A survey: Thoughts on my children’s school

My son has come home with a survey from school. Usually I jump at the opportunity to fill one out. My husband thinks I am funny about this, so he hands the ones given to him, for me to fill out! If it is about something that I care about, that is when I like filling them out. Like when health care sends one and asks what I think about Swedish health care! Or about something else, which feels important to me. I’m not particularly interested in surveys about gambling or how I choose a bank, insurance company, and boring things like that.

I was going to be a good girl and fill out the school survey but when I started to look at the questions and what my answers probably would be, I realized that I can not fill it out. First of all, there is no anonymity when you fill out things by pen and hand the form in to the school where people will recognise your handwriting! Secondly, it is dangerous to voice your opinion when you have your children attend a free school or independent school. (Choose which alternative you like!) There is no such thing as democracy really, in these school. You can be told to leave, if you voice your opinion at meetings, to other parents and some schools even have it written down in their school rules. I am not sure, what my children’s school’s rules are on these matters, but I do know, that certain elements at the school are very unprofessional and immature. Which means that they take their anger at me, out on my children, in the classroom. So, freedom of speech is really a hollow word. All that said, I will do perhaps the forbidden thing, and answer the survey on my blog instead. For the entire cyber space to see. And I will get to vent right!

The first question is, “What do you feel is unique with our school?”.  Before D. started at the school in grade 4, I would have said that what is unique, is the fact that it is a religious school in the second most secular country in the world. (Denmark holding the proud first place.) That it is a school where the teachers do not sit and say to the pupils that the Bible is just a story book full of fairy tales. That it is a place where you are allowed to believe in God and when he started at the school, we were told that only half of the staff where Catholics and the same ration among the pupils. I guess, I could still say the same things, with moderation. See further down…

The second question is, about what I find positive with the school. Well, as with most independent schools, my children’s school has small classes. “Cookie’s” class was down to four pupils for two years, but two boys started this school year, so now they are six. Of course, it is not great when the class gets that small, because the school can not afford it and forces the class to join with either a class above their age or under. For D. this meant for example, sitting in grade 7 with a whole class of 8 graders who were taught  for example 8th grade math, 8th grade science, and of course he utterly failed both. He had math problems and needed math on his own level, not way above him. It took years to catch up and he had to have a math tutor in gymnasium to pass the obligatory courses. When he took science tests, his teacher told the 7th graders, “do as well as you can, you will not be graded as an 8th grader”. It’s NOT a good solution. In 8th grade he was with the 9th graders and in 9th grade, he was put with the year under him, the 8th graders. The whole situation was insane! “Dollie” had the same thing going through all her school years, at the school, from year 4-9. And now “Cookie” has had it for three years but in her case, the class has some subjects with the pupils a year younger than themselves and some subjects with the older ones. She hates it. And so does all her classmates. So, small classes can get too small. They are not too small for the pupils, but financially so. No, when the classes at the school have 13-16 pupils, then its great. Because then they do not have lessons with another year, and this I find positive. At the same time, I have two problem boys, and when the class has that few pupils, the headmaster feels that an assistant in the room is not warranted. Even if one child has ADHD and is tearing the classroom down, while the teacher can not leave the 12 other pupils, to deal with the one problem! So it’s positive with small classes at my children’s school, but when too many pupils have quit because their parents have tired of the school, then emergency solutions have been called for, and those have not been good! And the small amount of pupils in the school means no money for the children who need extra help. But I am getting ahead of myself, no doubt.

Third question is, “if you were to recommend our school to a new family, how would you describe it?”. Oh, are you really sure you want me to go in to this? I have had two families ask me about the school and I will be honest, I can not recommend this school more than any other school. A school can have wonderful rules set up on a paper but if it or the staff does not live up to that paper, it’s all empty words isn’t it? Then you as a parent have to decide if you can live with the half measures? If you can accept the short comings? I think most of us old enough to read this post, will agree that one teacher can make all the difference in the world for a child. Receive a wonderful teacher in zero class and have her up till grade 4, and the child will love the school and going there. But then if the child in grade 4, gets a bad teacher, the child’s entire outlook will change. Same goes in grade 7 when you get almost one teacher for every subject. Some teachers might be ghastly and others great. The government is now  talking about getting the teacher’s seminar to fail students that are not suited to become teachers. Too many rotten ones have slipped through. On the other hand, a teacher can start out great and then get burned out, and not be so great anymore! Because there are good pupils and there are bad pupils. And the interaction between pupils and teacher, has to work. My answer to the families have been: If your child has learning disabilities or other problems, there is no money to help your child. They will never admit to it, because you are not allowed to come with that argument according to the law, but that is what it boils down to in all cases. This you have to be prepared for. Secondly, are you Catholic? Because if you are not, you are second degree worth. Your child can get bullied by both the Catholic pupils and teachers. This happens to ALL my children! Even though, one of the rules in the school states religious tolerance and tolerance and respect for other people and cultures. Some children will fit in great, others will not. As a parent you just have to go and visit the school and see for yourself. Preferably un-announced! Make up your own mind because we all have our own likes and dislikes. What one parent think is great another one will not agree with. And, I look at the school out of my own perspective. My children have been persecuted for their dad being American, for their religion and I have two boys with problems and one is not receiving any help. So, of course I am going to look at the school from my angle.

