A Call to the Principal’s Office

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Preface:

Mom has ongoing internal conflict on how to advocate for middle school aged son with ADHD.

Act 1: Flashback Summer 2016: Summer before son starts 7th Grade, which is his 2nd year of middle school.

Scene 1:  One Sunny Summer Day:

A new Principal is starting at my son’s middle school.  She send an email to invite parents in for a quick individual conference as an opportunity to meet to share concerns and thoughts about the school and/or the child’s experience so far.  That’s a welcoming gesture.  I skimmed the email, closed it and continued on with my day.  Or tried to.  But I kept thinking about the email.

Maybe I should go in for a meeting?  The initial transition into the middle school was a little rough last year.  I keep harping on advocating for my son – I have to do this.  Of course, I need to meet with the new Principal.    Yes, yes, I have to introduce myself and provide her a little background on my son.  Nothing bad at all – just some information sharing.  Not only is there a new Principal, but his House Director (sort of like a Vice Principal) moved on to another school.   Two of the “higher-ups” who were aware were of those struggles were now gone.  I had to make sure my son wouldn’t get lost in the shuffle.   I reached out to her admin, as requested in the email, and scheduled a meeting.

Scene 2: One Sunday Evening Last Summer:

Tomorrow, I’m going to the Principal’s Office.   Even though it’s summer.  And I’m not in school anymore.

It’s 20 minutes – hardly enough time to get into an in depth conversation, but why am I nervous?  It’s not like I was called to the Principal’s office.  It’s not even like my son was called to the Principal’s office.  I initiated the meeting.   Seriously, isn’t this stuff my mother should be doing?  When did I get here?

As someone who never had to go to the Principal’s Office herself when she was younger, all of these meetings with the “powers-that-be” is new to me.  Time to get a good night’s rest.   It’s a school night for me.

Scene 3: One Monday Morning Last Summer:

Today, I went to the Principal’s Office.  My husband is out of town, so I am on my own.

As I was driving to the school, I realized that I didn’t even know where the meeting was! I assumed it was at the middle school, but maybe it was in the administration building?   Nah, it has to be in the middle school.  I park and head into the school.  Doors are open because there is lots of construction, but other than that – complete darkness.  Crap, I’m at the wrong place.  And I’m going to be late to meet the principal! Argh.

Finally I notice some movement in a nearby office, so I knock.  The lady cues me to come in – I explain why I’m there and she pleasantly calls the Principal’s secretary and guides me to the library where the meetings are being held.  But we need to go outside because of the construction.  And because we’re outside and it’s 90 degrees, I’m a big sweatball by the time I get to the library.  Yay first impressions.

The principal greets me with a big smile and strong handshake that I cannot keep up with.  So here I am – sweaty, weak hand-shaker mom – coming to advocate for my son.   Yea, she’s gonna buy this.  Chill Melissa, it’s just a chat.

We chat about his challenging transition to middle school last year, his grades, his ADHD, but also all the support that was provided to him and our family.  He didn’t receive as much support as we had hoped, but I do believe everyone involved truly cared and wanted to help.  Luckily, he ended the school year feeling positive about his accomplishments and I want to make sure this continues in 7th grade. I don’t want him starting at square one again.

She was lovely – quite receptive and reassuring, but almost like a first date, I replayed our conversation over and over in the car ride home.  I think it went well.  What if she thought I was strange?  Did I say something non-PC?  Ugh, was I one of “those” moms?  No, no – this was good.  Chill Melissa, it was just a chat.   Now she knows who I am and who my son is.

Intermission For a Few Months

Act 2: Present Day (ish)

We return a few months later and 7th Grade is well underway.   He seems to be settling in pretty nicely. My son seemed to be taking ownership of his work.  So far so good with his grades – and I haven’t been called into the Guidance Counselor’s office yet, unlike last year where I probably there 3 times by this point in the year.  Only one email and conversation with his English Teacher, which I initiated, but other than that, just normal school stuff.  Nothing overly concerning.  He’s a tween boy after all. 

Scene 1: Fall 2016

Email from the School Secretary in the Middle School: If you could give me a call when you have a minute.  The 7th grade team would like to have a Parent/Teacher conference with you during the conference days.  

Crapola. Coincidentally, I had initially reached out to her earlier that morning regarding something completely different that morning and we ended up “here.”  Lovely.  Did I just bring attention to myself by asking my previous question?  Or were they going to ask for one anyway?   The middle school doesn’t automatically have parent/teacher conferences for each child.  Either you have to ask for one or they will ask you for one.

We schedule the meeting for the last Friday in October, as I run to log on to the parent portal to see what scoop I can uncover.  His grades were pretty good actually, so I’m not exactly sure why the call for the meeting, but it’s a perfect opportunity for me to get in there and chat.

Scene 2: One Lovely Fall Morning:

My husband was out of town, so I’m flying solo with my big girl panties again! (I may have to purchase some more of these.)

