Each Child, Each Year – Facing Academic Challenges in the Classroom

Things have been keeping me busy, not the least of which was deciding to make one major change for our family. Even before we got this website fully off the ground, there were signs that we would face challenges with one teacher this school year. Despite many efforts to correct the situation, I decided this week that I would homeschool my middle daughter for the rest of this year.

It may seem that this doesn’t fit in with our title and mission of “public on purpose”, but actually, it does. We do public school for many reasons. I’ll write those out for you in a post some day. We do public school because we have spent many hours purposely thinking through every pro and con. Generally academics have been a pro or at least neutral in the public school. My children have generally learned what they were supposed to know each year.

However, to be purposeful about public schooling you have to consider each child, each year. Not every child is the same and not every teacher or school is the same. You cannot assume that it will be the best answer all the time.

I am blessed to be a stay-at-home and available to give homeschooling a try with my daughter. I know not everyone has this option, but since I do, I should consider it in my options…knowing that God can equip me for the task if it is something I should do.

So, what brought me to the final decision? Oddly, it was a very civil meeting with our principal about a completely different topic. Our school is going through a school improvement process because it hasn’t reached its goals for four years. So, they are being required to restructure. I went into the meeting with some ideas to help make positive changes and we talked. After 45 minutes I walked out and reflected for a bit. I realized that we had wasted our time. No change would come from my efforts. That realization made me reflect on the discussions about my daughter’s classroom and I realized that was the same case there. We had said a lot of words and I had waited, but made no significant progress. It was time to make the call.

So, now I hope that being both a public school mom and and home school mom I will be able to offer a unique perspective. I imagine it is all part of God’s plan, even with this blog.

I want to share the steps that brought me here in case it might help you consider each of your individual children and their situations.

Pay attention early in the year

We had to learn the hard way with our oldest. Each year we would send her to school and pretty much assume that all was going well unless we heard otherwise from the teacher. Now, after many years in the public schools, we know that you must pay close attention. Not all teachers are created equal when it comes to parent communication.

Our most successful years have been with teachers that send home graded work often, communicate regularly via newsletter or email, and keep our kids accountable to turning in work. Often these key ingredients are missing and symptoms can show up early. Also, we have found that good grades on a report card do not necessarily represent how much they have learned in the year. Watch for information from teachers about your student’s progress and if you don’t get much, be sure to check in with them to see how things are going. It may be that things are fine or it may be that something is missing in the classroom.

Define needs and goals

If you find that something is missing, you need to decide which are the most important issues. Perhaps you find there is no accountability from the teacher, your student is missing work or producing poor work, or maybe there is a classroom management problem. It would be a good idea to prioritize your concerns. Decide what are your most important goals for your student. This will help you know which battles are really worthy of fighting, and when action is necessary.

Communicate with the teacher

When you go in to talk to the teacher, ask questions to clarify your perception of the situation. Talk civilly and respectfully. Explain your perspective and your goals for your student. See if you can come up with an action plan that will fix the situation. Expect to do your part and hold your child accountable to take part in the solution. Do not leave the entire problem up to the teacher to solve. Keep your concerns professional and don’t let them become an attack on the teacher as a person. Try to be as positive as you can.

Communicate with the principal

If you do the previous steps and you are unable to make a plan, you may need to speak with the principal. The administration should be able to step in and help the teacher find a solution if necessary. Continue to do all you can to make things better. Don’t lose sight of your main goals.

Make decisions

Once a plan is moving forward, you will need to give the situation some time. Changes take a while to implement and solidify. However, if things do not seem to improve or you are unable to take the steps to open up communication with a teacher or principal, you may need to take action.

You may need to take the lead and create a specific new system so that you are able to get the information from the teacher that you need, whether that is a written progress report or graded work sent home in a packet. You may have to ask for your child to be moved to a different classroom, or to a different school if possible. If you have the option, you may decide to home school that child for the year. When things aren’t improving you have to take some kind of action. You cannot wait forever. Your child’s education is ultimately your responsibility.

I lingered in the waiting stage for these last two months. After communicating the challenges with the teacher and principal, I was seeing some improvement. It was very slow, and not in the area that was my biggest priority. The issue was really being danced around and I was not getting real answers from the teacher or principal. All of a sudden I realized that was what was happening. It became apparent that my daughter was going to suffer if I didn’t do something significant.

So here I am with two in public school and one at home. I imagine we’ll have our own challenges ahead, but God willing, we’ll make progress. I really feel that this will be a special time for my daughter and I. She has never had time with me on her own, being the middle child. She shines when she gets positive affirmation, so now I’ll be able to give it to her. It may be just what she needs to grow in her faith and be guarded socially for a bit. God works through these things and so I put my trust in Him completely on this new journey.

Image: Kittikun Atsawintarangkul / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


About Shawna Wright

Shawna Wright has three daughters currently in 4th, 7th, and 9th grades. While she graduated college with a degree in Chemical Engineering, she chose to stay home and begin raising her family. She and her husband, Michael, purposefully chose to put their children in the public school system with much prayer and perseverance. Shawna volunteers in the local school district. She is also a hobby web designer, writer, speaker, graphic artist and Director of Communications at her church. Her heart's desire is to be a light in her community and help her own children to be lights in theirs.
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