This post talks honestly about how to manage something that parents see often: difficult teacher situations for LD children. Difficult teacher situations are something that parents are NOT equipped to deal with, so parents need to develop new skills and tactics.
We spend all of childhood protecting our children. We protect them from the elements, from other children, from treetops and dangerous snakes, but what happens when they enter school and have problems? Often, that protection wavers, as parents spend time wondering why their LD child isn’t doing what they’re supposed to. Teachers don’t always have time or training to understand why a child under-performs, and some have been known to take it personally if a child does poor-quality work.
Although the path of childhood is well-protected, there is no automatic safe zone for a child with LDs.
Children with LDs are uniquely unprotected from failure, a sense of worthlessness, and from teaching strategies that don’t help them learn.
As parents, we need to make sure that our children are supported so they can learn.
Relentless Failure is Bad for Children
What happens when a child goes to school every single day and fails? This is a common pattern for a child with a LD. Relentless failure can eat away at self-esteem, and many children with LDs call themselves “stupid.” Self-limiting beliefs can harm a child’s future. Both scientific evidence and our own eyes tell us that a panicked, despondent child’s brain is shut down and cannot learn.
We’ve all heard the stories about that one wonderful teacher whose kind words spurred someone on to conquer the world. But what about the teacher who humiliates a child, mocks their work in public, doesn’t follow an IEP or 504 because they don’t “believe” in it, gives “F’s” to a child who tries hard to learn, and treats a child like a loser?
Exposure to teachers who aren’t supportive and who don’t teach in a way that lets LD children learn can be a real part of many of our children’s lives.
Painful classroom and teacher experiences don’t just fade away. Studies of dyslexic students have shown that negative experiences can have a life-long impact on self-esteem — and that poor self-esteem often leads to poor choices in life. Parents report feeling like their child’s spirit was slowly crushed in school.
Your Child’s School Experience
It’s a parent’s job to monitor our children’s behavior and actions. Each family has its rules, and parents track behavior in groups, at home, and when their child is in organized activities.
But parents are not taught to be wary of what school does to our children. That’s considered irrational and overprotective. In some cases, it is overprotective. In other cases, it’s a way to verify that our child’s needs are being met.
Teachers: Trust but Verify
Teachers represent infinite possibility and resources to our children. However, many children taken out of school by a parent had a negative experience with a teacher who was not trained to identify and/or support that child’s LDs, either in the techniques that she used, or in the approach that she brought to the table. And in many cases, the school districts also didn’t offer support. It’s a delicate situation, here’s some advice:
- Do let your child’s teacher teach. Our post about working with your child’s teacher has great suggestions. Train your children to respect the position of teacher. Teachers spend all day, every day surrounded by up to 30 children, and represent vast amounts of knowledge. A good teacher will have a whole bag of tricks that she can use — many different ways to present information so that a child can “see” it and can understand and learn it.
- As part of their development, every child needs to step away from their parents and go into a classroom where the rules are set down and enforced by a totally different individual: the teacher. Learning to follow rules, to get along with, and to trust teachers is an important developmental step.
- Manage your teacher relationship. Educate yourself and monitor your child’s status in the classroom, and don’t be afraid to get involved (always keeping emotions calm and asking for clarification first). You’re in partnership with this teacher.
If you notice your child having significant problems in the classroom, start tracking information, as we describe in this post.
You might need to establish a logical argument for why your child should be taught differently. You have a better chance of success if you show methodical information collection and logical reasoning. Take pictures of homework, note the dates that things happened. This is how to get things done with a school.
Flipping the Fail-First Approach
A surprising amount of school is based upon a “fail first” approach. Children are tested to see where they’re weak, then taught to fill the holes. Children are watched to see if they misbehave, and if they do, they receive consequences.
Although experts agree that school failure should not be how we identify children with LD, it is still the standard operating procedure in most schools. And because their school experience is defined negatively, many LD children consider themselves failures.
Because LD children already have low self-esteem, continued fail-first approaches, or a teacher who punishes them for learning differently, can lead to depression, lack of trying, and sometimes even poor behavior.
Studies show that positive teaching techniques are most effective for teaching LD children. Studies also show that smaller class size, early identification, more teacher training, and improved instruction can help LD children to succeed, but these aren’t yet available in every school system. In the meantime, the parent is left to smooth a path for their child.
It’s important to protect your child from punishment and humiliation because of an LD.
- Make sure that your child’s teacher understands that your child’s brain works differently. Bring literature. Have a talk. In many cases, teachers have never heard of specific LDs and haven’t been educated in LD teaching techniques. Sometimes, teachers don’t understand why accommodations are necessary. You’ll need to diplomatically educate the teacher and often, the school.
- Especially if it’s tied to academic performance, ask the the teacher to not send home any “red cards,” or flags that call attention to your child’s performance problems.
- Ask the teacher not to mark how many problems your child gets wrong on a test. Write what they get correct, instead.
- If you see a pattern teaching that is affecting your child negatively, talk with the teacher. Suggest alternatives.
- Work with the teacher to place your child into situations where it is possible for them to succeed, by identifying interests, opportunities, strengths, and by using accommodations.
- At home, work with your child to set one or more goals, and then work toward them. Help your child learn what types of effort will meet their goals. These goals can be non-academic. Perhaps learning a sport or a skill, or creating a project, saving money for, or collecting items. The process of setting goals, then fulfilling them through real effort is one of the most powerful self-esteem boosters.
- Watch your criticism. Your child is in a situation where they receive criticism every single day. Try to balance things out. One way is to look for three positive (real) things your child does every day, and comment on them. Specialists encourage parents to use positive, specific terms when complementing.
