Sometimes, when you’re not happy with the way things are, you need to ruffle your own feathers. You need to sit in your discomfort for a moment or two (and sometimes longer) to formulate a plan. I’ve been unhappy about the way things have been going with school, but I just haven’t had the time to assess, plan, or position myself on better terms. I guess some things just take time to evolve into a solution. No matter how long it takes, I am always grateful when I learn something new and work towards a solution.
These past few years (okay more than just a few of them) have been difficult. There is nothing more difficult than trying to instill within your child confidence when they have learning difficulties. What is more difficult, is to push forward despite how difficult others can make your progress. The world has not evolved much in terms of helping people with learning disabilities. At least in my case, I have not seen it. Schools often don’t even check your child unless you are adamant. I spent years asking for help and they just pushed it aside and said, “Your child is not working hard enough,” even though you could see they were working much harder than others. Others would assure you they would grow out of it… it is just a phase. Yet others would say you are a worrier. There is nothing there.
To add to that problem, even when you do have a diagnosis, the schools do not have a plan laid before them. They have no “in this situation, we will do this and the next step is this.” They have no framework or guidelines to help them meet the needs of your child. Unless you are adamant (this is a main theme here) your child could be lost on your own – so don’t close your eyes, or trust blindly. At least… this has been my experience. When your child’s learning plan says they are supposed to get extra time to finish work… they often do not assess why your child has extra work to begin with. They do not try to assess the ability of your child’s teacher to plan a lesson that only truly requires an hour for an hour’s allotment. Sadly, I only see this because even though we have a relationship with a school, I am the children’s primary teacher. I cannot imagine how much more difficult it can be when you don’t know if your child is getting what they need.
I cannot tell you how many times the children have been given more than two hours of work but were told it should only take one. I cannot tell you how many times the kids have worked on weekends, trying to get caught up. I cannot tell you with enough emphasis how hard they work, how much they strive, nor how much they feel they are not good enough because they are told this is only one hour’s work when truly it is not. I can only say with assurance because I have done the work with them. I have brought it to the attention of our schools (we have had this happen in all of them) and they simply said, “Your child has extra time to turn in assignments. It is fine with us if they take all weekend.” At the end of the day, I don’t think it should be okay. However, you are definitely fighting an uphill battle. No one listens. No one understands. No one cares, unless it is their own child who is struggling.
My one child has a meeting each week with a specialist to work on her learning difficulties. At some point this year, it seems they have come to the conclusion that my daughter is doing just fine this year and there has been no enthusiasm to teach her. Instead, they fill that tiny 30 minute slot with “what would you like to do?” The problem is… learning is never ending. Each and every year that creeps silently upon us is growing in expectations as well as difficulty. Yet instead of realizing what the school’s job should be (which is preparing my child for next year and the next and the next) they sit in complacency that she is currently on-task, so our job is done.
The problem is, I could easily point out places where help is needed. I could easily point out things they could be doing. I could easily point out ways that they could prepare her for difficulties that can and will come along down the road. Dyslexia is not something you can be cured from. Dyslexia makes many tasks difficult for a person. A Dyslexic can learn many things that will help them down the road, but the battle is always there. It is never silent. All you can do is to help them each step of the way and over time, they can and will do well. The problem is, schools will often do as little as possible, in as little time as possible, and quit as soon as they can. At least, that is my experience.
I have not given up. I have not given up on my child and I will not allow her to accept that this is all there is. I will continue to be that bump in the road when needed and although I may be limited in my ability to make requests, I will make them for as long as I can and with as loud a voice as I can, because enough is enough. For goodness sake, we have known about learning difficulties for so long now that you would think that the education system would at least already have built a framework, a guideline, a map of what path should be expected for these children. They should know how to meet these children’s needs. They should know they need extra help. They should know it is a process and expect to assist these learners during their pursuit of knowledge. Instead, it is a mad race to get an IEP or any other form of classification of these learners requiring help moved to a more comfortable position of forcing these students to bargain if they can get a time extension. Why? Because it takes less effort.
I don’t always blame the teacher, by the way – although I have met those that scoff at the idea of a child having a learning disability. I’ve had others laugh when asked for extra time to submit homework when the law clearly states my child is required to have it. Many do try and a few other golden gems truly understand a child that struggles. It is not that they hand my child a grade on a silver platter, but that they work with them, they try to understand their strengths and weaknesses and find other ways for my kids to show they understand the material. And while I’m ranting, by the way, I do want to state that my children are not given anything on a silver platter at all. Most of the time, they don’t even ask for less work, they don’t ask for extra tutoring or assistance, instead… they work longer and harder.
What I find difficult is that there is so much more that could be done. Even with my child in high school, I have asked for some resources (for example, with growing their vocabulary). I told the school I did not mind paying for it. They look at me, and at each other and scratched their heads. They did not know of anything. So again… it is what it is, until someone ends up caring enough to make a difference. For my younger daughter though, I think there is so much more that could be done at this stage and it is unsettling for me to see everyone act like it’s no big deal. She’s doing so well… She’s doing as good as her peers… but I work with her each and every day. I see he struggle over words she does not know. I saw her cry last week when I asked her to read to me. She was too embarrassed, because with science materials the language is usually more difficult than regular text. Sadly, though, it goes unnoticed.
There is no one helping her learn spelling rules to help her internalize some of the mystery that permeates the English language. Instead, she is given a list of 25 non-related words to “memorize” each week when there is spelling practice. And despite the fact that she really struggles because she is diagnosed with Dyslexia… there is no one bothering to teach her any of the rules. You just get the list and are supposed to “get it.” However, everyone who knows anything about Dyslexia knows that this is the very problem Dyslexics have… they don’t “get it.” So who is supposed to help her?
