Friday, January 27, 2017

School struggles

I'm writing to ask for some guidance. I need help.

Jordan is having a really hard time in school. He says he hates school, which may or may not be true, depending on the moment. But it is true that half his day is a struggle.

Here's the deal, or what I think is the deal. And as I see it, there are two issues. One, a personality clash with a teacher who doesn't have a lot of experience. And two, the inability or unwillingness to stay on a task he finds boring.

Jordan is in a bilingual school. He has two main teachers that split his day--one for English, one for Spanish. All math instruction is in Spanish. Now, he likes math. In fact, he loves it. And his Spanish is great, so it is not impeding his ability to do math problems.

What he doesn't like, or anyway, claims not to like, is Spanish.

We heard this the first year, when he disliked his Spanish teacher. Last year was great; he loved both teachers, and they loved him. We heard no Spanish complaints.

This year, he likes his English teacher. She is fantastic. She's been teaching a long time, and she is  strict and fair and she has his number. He and his Spanish teacher have had multiple standoffs. He clearly frustrates and annoys her, and she frustrates and annoys him.

My brother had relationships like this with some teachers. I saw this annually. His grades were great and terrible, depending on whether or not he liked his teacher. Nick says he was like this as well, so it feels familiar to him.

Me, I just went along to get along. I mean, I didn't always do my work. But I was always, always polite and agreeable. Interestingly enough, that goes pretty far.

Earlier in the year, when the standoffs started, we met with the teachers and the school counselor, who was amazing. (She's now retired, and I don't know her replacement yet.) The counselor knew Jordan, and explained him well to the teachers. He's smart. He's sensitive and intense. The school day takes everything he has--he has nothing left for homework.

I agree with all these things.

Now, Jordan has had to stay after school a number of times to finish math problems. Two days ago he had to work over recess.

They get 30 minutes of recess a day, which is hardly enough as it is.

His teacher explained that she is opposed to taking away his recess, but feels it is her last resort, when she has no other consequences to mete out.

Nick and I have discussed how he does better when he's cajoled than when he's threatened with punishment. I've been in standoffs with him like the ones they have in class. Mine are of the "brush your teeth" variety, and hers are of the "do your math problem" ilk.

The standoffs are obviously wretched for all involved. He is extremely stubborn, and he comes by it honestly.

But he's not disruptive. He just...sometimes doesn't want to do what he's asked to do. So he doesn't.

Sometimes when they're doing math he just spaces out. He dawdles. Yesterday we had to complete his math at home, because he did two problems in 30 minutes, because he was just hanging out.

He's not climbing walls or pinching other kids or getting others involved at all. Nothing like that. He's simply not doing what he is supposed to when he doesn't want to.

But she feels that she can't let him out of classroom tasks without consequences, or her authority is undermined.

The other day she told me that he doesn't do his homework, so clearly he isn't used to doing things he doesn't want to do at home.

Want to enrage me? Imply that I'm a lazy parent. Tell me that I don't require my kid to do anything he doesn't want to do.

So I replied, politely but possibly through slightly clenched teeth, "He's SEVEN. I don't think seven-year-olds should have homework, and I am not going to make a seven-year-old do homework. And I assure you, he does plenty of things he doesn't want to."

Now, I remember having a history teacher that I disliked, and her class was boring. I would sit at my desk and quietly watch the seconds on the clock and see how long I could hold my breath. Tick tick tick tick tick.

I don't remember a single thing she said in class, but I do remember being impressed with myself when I got to a whole minute.

She never noticed. But I also did at least the bare minimum, and would never have said "no" to an authority figure.

So yesterday was a crap day at school, and I got an earful from his Spanish teacher at pickup, and we had a bad night of struggling with math problems. Because my kid didn't want to do them. Because he kept getting distracted. Because I had to keep him on task and keep him on task and keep him on task.

When Nick got home and I told him about it he said, "Do you think Jordan has ADHD?"

I flipped out. Of course he would pick a facile answer. Of course he would be all, let's just throw some medication at our kid. Ooh, I was mad.

He doesn't bounce off the walls. He can sit still. He can concentrate, really concentrate, when he's interested in something. Of course he's bored with those math problems. Especially with the way you have to do math now, drawing boxes and circles and whatever the hell. My god, I'd be bored. I'd quit halfway through, too!

I got over being mad and I did some reading.


So many of the descriptions of symptoms felt so familiar. They could be describing Jordan. Not just in school, but at home. (More surprisingly, they could also be describing me.)

