Archives for category: parenting

At breakfast last Friday morning, my fork paused mid-air when my 13-year-old Autistic son mentioned that he had to fill out a bullying report at school. When I asked why, he gave me the summary version (as we all had places to be that morning): a boy grabbed his shoulders, painfully rolling and pinching the flesh, continuing after my son asked him to stop. Plus a girl threw my son’s own salad in his applesauce and on him at lunch the previous day at school.

I composed a quick email to the principal at Ponca City’s West Middle School, asking that the students who attacked my son be held accountable. One of the principal’s replies stated that I needed to get the “whole story” from my middle schooler.

This weekend, I got the complete story according to my son. Before I share it, let me first explain one of the challenges people with Autism face.

Individuals with Autism have social skills deficits that make them frequent targets of bullies. They have trouble understanding the “intentions of others and understanding what others are feeling and thinking.” Worse, they often, “take comments literally instead of understanding the underlying and, perhaps, unkind message” (access the source in the online version of this column).

Back to the story. On Wednesday, “Joe”, we’ll call him, my son’s attacker at lunch on Thursday, evidently told my 13-year-old boy that “75% of rape starts by a hand on the shoulder” was a “joke”. Being Autistic, my son took the statement that this was a joke literally.

When my son repeated what he thought a “joke” the next day at the lunch table, “Beth”, upon hearing it, apparently threw my son’s food on him. And not only did “Joe” squeeze my son painfully on his shoulders, but the same was also done to both of his sides and he was apparently choked (my son demonstrated with both hands on his own neck) Thursday at lunch. I asked my son several times about how he responded and reacted to what these students did. He said that he did not lay hands on Joe or Beth, but instead asked Joe to stop, and when he didn’t, stood up and tried to get away, but Joe followed him. He was not provided more food to replace the applesauce and salad the girl rendered inedible.

Meanwhile, my son’s band instructor emailed to complement his behavior and effort in band. Later, he asked why I thought my young trombone player “wasn’t focused at all in band. He was playing when he shouldn’t have been, not paying attention, not sitting up, and not playing with good fundamentals that he usually shows” on Thursday afternoon. When I informed him that my son had been bullied at lunch Thursday, right before he came to band, the instructor replied, “Now I understand.”

My 13-year-old also told me about several other bullying incidents that have happened to him this school year. This is a major step in the right direction for him, because when he was bullied in elementary school, he never told me. I’ve had to make very clear to him that I will support him and do whatever I can to stop it. Kids don’t report bullying to adults who do nothing, or even worse, blame the victim.

Unfortunately, blaming the victim seems to be exactly how the school responded. My son was called to the office on Friday (in response to my email, I presume) and told by the principal that he would have consequences for his comment to the girl.

Still trying to assume that the principal had the best of intentions, I reported the “whole story” to the principal this Monday morning, figuring he either didn’t have all the details or was not educated about the social skills deficits related to Autism. I shared the same quote as I did earlier in this column with the principal.

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This is a photo (edited to remove names) of the detention slip my son sent me.

The administrator responded by giving my son three days of In School Suspension, thus ensuring neither my son nor I will want to report any further attacks.

Yes, the bullying victim is losing out on three days of instructional time because another student saw a gullible target and took advantage. Because this targeting was made possible due to my son’s Autism, this incident appears to be a violation of his civil right to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), which is protected under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

My boy told me he has been physically bullied (a pencil thrown in class that hit him in the eye, hit repeatedly with a hard lunch box by a boy who took it from a girl, had his trombone for band yanked from his hands and thrown, to give a few examples) several other times this year.

According to Oklahoma’s School Safety and Bullying Prevention Act, school bullying policies must include how the parents of bullying victims and perpetrators will be notified in a timely fashion. Yet, I was never notified that my son was hit repeatedly with a lunch box in October, even though my son said he went to the principal’s office to report the incident.

I am (uncharacteristically) rendered speechless by the school’s response, so I could use your help, dear readers. What would you say to the principal?

I remember many of my teachers fondly, so it is difficult to pick a favorite in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week. Therefore, I’ve decided to write about my FIRST favorite teacher, Mrs. Joy Sherman. As an educator myself, I now recognize many of the teaching strategies that today are known as those belonging to very effective teachers.

the author in 3rd grade

Here’s a photo of 3rd grade me circa 1983-84 

Mrs. Sherman differentiated instruction long before there was a half-dollar word for teaching students at their individual levels. As one of the third generation of a journalism family, I was (like my parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents) a voracious reader. Though other teachers made me stick to the prescribed curriculum for our 3rd grade level (snooze), Mrs. Sherman let me plow through the entire stock of required readers and then let me start picking hardback books (that were — gasp! — supposedly “above my level”) from her classroom library.

I sped through all my work and books, which resulting in my getting bored in class a lot. I would stare out the window once I had read all my textbooks, everything on the walls, my classmates T-shirts, and anything else I could see or reach. I’m sure my other teachers noticed this but likely had their hands full with my classmates and other duties. Since I wasn’t disruptive, I was usually left to my own devices.

Mrs. Sherman, on the other hand, was concerned enough that she looked for enrichment activities. She decided to teach me about genealogy when I finished my work early. I found the subject fascinating and was soon delighted to discover my aunt and grandfather had been enjoying the study of our family history for years.

