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Is My Middle-Schooler the Problem or Is It the Teacher?

Kathy Glass
Kathy Glass

By Kathy Glass, Consulting Educator

Question:

I get constant reports that my middle-schooler is disruptive in class. My son complains about the teachers throwing him out of class even before he sits down and before the bell rings to begin class. I am always around him, his school and his friends. I am always digging for answers and listening to their stories. They too complain about the teachers not being fair.

I have gone to the school to try to get help or answers and it seems that it helps him. The complaints stop for awhile but then the ball gets easily dropped and the calls keep coming back. How can I work with my son and the school to get to the bottom of this? I want to help reinforce his good behavior but I also want to be sure that he is being judged fairly and that there are appropriate consequences for misbehavior.

Answer:

It's hard to be objective when your son and his behavior is called into question. It sounds like you are on the right track, trying to get to the bottom of the situation and reinforcing his good behavior. However, from what you describe - "constant reports" of disruptive behavior - the likelihood is high that your son does have a behavior problem in the classroom. If it were only one teacher, then you might question if it is legitimate, but since the feedback does come from many teachers, you need to take this seriously and take the needed action.

It is tough for parents to remain impartial. I would think it would be best to seek advice from a school counselor, district psychologist or independent child counselor. There could be issues that you may not be aware of, like attention deficit disorder or a learning disability, which can be addressed through testing and observation by professionals.

What is most important is that you serve as your child's advocate and ultimately make decisions that will best suit your child. However, in making this decision, it would be best to seek outside expertise from teachers and a child counselor.

In addition, you can request a conference with his teachers and ask that there be a facilitator, such as a lead teacher or counselor. Tell your son to accompany you. In the meeting, you and your son can all hear information directly from teachers and make a plan of action.

Suggest that teachers institute a behavior contract. To do this, ask them to identify the behaviors they expect your son to exhibit, such as: come to class on time, be prepared to learn by bringing all necessary materials, do not talk or whisper to other students while a lesson is being presented, and so forth. Have a rating scale for each line item, like a plus for "exemplary behavior," a check for "OK behavior," and a minus for "poor behavior." Have your son rate himself on all line items in each class and show his assessment to his teachers at the end of each class period, or if that's not feasible, then after school. He should briefly discuss with each teacher if what he felt he deserved is in concert with each teacher's impression of how he behaved. At the end of each day, review the contract at home and give positive or negative rewards as reflected in the scores.

This system worked well for me when I taught, because it gives students all the information they need to be successful: 1) meeting with teachers to hear from them what they expect; 2) self-assessment; 3) teacher-student interaction; 4) positive or negative consequences.

Being able to self-discipline and behave within the confines of any organization is a critical life skill. Help your son to see how his actions affect others so that he can continue through life successfully.


Kathy Glass, a former middle school teacher, is an educational consultant and author focusing on curriculum and instruction. She wrote Curriculum Design for Writing Instruction: Creating Standards-Based Lesson Plans and Rubrics (© 2005, Corwin Press) and Curriculum Mapping: A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Curriculum Year Overviews. Currently she is writing a book with Carol Tomlinson and other authors of the Parallel Curriculum Model. She can be contacted through her Web site.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

03/24/2008:
"my daughter had a fight with a student from her school and the students mother instead of breaking up the fight she fought my daughter also. It was hard to believe that in this day in age that a parent would assault a 12 year old child in front of hundreds of other school children. I'm still waiting to hear back from the district attorney office. I would like to know my rights as a parent for the safety of my child because this parent comes to the school for her daughter and when my child sees her she is frightened."
03/4/2008:
"My daughter is getting low greades on her comprehension test papers. She is in the sixth grade and when I asked her teacher what i can do she simply sayes some kids do not test well. What can I do to help bring her comprehension up?"
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