“She’ll grow out of it.”
“They gave him too much sugar.”
“He just needs a firmer hand. ”
“It’s because they didn’t breastfeed.”
“That kid is just rude and stubborn.”
“She’s been babied too long.”
“It’s because of the vaccinations.”
“It’s the video games.”
“It’s all the preservatives and hormones and Franken-food GMOs…”
As teachers, we are often in a unique position. In loco parentis states that we have a duty of care to our students. We are to act in their best interests as a parent would. When it comes to breaking up fights and consoling sad kiddies, it’s easy.
But there are times where we – as teachers – want to parent – and can’t. We see a student struggling in school. We see him not completing tasks, even though he’s bright. We see the lost papers, the messy desk, and the frustration when he works so hard and still has difficulty. We see the girl falling asleep during silent reading, and question if she had enough breakfast or is feeling ill. We see the child whose pants are too short and wonder if his mom can’t afford a new pair right now. We see the girl with significant anxiety, who cries all the time. We see a lot – but our hands are tied.
We see children who struggle in ways that set them apart from their peers, and sometimes we question if there might be a learning issue. We do this not because it would make our lives easier to have a child identified, or on medication, or in therapy, but because knowing what demon he is facing will help us do our job better and help him learn more easily.
Yet we can’t suggest anything.
We are not allowed, nor trained, to diagnose, identify, or suggest what might be going on. Yet, we know from training and first-hand experience when a child is giving his all and something just isn’t working right for him. And in our guts, because of what we see everyday, we often have an inking as to whether a child is struggling with language issues, or processing issues, or attentional difficulties.
Because I teach teens, I am lucky. Quick metabolisms, growth spurts, and crazy sleep schedules can sometimes be responsible for a lot of classroom difficulties. And with high school just around the corner, many parents become very concerned in grade 7 & 8. So when I see a child hitting the wall academically, I will step out on that limb and ask “has she has a full yearly check up recently? Anemia is really common in teens, and even a low level of vitamin B12 can mess with thinking…” I plant the seed that something very minor, and very fixable, may be the cause.
No, it’s probably not totally honest. But it doesn’t really cross the line, and it’s good old plain advice: when something doesn’t look right or feel right, go see your doctor.
As a teacher, my goal of course is to get the child seen by a medical professional. Whether that doctor diagnoses an iron deficiency or refers the parent to an educational psychologist is immaterial to me – since either way the child will get the help they need. As a parent though, I see and understand the need for a child to be ‘perfect’ in a parents’ eyes. It’s far easier for a mom or dad to accept that a teen isn’t eating right than to face a learning disability, for example.
If a learning issue is identified, especially ADHD, often parents come in asking how to fix it. And then I have the difficult job of explaining to them that the issue can’t be fixed. We can help a student learn to use their strengths to mitigate their challenges, but the challenges are there for good – hard-wired, if you will. Eventually, those differences may even prove beneficial (read about how history’s great minds had learning disabilities galore).
I can’t answer the question “should I put my child on ADHD medication?” I’m not allowed to even suggest it. But I can tell you my experience. I have seen 12 year olds who were failing and constantly in the principal’s office start a trial of meds, and evolve into straight-A students who never saw the office again. I have seen the previously innattentve, chatty, ‘air-head,’ teenage girl start medication, and one week later turn to her classmate and say “gosh, why don’t you listen better! Here’s what we do…” And I have watched that same girl realize what she just said, and seen the pride and confidence she got from knowing that she was fully present in my room, and ready to take on the world.
I have seen the 14 yr old boy who had barely moved for 2 years, start medication and return to my room alert. And in the middle of that first math class say out loud “why didn’t anyone ever tell me it could be this easy?” Because he was so very smart, but had never been able to focus on anything, even the things he liked to do.
And I have seen children, exhausted from a full/blown meltdown, start meds and have the ability to say “I’m frustrated. Can you help me?” a week later.
Sadly, I have also seen parents angry, and frustrated, because they refuse to acknowledge that their child really is doing their best. I have worried for children who go home to face ridicule and anger.
So I do my best every day to teach strategies that will help every student, but especially those who struggle with focus, attention, organization and anxiety. We try very hard to keep our classroom collaborative and positive. I keep the concept of in loco parentis at the forefront, and borrow from the hypocratic oath, do no harm. I try to educate parents without alienating them. And I try very hard to remember that every one of my kids at school could have been my kid at home. They deserve someone to fight for them, and work with them, and celebrate the smallest of victories.
And I try very hard to not get angry at igonorant people – and I mean that in its truest definition only – those without specific knowledge. A lay parent may not know about brain chemistry, and diagnostic tests, and positive and negative symptoms. They don’t know about conclusive studies and empiric testing and all of the scientific fact that has been developed over the last 50 years on learning needs and learning disabilities.
They only know their kid, in their home, as a product of them. And a kid who struggles is – they perceive – a reflection of them as parents.
I hate to quote that overused movie line, but “it’s not your fault” — it just is. I will work with your child, and you, to bring them as far as I can. And I will continue to read, and learn, and research in the hopes that I can find something that will make their learning easier.
As their teacher.
Because that’s what I want for my own child as she moves through the system – someone to recognize that duty to care.
And I will continue to advocate – often loudly – for acceptance and understanding from the public towards these unique children.
In loco parentis.