Category Archives: teachers

Please Don’t Dumb My Daughter Down

Build up our children

I have always found it a shame when I have seen girls or women dumbing themselves down, portraying themselves as the stereoptype ditz or bimbo in order to fit in. And I’ve always wondered where it comes from. Especially in light of all the empowerment campaigns we are exposed to.

And then this morning I had a conversation with my daughter. It started talking about where our youngest is with his speech (on track) and the fact that she had been a very early speaker. That she picked up French in the immersion program very quickly and that I could probably throw two more languages at her today and she’d be fluent by Christmas. It’s her thing.

As part of this she has a huge vocabulary. Words have always come out of her mouth in the correct context long before she was “old enough” to use them. We have always encouraged this, teaching her new words and explaining the meaning of anything she (or any of our kids) don’t know.

So you must understand my frustration this morning when she told me that her teacher told her that no one in her class would understand something she had written and that she needed to change the word so they would. The offending word? “Foliage.” As in the “Colours of the foliage in fall.”

]How about “Great word. I’m not sure that everyone knows it though, so how could you add another sentence to teach them that word?” That to me is teaching.

Being told to remove the word is telling my daughter that it’s not ok to have a big vocabulary. It’s not ok to be smart. That she has to dumb herself down to fit in to her class. That dumbing down her vocabulary is the way to get a good mark.

My daughter will always have to fight against assumptions about her. She is a cute blond with an athletic competitive dancer’s body. Who will ever look beyond that when she’s only using the vocabulary of a child? When she’s too afraid to use the words she knows because she may be perceived as “smart” which her teachers have taught her is “bad”.

I told her not to change the word. To add that second sentence. That it’s not her job to dumb her work down. That she is always to do her best, to strive to be better.

I just hope that next time she isn’t intimidated by the teacher. That she has the inner strength to say “No. I will not change my work for the lowest common denominator. I will do my best. And I will teach and share.”

Parenting is hard enough. And now I realize that we can’t just rail against the ridiculous standards of the fashion industry, and the silliness of the pop music industry, we now have to be on guard from the very adults who we are supposed to trust are the role models in our children’s lives.

My message to all of you: Your only role is to build every child up. If in the process of doing this you manage to teach them history and geography, math and science then you are worthy of the title “Teacher.” And as your momma used to say if you can’t say something nice, if you can’t build a child up, then don’t say anything at all.

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The Unicorn


A mythical creature.

A story passed down.

Often describes things that we cannot fathom or dream of.

Things that are outside of our scope of experience.

For example our eldest son’s new school.

I got a call this week asking if I could come in for a meeting. “Of course!” I said, hoping that our honeymoon period wasn’t over yet. When I signed in at the office the principal came out of his office to say “Hi.” and ask how things were going. He seemed genuinely happy when I said that I was thrilled that our son was making friends and choosing to hang out with them outside in the school yard rather than reading in the library or office. Not only did he not think it was weird when I said that alone made our year a success for me, he agreed!

The SERT met me in the office, and together we went upstairs, chatting along the way. Our son was again offered an opportunity to join us but chose to take the bus home with his classmates! Anyone who knows an aspie realizes just how big a step this is. Oh and did I mention that instead of sitting near the driver, he chooses to sit at the back.

With the other grade 8’s.

Because that’s what grade 8’s do.

The meeting consisted of two teachers, an EA and the SERT.

And you know what? There were no major issues. Just some questions about how to handle certain situations. All asked in a “What do you suggest we do/try?” tone of voice.

I made sure to repeatedly tell them how thrilled I was. That they can feel free to contact us at any time. That being proactive like this can only ensure his success. That for the first time he is coming home talking about his day.

And most importantly, he is happy.

I sat in my van afterwards and realized that I no longer had to hold back the tears.

I’m so glad that we made the difficult decision to transfer him. That the school we chose is that rare mythical creature that actually encourages and supports him.

If only every Autistic child had that opportunity…

Negative And Then Positive End to the School Year

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve posted anything.

Lots has been going on, but in an effort to be positive, I haven’t focused on the crap that’s happened at our school and the behaviour that teachers believe they can get away with when it comes to our children. And this time I’m not referring to the teachers of our child with Asperger’s, but rather our daughter and the rather cold, nasty teachers she had this year. But by not writing of it, I’ve been stuck and unable to form a full post (several drafts await editing/saving though)

I find it very stressful confronting anyone and yet I had to do it with them and carefully used the correct language about how as adults in a position of authority need to choose their words and expressions carefully. That dismissing the hard work of a student as “not worth their time” is not an appropriate way to speak to anyone, let alone a child. I called a very last minute meeting with the principal, frustrated at how my child was in tears yet again over class work and how her teacher was treating her. I gave him no option, sending him an email that I was on my way to the school and expected him to meet us in the office. To his credit he did, and actually called the two teachers in question out of class to join us. But that was the only positive part of it.

