Wow….it’s only been a little over a month since my son began middle school but it feels like it’s been much longer! So many changes and new challenges my son had to deal with; actually, we as a family had to address. Before I begin, I must tell you that this is the first time my son is in general education without having access to an aide in the classroom to ask for help; he’s doing it all by himself now.
One of the first challenges was preparing my son to use a combination locker. The week before school started, I went out to dinner with a close friend of mine who has a son that was also beginning middle school. I told her I was concerned about my son being able to use a combination lock at school because of his fine motor and processing issues. My friend told me that she bought a combination lock at the store so her son could practice before school starts….what a brilliant idea! Of course we immediately bought a lock and made my son practice using it every day before school began; I highly recommend this to parents to alleviate any anxieties your child may have using a combination lock, it was a great help! When the day came and he received his locker combination, he was able to turn the dial with ease; however, since it was a brand new school, the latches didn’t work well because they were too stiff. You know how we are as parents, the very next day my husband went to his locker and applied WD40 to the latch……anything to make it as easy as possible for our kid!
For the typical developing student, middle school is challenging, but for the student with special needs it’s even more difficult. Being able to transition from class to class while adding trips to the hall locker is a difficult routine to become proficient at. So at the end of first week of school I introduced myself and personally handed each one my son’s teachers his IEP. Some took the time to ask questions about his areas of strengths and weakness, others did not. Even though it specifically states in his IEP that he needs to sit in close proximity to the teacher in order to learn, I told him to try and sit in the front of the class because he learns better; basically, to teach my son to start advocating for himself. I’m proud to say he followed my advice and picked a seat in the front row of every class. However, there was a substitute teacher in his math class until the second week of school. When the permanent teacher arrived, she arranged the class differently because of the group of students that are pulled out for resource a couple times a week; my son receives one hundred minutes a week of resource for Math and one hundred minutes of resource for English every week. On the day the students go to resource, the teacher told all the resource kids to sit in the back of the room until they had to leave. I picked up my son from school later that day and he never mentioned anything to me about his seat being changed in math class. When we came home and opened up his notebook I noticed he didn’t turn in his homework from the night before. I asked him why and he started to cry and he said “I forgot because the teacher told me to sit in the back of the room and I don’t know why?” I couldn’t get any more information out of my son because he was upset, so I decided to go back to school and ask his teacher directly why she changed his seat.
When I arrived I introduced myself and I explained what just happened at home with my son. I told her that I personally gave the substitute teacher his IEP and asked if she had read it yet. She said not yet, but was sincerely sorry to hear my son was at home upset. I asked his teacher why she changed his seat and she said she wanted to keep all the kids together so when they leave for resource it doesn’t disrupt the rest of the class; basically, he only has to sit in the back of the room on the day he goes to resource. His teacher said she explained it to him and thought he understood. I told her that when my son becomes upset he shuts down and probably didn’t hear the entire conversation. In addition, I told his teacher that my son cannot play musical chairs; he needs to sit in the same seat every day.
Her solution was to add an extra chair in the front row at the very end directly in front of the Smart Board. I was happy with her suggestion; she also told me he wasn’t supposed to turn in homework that day. When I returned home my son was no longer upset so I explained to him why his teacher changed his seat, he replied “oh yeah, now I remember her saying that.”
Which leads me to my next point; how to keep my son on track with academics, organization and time management? My husband and I quickly discovered that we cannot assume our son hears or writes down everything that he’s supposed to in class. Some of his teachers are still using handouts because the workbooks haven’t arrived yet, some use journals and others like the students to write in their notebooks. In addition, each student was given a daily planner to input all of their homework assignments. Last but not least is Jupiter Grades; the website our teachers use to log all homework assignments, test results, grades, etc…. As you can see, the difficulty for my son or any other student to be organized in Middle School is quite evident!
Our after school routine begins with opening up his daily planner to check for homework assignments, then pulling out all of his handouts for each class. Next, we look through my son’s notebook and journal to see what notes he took that day. Then, we check Jupiter Grades to see if he is missing any information regarding homework assignments; if necessary, an email to one of his teacher clarifying whatever questions we still might have. As you can imagine, our dining room table is always a mess! This system is tedious and time consuming but it’s been effective in catching any gaps my son might have in completing and turning in assignments or preparing for tests.
When our children were toddlers we couldn’t wait until they started school full time and they required less of our time….it’s actually the opposite. The higher the grade, the harder the academics; more attention must be paid to what’s happening in school, not less. With each grade also comes more responsibility placed on the student, whether they are ready for it or not.
Like I stated earlier, there are no aides in my son’s classes and despite his struggles, he is holding his own and has managed to achieve good grades so far; we see that he his learning and beginning to understand what it takes for him to succeed in Middle School. Hopefully by the end of this journey, my son will be prepared for his next adventure…….High School!!