Question 4, asks which areas of development should be prioritized in the future? I think religious intolerance really have to be dealt with. Yes, it is a Catholic school but lately the headmaster has only called it a school with a Catholic profile. Then it is more than ever, necessary to deal with these issues OR one should have a rule, that only Catholic pupils will be allowed to attend and others will do so at their own risk. You can’t have your foot in two camps. If you encourage pupils from all over to attend, then you must make sure all is treated equally. And to do that, you need to be very strict with who you employ as teachers and after-school-centre personnel. You can not just accept anyone off the street because they happen to be Catholic. You need to get the ones with the best credentials.

The school also have a gigantic problem with both swearing and bullying. And I wish that I could say that this is a children’s problem, but both the swearing and bullying happens, both among the pupils and teachers towards pupils. And this I have a very difficult time to accept. To hear a teacher stand and swear both in a classroom and to an individual pupil is just ghastly. It should not happen. Yes, we are all human but either you have those words in your vocabulary or not, it is you as an adult who chooses what words you are going to use on a daily basis. As a teacher you are an example and if a teacher swears, you can bet that the pupils will swear. But even worse is the bullying which goes on between Catholic teachers and non-Catholic pupils. Their favourites are the Catholic students who get privileges and when the non-Catholics object, then they are told “but I go to church with that child every Sunday and have known her since she was a  baby and I am a friend of her parents”. That is not alright. You do not have favourites as a teacher. That is un-professional and that is what you will run in to, when you hire on Catholics first, teachers second. They for one think that they can behave in any manner because it is a so-called Catholic school. When you arrive at school, you cease to be the private person who has friends at church and who has seen all these children grow up. You are in school to do a job, and that is to educate all the pupils there, Catholic and non-Catholic, alike. If you can’t do that, the school should lose it’s privilege of being an independent school and getting money from the council for every pupil they have in attendance.

There should also be enough adult presence at all times. I was bullied as a child and all children who have been through this torture, will attest that there are certain times and areas that are critical. For the most part you feel safe in the classroom. I did not have the privilege to go to a small class, so certain bullies were able to psychologically bully even in the classroom behind the teacher’s back. But for the most part, the dangerous zones and times are RECESS. The school yard is an anxiety moment for a bullied child, as is the walk to and fro dining hall, to and fro classroom after recess, arriving and departing. Here, my children’s school is still clueless. It is not understood that under no circumstances can you have 40 pupils out in the school yard and only one adult guarding them. When the adult is in one corner, something happens in another corner. Especially for the past four years, when “Kitty” with ADHD has been out there. An unexploded bomb ready to go off at slightest provocation. Add to that his brother, the last two years, and you have two unexploded bombs in two corners of the school yard and the one teacher in a third. And it is not only my boys, that are the problem. When you have 6-10-year-olds, you have 40 pupils who are not experts at relationships, communication and most of all, conflict solving. They need guidance and they need someone to put a stop to things before it goes too far. One guard can not do this. Some days, they have two people out there, but if one forgets to go out, if the one person gets in to an interesting discussion over lunch, if the person scheduled to be out there is off sick, then you are back to square one, with problems. You suddenly only have one person out there again. And these scenarios have happened one time too many, hundred times too many! Not to mention when that one person goes in, because they have done their half hour out there, and noone else goes out!

You also need to educate personnel when you have a child with disabilities. More and more children are diagnosed with Autism, ADHD, Autism spectra including previously called Aspberger’s etc. And what I have discovered the last four years is, that noone at the school have the knowledge on how to deal with a disabled child (except “Boo’s” substitute teacher, who worked one year, but now has moved on to other tasks), there are no books or DVDs about it at the school, for reference, and when I have called in BUP for help, so they can point out the shortcomings, then the school has behaved like a hedgehog. But you can’t turn a blind eye to this problem. More children will show up with diagnosis of something amiss. If they do not want to become a school branded as anti-handicapped-children, then they have to deal with both their attitude and start educating personnel quickly. Because when they ignore the situation, hiding like ostriches in the sand, hoping the problem will go away, then they hurt not just the disabled child and it’s parents, but also the teachers involved, the other pupils in the class and their parents. Those parents take out their anger and frustration on the disabled child’s parents, and this is totally unacceptable.

