Tuesday 12 July 2011

No More Teacher's Dirty Looks

Having an ADHD child in school is a special kind of hell.  I was keenly aware that the teacher's day was extra stressful as a direct result of having my son in their class.  A classroom is a place for quiet learning, where students sit at their desks and work diligently at their lessons.  Frick is unable to sit still, shut up or focus on anything he finds boring.  And sometimes even the interesting stuff is difficult.  But overall I got a sense that the teacher genuinely liked him and was invested in his success.  Until fourth grade.

Man, they do not fuck around in the fourth grade.  These are the junior years; the years in which the students must be prepared for the rigors of middle school.  I must have missed the orientation speech, but I think it went something like this:

"Alright kids, now you listen up and listen good!  Up until now you all have gotten a free ride. Yeah, that's right.  You have been spoiled, molly-coddled, indulged, doted on and babied, your little hands have been held and your little snotty noses have been wiped but no more!  This is FOURTH GRADE people and it is time to grow up!  This shit is about to get serious.  You are headed for middle school.  MIDDLE SCHOOL!  And if you don't buckle down , and I mean RIGHT NOW, you are going to get eaten alive, do you hear me?"

Having missed that speech, the first time I met with Mme Pouffiasse scared the hell outta me.  She went through a laundry list of Frick's disruptive behaviours and how they prevented her from teaching the entire class.  She had many dark forebodings about the consequences of his inability to put even a sentence onto a page over the course of an hour and cited his standardized test results over and over again as proof of his future doom.  I'll tell you, "literacy is early grade 2 level" sounds a lot worse at the beginning of grade 4 than it did at the end of grade 3!  By the end of our meeting I was convinced that Frick was going to grow up to live in a cardboard box and become a rising star in an underground Bumfight Club. 

Now, I didn't have a sweet clue how I was going to control Frick's behaviour remotely from my living room when his teacher was unable to do so standing right next to him, but I was sure as hell going to try.  In return Mme. Pouffiasse offered to find Frick remedial help with his reading.  I was to expect to hear from the resource teachers soon.  And so, when I got the expected letter for an appointment to meet with the two resource teachers, I had no reason to suspect anything was up.  As a result, when I walked into the resource room I was floored.

In the room, looking stern and imposing, sat a panel of four educators: the two resource teachers, the vice principal and of course,  Mme Pouffiasse.  I had been ambushed.  They invited me to take a seat in an incredibly tiny chair and then went to work grilling me with a series of rapid-fire questions:

"Frick recently got a zero on his science test.  The students received a mark for putting their name on the page.  Why did this happen Mrs. Rotten?  Why is he late almost every day, Mrs. Rotten?  Where is his homework and agenda Mrs. Rotten?  Don't you check his backpack every day, Mrs. Rotten?  Why does he wander all over the classroom, Mrs. Rotten?  Where were you the night of April 3, 1998, Mrs. Rotten?  If a car is traveling westbound at 80 kph and another car was traveling eastbound at 100 kph then who wrote the book of love, Mrs. Rotten?  Who, dammit, who?!?"

For the next forty minutes I was shown a telephone book-sized file of barely started work assignments, several bar graphs and pie charts showing where Frick scored in province-wide literacy, the progress chart that showed how Frick's classmates outpaced him in terms of good behaviour and a tearful and borderline hysterical testimony from Mme P of all the trials and tribulations she suffered since having Frick in her class.   Any and all suggestions I made that touched on revising her teaching techniques were shot right down.  They all stonily insisted that they were well-trained educators, experienced with ADHD and that this was a case where all the blame could be laid on Frick personally and, therefore, me.

I cringed in my chair feeling like I was 6 years old.  I knew that we couldn't fix all of Frick's problems at once so I emphasized that we would have to start with the most distressing behaviour first, which was talking to his friends during class.  I came up with an incentive program and I was very specific about how it would best work (you have to handle these things just right or they are doomed to fail) and explained why and they all agreed it was a good idea and the meeting was adjourned.

That was when everything went to hell.  The very next day it became clear that Mme Pouffiasse had no interest in following my suggestions and preferred instead to view them as an invitation to tattle on Frick for every little thing he did to annoy her.

"Frick fiddled with items in his desk during presentations.  Also,  during independent study he got up from his desk repeatedly to sharpen his pencil.  Could you supply him with a pencil sharpener so that he will have no more excuses to ever leave his desk?  I would like to add that when the students are instructed to work on their speeches Frick is not to just doodle on the paper.  Other than that he was quiet all day and didn't speak to his neighbours."

Bitch.  And after the way I had been suckered into that interrogation session I had no faith at all that my requests to go back to the original plan would be heard.  I didn't trust her, and because the vice principal had been involved in that fiasco, I no longer trusted the school.

Then he got assigned this huge geology project that made it very clear that she was lying when she shot down my suggestions about her teaching methods.  Even I found the project overwhelming (not to mention mind-numbingly boring).  As we toiled on that project over the next eight weeks, we had yet to hear anything about Frick getting remedial help with his literacy.  Out of sheer frustration I threw an epic temper tantrum.  How could a child having this much trouble have been coming home with glowing report cards for his entire scholastic career?  How does this child score C grades in literacy on all of his report cards when he cannot spell, conjugate verbs or read even close to grade level?  When is he going to get help?  It would just be easier to teach him myself!

Now there was an idea.  I was available to teach Frick at home if I wanted to and, after a little research, I found out that it was as easy as writing a letter to the school board.  I could have fought Mme Pouffiasse and the school and I would have been well within my rights but as I had a more peaceful solution, one that would not end with me punching that old cow in the face, I felt that I owed it to Frick not to go to jail for aggravated assault.  And I can tell you that firing her ass was almost as satisfying.  A very close second.

I also feel it is worth mentioning that Frick never did get any real help with his reading.  If he had, they might have noticed that he has many symptoms of dyslexia which is common for kids with ADHD.  Fail.

And so we have been home schooling since March.  It is a lot of work, the house is falling apart from neglect and I often have to fight with Frick to get him to learn but it is still way less stressful than having to deal with even the best of Frick's teachers.  In the meantime we are giving him the support and coping techniques he is going to need for middle school and doing a damn sight better job of preparing him than Mme Pouffiasse could ever hope to do.


  1. this is a problem that is prevalent in a lot of schools. Teachers are told to differentiate but never taught how to do it. Or, the teacher has been teaching for a million years and doesn't want to change her program. Its easier to give the kid a C then adapt her teaching style. Also, many parents are being promised "extra learning resource" from the Learning Resource Teacher, who has about 30 other kids to work with. Funding is bad, most schools could use 5 or 6 of these specialized teachers. However, support should never be promised if it is not going to happen. I'm sorry 'Frick' had such a bad experience, but there are many great teachers in Hamilton. I'm sure that with all your help, he'll have a much better experience in middle school.

  2. Amen! There are some totally awesome teachers in Hamilton! We have been lucky enough to get some of them in the past but yes it sucks when the teacher seems more interested in defending her job than in actually doing it. We hope when he goes to middle school we will have some better classroom strategies and will be better at defending Frick's needs. Thanks for the comment!