But reading a list doesn't mean this is what it is.

I don't want him to hate school. I don't want him to have miserable days, and then miserable nights. Switching classes is not a solution, in my opinion, because even if were possible, I don't know how he'd get along with the other Spanish teacher. And we'd be giving up the great English one.

It seems only right that we get some professional help at this point. If there's something to diagnose, like ADHD, obviously we want to do so. And if it's not ADHD, but there is something else that can help our kid, we want to do so.

Where do I start?


  1. You can either start with his pediatrician if you like/trust them and ask for a referral to a psychiatrist/psychologist, or you can skip that and find the psych doc yourself. The doc will have a ton of paperwork for you to fill out and for his teachers to fill out as well. After seeing the answers, and talking to Jordan, they'll decide what the next step will be.

    I know all this because my 12 y/o nephew just went through it. He also would just space out (and also in math). He had great grades in every other class. After talking to him and reading all the paperwork, the doc put him on adderal. He is A.DIFFERENT.KID. It's like a miracle.

    And, as much as we don't want to put our kids on meds, if it will help him, DO.IT. I had to put my then 10 y/o daughter on zoloft. I cried, I raged, I fought with myself about it. Once she started it, I could see the HUGE difference it makes in her life.

    If you want any more info, e-mail me at cla517atyahoodotcom. Good luck!

    1. Cheryl, I appreciate it. I am going to email you. Thank you!

  2. I have never commented on your blog before I don't think- but I have a son with ADD- now 18 & a senior in high school. Note that ADD is possible- without the H. I would say get him evaluated & give it a try- it can't hurt. I've really never understood all the hype about medicating kids unnecessarily for ADD because ADD medications are amphetamines. If you give them to a child who doesn't have it you have a CHILD ON SPEED. Who would want that?? No one. If they have ADD/ADHD they will have almost an opposite reaction- it slows them down (well their brain in my son's case, he isn't hyperactive). So I would say ignore the hype, give it a try- it could be a godsend for him. It has been for my son. Good luck! Oh also I think there are some non-amphetamine meds available now too but we've never tried them- my son has always done well on Adderall.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I always hear ADHD, but it is good to know the H is not always part of it. Because he is not hyperactive. He fidgets but not an inappropriate amount, and is definitely not bouncing off walls (unless he's been cooped up for hours on end, like no recess!). Thank you!

  3. I agree there is definitely ADD without the H, I've known kids with both.

    I view it like this. If your kid has a cough, you can let them cough and they will manage as best the can to get through the day while coughing, maybe some good days, some bad. Other kids with no cough will get much further of course and get more out of the day.

    But if a Dr. says some cough syrup will help settle the cough, you would probably give it to your kid, even though you are like, yikes, some kids abuse cough syrup. Because now the kid can get on with the day, with no cough, nothing holding them back.

    And if the kid doesn't respond well to the cough syrup or gets a rash or something you just stop giving it.

    I think if you get a good Dr. you trust and there is some medicine that can help, there is no reason to make a kid suck it up and suffer needlessly and slog through their days when you can easily get them some treatment.

    1. I spent years denying I was depressed, and then when I finally admitted it, I spent years avoiding medication. And now, when I see other people doing that, I think, oh, your life doesn't have to be so hard! Take the meds! Make things easier! So I am totally with you.

      We need to find a good doctor and see if this is what it is, or if it's something else.

  4. Can you tell us a little about how Jordan best learns?

    Also, does he have ants in his pants like my 6 year old son (actually my son has Madagascar Cockroaches running around in there). What we do is set aside an hour a day for academic instruction and he runs around doing football plays and throwing balls. Some questions he can answer off the top of his head, and others he needs to come to the whiteboard and answer before going back to his plays. His TV/Ipad app time is all tied into academic time, and he earns videos/apps when he finishes a few problems. It's a very slow process - he probably only does 10 problems a day, but he's learning and is happy so we go with it.

    1. Jaclyn, I don't know, I'm sorry to say. We never try to teach him things. I mean, he has a good vocabulary because we speak to him like an adult, and we explain big words, and he remembers them. But other than that, nothing.

      He doesn't have ants in his pants or cockroaches! :) If he's forced to sit all day, then he needs to run. But he can sit and focus when he's interested. But if I'm brushing his teeth, which he hates, he fidgets. Same with putting on socks and shoes. Stop wiggling! Stop tapping! Stop stop stop! But when he is engaged in something, he can sit for hours without moving.