Question 5, asks what the best school for my child would be like. Well, in “Cookie’s” case, I would say that the point about Catholic teachers being unfair, towards the non-Catholic children, is the main concern. It bothers her to no end. I would say, that the perfect school for my children would be, a school that really taught “do unto others, what you would like them to do unto you”. I thought when I put my children in a Catholic school, that I would be spared hearing the awful language found at all other secular schools. But I have heard some of the most horrible swearwords at the school and noone saying anything about it. I feel sad that my children have to hear that every day. I have also seen some of the worse sort of bullying and isn’t that all parents’ fears, that their children will be targets for meanness? I would have loved to have sent my children off to school, knowing that they were treated well there, was surrounded by Christian values and children who were brought up to treat other children nicely. The best school has happy pupils who feel cared for, respected and safe. My children do not feel that way. And I truly have come to the realization that such schools don’t exist, do they. But the school could work at getting better. They can’t  go on the way they are now, because they are loosing pupils. And while they are quick to tell me about my sons short-comings, completely not understanding that my boys have an excuse, which the school and the other children don’t, they are not so quick in making sure my boys are safe, are protected from the other children and are not bullied by them. My boys are blamed for reacting but what about the ones that make them explode and not being able to handle the situation.

They wanted me to mark out on a scale, how their school rates when I compare it to my view of an ideal school, close to far from it. Some teachers and personnel make all the difference, but the school does have serious problems. I have contemplated moving my children too many times, to say that it is coming close to living up to my ideals. Too many things disappoint me, but I keep my children there, because I am not sure they would get anything better anywhere else. All schools have their problems and they often come and go with various pupils in attendance.

Question 6, says “As a Catholic school we aim for that every child will feel part of its own culture and develop a sense and respect of other cultures. How well do we succeed with this?”.  With this one you also have to grade them from near to far from succeeding. They want examples as well. What culture are they talking about? Yes, they let foreign children and children with foreign parents, have mother tongue lessons, which is something we really appreciate. But is that what is meant with the question? Or are they talking about the Catholic culture, because if that is the case and half the pupils are not Catholic, then you really have a problem. Yes, the Catholic children feel right at home, their actions will never be questioned. But for my children and others, well they will only feel hostility for THEIR own culture and a disrespect. You are not really allowed religious freedom at the school. The parents teach their children at the dinner table to hate our family’s religion and they throw the hatred in the face of my children, at recess or right under the teacher’s nose in the classroom. There is in other words, a so-so  respect for other cultures and religions. D. had a really tough time with this and so is “Kitty”. The latter’s teacher gets furious with him for not crossing himself and I have told him, under no condition does he ever have to do that! We do not believe in it, so he doesn’t have to do it. Even if the state church pupils do it, because they do not dare to stand up for themselves, he does not have to please his teacher. And as for D., well he was under constant attack by some students. Every time frogs flew out of the mouth of George Bush, he became the scape goat, who had to stand and defend a country he has never lived in. His dad is American, but he himself has only ever spent three weeks in the US and he was only ten years old at the time. And it did not matter that I sent him back saying that our family is anti-republican and that T. never has voted for anything but the Democrats. (I would get a divorce if he ever considered voting for a republican candidate!!! Or how about him sleeping on the sofa for the rest of our marriage?)

The worse part was, when he sat in the classroom and his classmates attacked our  religion and the teacher sat there, heard everything and did nothing, said nothing, but just ignored it and sat and read a Vogue magazine instead of doing her job! D. felt betrayed. He learned that  it was no point to bring any issues up, because noone wanted to hear things and do something about them.

