Dear Parents Who Are Upset,
I truly, truly understand why you are upset right now. It feels as though your particular child isn’t getting the precise educational experience that they require at this exact moment.
I understand. That’s frustrating.
And if your child were my only student, I would be absolutely providing whatever it is that you desire me to provide.
But here’s the reality: I have 30 students to teach, and 29 of them are not your child.
Wherever your child might fall on the ambition or ability spectrum, I have students working both above and below her/him. I have to teach those children, too.
This means that I might be preparing at least three levels of materials for every subject, every single day. As we are in fourth grade, that’s four core subjects each day, with Reading and Writing having several sub-subjects that need materials and instruction. But let’s go with the minimums, shall we? 3 levels per subject X 4 subjects per day = 12 total lessons prepped for each day. 12 lessons per day X 5 days per week = 60 lessons per week that I am personally prepping, at a very bare minimum, across four subject areas. Plus homework that is also leveled.
Those kids that are working below your child need additional help, and they need it NOW.
Right now. Because of current educational standards, I am expected to bring all children up to grade level by the end of the year. So I need to see these kids for one-on-one or small group lessons daily. It is required by our Response to Intervention process. I need to assess them daily, and chart their progress daily. If what I am currently doing isn’t working, I must research to find another way to help that child. I start the assessing and tracking process all over again. I will do this for ALL of the children who are achieving below our school-set minimum achievement level. It could be just one kid, but it will probably be more like five to ten students, total, in our classroom this year.
There are children with special needs in our classroom, and I am required by LAW to do certain things for their education daily. That might mean that they need to see me at certain times, or take breaks, or whatever (and, frankly, you don’t need to know what they need because YOU are not that child’s parent). I also need to chart their progress meticulously. If I fail to perform my job to the specific letter of the IEPs that govern these children’s education, I will be help personally and professionally liable. Like in court, because an IEP is a legal document.
For children that are on or above grade level, congrats! Your child is succeeding beyond many parents’ wildest dreams! I am providing your child with opportunities to work in small groups, with ability-matched peers, and on extension activities. No, I might not spend as much time with these children, but the time I do spend with them is very focused and very productive. These are kids who do a lot of the heavy lifting of learning independently, because they can. Stop worrying, these kids will be just fine!
And the data tracking.
After your children are gone from my room, and my child is asleep, I am plugging in data from a million different places into spreadsheets and forms. I’m charting and graphing and hoping that all these numbers and squiggly lines add up to something solid that I can present at a meeting to get a child extra help or show that a child is making progress. I do this every day, every night. And I am required to do this.
Beyond the straight up academic needs of these 30 precious children, I am also working on behaviors and basic socialization skills. I have children who can’t sit still (because we shortened recess, yet again, but I digress). I have children who won’t speak. I have children who are acting out, being mean to others, using unkind words, using inappropriate words, and generally causing a ruckus. For each of these children, I am the intervention. I am the one person who is “adulting” in our room and can make a plan to help. I have to teach manners, because not all parents do this anymore.
All of that stuff? That’s the easy stuff. I have children in actual crisis.
Like really bad scary stuff. Like parents in jail. Like parents getting deported. Like foster care and homeless shelters. Like mom is getting deployed again; dad is really sick; the parents are getting a really bad divorce and use the child to vent their anger. Like abuse, like hunger, like not having clothes that fit. These kids show up in my room every single day. School might be their one safe place, their place to rest for a little while and just be a child again. So academics? For these kids, that might be secondary. Instead, my focus is making sure these children are clean, fed, warm, sheltered at night, and feeling every ounce of my total love all day long.
So, dear parents who are upset, does your child need my immediate and undivided attention because of: a) a specific and serious academic or medical concern that is negatively affecting their school performance; b) a bullying issue; c) a serious home life issue; or d) something else equally serious and compelling?
Or are you just here to complain about the book I assigned?
The homework I either gave too much or or didn’t give enough of? The extension work your child isn’t doing (I provide it, it’s there beside the windows, but your child prefers to read)? Or about the lack of/excess of tech integration?
Yes, I will sit here and listen to your complaint. I will offer suggestions for ways that you can help at home, things I can tweak here (read: things I am already doing, but your kid didn’t pay attention), or generally commiserate.
But here’s the thing: You child is one (a very important one, but still just one) out of 30 unique and special children that I am honored to teach each and every day. I am one person, just one single teacher, in charge of planning, assessing, data collecting, progress monitoring, and helping these kids survive each day.
I can try to help, but know that I will not sacrifice something I am doing for a child in desperate academic or personal need to make you happy.
Because your child is one out of 30, and I need to attempt to meet the needs of ALL of my learners. Some learners might need more of my focus than others.
That is the cold, hard, honest truth about teaching in an inclusion elementary school classroom today.
Your (very tired, overworked, stressed out) Teacher
Meg Flanagan is the creator and writer behind MilKids Ed, a blog focused on military families and education (plus some other teaching things, too). Meg holds an M.Ed in Special Education, as well as Special Education and Elementary Education licenses in three states. You can find her on Twitter @MilKidsEd, on Pinterest, and on Teachers Pay Teachers. If you have questions or would like to have Meg write for you, contact her!