- Give your child a break now and then. Have some fun together.
Dealing with Rough Situations
Every schoolchild has troubles at school sometimes. Most of those situations are to be expected and can be dealt with normally. However, sometimes a bad situation will arise that needs special involvement. For example:
- Your child is utterly miserable and showing signs of stress or anxiety.
- You notice that your child cannot keep up with the school and homework load.
- The teacher isn’t following accommodations.
- Your child is being bullied.
Your child’s mental health is top priority. Misery doesn’t strengthen children and can do real damage. If your child is in crisis, parents advise that you do what you need to do, even if you need to remove your child from school for a few days. (Make sure that you’re familiar with your school district’s rules. Some districts enforce truancy. In that case, you might be able to work with your doctor and take a medical break due to anxiety.) You can continue negotiating and talking with the school even if your child is taking a short break.
Many children with LDs have homework stress every night. If you compare a child with LDs with a classmate, you’ll see that even a simple homework assignment — no big deal to the classmate — can be stressful and difficult for the LD child. Some parents report that their children cry every night before they even try to do homework, and other parents report that homework takes hours every night—even in lower grades.
In homework stress situations, it’s important to pull back and look at the bigger picture. How are you handling homework?
Our culture often expects that parents help their children with homework. Many of us end up sitting with our children every night doing homework, until we start to almost fight their homework battle ourselves. Three big things to remember:
- The parent should not be re-teaching school every night. If you are doing this, pull back. Your teacher shouldn’t send homework home that your child cannot do. If your child doesn’t know how to do his homework, the school is failing them, and you need to meet with the teacher and work to set up an alternate strategy.
- In the lower grades, your child probably shouldn’t have more than 15 or 20 minutes of homework a night. The National Education Foundation recommends 10-20 minutes per night in first grade, and an additional 10 minutes a night for each subsequent grade. Studies show that children with LDs in particular should get simple, short homework assignments.
- Don’t work at a student level. Work at an executive level. If your child’s teacher is assigning too much work, do not overdo it every night, trying to keep up. Set up a meeting with her as soon as possible, and reduce your child’s homework load.
Children with LD often have learning needs that are not met by homework. If your child needs to do occupational therapy or another therapy to stimulate motor skills or brain development, go ahead and schedule it in. If your child is doing work with a tutor, it’s sometimes less effective to do homework than focus on missing or weak skills. It often makes more sense to get tutored on the basics. In both of these cases, it’s perfectly all right to talk with the teacher about reducing homework. In a few lucky cases, parents have tutors talk with teachers so the two can partner up.
If your teacher agrees to cut homework, don’t let the teacher drop your child’s grade or put negative comments on their report card as a result.
Homework troubles are one of the reasons why parents formally request a special education evaluation. If your child is given an educational test that identifies a LD that qualifies for disability protection, the school must, by law, set up an independent educational plan (IEP.)
For more information in this website, see:
- Comparison of LD Support Programs—what are the benefits and disadvantages of each?
- How do I apply for an IEP?
- What does the letter look like when I request an IEP?
- How do I apply for a 504?
- How do you disagree with the school while applying for an IEP?
Making a Difficult Teacher Situation Work
Most parents have had to deal with several teachers who just didn’t “click,” or who taught in a way that didn’t work for their children. Parents are taught that our children need to learn how to get along with different types of teachers, and that’s true. But if a child has LDs, is socially unskilled, or if they have ADHD, in which children are said to have a maturity level of up to three years younger than their physical age, having a supportive teacher is important.
If your child is beginning to show stress in a classroom, go ahead and meet with the teacher. Get to know how the teacher works. Does she has any ideas for how to support your non-standard learner? Will she work with your child in a positive way? Is she comfortable working with accommodations?
If you find yourself repeatedly working to intercede on your child’s behalf across the board, especially for the same things, consider that this might not be the correct teacher for your child. In that case, write the issues down to summarize them, and meet with your principal to ask for help. For more information, read our post called First Thing, Buy a Binder!
Managing teacher relationships can be very difficult, because sometimes you have to criticize a professional, and that can be touchy business. Here some general tips to help:
- Stay diplomatic: pleasant and professional. Teaching is very hard work and deserves respect.
- You and the teacher are on the same side. It’s good to mention that, and approach any conversation with that in mind.
- Be careful with your language. Don’t accuse or condemn. Ask questions. Ask the teacher for ideas and suggestions.
- If your child has come home and reported something, when you then meet with the teacher you can ask the teacher for a description of the event. Don’t tell the teacher what your child said and expect her to respond to it.
- Respect the fact that your teacher may have an entire system for managing your child’s needs that you don’t know about. Be there to learn. And also, respect that your child’s needs may require the teacher to grow many new skills. Be tactful.
- Create a paper trail as described in our Track Information post. Summarize results of a meeting and send it to the teacher nicely, as “my understanding.” If you need to act, the paper trail will be your justification.
- Show up with a coffee, and perhaps a roll. Be friendly.
Try everything you can first. Moving classrooms is hard and should be avoided if possible. But if the experience of being in this teacher’s class is causing your child real trauma, move heaven and earth to get your child in with a more supportive teacher.
If it’s time to move, schedule a meeting with the principal, show up with your records and dated notes, and specifically request a different teacher. Be clear what the negative impact of this teacher is on your child, and show that you’ve been tracking it. Also be clear on what you’re asking for. Ask other parents before your meeting so you know which other teacher would be good.
For more tips on how to research your child’s needs, understand their learning challenges, and claim support, refer to the Pathway to Success series on this website.