Three Promises I’m Making to the Parents of Quirky Kids.

I’ve been doing a ton of reflecting lately on just what it is that teachers owe to their parents and students.  

I think that’s because my daughter — a wonderfully quirky kid who can’t stand school — begins third grade on Monday and I’m more than a little worried about it.  I’m already dreading the battles that I know we will have over getting homework done.  They consume much of my evenings — and all of my emotional energy — once school starts.

And I’m dreading the inevitable phone calls from school employees, telling me that my kid isn’t working as hard as she can, isn’t sitting in her seat as quietly as she can, or isn’t making as many friends on the playground as she can.  I’m also dreading the inevitable phone calls telling me that she’s not reading on grade level yet — and that the only solution is some form of remediation that pulls her away from the few things about school that she DOES love.

Now don’t get me wrong:  I don’t blame the school for any of this.  

I know full well that my kid’s strengths don’t align nicely with traditional definitions of success in school.  She’s super curious, but not all that willing to invest her attention in things that don’t interest her.  She’s super articulate and verbal, but not all that willing to wait her turn to share what she’s thinking.  She’s super kind, but only if she feels that she’s accepted by those around her.

And my kid’s weaknesses — stubbornness and insecurity — are only exacerbated by life in school.

She knows full well that there are high stakes attached to darn near everything in her classroom. She recognizes that she doesn’t read and/or write as well as her classmates.  And she understands that she hasn’t found as many friends as her peers.  All of those things cause her to worry and to push back and to quit way more than I would like her to.  And all of those things get in the way of both her happiness and her success in the place where she will spend the majority of her days for the next 10 months.

That breaks my heart.

 

But I do know that being the parent of a quirky kid has changed who I am as a teacher — and as a result, I’m ready to make three promises to the parents of my quirky kids this year:

Promise #1:  I won’t bury you in homework.

For the parents of kids like mine, homework is a source of constant conflict.  When Reece comes home after a day of struggle at school, she’s not ready to sit down and struggle some more.  After all, she’s spent most of her time between 8-3 feeling insecure already.  And she’s exhausted.  Struggling all day will do that to you.

But homework is always ready and waiting for us — and it’s a constant battle to get done.  It probably takes us twice as long as it takes most kids and families — and twice as long as the teacher intended — because it just doesn’t come easy for my kid.  It also leaves everyone in our house frustrated and annoyed and unhappy with one another — and that sucks.  

Sometimes I wish I could just come home and read with my kid or answer HER questions or play outside in the backyard or watch her at dance class or in gymnastics — but even when we make time for those things, we both know that our fight over homework is looming just around the corner.

So I’m going to limit the amount of homework that I give in my own classroom.  Will there be times that kids have to finish a task or two that we started in class?  Sure.  But there’s no way that there’s going to be work every single day.  Instead, I want to create space for families to be families and for kids to pursue their own interests.  Fights over classroom assignments have no place in our daily routines.

Promise #2: I will celebrate your child, too.

Here’s an uncomfortable truth that I’ve never addressed with my daughter’s teachers:  While I get lots of emails and phone calls and notes about the “bad” things that she’s doing at school, I rarely hear about the positive things that she does.

Now, I get it:  I’m a teacher too.  Finding time to communicate with parents is hard enough to begin with.  My planning time is consumed with meetings and developing lessons and grading papers.  What’s more, why should we set time aside to celebrate kids who are simply following classroom rules?  Meeting basic expectations shouldn’t be cause for celebration, should it?

But I never realized how discouraging it can be to parent a quirky kid through the school system until I had one of my own.  I know that I’m going to hear a LOT over the next ten months about the reasons my kid — who I love with every ounce of my soul — is a disruption or a behavior problem or academically behind her peers.  But it’s unlikely that I’ll hear all that much about what she does well or why she’s worthy of celebration.

That breaks my heart, too.

So I’m going to celebrate every single child — including the quirky kids in my room — this year.  Whether I’m writing Kudos Cookies or writing letters directly to parents, you are going to hear me praise all that is unique and amazing and important about your kid, even if they are struggling academically or socially in my room.  You deserve it.

And so does your kid.

Promise #3: If I call home with a concern, I’ll come prepared with suggestions, too.

The worst part about being the parent of a quirky kid is the feeling of helplessness that I have when I get the inevitable phone calls and emails about my child’s behavioral or academic struggles.

While I appreciate the information and always want to follow through at home with a consequence so that Reece knows that I expect her to “follow the rules” and to “work hard in class,” I have no idea how to change her behavior or to succeed academically in the long term.  If I did, she wouldn’t be behaving the way that she’s behaving to begin with and she certainly wouldn’t be struggling academically!

If Reece is in trouble for behavior, I fuss — but I know that she is likely to get into the same pickle in a few weeks time.  At which point, I’ll get another email or phone call.  And I’ll fuss again.  I’ll ground her or take away her privileges or create some kind of threat that hopefully will motivate her to do all that is expected of her.  “Don’t let me hear from your teachers again!” I’ll say, “Or we aren’t taking that trip to DC with your friends!”

Then, I’ll wait until the same behavior repeats itself.

And if she’s struggling academically, I’ll double down on homework time.  We’ll spend even LONGER at the kitchen table, grinding through as many practice worksheets as I can find on the ol’ Interwebs.  She’ll grumble.  I’ll grumble.  But it’s all I know to do.  I can’t just let her fall further and further behind.  I know what happens to those kids when they grow up.

