Monday, September 19, 2011

Sneakers and Bullsh*t Detectors

When are people going to understand it is not a great idea to bullshit me?  Why you ask?  Because I have one of the best tuned bullshit detectors out there - the Stradivarius of bullshit detectors.

I am trying really hard not to pre-judge or make assumptions but so far I do not have a great feeling about this school year.  For one there are now instead of 11, 14 kids in Maya's class.  And her teacher Cecile, who I really loved has left the school and Maya now has two different teachers, one that works 3 days and one that works 2 plus a full time assistant (the same one as last year).  So that brings an extra layer of chaos that wasn't there before as it means two teachers have to get to know and understand Maya and the changeover gives Maya more room to skirt the system (something which I will say she is an expert at).  Thankfully the class assistant is the same one as last year and hopefully that will help to bring some consistency.  

But so far I am not having the greatest feeling on how it is going.  We haven't gotten a lot of info yet and that is okay, it takes time to get things set up and there are quite a few new kids in Maya's class so I am okay that there isn't a ton of communication from that side.  Still though a few things Maya has said has not given me the greatest feeling about it.  It does seem like the kids are expected to do more with less help.  Not just because they are trying to sow the seeds of indpendence but more that the school is not as free and willing to deal with each kid as an individual with their own issues/problems but also in terms of where they need help.  One of the things I loved about this school from the outset was that it was a 'soft'place.  The Dutch as a society are quite uniform and rigid and they really expect uniformity and variation is hard to deal with.  This school seemed always to us to be an exception to that.  Things were a little bit more relaxed, a little bit more cuddly and a bit more go with the flow.  If a kid needed a little extra time or extra help it was taken in stride, no big deal.  Now, and granted without a ton of proof, I suspect that the tide is shifting and that this school is also becoming akin to creating a cookie cutter society within it's walls.  
What do I base this on?  The Great Sneaker Dilemma of 2011.  It goes something like this. 

Last week Maya told me that she was not able to wear her new gym shoes that we had bought her over the summer.  Up until now I always bought her crocs-type tennis shoes because those were easy to slip on and off (and easy to wash) but last year Cecile, her former teacher (who I am missing VERY much) asked us to buy her shoes with laces as they want Maya to learn how to tie her shoes.  So over the summer we went and bought a beautiful pair of Adidas high tops, with laces.  But after two weeks of school Maya is telling me that she is wearing bare feet in gym class and last week the school sent the shoes home in her bag with no explanation.  When I asked Maya why the shoes were there she told me they sent them home because they didn't fit.  So, I put some socks on Maya's feet and the shoes went right on (they are high tops, a little stiff granted, but they went on easily.  Maya did tell me that I forgot to put gym socks in her bag and she was trying to put them on barefoot.  Plus when I tried to put them on her at home, I saw that there was one crumbled up paper in the front.  So, figuring that was the culprit and guessing (because Maya is not great at relaying the actual content of conversations to me) that she probably told her teacher that the shoes didn't fit and they probably just took her word for it., but now, paper discarded and with gym socks the shoes went back in the bag this morning and I was confident that today she would have gym class with her sneakers.  So I sent the shoes back with a note, explaining that they fit and asked them to help her with them.  Today when Maya came in, the shoes were not in her bag so figuring she had worn them and left them in school with the rest of her gym things I asked her if she wore them today for gym class.  She said no, that she had again gone with bare feet.  So I asked her if she asked for help and she told she did but that the teachers didn't help the kids and that she had to put on her own shoes.  
Now can I just interject here that this already pisses me off because if the school had not requested me to get her these kind of shoes I would have continued to get her Crocs sneakers as they slip on and off easily (with or without socks)   and it was only because they told me to get her regular sneakers with laces that we bought these? 

So this afternoon Maya's new teacher got a little piece of me.  I am quite certain she is rethinking her move to this school.  She was pleasant enough but the first thing out of her mouth is that there are 14 kids and they don't have the time to give to each one of them.  She suggested that we practice putting the shoes on and off with Maya at home. I told her that we don't have any problem with practicing at home but what I couldn't understand is why they didn't call me or send me a note last week so I could have started to practice it with her.  And on top of that, they didn't even send the shoes home today with any explanation.  I again got the 14 kids speech which I interrupted and said that this was special education, they are there to give the kids the extra help they need.  That leaving it to my autistic 7 year old to one, understand the problem and two, relate it to me was not very conducive to helping my daughter and that their not sending the shoes home or contacting me doesn't make it seem like they are very interested in solving the problem.  The teacher again threw the 14 kids argument at me and I retorted that they have to be prepared to help these kids, otherwise what is special education for?  Finally she did apologize for not communicating anything about the shoes to us and that being counterproductive to solving the problem but of course the apology was peppered with the 14 kids.  Finally I told her that although I was sensitive to the pressures special education is under in this country, that I didn't want to hear anything more about the 14 kids.  That I was interested only in my daughter.  Then I agreed if they would send the shoes home we would practice and that on Friday, during her next gym day someone would help her to get her shoes on.  

What bothered me about the conversation was not so much that we had a difference of opinion or even that there is a communication slip up, but that I have a different feeling than before about this school.  I have the inklings of the idea that there is less willingness in providing the individual help that each of those children requires and that the teacher is just giving me lip service and trying to justify her actions more than she is trying to help my daughter.  I am trying hard not to judge too quickly, maybe there are just a lot of adjustments that need to be made before the teachers find the right rhythm with all the kids but my fear is kicking in that this is the direction of special education in the Netherlands, more pressure, more kids in the system, less resources.  That's all  very true but on the other hand, it really depends who you get as a teacher.  I've been in the system long enough to know that despite the shortcomings of  it (or any other system) so much depends on "who" you get. 
When I relayed this to Leo he said, let's pull her out of this class and put her into another class.  But I am trying not to be rash.  It is a new teacher, she is getting used to a new school, new kids, with kids who need loads of time to adjust.  So for now I am taking the high road and giving it a little time. 

At least I can practice putting Maya's sneakers on and off while I am waiting.    

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