I would like you now to imagine Super Mom running into the room, cape flying at the back. Except the problem is, poor mom also has another child who is also going to school, but in First Grade. She also has to teach him. It makes the job of Super Mom a little harder. Besides, she has to cook, clean, drive people around, set up appointments, schedule school days, and the list could go on and on… So yeah, life can get a little busy sometimes. It’s not a complaint by the way, because there’s no place I’d rather be.
This past week we have been trying new things. We’ve been burnt out for so long, we barely know how to breathe. What we are doing is working, but we are not completely done with the renovation project we call ourselves. This week, for the first time in years… we took off on Wednesday because the weather was in the 80s F. We did not stress over not doing school. We just went and took our time. We enjoyed ourselves. See… sometimes (okay all the time) the world wants to convince you that you have to always rush at a mad pace to achieve success. You cannot stop. You cannot do anything beyond sit and get your work done. Umm, I disagree.
Last week I devised a schedule for myself and the kids (only the younger two, the older two are pretty self-sufficient). My biggest mistake was buying into the BS that my daughter (with Dyslexia) needs to be more independent in her work. In other words, they expect her to do most of her work alone. The problem is (with this new model of learning) is that even in regular schools today children have a teacher that teaches them the lesson. They stand at the blackboard and engage their minds. They ask questions. They explain.
In the homeschool model that is often sold through public schools, you can just plug your kid online and have them absorb the material that way. They don’t need a teacher. There is a lesson with a teacher once a week or twice a week and that’s it. Everything else is explained by a computer program. The problem is… the program does not always explain in a way that is understood. They do not allow the child to ask questions. They cannot always assess where the child is lost or assess ways to help them understand. This year I started my days working with my son in the mornings. I left my daughter to do her lessons online (alone) and I would catch up with her later in the day. The problem was, it took her all day to get finished and often she did not completely understand things. Then, I would have to go back and re-teach her. Strangely enough… I am learning that kids can get lost in this system. Despite not understanding, you could still “make lucky guesses” and get good grades or at least passable ones. Besides, lessons that a long time ago (back when I roamed with dinosaurs) took many weeks in learning are now consolidated into one week or often one day. That’s it… wait for it to return next year. And somehow we are wondering why our kid’s test scores on state testing are so low? They are not learning… because to understand means to really absorb what is being taught. How can you absorb something taught in only one or two days?
So this week I made my schedule revolve around my child with Dyslexia. I spend an hour on each subject and I teach her everything… just like I used to do a few years ago before we started this school (and we have done this haphazardly when she has needed the support all this time). The schedule is not completely set in stone… we are flexible, but I am learning the importance of being a little more rigid in my expectations and it is working out for us. When she has classes with her teachers, I then turn to my son to teach him in the same manner and when she is done with her work for the day, I complete his work with him. In between, he does assignments that only require him to do an online game or lesson, this way he isn’t spending all day waiting for me. We get done rather quickly this way.
In my lessons with my daughter, I model for her how to take proper notes (because notes, at this point, aren’t required). I have designed a way of taking notes that is especially helpful for my children with learning difficulties (and this year my oldest child has improved upon that in her own note taking). This prepares her for college and also for understanding how to figure out what is important enough to take notes on (skills she often struggles with). I have also decided to push away from the computer and we do her math classes in front of a large whiteboard where she can write out all her answers. This allows me to see what she understands but also to point out everything that is happening in the math problem, step by step.
The funny thing is… this approach is taking less time. All of the kids, as well as myself, have ADHD. It is easier to get distracted. It is easier to put off things you don’t want to do. And somehow, with this schedule… it forces us to be there at a certain time, and to focus on it in the proper manner. I don’t leave the teaching up to the computer… it is just a supplement. I know what is expected of me and I know I can focus on what she needs. In the afternoon, while I am focusing on my son… she has open study hall. We usually have all of the work requiring me done. At that time, she focuses on lessons online (like typing) that she needs to complete on her own. If she still has work left over from the morning that we have already discussed… she will most likely be able to do it on her own. If not, I am there for her. It seriously has opened up a lot of free time for us.
First of all, I want to schedule in a few more breaks in the day, but next week is busy because of some meetings we have with school. Later, it is my hope. Then, I want to spend an hour or so teaching her specifically for her Dyslexia. Her brother promises to tag along in the lessons to make it more fun for her (she is not alone) and he is learning reading anyway so it is a win-win. I am also starting to schedule time for us to all be more physically active. Last week, more regularly than in a long time, I was able to work out on my own, clear my mind, and take care of myself. It was rather nice. I want to do the same for them, scheduling walks, bike rides, and the like.
So change is on the horizon, and it is all good. With those thoughts, I have been able to allay the stress that usually builds up when I cannot spend time doing things I enjoy (which includes writing on my blog). I know it is for a good purpose and nothing thrills me more than taking care of these guys. I know my time to enjoy the things I love will come.
© Sumyanna 2017 photo credits: my darling son
I know this was a long one, and I actually did not set out to rant or even to talk about this subject. Somehow, writing is like medicine… it brings out what is on your mind, even when you aren’t specifically trying to think of it. These things have been bothering me lately as I truly want to be the best support to my children and find sometimes the ways they are taught are not conducive to truly learning. If you have reached this point in my writing… all I can say is thank you so very much for caring enough to read my lines. Writing is my medicine. It is the best way I to get to know myself.