  5. 7 is so young to get stimulants :( I used to evaluate kids as a psychologist, and I'd say if he was fine last year and it's just the teacher, that is not ADHD personally. Is there any way he can go to another classroom? Taking away a sparse 30 min of recess should really never happen to kids that age. That makes me really sad to even think about- being that little and sitting at a desk for 7 hours? Do you have any montessori charter schools nearby? They often do well with boys who need to move around because there are different stations and the kids have a lot of control over their own day

    1. I came here to say this... I think taking away recess from a 7 year old makes a tough situation even harder. I also think that it would be also worth exploring a new teacher if the school has an additional classroom he could join.

    2. Thais, it is. And with all the stories friends have shared with me, I realize I have a lot to think about. I want Jordan to see someone and to talk about a wide range of possibilies. I am thinking more and more that it is the situation, but am not ruling anything out. And yes, it is stupid and counterproductive to take away recess. I do like this school, love that it is bilingual, love most of the teachers and the community. And they do get up and go to stations and mix things up during the day. But they also sit a lot.

    3. SLTT, it does, it really does. And I get that it was her last resort...but a friend pointed out it should never never be an option at all. We will see what comes out of our conversation with the teachers.

  6. Two things. One: kids are awesome, and can see right through not-so-awesome people, but can also be deeply affected by them. Too many friends were turned off of cool subjects in school by terrible teachers. Two: If ADD or ADHD are perhaps on the table, I recently learned about a genetic mutation in the MTHFR gene that might be playing a role in that and other mental health issues. This mutation reduces the body's ability to properly process folate, which is important to mental health. Genetic testing is available (though not covered by all insurance), and once identified, some forms of the mutation can be addressed by simply taking folate in a different form. Not that this is a cure-all AT ALL, but it seems worth knowing if it might be a factor.

    1. Thank you, Mandi! Yes, kids can see through people and respond accordingly. Also! The MTHFR gene info is very interesting to me, and I hadn't heard of this!

  7. I don't have much to add, except the teachers response to his behaviour makes me so angry. He is a seven year old boy. They are SUPPOSED to be fidgety and have the attention of a gnat. Instead of making him miss recess - and that much needed energy burn off, perhaps she needs to look at the way she is teaching him. Cos it obvs is not working, boys need to MOVE. And a teacher that cannot structure their teaching for the individual needs of their students. I was saying to a teacher friend just the other day that the most challenging and rewarding thing for a teacher would be to look across a primary school classroom of 28 different kids and realise your lesson has engaged every one of them.

    Signed, not Big D :)

    1. Hmm..Blogspot cut off some of a sentence. A teacher that cannot structure...blah blah .. is not much a teacher at all.

    2. The Big D cracks me up every time! Yes, it is her failing that she is at the point where she needs to take away recess. And if they got to move more, they would all do better. There's a Russian mom at our school who was talking about all the mini breaks they got in the school day and how it was so much more effective.

      I did a teaching practicum with 1st-4th grade ESL instruction, and I hated teaching kids, hated the classroom management. I wasn't any good at it. I know it is really hard. But it's my kid who is suffering at the moment, so my sympathy level is low.

  8. Ah man, I feel for you Lisa. I guess it can't harm to get him tested for ADHD or equivalents, but I can't help feeling that if he was fine last year then....surely it's the teacher? As a teacher myself (high school which is a bit different I guess) I can see where she is coming from, needing to maintain discipline, setting high expectations etc but he's 7 and I can only imagine that taking away recess exacerbates the problem!

    Lara, also 7, gets way too much homework and I hate it. She's a people pleaser like me so gets in a state when she doesn't do it but as you say, she just doesn't have enough left at the end of the day for homework. From all the way over here it seems to me to be a personality clash. Lara can be very stubborn so the more I (or anyone) clashes heads with her the worse it gets. Just ignoring it for a while usually gets her back on track! But hard to tell a teacher this! Man, its a tricky one...I hope it gets better soon. xx

    1. Miranda, I think I am coming more and more to that conclusion. I was in a total panic last week. But I've gotten so many great stories and experiences from friends, and I spent the weekend watching everything my kid did...and it's not that he can't stay on task. He just doesn't want to. He is much more agreeable when he's been out running and jumping. And then when he gets too tired, he can't focus, he whines...just like the rest of us.

      I am a people pleaser, too (although Nick might disagree :)) and it is so hard. Hugs to you all.

