Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. In addition to our traditional advice, every Thursday we feature an assortment of teachers from across the country answering your education questions. Have a question for our teachers? Email email@example.com or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.
My rising fourth grader is a bright child who does a really good job of challenging herself outside of the classroom. She seeks out new experiences, reads hard books voluntarily, and consistently tries to learn new things, whether through music, in creative projects, or just navigating life. She was not placed in the gifted and talented program. I tend to think that our school does a very good job of challenging kids who aren’t placed in it—and there are lots of smart, creative kids in mainstream classes, so she is not without smart peers. But she seems to have a complex about not being selected (one of her friends will be in it; she has others who will not be), and she keeps mentioning it. I know she’d do great in it. Should I push to get her into the program. And if so, what is the best course to take to do so?
—She IS G&T
I would not recommend pushing to get her into the program. In my experience, that is a heavy lift, but more importantly, she would likely know that you had a hand in getting her into the program, which could cause any number of problems in the future.
I also think it’s important for highly capable children who find school easier than most to experience disappointment and struggle. The students I worry about the most are often the ones who are smoothly sailing through elementary school, failing to learn to navigate the storms that will ultimately come their way. You’ve described a child who is already challenging herself in a variety of ways and working hard to learn more. She will excel with or without this program, so I would allow the expert’s decision to stand.
One thing you might do is reach out to the director of the program and inquire if there are things that your daughter might do that would allow her access to the program in the future. Knowing the areas for potential improvement might be useful for you to know, and if your daughter remains stuck on being excluded from the program, you may be able to set goals for her that could afford her access in the future.
—Mr. Dicks (fifth grade teacher, Connectict)
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My son is starting school in a new district (second grade). He has a disability and goes to summer school. During the school year he is in full inclusion with some additional supports. Since he started there for summer school, I have found out something weird about the way that his new school has students refer to adults. For all of the general education teachers and staff, it’s the fairly conventional “Mr., Mrs., or Ms. Last Name”—Mr. Smith, etc. However, for the special education teachers, paraprofessionals, and therapists, it’s “Mr. or Ms. First Name”—Ms. Diana, Mr. Scott, etc.
This rubs me the wrong way for a variety of reasons, but mainly, I feel like it is really condescending both to the professionals working with children with disabilities, and to children with disabilities as well. Why do kids with disabilities keep using baby language to refer to their teachers, but kids without disabilities are expected to address them in a more grownup way? It is really weird. I am also wondering how it’s going to go for my son next school year. Will he call his classroom teacher “Mrs. Rodriguez” but his speech therapist, “Miss Maria” and his special education teacher, “Mr. Eddie?” He probably won’t notice at first but one day it might hit him that the only adults who are referred to by their first names are the ones who work specifically with him.
For the record, I went to a hippie school where we just referred to our teachers by their first name without any title, so it also feels very weird that this is standing out to me in this way in the first place!
I feel like I need to be careful here because I’m sure there are other things that pertain more to my child’s immediate needs that are going to come up in the next few years and maybe I should save my capital for that but…should I ask about this? If I talk to someone about it, who should it be?
Diminutives in Delaware
I find it’s best to assume the best in these situations. That is, give the district and people involved the benefit of the doubt that it doesn’t come from a place of ableism. That’s not to say it definitely doesn’t, but I think there are explanations for why the SpEd teachers might be going first-name.
It’s possible that these teachers chose to go by first name. Every time I’ve started a job at a new school, they have allowed me to choose my name. I’ve gone by Miss Cassy, Miss S, Miss Sarnell, and Ms. Sarnell at different points. There’s a degree of conformity bias there—if the teacher there with most tenure goes by Miss First-name, it’s possible everyone just went along with that convention. It’s also possible they’ve chosen first names in order to ease the articulation challenge for students who are more likely to have speech production issues. Special ed departments are also often the youngest departments in schools, so it may be an issue of “younger people don’t require the same formality than older people.” If the teachers chose this, they are probably prepared with explanations for parents and kids alike, and I wouldn’t sweat it too much.
What I will say is that asking can’t hurt, but I wouldn’t go out of your way or make a fuss. If you’re talking with one of the service providers and it happens to come up naturally in conversation, great! If your son asks you why the teachers go by different kinds of names, you can encourage him to ask his teachers and then report back as well.
The good news is that I really don’t think this will be an issue for your son. So many students these days see so many service providers for so many reasons (RTI/remedial services, peer model groups, gifted programs, etc.) that in my experience, special ed students in integrated programs don’t tend to notice it as much as they used to. He may never really notice.
—Ms. Sarnell (early childhood special education teacher, New York)
My daughter is about to start high school. Throughout life, she has been the type of kid who needs a little push to get involved in things, and she’s often found things she likes and she’s been good at as a result of these little pushes. That said, high school is…high school. Kids are expected (and should!) seek out and choose activities on their own. I don’t even think I’ll have a way of knowing what’s offered at school. Any tips on how to encourage her to find some clubs or teams to join? Or tips for a parent trying to navigate this hands-off world?
—Can I Give a Nudge?
I’m glad you see the value in allowing students of this age to be independent. I highly encourage that of the parents of my students (I mostly teach sophomores) and expect it from the students themselves.
There are lots of ways for a parent to stay involved without your kid feeling like you’re babying them or hovering. Join PTSA, for example. That’s a great way to know what’s happening on campus, have access to volunteer opportunities, and be a part of the school community. Staying connected will help you know about things like club rush (not all schools call it that, but at mine it’s essentially a chance for students to see what organizations are on campus and for those clubs and teams to do some recruitment). And if you know about those events, you can give your daughter that gentle reminder to attend.
It’s my belief that you shouldn’t do much more than that gentle reminder though. Teenagers need to find their way, and they’re more likely to listen to your advice if they’ve asked for it. And that goes beyond life advice and extracurriculars. Teenagers need to be managing their own grades. Helicopter and snowplow parents do more harm than good.
Freshman year, in particular, can be overwhelming for many kids. It’s okay to curb your own expectations for her involvement and give her a chance to get the lay of the land. She may join zero clubs this year and still be the president of four by the time senior year rolls around. The best we parents can do is be supportive and help them make the most out of the path they want to pursue.
—Mr. Vona (high school teacher, Florida)
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My 8-year-old daughter is in third grade. She recently shared with me that during lunch last week, a male first grade teacher made a joke that I find inappropriate and not at all funny. What should I do?