Homeroom Teacher Knows Best!

While I pride myself in running an efficient and persistent Mommy School, I have also made peace with the notion that, “Homeroom Teacher Knows Best,” in Child of Mine’s word. No, he has not said that to me directly; he has made me aware, just about each time I labor to teach and work with him on academic learning.

I understand that Child of Mine [who I prefer to call COM] is not unique in his thinking.

My mother says, “What goes around, comes around.”

OR, as I would say, “The apple” and “the tree,” are geographical neighbors.”

Put more crudely, Every dog has its own day!

Karma is, indeed, a female dog!

Very often, while helping out with school assignments, it is not uncommon for COM to tell me, “But my teacher said….” OR “My teacher does…” I have learned not to fight it outright, but try to influence and expand his thinking and conceptualization beyond what and how he learned from his homeroom teacher.

It does not help that I did not obtain my early schooling here in the United States, but in a totally different education system in far-flung places across the big pond. Uganda, my country of origin and a former colony of Her Majesty, imitated the British education system. The formalized national education system was initiated by European missionaries, predominantly British missionaries, later supported by the British colonial government in pre-independence Uganda. Everything, including phonics and phonetics, mathematical problems and sounds, are taught and conceptualized differently from the American education system.

So, I signed up to become a Substitute Teacher in the K-12 school system, to gain a deeper practical insight into the US education system. Hitherto, my teaching experience in the US was limited to college and graduate schools. I had vehemently sworn off teaching “children,” from Pre-K to 12. I was comfortable to appear in such classrooms as a guest parent or guest instructor, but not command an entire classroom as the sole teacher.

That all changed, when COM became of school-going age, and returned to America, after three years living and studying abroad. Well, he still went to school in all three locations we lived: Norway, South Africa and Uganda, and I enthusiastically participated in his learning and academic schooling.

Perhaps not too actively, but I participated in “guest parent programs,” to read to his classmates, fundraised for donation of books and medical instruments, and never missed a parent-teacher conference, or an opportunity to share my opinions on the school curriculum or learning environment.

And just in case he forgets, “All your other teachers come and go, but mommy will always be your main teacher,” so I tell him. Yes, COM has heard me telling him a couple of times, that I was his first teacher, and will always be his most consistent teacher. Evidentially, since we part ways with teachers, whenever he moves geographically, or up another grade.

Moreover, I would like him to accept my engagement in his learning, and understand that schooling does not only belong to “structured classroom buildings”. He now knows that, Mommy School does not close, even on snow days, when there are security concerns in the school district, or on national holidays. Most importantly, Mommy School exists to reinforce what he learns at his general school, and because mommy went through elementary school.

Fortunately, signing up as a Substitute Teacher in the school district has proven strategically empowering to myself, and reassuring to COM. He realizes now that, perhaps mommy knows something about my classroom activities and assignments.

“My mom is a teacher, too,” he often boasts to his homeroom teachers.

I am cautioned, by fellow moms and friends that, he is still at that age, where he is not ashamed of his mommy teaching at his school, hugging mommy in the school lobbies or kissing mommy as he gets on and off the school bus. And I am loving it! Until the day it unravels!

Still, mommy is yet to win the battle of Who is Smarter than the Homeroom Teacher? Not that we are actively fighting to overtake the ‘super-know-it-all’ homeroom teacher(s); I am in full support and enhance the homeroom teacher(s), in true PTO spirit – Parent Teachers Organizations.

Teachers appreciate parents who are supportive, participate in their classroom activities, and engaged with their children’s homework. Not so sure whether COM feels me like his homeroom teacher(s); sometime — maybe; all the time — mommy don’t know it all!

Take for instance yesterday, when COM was doing his ELA assignment on  “Vowel Team”. The instructions required to, “Write words: sweet, sleep, meet, sheep and more — breaking them up into syllables, then underlining the phonic pattern.” COM on First in Math

He said he had to “syllable loop,” by breaking the sounds independently. I explained that the assignment required him to break words into syllables….and to me…they were all single syllable words. He got frustrated that I was using the word “break,” not “loop”,his choice word. I told him, I was reading the words, per teacher’s written instructions. Him and I went back and forth, asking him to say out the words and hear the syllables. He insisted there were more than one syllable, three in some cases!

I suggested to him, to write his way, then hand in his homework, and wait for the teacher’s feedback tomorrow. I told [bribed] him that, if I had to do his assignment, I would ‘loop’ each words into a single syllable! He became more frustrated. I suggested that we consult the online syllable dictionary. Each word had “one syllable”. Still, not fully convinced!

Thankfully, he and I come from families of teachers; both his grandmothers — my mom and his dad’s mom are teachers. Thankfully, daddy-grandma was listening in. She suggested, similar to what I had read online, “Clap the word and make out the syllable(s).” That he did, and it was “one syllable.” I asked him to clap the word “Purple”; that was two syllables. Phew!