  9. Smart kids can get super bored, and then be annoyed at being bored and at the people they see responsible for imposing the boring time. Especially when they know and have experienced not being bored and non-boring time.

    1. I think he does get bored. I remember not being able to see the point in things and then not doing them. And then it was a problem because I didn't do whatever little thing it was that I was supposed to do over and over...

  10. This advice is always the way I WISHED I approached things with my children and not how I actually approach them most of the time:)

    Let me say, in my experience, if kiddos need medication, they should get medication. I am not anti-medication and I know lots of children and families that have benefitted from medical intervention. The below are some other things to consider.

    I also think it is RIDICULOUS that small children have homework. I am resigned to it because I have chosen to put my kids in public American schools, but jeeezzz I hate it and it is/was a struggle for both of our kids (it is better with Kieran now, but he is in 4th grade – a more appropriate age for homework. It was nightmare for both of our boys).

    1 – it is a drag that the teacher is entering into power struggles. It is a bad place for teachers to be. Can you convince her to approach the situation with curiosity instead of control? When does she notice him working towards a goal? What are the perimeters that are making that possible? If it isn’t happening with other teachers, there is something going on in that classroom – hungry, tired, bad time of day, too far away from recess, right after recess etc. Ask her to observe him for a week (or an occupational therapist can do this if you go that route) or so and give you her thoughts. Can Jordan’s English teacher talk to the Spanish teacher about what is working for him in her class (she could share those thoughts during a conference with all of you present).

    2 – we have a friend whose kiddo was having similar problems. When he gets antsy/distracted, he has permission to walk 2 laps around the school. He has better luck focusing when he gets back from his laps. Jordan should never lose recess as a consequence. Try and work with the teacher to think of other options.

    3 – he may be slightly sensory seeking. Those kiddos get distracted easily (it can also be a symptom of ADD). A bouncy chair ball, something to squeeze, a heavy backpack, a vibrating seat (I know, I know…) have been known to help. There are other therapies I can’t think of right now. We have been thinking about using some of those strategies at home with Finn, but I am torn. He has been sitting still ALL day and I can’t really blame him that he can’t sit still to do homework.

    4 – if he does have characteristics of ADD/ADHD consider getting him tested by an occupational therapist/physical therapist. I know this is one more place to go/thing to do and it can be a pain. Our oldest was in occupational therapy and physical therapy for two years and I think it really helped him a lot.

    5 – Can you involve Jordan? I am sure you have done this, but I thought I would put it out there. I also know it is hard to get anywhere with kiddos sometimes, but it might be worth a try if you haven’t. If he really thinks about it, what does he think is the issue? What does he think will help? How does he feel when he is doing math in Spanish class? Is he ever hungry or tired or antsy? What does he think consequences should be if it isn’t recess? How does he think he can help the teacher? How does he think the teacher can help him? You want to ask him to think about these things while you are quiet and cuddling. If he doesn’t have much of an answer, you could ask him to think about it over a few days and come back to it during a quiet cuddle time. It will never work during mad times☺.

    Good luck, Lisa. You are a fabulous parent. Whatever you do will be the right thing. Your kiddos are wonderful and brilliant and they will be just fine. We all just have to be detectives to figure this stuff out and it can be exhausting!

    1. Eileen, thank you thank you for this long, thoughtful comment. The day has "flipped" (they call it Flip Day) and starting today he has Spanish first. I am hoping this will make a big difference, and we won't need to work with this particular teacher. I am going to give it a little time. We are also waiting for our meeting. And I need to have a number of quiet talks with Jordan--am going to do this nightly, in small, gentle ways--like a daily check on how it is going and what he thinks can be made better.

      I reached out to a psychologist and am waiting to hear back. I have recs for a couple child psychiatrists. But nothing feels as urgent now as it did last week when I was so worked up. I'm back to thinking he's a typical kid, one who wants to run and play, who gets bored when stuck sitting for too long. Plus he had to do that stuff right before recess and lunch. So I will see how this new schedule works.

      I cannot do it justice in commenting back but I really appreciate it and am using your advice. Much love and big hugs to you.

  11. At my daughter's school, the kids get sent outside to run a lap around the school yard if they can't concentrate. It's pretty effective and it seems like taking away recess is the worst possible thing to do in this situation.

    1. That seems like an ideal response! I wish all schools did that!

  12. We had a freakout a couple years ago that was totally assuaged by the next teacher. It sounds like you are getting good suggestions. Love to you and Jordan!


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