Ben, A Case Study

After Tuesday’s funeral all I could think about was how lucky I was to have not one, or two but FOUR healthy boys. So you can imagine my surprise on Wednesday morning when I was led into a room at Ben’s school with a team of therapists wanted to discuss Ben’s behavior.

The school councilor, a speech therapist, a social worker, the head of the Montessori school program, an occupational therapist, the school therapist, another woman who I’m not sure what she did, a trainee, and Ben’s teacher.

After the strike and all the talk about underfunded schools I couldn’t help thinking that someone was paying seven people to sit and talk about this with me. It must really be bad.

What could be so horrible that it needed this level of attention?

In fairness to his teacher, she did described a few things I agreed were unacceptable behavior. Ben had bit each teacher once. He was having trouble with personal space. He needed to learn to keep his hands to himself.

Apart from those two items, I heard her describe a lot of things that seemed like normal, if naughty, three year old behavior.

He was having trouble staying in line when they moved from classroom to specials like Spanish. He threw his toys. He put things in his mouth. He didn’t move from one activity to the next easily.

Finally there were a few things I thought were hard to deal with, but in no way indicative of bad behavior. In fact, just her bringing them up made me wonder if she could separate them or if she had already formed such a prejudice towards Ben that there was no way he would ever be treated fairly in this class.

When she told him how to work with the beads in her class, pulling them down one at a time, he would do it her way. When she left he would pull down three or more. She would come back. He would listen, and start pulling down one at a time. Then she would leave and he would go back to the way he wanted to do it. She actually brought this up as a complaint. My friend and former CPS Montessori teacher, Pam explained that the beauty of a Montessori classroom is that kids work at their own pace. If it takes her a month to explain how it works she should do it patiently and with a positive attitude.

He pooped on the floor before he got to the potty. He was potty trained 2 months ago, I gently reminded her. Did she remember the talk I had to her about it at the meet and greet? I asked. She had reassured me at the time that they had a newbie last year and it would all be fine. However, for some reason she felt this was not a normal accident. She thought Ben was pooping on the the floor in defiance. Really? A three year old who can’t figure out how you want him to work with beads has the brains to think of such a creative way to defy you?

I may not understand Montessori, but I do understand potty training. I then asked how I could help at home. At home he can run to the toilet when he wants and he is normally half naked. At school he is dressed, the bathroom is another room away and he needs to ask permission and wait for a teacher to take him. Would it be better to put his clothes back on so that he had more lag time in between thinking he had to go and going? I received a blank stare in response.

I was also upset at the poor communication I was getting from her. Most of these complaints were first aired at this meeting. Was is really necessary to assemble such a large team before even giving us a chance to sort them out together?

Do I see behaviors like this at home? Yes he wants to do his own thing on his own time, who doesn’t? Yes he occasionally has potty accidents. Sometimes he puts things in his mouth, sometimes he throws things, not in anger but because he’s a boy and that’s what they do. In fact, I didn’t think any of these things were cause for alarm. When they happen I tell him to stop and he normally does. He can listen and he can behave. He is not the animal she betrayed him as to these therapists.

Still based on her analysis, they wanted to study him further, do tests on him. They asked me to fill out questionnaires about him. Then come back to the table with a plan.

My friend Jennie said, “Free help! Take it!”

My friend Jenn said, “Sounds like the teacher and he have a personality conflict. Maybe he can be switched to another room?”

As I mentioned before, my friend Pam, a former Montessori CPA teacher, talked to me for ages, describing what she thought was reasonable and what was not. It was very helpful. She explained schools have a 6 week period they call ‘normalization’. It’s when new kids learn how to fit in and comply with all the new rules and changes in their lives . Ben has been in school less than 3 weeks. It seemed premature. She asked if I had seen a list of classroom rules? No. I hadn’t. Perhaps knowing them would help keep consistency at home and at school. Would it be possible to observe Ben in the classroom setting? Could I be given a tour of the classroom with explanation as to better understand what they do all day?

When Adam came home that night I told him about the meeting. He was livid. He wanted to pull Ben out right away and move schools. I suggested we work with the councillors and see what they had to say first. He pointed out that the teacher had a very bad attitude towards him, seemed overwhelmed and had not learned the kind of skills a teacher for that age group needed.

Today he was good natured and helpful. Here he is helping to pluck and wash the grapes for dinner.

I was worried what she did to our happy sweet, rambunctious little Ben all day. At the meeting she talked about how she restrained him and how the other teacher accidentally kicked him and broke three toe nails. She never reported this to me at the time it happened. I was worried for Ben’s well being. I was scared to send him back. So I kept him home.

Wednesday afternoon around 2pm. I called the councillor to say I spoke with my husband about our meeting that morning and had more questions and could she call me back? No reply.
I called again today, Thursday, at 3pm. Maybe she didn’t get my last message? I said to the answering machine. I told her I kept Ben out of school to work one on one (well, one on three!) with him about quenching some of the more unpleasant conduct. And could she please call me back to talk more about the meeting, my husband and I had questions. No call back again today. Interesting because when we were going about setting up this meeting she was able to call me back right away after I left her a message.
To be continued…
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