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Differing Expectations

Elementary School Expert Advice from Barbara Potts

Q: I've been having some problems with my son's first-grade teacher. She insists that he's not focused and is easily distracted. When I help him to do his spelling drills at home, he knows all the words, but when he has the test at school he misses the words. Every day he hands me a behavioral note that says: Not listening; not walking quietly; not following directions. Sometimes it's one thing, sometimes all three. The teacher has pointed out that my son had his head down, that he wasn't listening, and he didn't stand up straight. What does she want from a six-year-old?

I am working diligently on getting him to pay attention at home. When he doesn't do something the first time, there is a consequence. When he gets behavioral notes, he doesn't go out to play. I've tried to lure him with a reward for having good days, but it's still the same. Is this teacher just hard to please?

A: It sounds as if your son's teacher has high expectations of her students. It also sounds like you and the teacher are not communicating well right now, so you may want to involve someone else to help you both.

Keep in mind that a child's behavior is expected to vary from one setting to another. Paying attention at school with 20 other children and one or two adults in a room is very different from paying attention at home with just Mom. It's understandable that your son may know his spelling words with you at home and then forget them at school.

Talk with the school counselor. She may be able to give your son some individual time or include him in a small group. The counselor may also be able to observe your son in the classroom and give you an objective opinion of what is going on there.

Ask your son's teacher for another conference and request that the counselor attend to help the two of you communicate in a positive way. Set up a plan with the teacher for daily communication about your son's behavior and follow-up from you at home. The plan should include stickers at school and extra bedtime stories or time just with you at home for positive behavior. The counselor can help you set up the specifics of the plan.

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Barbara Potts has worked as an elementary school counselor for many years. She has a BA in psychology from Wake Forest University, and an M.Ed. in Guidance and Counseling from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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