At last, mommy seems to be getting somewhere! Maybe she knows something about homeroom teacher’s assignments; and can be respected and trusted to help out! We still working on it. Until then, surely the Homeroom Teacher Knows Best!

Meeting the “Gifted and Talented”: No Nigerians Here!

Finally, I met the “Gifted and Talented” aka G&T. I am still questioning what that means. When my son was in Kindergarten, he got tested for inclusion in “Gifted and Talented”. I received feedback from his Guidance Counsellor that his scores were way above expectations; should I say, outstanding!  He still gets plenty of those outstanding reviews, including from the most recent reading seminar organized for parents at his school. I was a very proud momma.

Yet, as his major teacher, of course according to me (he would vehemently insist his school teachers as his main/all-knowing teachers), I am always demanding more from him. I call him out when he slacks, and engage him with more learning. To me, he is not doing great because he is G&T, but because he is exposed to plenty of learning resources and the support of his dedicated mother and teacher. True, I am highly tickled by his reasoning, many times, his wits and comprehension. Maybe he is quicker to learn [than others of his age], I do not know. What I know is, he reads fluently for his age, because I have exposed him to books since before he was born, and we have read on since then.

Then I met the G&T, who are not related to me. They were also much older than my own. I am sorry to say that the two hours I spent with me, nothing about them sparked me as “Gifted and Talented”,. I saw a kids enjoying doing things other children do, like building cars, bridges, playing with legos, making stuff and rolling on a ball. I talked to kids who seemed to enjoy what they were doing, some with hands-on engagement, while others contributing verbal ideas.

I could not stuck away that miseducation I have regurgitated for generations since I began learning in the world I live, that “all smart people are white; all white people are smart.” I was surprised to learn that plenty of the G&T had, what we call in America “Hispanic Names”. They were children of immigrants from South America, two with parents from Colombia.

One told me visibly terrified, “My father was born in New York but grew up in Colombia. His mother took him back and left him there!” I explained that, sometimes parents have to make difficult choices to raise their children. For a single mother, which I learned her grandmother was, it can be difficult raising a child in New York without family support. Yet, her family in Colombia could easily help out.

Another myth buster – Not all G&T are children from rich and wealthy homes. Some are children of truck drivers, such as Aei. Another told me s/he lives in a single parent household. What is true, though, the “nerdy” stereotype was there. I could relate to those kids from among my school circles. I know exactly kids like them.

Sadly, there were no Blacks among the G&T kids I met. Yes, it does matter; here in America, race is one of our greatest preoccupations. My conclusion was, there were no Nigerians in the district! (smile:). If we go by the ‘great discovery’ of The Triple Package, the one Black group profile among the “super powerful/highly successful cultural groups” in America is Nigerians. Add to that, pretty much every story featured in the media about a black genius nowadays seems to have Nigerians roots. Not in this district, though!

Especially, surprising since there is a significant number of black kids in this particular location compared to other schools in the same district. Should we really care? Does it really matter, you may ask? Of course it does; just like having a G&T kid whose father is a truck driver, or the immigrant from Colombia, so should there be a Black G&T. It is inspirational, and these kids should have an avenue to talk to their classmates about the kind of activities they are engaged in or what makes them academically “different” from others.

While I am not totally blown away, yet by the group of G&T I encountered, I enjoyed supervising them as they worked on their projects for a regional STEM competition. More exciting because they were working with Legos, one of my son’s favorite play-toys! I told them, he would be thrilled to watch them build stuff. They suggest I should bring him to their STEM fair, so he can see their final products and much more from other competitors. Another thought crossed my mind, LegoLand Discovery! Thereafter, I can get him bumped him up from 1st Grade straight to 3rd Grade G&T class! 😉

Special Ed Teachers Have Special Needs Too!

How does a teacher manage a student with special needs?
How does a teacher stabilize student with emotional and behavioral needs?
How does a teacher nurture a centered-focus for a student with attention difficulties?
How does a teacher manage a classroom of student with behavior, reading, physical, attention and life challenges?

I bet you will say all that is covered in the Teacher Training curriculum for Special Education. After all, teacher training seeks to produce a whole person, who can manage a classroom environment with all its multifaceted complicatedness. There are smart and dull students, calm and restless, slow and fast, participatory and inactive, distracted and attentive, young and not so young. Not to forget that twenty-first century classrooms are multinational, multiabilties, multi-sexual, multi-origin and multi-races, multi-everything. Everything goes, everything is expected, and everything is planned for.

Moreover, today more than ever before, the topic of Special Needs Education for Students with Disabilities has been mainstreamed into the classroom environment. Gone are the days when children who acted and looked “different” were hospitalized or restrained in mental asylums, deemed dangerous on a ‘regular’ school campus. While it is still true that in many parts of the world, schooling opportunities for students with special needs, separately or as part of the ‘regular’ school environment barely exist.

