03 March 2011

Is That Appropriate?

I am fascinated by Five's use of the word "appropriate." He is in first grade, and has been learning about "appropriate" behavior since pre-school. If a new show is debuting on Nickelodeon, he will ask me if it is "appropriate." He rats out his brother for his "inappropriate" behavior at tae kwon do. He will tell me if his group did not earn all their stars because a classmate was acting "inappropriate."

I enjoy hearing small humans say big words. I remember a barbecue years ago, when a friend's toddler asked for "more cantaloupe."  My boy at that time could barely say "Mom," so I was very impressed. But I am ambivalent about the focus on "appropriate."  I like that children are no longer being told they are "bad." But I worry about who is determining what is "appropriate."

Recently, I had a discussion with Three about his grades. He was complaining about his teacher, suggesting that she was crazy, and therefore, her judgment of him should be disregarded. I know this teacher, and he's not that far off base. However, one cannot use that as an excuse to do poorly  in school. One must understand what the teacher wants from her students, and give it to her. It is a life lesson in how to succeed- in school, in business, in marriage if necessary.

I'm pretty sure Three has been labeled a problem student. He dances along the edge of  the autism spectrum in relation to his ability to read social clues. We've discussed his self-centered world view. When his teachers communicate with me, their concerns usually center on his inability to make "appropriate choices."  He can be distracted and chatty in class. He's fooling around in the halls with his friends. He and his friend were sent to the principal to discuss the hazards of throwing one's lunchbox across the soccer field, etc. etc.

I tried to get him to understand how middle school works.
"Three, who is the teacher that complains the most about your behavior?"
"Mrs. Smith."
"Who is the teacher that continually separates you and your friends?"
"Mrs. Jones."
"Who is the teacher that likes you the most?"
"Mr. Lincoln."
"Who is your second most-favorite teacher?"
"Mr. Washington."
"Do you see a pattern here?"
"Uh, I like the guy teachers better?"
"Yes! And they like you better. Teaching is a female-dominated profession, Three. And maybe some of these female teachers don't really understand guy behavior. So, it's up to you to give them what they want. Because they aren't going to change."

Now, I know that there are many, many skilled teachers in the world who can recognize differences in gender behavior and not label. I also know that when I go to a holiday concert at Four's special-education school, 85% of the population is male. I'm just saying there might be a slight bias against the penis-endowed. Either way, Three needs to learn what society considers appropriate behavior. He will be judged on it for the rest of his life.

Now I'm off to bed with the Captain, so I can give him his special birthday present. I'm sorry. Was that inappropriate?


  1. Anonymous3.3.11

    I am a teacher and I do believe that boys are at a disadvantage in elementary school today because there is so little time for movement, recess and PE. Boys just aren't happy sitting in desks and doing worksheets all day. My son used to get in trouble during story time because he wanted to roll on the floor while listening - it was too hard for him to listen and be still at the same time. Kids used to go to school from 9:30-2:15, and had recess plus a full hour for lunch and organized sports / class games outside.

  2. Anonymous3.3.11

    Good life lessons! And I love to hear those words, especially when they first learn the big ones and use them A LOT. It's like watching their brains grow.
    Our youngest was about six when she figured out "picturesque." We still enjoy that word due to her revelation.
    p.s. No, I don't think you telling us about the Captain's gift was inappropriate, we all kinda know how you got five kids.

  3. Anonymous3.3.11

    You are so good with those kids.
    I really noticed in school that the female teachers often had a bit of a bias against male students and were a lot less tolerant with them, unless the female teacher had a masculine personality or had sons herself. It's quite sad that this is the case when teaching is so female dominated.

  4. It's rough to be a boy in some classes and in some places. Now, at 8:30 every morning in my second grade, they climb up and stand on our desks and do windmill toe touches and other exercises to loosen up and get some energy out. They also jump up and down for a full minute several times a day and push down on their desks for resistance. It's a hell of a lot easier and more fun than dealing with all that potential energy that has to get out somehow. We also squish and squeeze playdoh and write on our desks with dry erase markers. We are anarchists around here.

