Surviving a Tough School Year

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tough school year

There were three suspensions, several behavior plans, and countless tears, but we ended up surviving a tough school year. Six weeks into this school year, a phone call from the principal ended with, “He is suspended until Monday.” We knew it was going to be a rough school year. 

There were so many questions.

How was I going to explain to my seven year-old what it meant to be suspended? How would I make sure he didn’t enjoy the days at home without shaming him? How would I explain to our friends, family, and fellow school parents what happened? How was I going to help him feel comfortable going back to school on Monday?

After his first suspension, we sprang into action. We quickly connected with the professionals in his life as well as his teachers, the principal, and other school folks. We were lucky to be in a school where the administration, teachers, and support staff was able, willing, and ready to work with us. Over the next few months, we went through several versions of behavior plans, 504s, and positive-reward charts. Nothing worked. I am a total problem solver, and it was maddening that I could not just fix this problem.

Watching him suffer through a tough school year was brutal.

Every moment of helping him manage his feelings about school made my heart shatter. His behavior was extreme. He didn’t feel safe at school and our school professionals didn’t feel safe around him. We quickly got into a cycle with him where he would be sent to the office and stay there for most of the day. He wasn’t learning anything. But more importantly, his self-esteem and self-image were tanking. Although it seemed like he didn’t care, he was hurting so much. He would say things like, “I don’t have any friends, Mama,” or “I hate school. I can’t make good choices.”

A classroom change was needed.

This tough school year reached a tipping point when he was suspended for the third time. He felt defeated, I felt hopeless, and the school felt overwhelmed. We had talked for months about changing his classroom. His very passionate and skilled teacher had an approach that just didn’t jive with him. When she was firm, he felt challenged. When she praised him, he felt like he had free reign to do whatever he wanted. There were several kids in that classroom with big personalities, and it was the perfect storm for our son. His teacher was his biggest advocate, but the fit still wasn’t right. 

We made the agonizing decision to change his classroom in March. The change in his behavior was almost immediate. A smaller, calmer classroom was what he needed. It didn’t fix all the problems. Our son was still prone to yelling and acting out. He had a non-existent fuse and was very reactionary. He was a hard-to-teach child. His new teacher observed his behaviors and offered insight and solutions. She held him accountable in a way that allowed him to learn from his mistakes and celebrate his successes. Most importantly, she helped him end the school year in a positive place.

Somehow we made it through the hard conversations, tears, anger, and fear. As I’ve reflected on this school year, one thing stands out. Every single person at his school was invested in helping our son be successful. From the principal to the lunch room staff to the janitor, everyone did what they could to help. At times, I was brought to tears over the grace and care extended to my family. Surviving a tough school year was our goal, and somehow, we made it. 

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