While waiting outside the classroom for my appointment, I peek inside.  There are 4 teachers, plus the School Psychologist.   Yay…this’ll be fun.  The Guidance Counselor, who I know on first name basis, comes down the hallway and she asks me “How are you doing?” With a chuckle, I respond “You tell me.”   The art teacher comes down the hall too – she’ll be joining us too.   Yay. So, it’ll be me, plus 5 teachers, the School Psychologist and the Guidance Counselor. Overwhelming much?

We enter the classroom and the classroom teachers are seated at desks, but at least they are in a Kumbaya circle, which is sort of a welcoming environment, right?    I grabbed a seat in between the School Psychologist and Guidance Counselor – well thank goodness my son had trouble in school last year, cause at least I knew these two lovely ladies already!

After going around the circle for quick intros, the science teacher says, “Mrs. Jacobowitz, thanks for coming in – what would you like to talk about?”  I paused, looked around, slightly confused and politely said “You all requested the conference.”   A little giggle all around as the English teacher started speaking.  Each teacher took his/her turn.  It sounds like he struggled the most in social studies and was currently running a 75 average, but was running a 99 in math, 89 in English and an 82 in English.  Sometimes he calls out in the middle of class, sometimes he’s not always prepared, sometimes he doesn’t take social cues, sometimes nervous and anxious, sometimes needs “extra” approval, sometimes he doesn’t have his work completed, etc…”but he’s so smart!”   Man, I have lived this dream before.  Same ol’, same ol’, but nothing worse.  I’ll take it.  In fact, the science teacher did mention that he is a huge advocate for himself in her class.  That’s a new one  – pretty proud of my maturing young lad!

I nodded to show understanding of their feedback and as a group we came up with a couple of ideas.   I ended with this  – “Mrs. Guidance Counselor and Mrs. School Psychologist know this and I’m sure you’re aware, but my son had a challenging transition into middle school last year.  He came out OK and started to  feel really good about himself! I have to say that I’m pleased with the way 7th Grade has started and is proceeding.  And my son feels better about school this year.  I completely understand and respect your feedback.  He gets anxious sometimes, he needs approval, but – I have to tell you that if I received this feedback this time last year, I’d be walking around this room and hugging each and every one of you.  That’s how hard most of 6th grade was for him and for our family.”  Yes, there was still work to be done, but my words did seem to give the teachers some perspective.  Mrs. Guidance Counselor and Mrs. School Psychologist some words of support as well.  As I was leaving the building, Mrs. School Psychologist looked at me and said “That’s nothing!” and gave me a hug!

I have to appreciate the teachers reaching out.  Always a pit in the stomach when you get that call/email, but I needed the chat just as much as they did.  It helped us get to know each other a little more and also allowed me the opportunity to share some further background with them.

Conclusion:

How do you go about advocating for your kid, especially when he’s getting older?  He just turned 12.  When do you stop?  What’s too much?   He is amazing, smart, witty – but this darn ADHD sometimes!    He just doesn’t have the same learning style as your run-of-the-mill mainstream kid.

ADHD is really no joke.  It can make the smartest child feel like dirt, as it did for my child. It’s not an “excuse” – it’s a diagnosis.   If I have to call myself back into the principals office, I will.  I may cringe when the Guidance Counselor calls  or when I see those “let’s schedule a conference” emails, but that open  and honest conversation is key.  Get to know those teachers and the administration.  Work with them, not against them – and hopefully they will do the same.  They’re not always going to give you what you want or what your child needs right away, but please keep asking and keep exploring.  By no means am I the pain in the ass parent – some say that I should probably be more of one, but it’s not my style or my nature!  It’s not 100% comfortable for me and I’m not a fan of making waves, but there’s nothing more important than supporting your kid.

There’s nothing wrong with him knowing that there are people to turn for assistance and guidance.  Who hasn’t had mentor at work or someone to take you under his/her wing?  As human beings we all can use some support on occasion  – and if my 12 year old needs a little because he’s an out-of-the box-kid, you better know that I’m going to stand up for it.  And encourage him to do the same, especially as he gets older.  Yes, yes, I know – responsibility and independence.  I hear ya….he’s maturing and growing up, but for now I have to keep a close eye to this particular situation.

So why spill my guts? …..I share this for other families, so they might not feel so alone.  It’s a process.  It’s a system.  I know I’m not offering up specific advice and wish I had “the answer,” but we all know this is not a “one size fits all” scenario.   I made lots of wrong turns along the way and will probably continue to do so.   And sometimes I stopped short, when I should have been honking my horn so I could move forward.   Personally, I may never find the perfect balance between “knowing when to let go” vs. “knowing when to step in” when it comes to this situation.

As my son gets older, this won’t be my story to share anymore.  It’ll be his and I’ll support him if he wants to share it – and I’ll support him if he doesn’t.   But for now I tell his story – actually our story – as support and encouragement for others.  Remaining silent isn’t going to help any.  It may never get easier, but keep going  – cause no one else is going to advocate for your kid like you can.

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