November 1, 2013

Isn't School Over Yet?

When I was in school, my favorite subjects were English and History. Now that Bubba is in school, I LOATHE English and History. I can't tell you how much I hate these classes. Why is that? I'm so glad you asked.

The other day I got a call from someone at Bubba's school giving me a heads up that he failed the Reading pre-test they were given. Of course, this isn't just any pre-test, this is a practice for the BIG ONE they have to do at the end of the year--the STAAR test. This is the test that teachers around here dread because every year the test gets harder but the curriculum doesn't, so the kids and the teachers can't really keep up with what's on them. Oh, and the teachers are pretty much graded on how well their students do. Kids fail? Must be bad teaching. Personally, I hate them with every fiber of my being. Sassy come home last year in tears because she was told that she'd better be ready for the STAAR test--the one that if she didn't pass, she wouldn't move on to the next grade. They were already telling the kids about the 6th grade STAAR--she was in 4th grade! She was stressed out over a test 2 years away! I flat out told my kids, "I don't care how you do on the test. I care how you do in your every day work in class."

So Bubba failed the precursor test. If he fails the BIG ONE he will have to have a tutoring class just for the test, he may have to attend summer school, or he'll simply be held back. The best thing? There is no consideration for the fact that this is my Autistic son we're talking about.

In their defense, they have the same problem many in Bubba's life have--how much do you coddle a kid who aces his classes and does math for fun? He is super smart; we all acknowledge that. But how about acknowledging his shortcomings?

In October I had the joy of attending his annual ARD meeting. This is the meeting where we go over his behavior and education plan for the year. At least, that's what they say it's for. What it really is is a chance for all those involved to re-read the paperwork that was in place at the last meeting and tentatively ask, "Are there any questions?" while hoping and praying that mom doesn't open her mouth. I got pretty lucky the last few years in that I felt there were some who were actually proactive in the ARD meetings. That wasn't the case before that school and so far that hasn't been the case after.

I walked into the meeting and I got to meet the woman who is in charge of Bubba's 15 minutes per week of speech. (Yes, I said 15 minutes A WEEK. I spend more time than that in a day working on his enunciation, socialization, and awareness. I almost think, "Why bother?" But that's all he's ever been allotted in school. Bless you, public education.) She spent about 2 minutes (literally) in the meeting introducing herself and saying things were fine and then she left. Then the lady in charge of the Special Ed program began reading through page after page of ARD notes while a fresh faced college grad (who didn't look any older than the lady in charge), an older administrator (I'm assuming since no one introduced themselves), and Bubba's math teacher sat in. College Grad's job was to take notes so he had no say in what was going on and Administrator most likely has never set eyes on Bubba.

Since I am not with Bubba for the 6 hours he's in school, I rely heavily on the teachers to help me out with what his needs are at school. I know how he works, having homeschooled him and the fact that, you know, I'm his mother, but I don't know how things change for him unless they tell me. Bubba certainly isn't sharing anything. The kid doesn't even know when he has homework. Anyway...we get through the reading of The Plan, blah, blah, blah...and then comes my favorite part.

"Do you have any questions or concerns?"

See, if I don't ask questions or bring things up, no one else will. YES, I have concerns. My child had to drop Art class (which I told everyone involved before school started that they should take him out of that class) and they put him in a social skills class. I approved this (as a possibility even though no one told me it actually happened) with the understanding that he would either be helping the teacher or doing some kind of computer based curriculum. Imagine my surprise when he came home from school all excited because his new teacher told him he could download Minecraft on the computer to play during class. When I mentioned at the meeting that I had a problem with this, I was met with blank stares and the sound of crickets. No one knew what Minecraft was. I said, "None of you have kids, do you?" They don't. (It happens to be a videogame the kids are crazy about.) After spelling it out so everyone could write it down, I explained that while I don't have a problem with the game, I would prefer my son to be doing educational work while in school. (The next day Bubba was disappointed because the teacher told him mom said he can't do Minecraft at school. Thanks.)

I also had to mention that unless Bubba made some drastic improvements, not only would doing the Reading STAAR test be a struggle, but I'm not expecting him to pass. It's not the Reading so much that he has a problem with, it's the spontaneous writing that he won't do. You can't plunk him down in front of a test and tell him to do expository writing. It just ain't gonna happen. It stresses him out beyond belief to have to think of something to write. It took HOURS of listening to him yell and scream and argue and negotiate before he would write a half page letter to his pen pal last year. There's no way he's going to write without me there to ride herd on him and in a finite period of time.

So their oh-so-astute question was, "Would he do better in a small group?" My response, "A small group is fine; other kids won't bother Bubba. BUT, if you think him screaming, throwing things, crying, yelling, and tossing furniture might disrupt the other students, you might want to think about changing his accommodations to include one-on-one test administration." You would not believe how long it took to convince them.

And in History? He has a huge assignment for National History Day. All the Jr High and High school kids were given this assignment back at the beginning of school. They had to choose from a pre-set list of topics and do a report--either a written report, a video, a documentary, or a visual presentation. It has to include a process paper detailing how you found all your research (RESEARCH! I won't even get into what it's going to take to get that kid to do research.), a bibliography divided into primary and secondary sources, and a written report somewhere between 1500 and 2500 words. It took 12 hours to get half a page out of this kid!!! Are you kidding me?

What this really means is that, if I don't want my son to fail the class, I will be spending all my free time over the coming weeks "helping" him do a research paper on how the Nazis took away the rights of the Jews. Good night! Doesn't that sound like fun? And just so I was aware of what was going on, his teacher emailed me letting me know he was behind on the assignment. I emailed back and told her I hated the assignment. I also said the two of us would get it done but since I refuse to do the work for him, she can expect crap. (I'm sorry, but writing is not his gift.)

You know what the worst part of all of this is? It's not feeling like dealing with the school is pointless, it's not the idea of us both ending up in a crying heap at the library, and it's not the sinking feeling that my son will probably fail in 7th grade. What bothers me most in all of this is I look at him now and I'm already thinking high school and beyond. When I approach these behavior/education planning meetings, my goal is, "What do we do now to prepare him for life on his own?" What bothers me most is I know this is just the beginning. We have years ahead of us of assignments, projects, essays, presentations, and work that his brain is capable of doing, but because he'll get frustrated, overwhelmed, angry, and beyond stressed, he may not be able to complete.

Where do I draw the line between building my child's independence and aiding him in his struggles?

And how do I help both of us accept it when we fail?

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