How I Learned to Be My Child's Advocate
Last year I was picking my son up at school. I was waiting on the bench outside his classroom with the other parents. His teacher, Mrs. D, always ran late, and our kids had just returned from the playground. They were lined up to use the water fountain. Because they line up by size, my son, the tallest, was last in line, and was helping the boy in front of him by holding down the water fountain handle. Their teacher got impatient, which was common with her. Although it didn't look like Lawrence was goofing around (which I would definitely recognize, having seen it enough), she snapped at him, "Lawrence! Cut it out!"
It was obvious to all the parents who had children in this teacher's class that she was inexperienced and lacking direction. I heard from other parents that she was prone to yelling at the children in general, but a couple of parents who spend some time helping out in the classroom warned me that my son was one of the children that she seemed particularly annoyed by. I wasn't surprised, as I know that children with ADHD can be a challenge for even an experienced teacher.
For me, that one moment was a kind of snapshot. One moment in one day, out of 180 days that he had to spend with this teacher. The year before, in kindergarten, he had loved school and was actually upset when the school year ended. He had a wonderful teacher who disciplined him when he was disruptive in class, but liked him and treated him with respect. But after two months in Mrs. D's class, he was talking about wanting to be expelled so that he could go to another school to get away from her. He said that he'd do whatever it took for that to happen, including deliberately getting into trouble. He felt that he was perceived as the bad kid already, and that he had nothing to lose.
We had several meetings with the principal. She admitted that there were problems with Mrs. D, and in fact, four children had already been moved to other first grade classes at the parents' insistence. Unfortunately, the only way Lawrence could be moved to another class was if a child from that class was moved to Mrs. D's class. Of course, the word had spread and no parents wanted their kids in her class. We hung grimly on through the rest of the year, keeping the principal apprised of any problems that cropped up and tried to keep Lawrence's spirits up by counting down the weeks until the end of school.
This summer Lawrence had no apprehension about starting a new camp (there were three different ones), even though he didn't know anyone in two of them. It seemed his self-esteem had recovered. Then he got invited to a birthday party for a boy in his first grade class. The night before, he told me he didn't want to go. After a few minutes of coaxing and questioning, it became clear that he was afraid to see the kids from school again because he had been the "bad kid." My heart broke for him. I persuaded him to go to the party, and all the kids were clearly happy to see him.
If I had it to do over again, I would have questioned Lawrence more thoroughly about his teacher last year, and met with her to take her measure earlier. A child with ADHD is always going to be more of a challenge, although often also more of a reward, to a teacher than a child without ADHD. Some can handle it with aplomb and some will use the child as a scapegoat. As Lawrence's parent, I have to overcome my aversion to making waves and become more of an advocate for him and escalate the situation, if it's needed. His self-esteem is at stake, and that is extremely precious to me.