    Now I'm going to say somethin sexist that is based purely on the fact that I'm a chick teacher. Boy "misbehavior" tends to be what I'd call boneheaded...splashing in the toilet with a found baggie for example...rather than vindictive like ganging up on another girl in the bathroom which is a female fave. I have a reputation as a boy's teacher. I like nice rational problem solving, less drama. Just an observation.

  5. fyi: we talk about "expectations"...a lot. it's the same story as "appropriate." I have a board with photos of the kids meeting expectations (standing in line, raising their hands, putting their names on work, reading quietly) with positive captions and we go over them all the time.

    Is that one of our expectations? I asked the kid who was swinging under the bathroom sink. It's a more APPROPRIATE way of saying "Act like you have some sense, dorkmunchkin." :P

  6. I feel for Three-- My third is a boy, and my current best way to describe him is socially awkward. He is very sweet, gentle, kind. Not a physical kid, Very smart. But he's in a class of 15 kids, and constantly tells me he gets picked on [mostly by the boys, but now some girls too]. He's not a "strike first" type of kid, and can't come up with the snappy comebacks. He also has some auditory processing difficulties which I think attribute to his challenges in reading social cues. He tends to take things very personally, too.

    I struggle with how to help him deflect the barbs from others without making himself a lightning rod for more [which is what tends to happen most]. I wish I could find the words to help him understand. Suggestions from you teachers and others are welcomed. He is in 6th grade, BTW.

  7. @BFB: I had a conversation once, with our principal and the Superintendent of schools, after they "temporarily" banned running on the playground. Someone had been injured in a soccer game. I brought in statistics that explained how male students need to have physical activity at least seven times in a school day, in order to be successful. I knew they wouldn't do anything about it, but it was my way of implying that they were dsicriminating against my children. Or, that they weren't in an "appropriate" educational environment. The school district loves me.

    @Lora: Just yesterday, Three got in the car after play practice, and said, "I think I may have gotten in trouble."
    "What did you do?"
    "Well, all the cheerleader mats were stacked up, and there was a chair wedged in the middle, and it was like the perfect place to sit, so I climbed in there, and Miss L saw me, and said, 'Two? Really?' so I climbed out."

    It's a constant battle against idiocy.

    I knew you would have all sorts of awesome ways to keep your kids moving, and therefore, focused. We have one fantastic third grade teacher-shout out to Mrs. Adams!-who uses every inch of her overcrowded classroom to move kids and keep them engaged. She was originally from Chicago, so maybe Illinois breeds good educators.

  8. As a former high school teacher, I agree with lora96. Male "misbehavior" is very often in-your-face, loud, and obvious. Female "misbehavior" is much more sneaky and often less overt. In essence, the boys are easier to catch. I had that discussion with all my classes several times....if you don't want to get in trouble then don't make it so easy for me to catch you doing something wrong. I wouldn't say I have a masculine personality, but I have an older brother and I have a decent knowledge of sports, both of which came in handy during my teaching career. I'd like to think I was fair with my students but I tried to be very conscious of male/female issues.

    And I'll say that I never had a female student think it was ok to slip me her older brother's number as a "Christmas present" cause "he'd really like to meet you after what I told him." Hhhmmm.

  9. I can't keep my kids straight. Obviously, Miss L was speaking with Three.

    @Sarah: OMG, do kids slip their phone numbers to their teachers? As Four would say: "What now?"

  10. Haha! My kids do the same thing with appropriate. Although *ahem* they kinda got that from me. I find that I get great results from them by employing the death-glare and very calmly saying, "Is that appropriate behavior?"

    You're right, though, about the gender bias. It's worse with some teachers than with others. When my kids were in 2nd grade, it was especially bad. They had a teacher who liked to punish the whole class when one kid did something wrong. And it was almost always the same kid. The one whose emotionial disabilities required the frequent use of a weighted vest. So stupid. What did she expect the other kids to do? Go all Marine Corps on the offender? Give him a code red? The worst part was, she punished them by making them sit on a wall in the parking lot and watch the other kids have recess. So then, not only did she have misbehaving kids, now they were also squirmy from not having recess. I love teachers; I truly do. But every now and then, you get a bonehead.

  11. @Delia: AAAARRRRGGGGHHHHH! I lost the ability to breathe reading your comment. My friend, Janet, and I were talking about a study she read that proved that negative incentives (punishment) did nothing to improve behavior. It made the PUNISHER feel better, but nothing else.