Excuses to justify their actions were made (two teachers, one English, one French backing each other’s bad behaviour up in an unprecedented show of callousness at our meeting) and I called them on each one. I spoke to one then the other teacher. Both replied with a cold “Ok” clearly indicating “yeah whatever.” The principal lifted his head off the table (yes really!) long enough to look at me when I told him (in front of the teachers) that their behaviour was unacceptable, that instead of supporting and helping their students they were destroying the children’s confidence.

Then without preamble or apology the teachers stood up, left our (admittedly last minute meeting) and left for another meeting. Rude, cold and unbelievable that they are teachers! (If they had offered an ounce of politeness that they’d had a prearranged meeting already then I would have been fine with them leaving, clearly my words were not having an effect) I spoke a bit further to the principal, though my words seemed to have little effect.

When we got in the van, my daughter and I had a few good minutes of saying all the bad things we needed to say, and the joy in getting to say bad words I think took a bit of the sting out of the situation for her.

My husband followed up with the principal and was told that he and the vice-principal had spoken to the teachers about their behaviour in the classroom. I was doubting how effective this was until this week when my daughter told me that after that day both teachers refused to pick her to answer a question even when she was clearly the only one in the class with her hand up. Really? Child-ish, petty, nasty behaviour from an elementary school teacher?! Sigh.

On a much more positive note, we toured our son’s new school for next year. It was a tough decision to move him for his last year of elementary, but as I’ve noted above their current school isn’t a nurturing, supportive environment. From the moment we stepped into the office we were welcomed. The SERT, a lovely lady, introduced us to several people from the principal, to teachers, the librarian and a custodian. All welcomed us with big smiles and told us that we would love it there. We spotted a former classmate of my son’s and he was welcomed to go say hi to her.

Both of us left that experience feeling at peace with our decision to move him. He feels calmer about it, less nervous. And we were welcomed to make an appointment to meet his teacher in August and get more details about his busing. Yes the bus may prove to be a challenge but so far it looks like his request to sit at the front will be respected.

Looking forward to the positive things to come, and releasing the negative experiences (not to be forgotten at all but to be set aside so that they don’t affect our summer holiday).

I’ll blog about our year end camping in another post!

Just How Hard is it to be Inclusive?

bully meme

Many years ago, when I was in College I had a classmate whom I admired very much. And not in a romantic way at all. He was the first person I had met who was so comfortable in his own skin and identity. On our first day of class, fresh out of high school for him (I of course was *so* mature having been in university prior to this), he showed up with purple hair, beaded necklaces and a shirt that loudly spelled it out for anyone who didn’t get it: “FAG”.

This was in the mid-90’s and up to that point I had not seen much acceptance at the high school level. He clearly had had lots of it, and wasn’t going to back down for anyone.

Why do I bring this up now? Because not everyone accepted him for his differences. In fact we were in the same building as the Law and Security Program which unfortunately lived up to it’s stereotype with a lot of bullying jocks in it. They used to make comments to him and push him around in the halls. One day, he’d had enough and he followed them into their class, stood at the front until he had their attention and then dared them to beat him up right there in the classroom in front of their peers. Of course no one took him up on it. But they also left him alone after that.

I’ve always admired that about him. I only wish I’d been there that day to see what he did and to support him while he did it.

Recently, a video has gone viral of another boy attempting to do the same thing.

I don’t know what’s more sad about this video a) that the kids were laughing at him or b) that he even had to do this in the first place.

Why in 2014 are we still encountering this kind of despicable behaviour? Children are only bullied on a continual basis if the bully’s behaviour is tolerated or encouraged by the adults in their life. When teachers and parents create an environment where ostracizing another student is not acceptable behaviour, then it simply won’t happen. When a blind eye is turned to it we run into situations where children are committing suicide rather than be bullied for another day.

Growing up, we had developmentally challenged children integrated into our gym, art and music classes and they often accompanied us on field trips as well. It was a part of the school experience and we were expected to participate. There was no other option. Never were these children treated as lesser than. I remember bumping into one girl several years later in high school and sitting with her at lunch chatting about her favorite boy band. I often wonder where she is now.

That was in the 70’s and 80’s, so why is it still so hard?

Yet inclusion does happen. While searching links for this post I found this lovely article out of Alberta and in talking to a couple of moms with children with special needs, I heard of a similar story where a way was found to include a wheelchair-bound student.

I wonder then, has inclusion become automatic for physical challenges such as wheelchairs, while neurological differences such as Autism are still in the dark ages for systemic inclusion?

I know it is in our school. Our son has missed out on every field trip this year. Once we chose not to let him go on an out-of-province trip when the promised support (the principal who was to be his “buddy”) backed out a few days before the trip and we knew that the teachers going simply don’t have his best interest at heart, but other times because there was no staff member going who cared to put the effort in to making sure that he was able to successfully participate. Yes this is odd, even for our school, where he has gone on every other field trip ever. But it is also representative of our experience this year. And I know that if we are dealing with it, so are other families. (as I keep hearing when I bump into them at the grocery store and the school yard and out on the street)

Why do we not yet have a system in place that demands inclusion for all children, one that does not tolerate exclusionary or ostracizing behaviour from students, teachers, and other parents? It wouldn’t have to be an iron-clad set of rules, but rather needs to be a culture and environment carefully nurtured and developed by those in charge.

exhausted by the school

Some of you may know that we’ve been having a lot of issues at our school lately. It’s been especially frustrating as we have always taken a team approach to dealing with the IEP and any accommodations.

