What do you do when you realize that your child is unhappy at his preschool?
Despite your best efforts, in depth interviews and hours of due diligence you begin to realize that the school which you thought was so perfect for your preschooler is in fact the wrong one. So, what do you do when things don't work out?
I have just been through this stressful situation with one of my grandchildren. (I won't mention which school or name names out of professional courtesy.) It was a gut-wrenching experience for my daughter and son-in-law just as it would be for any set of concerned parents.
The warning signs
The warning signs of a bad fit are simple to detect: your child is unhappy. She comes home from school in tears or frustrated or both. She doesn't look forward to going to school in the morning. The last thing any parent wants is a four year old who doesn't want to go to school.
You won't necessarily notice that something is wrong. There probably won't be a big blow up at school. What's more likely to happen is a series of little events over a period of several weeks, perhaps even months. An isolated incident of unhappiness is nothing to be worried about. A trend of daily episodes in which your child expresses frustration and unhappiness is definitely something you want to keep your eyes on.
What do you do?
Once you are aware that there is a problem with the school and your child, you need to deal with it. Promptly. Start with your child. She will express your feelings. You just have to be tuned in to what she is really saying. If you have having difficulty getting answers, ask your spouse or other trusted family member to help. Once you have a pretty clear idea of what the problem, it is time to take action.
The next step is to schedule an in-depth meeting with your child's teacher. When you arrange this meeting, alert the head of school. Depending on the circumstances, she will most likely be informed that you are coming in for a meeting with your child's teacher outside of the normally scheduled parent-teacher conference. But don't assume anything. Email her and/or call her office and let her know what you are planning to do.
Do not bring your child to this meeting. In your initial meeting with the teacher lay out your concerns as a parent does and should. Try to be even-handed. Explain what you are observing. Ask why your child is feeling as she does. Be as emotionally neutral as you can be - never an easy thing for any concerned parent to do - as you lay out your concerns and listen to how those concerns are addressed.
Assume nothing. Just because an adult holds a degree or certificate in teaching/education doesn't necessarily mean that he has had enough life experience to put that education to best use. Ultimately you know your child better than anybody. Never forget that. The minute you begin to hear statements about your child's behavior which do not jibe with the young person you have borne and raised, listen intently. Try to refrain from arguing. Use this meeting as a fact-finding mission. Not a debating match.
After you have asked all your questions and expressed all your concerns and listened to the answers offered by your child's teacher, then excuse yourself graciously. Keep your cool. Even if you want to say something untoward or have an urge to make a dramatic exit from the meeting, don't. Be the epitome of graciousness. Your time will come soon enough.
Once you return home, sit down and think about all that was said. Make a list of the issues which you feel can be addressed and fixed. Make another list of the issues which your intuition tells you probably cannot be fixed.
The Next Steps
Ask to observe your child's class. Most preschools will have a one way mirror or some other way of observing classes. Don't let your child know that you will be coming to school. You want to see things as they are normally. Without knowing Mommy is there. Observing will confirm your suspicions about what is happening in the classroom. It could be a number of things which are at the bottom of her unhappiness. For example, the lesson material. Or the way it is taught. Or her interaction with her classmates. Or all of these things.
Remember: you are talking about a young person. She is yours. Unique. Special. Perhaps you will discover that she is simply a couple of years ahead of her classmates in certain subject areas thanks to your good parenting. If she is already reading or well on her way to early mastery of basic math skills, it could be that she is bored with the material being offered. The reverse could be true as well. If she is struggling with reading or counting, she will not be happy.
Your options then are to continue to enrich her learning at home at the same time as you show her how to be patient with her classmates who are not on her academic level. Teaching tolerance and compassion is not something you begin to do when she is a teenager, after all. Socialization skills are very important too.
If she is having difficulty with any subject material, give her the help she needs. Consistently. Progress comes over time. There are no instant fixes in learning.
The End Game
After observing your child's class you should have a clearer idea of what can be fixed or not. If you see the teacher or the teaching style as an impediment to your child's happiness, the next step is to meet with the head of school. When you do so, remember two things which I consider vitally important: you are the best judge of your child's character, demeanor and potential; you are the school's client. You have hired the school to do a job. If it cannot or will not do that job to your satisfaction, you need to move on. Don't act in a peremptory manner. Be deliberate. Explore your options for other schools thoroughly before making any decision.
No matter how frustrated you may become in this process, keep your cool. Don't threaten legal action. Don't imply that you will bad-mouth the school. Don't involve other parents. Private schools intrinsically are independent. They can do whatever they please, provided, of course, that what they do is legal. If you the client do not like what is going on, your best option is to withdraw your child at the end of the year and find another school for her.
Make sure that you request your child's academic record upon completion of the academic year. File it with your child's other educational records. You may just need this valuable information at some point.
If the teacher is a problem, it is just possible that other parents have spoken to the head of school about her. And it is also likely that the teacher in question has not had her contract renewed. Again, remember that in private schools teachers work on a year-to-year contractual basis without any union protection. Put another way, when a teacher does not work out, the school does not renew her contract. End of story.
My grandchild went to a new school at the end of the academic year. He loves his new school and is eager to go to school every day. While dealing with all this was a very stressful, upsetting experience for my children, they acted in the best interests of their child. Nothing else really matters to us parents, does it?
If you have had a similar experience to what my children went through, we would all would appreciate your sharing with us. Just be kind. No names or places please.
Questions? Contact me on Twitter. @privateschl
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