    In our house, we reward. We have a "home store" based on the school store at Four's school. This was instituted to make Five happy. One can earn points and cash them in. Once you earn the points, they can never be taken away. You can't lose them for being a jerk. You just won't earn any more. I think that teacher might have had greater success if she incented the class to achieve something together, and maybe they would have helped the needy child achieve, instead of making the kids resent him/her.

    I don't even want to tell you what I would have done if I was that child's parent. We had a similarly-minded third grade teacher for One. After that experience, the school actually assigned her as a teacher for Three. I kindly informed them that no child of mine would ever sit in her classroom again. Yes; they love me.

  12. @Delia - I can only say "wow" at that teacher. What a ridiculous way to approach the problem. Not being a teacher or parent myself, I'm going to give her the benefit of the doubt and say that she was in way in over head with the difficult child and - for some reason - could not find good advice or support to effectively address the problem. So she came up with the the least creative, most inane solution. Of course, it's distinctly possible that she was indeed a bonehead!! And I laughed like crazy at the Marine Corp reference. I'm entertained at the image of juvenile Code Reds!

    @Megan - Ha! I quote that study all the time! I wish I still had a copy because I no longer remember all the details. But I should probably correct one thing. Negative reinforcement, which includes punishment, was shown to be less effective than positive reinforcement and reward. It does work, but not as well. As you said, people tend to chose negative reinforcement over the much better positive, because it is very reinforcing for the punishers!

  13. @Janet: True, negative reinforcement works a little better with my older people. But I try to couch it in "positive" terms, i.e.: "We're not taking the computer out of your room to punish you. We're just removing barriers to your success! And you can earn it back if your grades improve."

    Oddly, they don't see it the same way.

  14. I do extra art--the messy kind with glitter, paint, and shave cream--as a reinforcement. If you earn it, awesome. If you were too lazy to do your work right the first tow times, you can sit there and redo it while we make the world sparkly. Yes, I am slightly a bitch. I know. :P

    About the teacher who had them sit on the wall. That sucks. My personal theory is "Will this get you the ball?"--it's kindergarten logic...will this reinforcing or aversive consequence accomplish what you want or just enable you to let your freak flag fly in some destructive fashion?

  15. Ha! Exactly! You're not punishing. You're problem solving!

    But no, they wouldn't see it that way. Fortunately, they have you and the Captain to guide them!

  16. Hee! "let your freak flag fly in some destructive fashion" - Lora, on top of being an inspired teacher, you have an awesome way of expressing yourself! I'd make the brilliant suggestion that you should become a writer, if - ummmm - you weren't already a writer.

  17. Is this an appropriate place to suggest that the boys come by their "inappropriate" conduct honestly? I could tell lots of stories of the minor trouble that the Captain and I used to get into at school for our conduct, in significant part because we knew that the teachers were not as smart as we were, and they bored us. So what were we to do? I still laugh when I remember the day the Captain calmly explained to our 10th grade English teacher that there was no reason for him and me to be taking notes in her class because it was certain that we would not need to retain this information. (Actually, he told her, since we intended to have a 90+ average in her class, we would not be required to take her final exam, which was the deal those days.) My, she was pissed. Or the time that I tied the belt loop of one of our classmates the the cord from the window blinds. Boy, was it funny when class ended and he got up to leave. Or the time that the Captain waited for our teacher to write on the board, then turned around, grabbed our classmate's stuff off of his desk and threw it out the open window. Of course the stuff-deprived kid got scolded for making a commotion, while the Captain remained angelic.

    The paragraph about Three's choices sounds like the play by play of our school years. Seems awfully normal to me. What were we supposed to do during all those boring school days? We are wired for this stuff!

  18. Lora, I was so glad to hear you chime in on this topic. (Not that I expected anything less.)

    My oldest nephew has a Pre-K teacher who has admitted to preferring to teach girls to boys. She also told an "official" class observer that she just assumes that when there's trouble that my nephew started it. This makes my head spin for two reasons. First, that's not right. Second, and perhaps more importantly (because learning to deal with injustice is a life skill), I'm afraid that this will prevent my family from getting a "real" feel for my nephew's strengths and challenges because all class-related information is heard through the "teacher-lady doesn't like the boy" filter.