It finally took a formal complaint about the teachers and the SERT to the board before we saw action.

And it’s still only the very basic of accommodations. And I am exhausted by the battle to get there. So much so that I sent my husband to do the last meeting at the school. I want to find that team spirit again, but the fight has taken it out of me. And I’m not sure I could have sat in the same room with these teachers and been polite. After all it took a formal complaint in their file and some intervention from the board before they would even treat my son with an ounce of respect.

The accommodation that they are doing? Chunking his work down! Not rocket science.

The big plans I had for this year about working on his social skills and group participation? Gone down the tubes. We actually had to say to the school that the gym teacher allows the kids to divide themselves up into groups and they argue over who has to take our son in their group! Really?! How about dividing them up by numbers or alphabetically or any other way that encourages inclusivity and sportsmanship?!

So… the fighting has burnt me out. I have resigned as co-chair of our SCC and will resign from the Health Action Team at the end of this year.

And it’s why I’m a bit behind on posting.

It is March Break though, and my fabulous husband came up with a day by day plan to have fun locally, so I figure that I will re-charge with our kids and have something fresh to blog about.

Start a Conversation

Social media is an interesting phenomena. Lots of bickering, mommy wars, and one of the best ways to keep posted on what’s happening in the world. And when that’s all overwhelming and too much, there are always the feel good stories. They pop up, get circulated around and everyone shares them to further spread the warm and fuzzies.

The latest one to get circulated is about a boy with challenges similar to autism who asked his mother not to have a birthday party for him because he doesn’t have any friends. Mom set up a Facebook page and the media picked it up and now he’s being inundated with birthday cards.

How heartbreaking that his mom needed to do something like that. I get it, I truly do as I share in her despair every day. Kids with autism face so many challenges that it just doesn’t feel fair to add a lack of friends on top of it all.

So many people got on board for this, that it seems like one of those heartwarming do-good, feel-good stories. Teachers were even getting their entire classes to create and send cards. Mom was even getting notices from the postal service that there was too much mail!

But…after a friendless card-opening party with his mom, that boy will go back to his lonely existence. Neither your life nor his will be any better.

So I’m sending a big ‘ol shame on you to all of you who shared the story and/or sent a card. Yes I said shame on you. Because you all saw a feel-good story. Some of you even spent the $5 to buy a card and a stamp. And you all patted yourselves on the backs for a job well done and went on with your lives.

Nothing has actually changed. Tomorrow that boy will wake up and still face the prospect of going to school and not exchanging a single word with his classmates. If he’s really lucky a teacher might ask him about what he did last night, but more likely he or she will only direct him about his schoolwork.

Whether you are a teacher or a parent, you should be using this as an opportunity to talk to your kids about exclusion and loneliness. How inviting everyone but “that” kid to your party or giving out a valentine to everyone but “that” kid is causing very real harm. Kids with special needs can’t help their behaviour, and if it seems odd to you then you need to learn to get over it.

If you don’t know how then ask. As a parent, I would much rather be asked by a child or a parent about how to interact with my son than for him to be ignored and ostracized. If you are too uncomfortable to ask me, then ask a teacher. If you’re the teacher and you don’t know, ask your SERT, or me, or call the special education expert at the board.

Please notice that I said “interact.” I did not say “fake friendship with.” Pretending to be someone’s friend when you really aren’t only causes harm to both people and frankly they don’t need you in their life. I’m talking about basic human interaction. A conversation. Try starting one. You might be surprised at what you discover.

In fact, as parents and teachers, you should be modeling this for your children. What’s stopping you from having a conversation with a lonely person? You all know someone. Whether they are a freak, a geek, a loser, a senior, someone with physical, developmental, or mental disability; you all know at least one lonely person.

To really, truly make a difference in the world, you need to speak to these people.

And saying “Hi” only barely qualifies for good manners. I mean truly have a conversation. If you’re Canadian then complain about the weather with them. If you’re not, then comment on something in the news. Ask them how they’re doing. And wait for an answer. Be patient. If they are truly a lonely person then they aren’t used to being spoken to like that. They might be caught off guard or need to formulate an answer. Whatever it is, it’s not likely to be what you were expecting. And it will be worth it.

Your conversation doesn’t have to be an hour long marathon to count. Just a few minutes while waiting in line for coffee or while waiting for the bus or while waiting to go inside after the recess bell. Just long enough to connect with someone who is desperate for that connection.

Do it daily. It doesn’t even have to be the same person. And you never know, you might actually like someone you didn’t speak to before.

And when you are doing that regularly, and only then, can you pat yourself on the back for a job well done, a difference made in someone’s life.

Let’s see how many people you can engage in conversation:
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