Here in the United States, special academies are set up to cater for students with special needs, staffed with  teachers trained in Special Ed. Even the seemingly most challenging behavioral students now have a place in the main school education system. If not at designated academy, special classrooms exist within the regular school complex for the education of students with autistic needs, life skills, emotional and behavioral needs, post-hospitalization, as well as early intervention. The focus is not always on academic excellence, in programs such as post-hospitalization, but could range for therapy to behavioral transformation and emotional stabilization. As a parent, I applaud and cherish the availability of such opportunities for students who would otherwise be excluded from the pipeline of ‘a ‘regular’ schooling system. High accolades for those selfless souls called Special Ed teachers and their associates, who have agreed to partake on the insurmountable task of ‘baby-sitting’ big kids.

Though, one wonders who takes cares of the special needs of Teachers for Special Needs students? Who provides personal support to Special Education Teachers? Does the curriculum include a “how-to” training on protecting oneself as a teacher for special needs students, if attacked [repeatedly] by own special needs students? My experience in a couple of elementary, intermediate and high school special needs classrooms exposes the complexities, challenges and dangerous everyday work environment a teacher for special needs students.

I am not trained in “Special Education”, and only recently began experiencing “teaching in an American K-12 environment”. My experience is in teaching at US colleges and universities. As I have said before, never had I ever imagined willingly stepping into a classroom environment for young learners. All this changed since I had my own “young learner”, and the rest is history. I decided to experience the classroom environment to gain practical experience, exposure and understanding of what goes on in the children’s classroom, how they learn, how they interact with the learning tools, with their teachers and peers and respond to teaching and learning aides exposed to them. Particularly because I did not attend elementary education in the United States, it made sense to me to learn how my son is learning in order to better assist him with his school projects and home assignments. Beside, I am from a family or teachers, and a devoted teacher, myself!

My experience thus far, has got me scared, and in some incidences traumatized for the teachers in K-12 classrooms, especially those dealing with special needs students. I have wondered several times, at what point do students decide it is ok to beat up, scratch, curse, swear, talk back violently at their teachers! Engaging in behaviors not identified with the everyday home environment, or so I think? How can children throw tantrums that are so violent and compromise the safety of their fellow classmates, most especially for the teachers? How do these students becomes so selfish not to imagine that their erratic, aggressive and unsocial attitudes, characters and behaviors are not acceptable in public and toward any adult?

Of course, I have also taught myself OR learned, not to take what I see or experience from such students personal. I have been disrespected by 8-15 year-old students, while working one-on-one with them on their classroom assignment and during private coaching homework. Some have rudely told me off [and I obeyed] to get out of their face. “Why are you standing here looking over me? Go find someone else to help,” a 15 year old academy student ordered me. I have been scratched, beat and cursed by young learners for the crime of insisting on getting them to sit down, focus on their classwork, pick up after themselves or undertake their assignments.

While we as parents can [sometimes] raise our voices toward our children and spank them, this experience has vividly taught me, that is not a luxury available to a Special Ed/Needs Teacher. S/he has to suck up to being beat, kicked, screamed at and violated by young learners, utilizing only officially sanctioned soft interventions to calm the erratic students, however ineffective. Or as I have learned from Special Ed teachers, wear gloves, leather jackets or long sleeved shirts to protect yourself from bodily scratches from your students, and face mask to keep yourself safe of germs when your students deliberately cough in your face.

It is an absolutely traumatizing experience, feeling trapped amidst a group of 10 eight to 15 year-old students, where the ‘wise’ decision a teacher can make is, walk around on eggshells with such trepidation that s/he could get beat up anytime by her/his students, who are protected by claims of ‘partial’ or ‘full-insanity’. Sadly, as parents, we are not doing much to support the teachers efforts of educating and nurturing their children into better students. Instead, we pile all our failures at parenting our children onto the teachers, sending them to school when we have failed to control them, then subsequently accuse teachers of not doing a great job educating and catering to the special needs of their children! We blame all bad habits that our children develop on the school environment and teachers’ negligence, even when our home environment is very explosive with negative influences on our children.

Perhaps planners, programmers, managers and administrators of education programs for special needs students need to prioritize the special needs of teachers as equally important as those of the students they are enjoined to teach. Special needs teachers need as much emotional, psychological, physical, classroom and social support to ensure they stay excel in their classroom. It is mind boggling to expect two teachers, moreover female, to manage a classroom of  eight autistic/post-hospitalization/emotional behavioral students, some emotionally charged and hyper-active behavior,  running out of the classrooms and screaming in the hallways! Or expect a teacher to remain aloof to beatings, scratchings everyday, as a reaction from a student getting mad  because s/he did not get it his way!

Special Ed teachers, especially ones dealing with emotional/behavioral needs students should be provided reinforcement in terms of security or classroom environments or permission to apply techniques to protect their lives, as well as the lives of other students in the classrooms when dealing with those students who turn violent. Moreover, special ed teachers should be provided with the human resource proportional to the needs of their classrooms to help.