Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Going to the Principal’s Office Sucks!

I scheduled a  visit with my 12 year old daughter’s middle school to talk about her lack of challenge with the school curriculum. The principal recommended a meeting with her teachers. It was intimidating. Every one of her teachers was there, including an extra student teacher, the principal, and the school psychologist and then just me and my husband.
It was hard. I had concerns but I couldn’t get them heard. The teachers had their own ideas about what they wanted and we just kept talking past each other. I was talking about Hanover only having a few minutes of homework each night and still acing her tests without studying and the teachers would say that she doesn't "show what she knows", doesn't "talk more in class", doesn't jump immediately to do extra credit work.
The math teacher only focused on the one test where Hanover got a 75% (the rest were 90 and above). The English teacher had some nice words. The science teacher never once talked about Hanover's excellent test scores, just some assignments that were missing. The history teacher complained that Hanover didn't hand in an extra credit assignment and also ignored the rest of her performance in class.
When I tried to rephrase what the teachers were saying so I could understand it better, "so you're saying that Hanover's performance in school isn't impressive enough to consider changing her assignments?", the principal stated, firmly--I felt I had been admonished like a school child--that I was being insulting to the teachers. What? It was humiliating. The teachers claimed to care but, ultimately, nothing changed.
I left the meeting thinking my daughter's performance was sub-par only to look at her school records and see that she was earning high honors in 7th grade while doing almost nothing.


Rusty Biesele said...

Change schools if you can. I had a similar situation in elementary. The principal is there to facilitate compromise and a solution. If they immediately have a negative agenda, that's it. You won't change their mind. And they might single your kid out for "special attention".

Kim said...

Rusty, thanks for the comment. It's nice to hear some confirmation that the principal is important to the entire process. You gave me an idea, too, to consider the other middle school in our district. I just e-mailed the superintendent. He didn't immediately say no.

Unknown said...

My wife and I had a similar experience at our son's school - and it's the top independent school in St. Louis. For several years (K-3) he simply would not pay attention to his teachers. Yet his marks were always uniformly high. They continued to press us to get him tested for ADHD despite the fact that he had no problem spending hours reading books he found interesting. We were called to a meeting where we thought we would be talking merely with his two main teachers only to be ambushed by two school administrators and all his special's teachers, pounding us with questions and examples of his ‘bad’ behavior. The principal even questioned the credentials of the psychologist (recommended by both his doctor and the St. Louis Behavioral Institute but not by her) who tested him and found his attention span was above normal. I shudder at how we would have been treated at a generic government operated school.
I could not get across to them that the issue was not that he couldn't pay attention but that he didn't want to pay attention - we had no problem getting him to do his work at home. We had a lot more authority in his eyes. Also, he simply did not like school (still doesn’t). No kid does; it’s an unnatural environment for them and I wish more people would realize that. For the two hundred thousand years the human race has existed; how many of these do you think included mass schooling? I am not necessarily against mass schooling (my son goes to school) but we must be honest about the negatives and realize it’s simple all about convenience for the parents and society – not about what’s best for the child.
One teacher even spent thirty minutes proudly describing in great detail how some drug helped her son; how now he couldn't concentrate without it. Sounded like a drug addict to me but I kept quiet with that thought.
Later, I spoke to the school principal in private and complained about what had happened. I asked her what type of reaction, she would expect a person to have if he was unexpectedly surrounded by people, who would not take what he said seriously and who carelessly tossed accusations at him. What would a person’s normal reaction to that situation be, and if that was really what she wanted to accomplish. Did she really think I didn’t want what was in the best interests of my son? I used ‘edu’ speak – i.e. Speak softly, use lots of big words like adversarial, disappointed, transparent etc. I was surprised at how well it worked. I got lots of responses from her about how we were on the same side, how much they wanted to help my son (to which I gently replied, that it was the results not her desire which made a difference to my son). I even suggested that making the participants and the agenda clear before the meeting to everyone would ‘facilitate’ finding a solution.
Of course it helped that I’m a Ph.D. scientist and got to raise my eyebrows a few times, when she mentioned some research. It also helped that I’d done quite a bit of reading in this area and so I could discuss it at her level.
Oh and when I made a comment that she didn’t listen to me at the meeting and she responded that she had, I followed up with the point that listening also means taking what the speaker says seriously and not just nodding condescendingly and immediately switching to another subject. If you do not agree with someone, then you owe them your best argument.
I honestly believe that she didn’t realize what she was doing. For her, it just made sense to have both parents and all the teachers in the same room to facilitate (another ‘edu’ word) the discussion. And pummeling the parents was simply her way of getting their point across. It turned out that the next year most of my son’s problems disappeared just like the psychologist said they would. Before, abandoning the school, I would suggest having a one on one meeting with the principal. Be gentle, but make sure you get your argument across –write the main points on a card and memorize them if you have to. But be firm.

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