Things NOT to say to the parents of a struggling learner

I’ve sat on both sides of the table – parent and educator.

As an early childhood educator, explaining observations and research.  Reactions vary – disbelief, tears, questions, even relief at times.

As a parent, seeking professional advice and direction for my struggling learner.  I knew my child was not “just fine”. 

Through our journey from struggling preschoolers to successful teenagers with a diagnosis of dyslexia, there have been some amazing professionals.  Ones that, frankly, changed lives, saved lives, not only of my children, but of hundreds. 

Then, there were others.  Some well meaning, some indifferent, some uneducated.  They all, however, taught me a lesson.  Know the child.  Do your research and don’t say this:

·      He’s just fine. 

            Give details. Know the child. Every single step the child makes in his development should be observed analyzed and discussed.  He’s just fine denotes that you have just glanced at the child. It says, “Yep I hang out in the same room with him for hours, but never really got down on the floor with him.” I don’t have a relationship with him.  I don’t know if he is just fine.

·      Nothing has changed in education in 30 years.

            Yep, a teacher said that to me.  Education really is where neuroscience meets the road.  I think education changed in the 30 seconds it took for her to say that to me. Study your craft. Be curious. Be informed.

·      It can be a character development year.

            This was said by a school administrator in response our request to move our child from a classroom where a teacher was bullying my son for his dysgraphia.  Each year is precious.  We couldn’t afford to lose a year. “I can teach his character development. You teach him to read,” my husband replied in frustration.  Every year should be a whole child development year.

·      He can read silently wonderfully.

            Wow,  a mind reader.  No, my child couldn’t read. She was confusing good behavior with language proficiency.  Just because a child is quiet, he should not get under the radar. Don’t confuse the issue of his doing what you want with his doing what he needs.  Be aware of those quiet polite ones.  I know Todd is body slamming someone on the other side of the room, but the quiet child needs to be taught, also.  He must be known for you to teach him.

·      Do the letters move around?

          As my son got older and reading challenges became more apparent, he was frequently asked,  “Do the letters move around?”  When he replied “No”, the teacher’s response was, “You can’t have a learning disability then.”  Today, as a teenager who had been diagnosed with a language based learning disability, dyslexia, he often responds to that question with “Do you get your information on dyslexia from 1950’s children’s books?”  Even if you are teaching 3 year olds, delve into learning disabilities.  Be knowledgeable of red flags.  I understand that we don’t diagnose as teachers, but it is even worse to wrongly diagnose as teachers.

·      He is average.

            Really.  Can do math calculations as a 3 year old, can strategize as a 36 year old, and can distinguish vowel sounds as a seven year old.  Well, that averages out to a 15.666 year old. Hmm. Or I didn’t know you could average an apple, a rock and an aardvark.  You do not average the hundreds of areas of child development. You set forth each separate one that weaves the tapestry.  You know the child.

·      It’s his southern accent.

            First, being southern is not an area of language development.  Once your child reaches the latitude of 56 degrees they can rhyme?  Second, people with a plethora of accents learn how to decode words, decipher sounds and read.  Know the child. Know your research. 

·      If he just tries harder…When he wants to do it, he will.

            Although perseverance is a great predictor of later school success, accomplishment often is not the sole result of determination.  If that were true, schools would not be needed.  Everyone would just want to do whatever skill they desired, and then they would be successful. Many areas of child development do happen when the child is developmentally ready. Other times, early intervention might be necessary to get the child to where she needs to be.

Be Curious.

So, you are a teacher. Despite the fact that we get to often work in jeans and t-shirts, you want to be seen as a professional.  Then be a professional. Be curious. Keep informed. Be a student of your area of expertise…and if you don’t know the answer to what is going on with a child, say, “I don’t know, but I will research it and find out how we can help.”