To be honest, I never REALLY know whether or not the steps I’m taking make any sense.  After all, I don’t teach elementary school.  I’m doing the best that I can with the knowledge that I have — but things never seem to change and I don’t know what to do next.

So this year, EVERY time that I send an email or make a phone call to the parents of a student who is struggling with behaviors or academics, I’m going to do more than just let them know what is going on at school.  I’m ALSO going to let them know the actions that I’m going to take at school to address the situation AND I’m going to offer them some suggestions about the things that they can try at home.  What I’m NOT going to do is drop bad news on parents and expect them to solve the problem at home without me.

After all, I’m the professional educator.  Solving problems is my responsibility.

Could my promises work just as well for kids who are succeeding in school?  

Sure.

But those aren’t the kids or families that I am most worried about.

I’m worried about families like mine.  Moms and dads and kids who are discouraged and hopeless — convinced that school is something to be survived instead of something to be enjoyed.  Those moms and dads deserve MORE of our support and encouragement and celebration.  It’s easy to point out the weaknesses in quirky kids.  But it is our responsibility to do all that we can to lift those kids up and help them to be successful, too.

I’m not sure I’ve always done that as well as I should.  That changes now.


Related Radical Reads:

Writing Positive Notes to Students is the Best Way to Start the Day.

When Was the Last Time YOU Wrote a Positive Note Home to Parents?

Simple Truth:  Kids Want to be Noticed.

 

7 thoughts on “Three Promises I’m Making to the Parents of Quirky Kids.

  1. Stephanie Powell

    Hi!
    Thank you so much for sharing. My own quirky kids have caused me to view education and my teaching practices through a different lens. Truth!

  2. Kyle Hamstra

    Bill, another interesting reflection. As an educator and now expecting parent myself, this post has perspective written all over it. I see that your educator perspective is greatly influenced by your having your own child in school, and may have even changed over the years. Your take on homework is meaningful, and I like how you have celebrated your learners through efforts like #kudoskookies. But what I really like is how your suggestions for improvement will be informed with an action plan, or coupled with specific steps to become better.

    I have always heard (and somewhat resented hearing) that having my own child will make me a better educator, but now—Reflections like these are speaking to me louder than ever. It’s like I’m seeing things for the first time.
    Thanks for your insight!
    Sincerely,
    @KyleHamstra

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Kyle,

      You have NO idea how your life — both personally and professionally — is about to change!

      Your own child will give you incredible perspective about all things education — from the salary that you get paid (which will feel so small at times that you will be looking for ways out of education just so you can give your child the things that the kids in your own class have) to your role/responsibility in driving change in the system (which you have an upper hand in navigating/understanding that will give your child a leg up compared to the kids in your own class).

      But what will drive you the craziest is seeing your kid struggle to fit into “the system.” Maybe that won’t happen to you. Maybe Baby Hamstra will be a pro at school from day one. But if not — if you get a quirky kid like mine — you’ll constantly question both the system that you work in and your own service to quirky kids over the course of your career.

      Not kidding: It’s changed me as an educator. And it makes me less tolerant of our system of education every single day. And it makes me embarrassed for who I once was as a teacher.

      Bill

  3. teacherdiana01

    Hey Bill, I just have to say your post simply breaks my heart. My son is the same age as Reece and struggles mightily with reading and is also a highly curious, quirky kid (he’s tested out as gifted learning disabled). His experience with school has been completely different, though. We have been blessed to have teachers that see the uniqueness as a positive and they have nurtured his gifts. One thing his grade 1 and 2 teachers have consistently told me is, “He will learn to read in his own time”. I need to tell YOU that Reece will too.

    As a grade three teacher (who’s only homework ever is to read each night) and parent of a “quirky” kid, I challenge you to examine the role of homework. Does it benefit Reece? What does your gut tell you? Is it worth the family strife and continued trauma?

    It sounds ridiculously simple, but I don’t do homework with my son. We practice reading books that are at his just right level and that’s it. (And we snuggle when we read and I read the words he can’t.)

    It’s OK not to do homework. Reece will be ok. There is so much research out there to support not doing homework, maybe send that along with a polite note to Reece’s teacher that you won’t be doing any homework this year.

    Then put her in an extra curricular activity that she loves and build her up.

    Hope this makes sense-you know where to find me if you want to chat more. Wishing you all the best!

    Big hugs,
    Diana

  4. Amy Nichols

    Thank you so much for sharing this post. Your quirky kid is lucky to have a Dad like you. Your students and families are also very fortunate. I think all kids are quirky in their own way. It’s important that we look hard and listen harder. Sometimes just knowing someone cares makes all the difference in the world.

  5. juliettekuhn

    Great perspective from the parent and educator position, which gives you an advantage with compassion and insight. I recently heard another strategy of calling parents twice at the beginning of the year. The first for positive focus and then again to ask how they praise their student when it comes to school. Making real connections. I truly wish homework didn’t exist in elementary. I feel like we lost so much quality family time during that period for work that I doubt made an impact in my own children’s learning.

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Juliette wrote:

      I feel like we lost so much quality family time during that period for work that I doubt made an impact in my own children’s learning.

      ————
      You got that right, Juliette. I don’t think any homework that my child has done so far has had an impact on who she is as a learner. And more importantly, it has stolen time from the OTHER learning that she does in her life. In school, we assume that the learning kids do for us is the only learning kids do. That discounts the learning they do about their own interests outside of school.

      Drives me nuts.

      Anyway…thanks for stopping by.
      Bill

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