning Styles test, good for getting to know your own style so you can better understand your children's. 

Signing Off.


Matt and Laurie Beardsley said...

Ahhhh! So much wisdom in your post Sus, and alot of anger! Justifiably.

At the beginning of my year teaching second grade in the Public School system I was warned about one of my "active" little boys. I was a new teacher. I was a first year teacher. I have a brother. I don't think I paid this person any attention at all. At the very end of the year I got a note from said child's mother whom I hadn't had too much contact with throughout the year. I still have the note. It said:

Dear Ms. Hennessey: Thank you so much for your attention to C. this year. First grade was very hard for him. It was recommended to us that he had ADHD and should be medicated. We were getting calls all the time last year. I'm so glad that these problems were resolved and that he had you for a teacher. etc. (this was the gyst).

- C.'s Mom

I remember thinking many things. What was going on in first grade? Yeah, he's a little active, but his learning and grades were good. Medicate him for what? Spirit?

As I have developed a passion for homeschooling/alternative schooling and teaching my own and other kids in an out-of the classroom setting, I have simultaneously developed a passion for public education the opportunities and successes that it provides kids.

I think there are appropriate times and places for lots of different types of education. I also think that these different types of education are appropriate for different children and at various times in life and development.

It sounds like you have hit the nail on the head for what your little boy needs, some people who care enough to figure out what he understands and doesn't, why and to use a variety of approaches. It is hard though, to know what goes on in his classroom, what the teacher has been instructed to do, and what she/he has tried to do with each and every child. She may have dealt with a child like him many times before and be approaching it in a way that has been previously successful.

I think we would all do well to think of education as an art from. Something that we desire to refine and perfect in ourselves and express ourselves through it. It should be hard though to point a finger at someone else's styles though, as wrong as they seem. Remember, even if teaching comes naturally others go to school and receive training to be a teacher. They may then, be teaching the way that they have been "taught". Even, the way they may have been told was "right" or "developmentally appropriate".

I don't think you're wrong. And I think it's easy to come to frustration. But I think we should all aim to improve and help. Public education is different in elem. middle and high school (then it is at the university level) and I would be quick to correct anyone who criticized and had never been enrolled. I think those who are homeschooled (or any other alternative educ.) should also be quick to correct among those who have never had that experience. We all know that GROSS misconceptions exsist.

It sounds like your little AEIOU is lucky to have you. Have faith in his school and teacher though, it may be that they are really doing the best they can, with what they've been given to work with.

Sorry that was so long! :-)

Edith said...

I feel for you; I really do. I know I don't have any kids myself but I have a sister who is deaf and cousins who are dyslexic and it makes me MAD when people write them off.
However on a positive note, my little sis won a scholarship to Maryville TN a few years ago and had the BEST time of her life. She had round the clock signers and interpreters and was totally bowled over by all the efforts people went to in order to help her. Well done America - you can teach your old world neighbours a thing or two.

Herb of Grace said...


L, I disagree with you on one point. I know we've spoken about this before :) I think the format of public education in this country is fundamentally flawed because it assumes that a roomful of twenty to thirty children can have their educational needs adequately met by one adult. I do not think this is ever possible, regardless of the skill, flexibility and dedication of that one adult.

I think that in many cases, public education in a large classroom setting is better than no education at all. But I do not think it is ever ideal.

Susannah Forshey said...

To Laurie: Thanks for your input! I appreciate your perspective; I'd almost forgotten you were a teacher! :P I agree with you that the teachers (in a general sense) probably suffer from the same lack of individualized education. That being said, I think I *cannot* have faith in his teacher and school, being that they are like Blind leading the Blind here. Instead, it inspires me to get into the education system myself and be the One Teacher in kids' lives who might rescue them from Ritalin.

Referencing Elisa's remarks, I agree with you that a teacher-child ratio of 1:25 or 30 is fundamentally flawed, I still think that going INTO the schools armed with the experiences we Homeschool Types have had, we can do more good than we can just berating the system from the safety of our laptops. I do believe that I have a gift (whether inherited or taught) for teaching, I definitely have a passion for it, and I am loathe to waste either. I know I will be spending the rest of my life in elementary education, whether just through private music lessons, tutoring, or full-fledged school-teaching, I don't know. God will provide the opportunity.

