Recently I got a legitimate comment criticizing my post, Dear Teacher, My Child Needs Us to be an Unstoppable Team.
The comment was pretty harsh, but it was well-intentioned and deserves a thoughtful response. Thanks to being married to an incredibly humble man for the past decade, I’ve learned a couple things about criticism. One thing is: all criticism can be useful, if we are willing to be teachable.
I was not born naturally teachable. In fact, I would say it is a struggle for me to “learn” from criticism (initially, I would rather crawl into a hole, than respond), but I did learn A LOT from the below comment (from Margot) who was responding to the “Dear Teacher” letter:
“I know this letter has only good intentions behind it - to have a child's needs met, to gain empathy for the child, to help the teacher know what works best for the child, and to encourage the teacher and parent to work together.
But it comes across as very self-centered and excessively burdensome on the teacher. Yes, teachers need to make some degree of effort to meet the unique needs of every child in a classroom. But a teacher has a large job to provide a general education to 20-30 kids in a classroom, let alone having to consider the personal parenting and discipline philosophies of every family in the class.
This part struck me as the most insensitive, entitled and out-of-touch: "Also, when he is stressed, he communicates that stress by checking out, lying, stealing, breaking things, and by acting violent. Worst of all, he can’t learn." Um, no. You are WAY too wrapped up in your own reality and the reality of your child when you assert that the WORST thing is that your child can't learn. You've just told a teacher that violence in her classroom is less bad than your child being temporarily unable to learn. Think about that. You've just asserted that all the other kids' need for physical safety and the teacher's need for physical safety is less important than your kid's need to learn. (I'd also argue that breaking things and stealing are also much worse than your kid's need to learn in that moment and cause much more trauma to a bunch of other innocent kids who are also trying to learn.)
Margot is right, the letter I wrote did, only, have good intentions, and I’m thankful that she pointed it out. Also, many teachers (including my son’s teacher, whom I sent it to) have told me they would welcome the letter enthusiastically, and none of them suggested that it would be burdensome.
But, when I wrote it, I was honestly wondering if it would seem too burdensome.
However, since I was absolutely sure it would be more burdensome not to send the letter, I decided to send it.
Let me explain:
During the years Clarence had teachers who were not attuned to his emotional needs, his behavior was off-the-charts-bad because the teaching team refused to get on the same page with us. His general education teacher was trying to support him appropriately, and yet she had no team support from the aides, special ed teachers, or administrators. Clarence was stuck in the middle of a bunch of adults who didn’t agree on how to support him, and his behavior proved that was a very unsafe place for him.
When Clarence feels safe, his behavior is not a problem- at all. In fact, in his first week of school this year, this is what happened: His teacher read the letter I wrote. She considered it during her interactions with Clarence. After a week, when the special education coordinator came to observe her class, she could not pick Clarence out. He had no behavior that would distinguish him from his classmates.
Clarence’s school is more intensely structured than most schools, and he is getting the same behavioral interventions as every other child. The only difference with Clarence is that when he earned his first behavioral violation, his teacher saw on his face that he was upset and on the verge of losing it out of misunderstanding. So, she gently asked him, “Are you worried about this? This is nothing. All this tells me is you are learning the rules. Once you have them down, you won’t be earning these. I wouldn’t worry about this if I were you.”
This is her whole approach to Clarence, and he is NOT earning violations. He started school mid-August and there has not been one instance of stealing, lying, or violence. His last year of school, when the teaching team was not on the same page with us and when they were not attuned to his needs, they had to contact us several times a day. His behavior only got worse. The whole class was unsafe. Clarence wasn’t learning.
Also, learning helps Clarence overcome negative behaviors. Much of his unruly behavior is a function of the fact that he misunderstands language, motives, and nonverbal cues. He has not learned these. For instance, one time he became angry and violent at his brother because his brother said, “Mom almost died in a car accident, today!” He raged for a half hour before Andy figured out, Clarence didn’t know the meaning of “almost.” He was feeling threatened. He thought his mother had just died in a car crash! He was scared. He was dangerous. It is dangerous for Clarence, our family, his classmates, his school, and society if he does not learn.
I am thankful for Margot’s critique of my wording of the “Worst of all, he can’t learn,” because I’m sure many educators, who have not previously had experience with a child like Clarence, would feel the same way as Margot. And, I’m sure it would be difficult for them to be on a team with us. So, thanks to Margot’s feedback, I’m changing the wording.
We are lucky in that Clarence’s actual teacher has extensive experience working with high needs students in urban districts. She understands that hurt people hurt people and scared people look scary. It was natural for her to see Clarence’s hurt and his fear and respond to it- so her whole class would be safer and so her whole class would have opportunity to learn.
I’m thankful she has that perspective, and yet, it is extremely helpful for me to remember many teachers do not have the same broad experience or perspective yet.
Thank you for the reminder, Margot, and for your thoughtful comment. I am a better communicator for it.