  19. @Maccabee: Thank you for the fond remembrances! The Captain is unable to comment on the blog, because it is a social website, and thus blocked at work. However, he would like me to say that, in adulthood, he regrets throwing his classmate's books out the window. Otherwise, he really enjoyed being a smart-alecky teenage boy in high school. He would like me to emphasize "SMART," as he believes he could forgive his children their "inappropriate" (okay, he said douchey) behavior, if they got better grades.

    @Carrie: AAARRRGGGHHH again! If your family is trying to get an accurate assessment of your nephew, tell the school that you will be sending your own observer. Then, find a friend, teacher, or paid consultant, to observe the teacher and your nephew, preferably more than once. And document, document, document! Whenever I write a letter to someone in my school district, I copy everyone from the Superintendent down to the janitor. And if someone else has already observed, get copies of all their documents! Me likes a paper trail.

  20. Megan, the observer I mentioned was our own.

    This is a crazy smart little boy with some sensory and social issues. I just don't want any of the teacher's justifiable concerns to be brushed off because of her stated bias. (Similarly, I'd hate for some quiet little girl's delays to be overlooked because of that bias.)

    I know it's impossible for any of us to be truly objective, but I'm always caught off-guard by people who recognize their own prejudices and don't think they need to work on them.

  21. @Carrie: We can talk at length about prejudices. I've found, especially with medical professionals, that everyone filters info through their own special area of interest. For instance, shortly after One ran away from home (a story for another day), we took him to a psychologist recommended by our pediatrician. The psychologist started him in a social skills group. Yes, he needed social skills training, but he was still talking about jumping out windows, so it was sort of like putting the cart before the horse. But that was the doctor's area of expertise, so he was sticking with that plan of action. And we didn't know any better at the time.

    I have my own biases, based on my experiences, which I'm more than willing to share if you'd like to correspond at macoakley(at)verizondotnet. Either way, I'm sending good vibes to you and your family!

  22. @Megan: Gah! Ack! I read your comment about One. Social Skills? Yes, THAT'S the problem we want him to use his fucking NAPKIN POLITELY. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. I want to wield a skillet!

  23. @Megan, I fully intend to become a giant pain in the ass as soon as #3 enters the school. We are a very small town and each grade only has one classroom. There are 12-15 students per grade in this town. All of which means that Mrs. Bonehead is unavoidable. My kids are generally the quiet, the-teacher-must-be-right-she's-the-teacher types. They didn't even tell me what she'd been doing until the end of the year. Then it was all, "Oh I'm so glad we're done with her. No more missing recess." Now, I knew that she was a bonehead from the parent/teacher conferences when she informed me that the math system we were using confused her(in second grade), but I didn't know it was that bad. It was too late for me to have an anuerism about it by then, but you can bet your sweet patootie I'll be having one come registration time. The idea that my kids were being punished regularly for stuff they didn't do, and the kid who did couldn't help, really chaps my ass. Pardon my saltiness. Anyway, I've been the nice, cooperative mom so far. But that's about to change. And the poor principal, who has all the backbone of a tissue, has no idea. Pity her.

  24. @Delia: You could have a conversation with Chrysanthe. She lives in a very small town, with one elementary school. All her kids went to school with the same children and teachers until they got to high school, I think. (Chrys?) You are in a difficult situation, and I don't envy you, or the principal.

    @Chrysanthe: Four complains about being bullied. I've spoken to the teacher about it, and she's aware, but I may have to talk to someone a little higher up about it. Of course, in his school, anger management is an issue for many of the students, so I think he may start things as well. But I told him that bullies win when he lets them, by getting upset. I told him to tell them he didn't care what they said, and that would be endlessly frustrating to them.

    I know this isn't going to be as easy for you or your third. I can only say, talk to the teacher and the principal, because bullying, taunting, etc. are usually against school policy, so maybe those kids need to be called out on it. Also, our kids need to find a place of their own where they're comfortable doing what makes them happy. This isn't always easy to find. Lastly, social skills are just that: skills. Sometimes they have to be taught, and reinforced. There are groups to help with that, and perhaps friendships to be made. Those are my brief thoughts for today. XO


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