Due to today’s emphasis on high stakes standardized tests, students aren’t ALLOWED to have weak areas (though the rest of us are). It is common practice today to have students spend extra time in the school day working on their weak areas. Because they already know they aren’t good in that subject, they’re generally not excited about or motivated to do the work.

Mrs. Sherman didn’t force me to spend extra time working on my weak area, math. Instead, she helped me grow and build on my strengths. I believe that Mrs. Sherman and our gym teacher (another highly effective teacher, Mrs. Campbell) collaborated to put on a program about our state. Mrs. Sherman wisely made this bookworm child the narrator of the Oklahoma program, and thus sneakily gave my shy 9-year-old self some practice in presentation skills by building on what I was already good at. Like other effective teachers, she knew to start with my comfort zone (reading), and then pushed me just a little past it.

Another trait Mrs. Sherman shared with other great teachers was her willingness to learn.  At that time, third grade was the year students began learning to write in cursive. I dutifully copied the paper and hand position Mrs. Sherman demonstrated at the board. One day, the observant teacher noticed that this left-handed bookworm was bending her wrist at 90-degree angle so as to see what she’d just written. Mrs. Sherman realized that I had tilted my paper, as instructed, the direction for right-handed writers.

Mrs. Sherman next did something COMPLETELY unexpected: she bent down to eye level with me and admitted she’d taught me incorrectly since I was left-handed, and she APOLOGIZED, saying she would find a better way to teach me, which she soon did. This was an epiphany for me. Even teachers made mistakes and had to work at learning?! Teachers aren’t supposed to know everything already? That means I don’t have to know it all already either! What a relief!

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My teacher had one of these bad boys (or something similar) in our classroom back in 1983! How’s that for an ed tech early adopter?!

Parent involvement has been proven to be one of the most important factors in student success. Mrs. Sherman bravely let my dad put a computer in her classroom so that students could play a math game (Dad, I see what you did there!) if they finished their work early. Mind you, this was in 1983, people. It was a big clunky Radio Shack PC running an educational math game on MSDOS, not those fancy, schmanchy PORTABLE devices with the INTERNET many of you young whipper snappers have in your elementary classrooms today! But did that stop Mrs. Sherman from learning how to use it with us? Of course not!

That students know their teacher truly cares about them is critical for their learning from her or him. I was sure Mrs. Sherman cared about me and my classmates. I can still visualize her genuine smile that lit up her whole face.

The foundation Mrs. Sherman laid was built upon by subsequent influential teachers. I slayed my math demons in College Algebra by earning an A (thanks, Dr. Maharry), honed those presentation skills under the tutelage of Mrs. Bradt in speech and debate competition, read through great Literature under Mrs. Holder, Mrs. Ehrlich, Dr. Steed, and Dr. Yates, and, as for my handwriting . . . well, three out of four isn’t too bad, right?

Reblogging this as many of my own children’s teachers have gone above and beyond for them.

I don’t think teachers know what they’re doing..

Edmodo and Common Sense Media offer free Digital Citizenship curriculum.

As a high school teacher, I’ve witnessed many parents try to monitor their children’s internet usage, with varying levels of success. I’ve also noticed that many school districts choose to censor or block what sites students can access. However, my observations of students’ online behavior tell me that most of us fall short in teaching students what comprises smart, safe digital citizenship.

Particularly for secondary and post-secondary school students, removing all computer privileges is a consequence that interferes with learning. Anyone who’s taken more than a passing glance at the Common Core standards knows that students will be using technology extensively in the coming years, though many are required to do so already.

Educators and parents often first provide “scaffolding”, or extra support, for students to support their learning. Gradually, the assistance is removed as students gain confidence in using a new skill on their own, such as when training wheels are removed from a child’s bike. This same graduated support should be applied to learning digital citizenship skills, yet few parents and schools seem to have a plan for such support.

Educators and parents often act simply as gatekeepers to the internet. While reports that most parents monitor their children’s Facebook activity are encouraging, the overwhelming evidence in my classroom and home, at least, is that they aren’t effective in helping kids learn to be good digital citizens.

Instead of thinking they’ve fulfilled their responsibilities by limiting or removing access, school districts and families should consider a graduated approach. We shouldn’t allow young children unsupported internet access any more than we would give a two-year-old a large bike without training wheels for her first spin around the driveway.

Here are some ideas to discuss with your colleagues or family members when considering a graduated approach:

1. Find out how the kids in question already use the internet.

2. What is the goal or objective? Finish the statement: by age _____, children should be able to ______________.

3. What online habits do children in our school/family need to practice regularly to be safe and avoid compromising their future goals online?

4. What can we do to support students as they practice these skills until they become habits and how/when should we gradually remove those supports?

5. Do we as parents and educators model and discuss these habits?

6. How can different grade levels (or, for parents, family sites, such as grandma’s or uncle’s house) our efforts to make sure that support is gradually decreased so that by age eighteen, students will be independent digital citizens?

7. Check out sites like Digital Citizenship.net to help generate ideas.

The fact is, nearly every job either does or will soon require basic online competency. Schools and families can help kids learn the online skills they need in an online environment appropriate for their abilities, or leave them to flounder through and learn the hard way.

Freebie! Here is the Digital Citizenship Guidelines handout I developed for my students:DigitalCitizenshipGuidelinesgeneric

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