Right now, I'm just in the revelation and inspiration phase. Hence the tirades. :)

Last thing: with respect to Laurie's point about later education, I have both a deep respect and a personal fondness for post-elementary public education. I don't know much about the institution of high school, but I do know at that AGE, I was more than ready to be put into a classroom setting. I had the self-learning skills already honed, and had a whetted appetite for knowledge, and a past record of good success with academics (being that my Mom never *let* us "fail"), so I enjoyed the way-too-short years of college so very, very much! College was the highlight of adolescence/young adulthood bar none! I would dearly love to return one day, perhaps once I'm done with child-rearing.

Matt and Laurie Beardsley said...

Sounds like maybe you have a future pursuing a teaching degree then Sus! (and I totally think it's o.k. to write off little vowel's teacher)

I hope that you can be a big help to him! I'm sure that you can!!

Susannah Forshey said...

*Tips Hat At Laurie*

Thanks, and I didn't mean to come across as judgmental--especially if you identify yourself with most American Educators. I know you, and I'm sure there are many more like you who have a value for individualism within the institution. I do believe there are exceptions to the Rule (especially when I intend to be one of those Exceptions one day). I guess I do tend to just "write off" entire people groups based on one irritating incident. :P Sorry if I nettled you.

Matt and Laurie Beardsley said...

lol, Thanks Sus. I'm not nettled a bit! I'm a little interesting a case because before I became a licensed teacher I couldn't understand the concept of homeschooling. I thought that I could be a great teacher and make a difference and do just as well as any person who wasn't trained at home. Ahhh, the naivete of an 18 year old without kids. After and during teaching though I came to realize the many many dimensions of the teacher role, and for a whole lot of personal and practical reasons, decided the best thing for me and my children, would be to keep them at home for a time. It's funny that idea developed while I was actually in the classroom having a successful teaching experience AND enjoying it! In fact I miss it all the time!

I'd say that the biggest problem that I faced and realized out there is the lack of motivation and involvement in parents and the unfortunate "trend" in society that school is for the education and home is for the homework. So when you're gearing up for your next education post..... ;-)

But Thanks, I'm definitely not ruffled. I love your posts! :-)

Polly said...

I just had a few hours with a couple of little boys, three and under-one--both of them had already been labeled learning disabled. They were perfectly bright! At least the older one--the other was still a BABY! My heart broke for them, but not just because of the label--these two had an unusual case, their OWN MOTHER being also learning dasabled. Figure that one out. :( The three-year-old apparently had not had any of the "normal" mothering things, like teaching colors, numbers, basic motor skills, but he was just as quick as anything to pick them up when anybody showed him! Sad, very.

Polly said...

Haha, I'M larning dasabled...

Susannah Forshey said...

HAHAHAHAHAHAA!! Polly, I miss the funny word sound jokes from my family! I laughed so hard when I read your second comment! I hadn't even laid eyes on the first one, just "larning dasabled" --and I cracked UP!

Jenny said...

There is a difference here that doesn't get recognized. In an IDEAL world, we'd all have the perfect teacher and learn everything perfectly and be perfect students. Unfortunately, MOST kids don't have that opportunity. Those of you who have had teachers that know you personally (ie moms, etc.) had a great advantage (assuming the "mom" was dedicated to your learning). In the world at large, most kids don't have that option (most parents wouldn't even consider it!). I have many teacher friends who HATE their jobs because of how it has to be done in the beaurocracy of public schools. They LOVE teaching kids, and that's why they became teachers. They LOVE to see that lightbulb come on as much as any of us do. But, the situation they're forced to work in, doesn't allow them individual work with each student. What's the idea situation for a missionary -- enough money to support everybody so they'd be able to hear and learn with no other worries (yes, I'm oversimplifying). Most teachers will tell you the same thing -- they'd love to just be able to TEACH. It just doesn't work out that way. Be very happy and feel very blessed that you were raised in a situation, with parents that took your education as their personal responsibility because there are a LOT of parents out there that believe that the schools should be raising their kids. And if the school fails, it's the schools fault when their kids gets into trouble of some sort.
I'm so torn on schools out here. I hate the systems, but I don't see myself as a good teacher either and I want Evie to have the best opportunities to learn. Someday I'm going to have to make a decision...and right now I have no idea how I'll go. There's a lot to consider.
Makes me wish I had all the money in the world to hire Susi to come teach for me;)

Susannah Forshey said...

I'd do it for free, Jenny! :)

Polly said...

Hehe. That's what I'm here for. Bringing back the good mammaries of the plissful bast. Tessi and I still play Scrabble...wish you were here to choin the funne. And you know there's a milyin and one ways to spell fenisn roste (and growned vanisun)...we have a grand display uff them in the freeezer at the moment--Tess and I really had a bol. I'm sorry you're stuck with such a booring husband... ;P

Ok Ile stopp.