Question 7, asks if my child gets the support he or she needs to develop in the best way. “Boo” does now, but help was only assigned to him, when a parent threatened to take his complaints to the highest school authority there is in Sweden. His little girl had been the target of three little boys’ acting out. “Boo” was one of the boys, with the reservation that the two older boys threatened him, if he did not do what they told him to do. Basically the father wanted the three boys put in to care or in prison, when they were seven and eight years old. The offense? Her scarf was thrown out of a window, she was hit on the arm with a bucket… He over-reacted, he refused to understand that personnel was working with the problem, the entire time. He called the boys devils and I was furious, since the school knew how much help “Boo” needs with social interaction, they knew he needed someone out there at recess for his own sake, but also for others. They knew that the other children loved making “Boo” lose it, not having the language to stop things and they knew how he got talked in to doing non-acceptable things. He received an assistant, and now he works, he walks away from conflict, plays by himself and stays away from trouble. He has a set back now and then, but the children in his class knows him now and they leave him alone (except for one boy who is a real little monster). With the help of his assistant he does get to develop. In his own speed, which a council school would never have allowed where everyone has to be on the same level. With “Cookie” it’s a matter of her being able to receive support and help, but she refuses it, since she finds it embarrassing. But in “Kitty’s” case, who has ADHD and needs support and help, he only gets two hours a week with a special ed teacher. I have fought for an assistant for him now, for four years. And he will not get one. His teacher is old in the game, she is not going to accept anything new, that will force her to change anything from the way she always have done things. She says she loves him, but she doesn’t do a whole lot to show it. He is scolded and screamed at. When her grandson hits or bullies him, she turns a blind eye and refuses to help “Kitty”. He doesn’t feel respected, he doesn’t feel that he has someone to go to for help, he is not happy. But not a whole lot of schools do anything for ADHD children. To move him to a class with 30 students, here in the village, will solve nothing. He just has to wait till next school year, when he receives a new teacher. We just hope that she will be open to new solutions, open to thinking outside the box and most of all, be well read on the problems which are associated with an ADHD child.

Question 8, asks if girls and boys get as much space and I haven’t seen any difference in the way that boys and girls are treated.

Question 9, is sort of funny because it asks if the school’s premises inspire play, creativity, learning and exploration. It’s an old building from the 1800s which used to be an insane asylum. Stone stairs, small weird sized class-rooms. I would not accuse them for inspiring play nor creativity or exploration. But I believe that an old-fashioned class-room, inspire to more learning than open planned classrooms where people walk around the entire time. Like in Montessori schools and many other independent schools, where you have age integrated classes. I think that it must be easier to teach a class and make sure they all understand what they need to learn, when you have one grade at a time and they do not get disturbed by, what other age groups are up to. D. did not like the fact that he did not have a set desk at the Montessori school. He liked receiving a desk, having a teacher that was just his class’ and that they had their room, for at least a year at a time. He needed structure and order to learn which “Cookie”, “Kitty” and “Boo” need as well.

As for the school yard, it is so small and not big enough for 40 pupils really. There is the park outside the school, but since there is still an insane asylum in the park, and the patients walk freely, the younger children are not allowed to be out in the park.

Question 10, asks if I experience that my children’s interests are taken in to consideration and that this affects the pedagogical content. Not when it concerns “Kitty”. At the parenting class for dealing with ADHD, all parents said how their children’s schools were adjusting the curriculum for their children and they were given iPads, since these children take to computers. The school is staring themselves blind, on the things Swedish law states that a child must have learned by this and that date. There is no bending of rules for “Kitty”. Which in the long run means that he will not reach the goals because he gets too overwhelmed and don’t do anything. He runs off to the loo and stays away for 30 minutes. The work therapist has told the school that it is “Kitty’s” cry for help, that it is too much for him. His teacher will not even let him take a break when he needs to. Because she “knows that he can do it if he wants to”. So she threatens him so he will do what he is told to do. Noone cares about what he is interested in and what limitations his disability, carries with it. When it comes to “Boo”, well he just leaves the class room with his assistant when it becomes too much for him. Then they do crafts or watch a film instead. Or something else that he likes, like going on an excursion. She understands that you can’t force him to do things. His attention span is limited and when it is gone, then he needs a break.

Question 11, asks if I feel that my child is noticed every day in school. Well, it’s hard not to notice my boys. Their disabilities make sure they do not blend in with the walls. Question 12, continues on that theme, asking if they feel safe in school and have someone to turn to for help. “Boo” is a charmer and most of the adults are his friends, as he calls them. But when he is hysterical, he doesn’t really think of going to someone. Now he just runs. He jumps the fence and runs to the front of the school to get away from the bullies, get away from the problems. Some adults get angry at him for breaking the rules like this, but his assistant understands that he is doing the only sensible thing. He goes back when he has calmed down. I have already mentioned that “Kitty” doesn’t feel like he has anyone to go to. He also feels lonely at times and sensitive to the fact that he is born in another year than his class mates. I have explained a thousand times to him, that we had to start him a year late because his speech was so late, he had got the diagnose ADHD and being born 6 days before the end of the year, well had I just gone over-time, he would have been born the same year as his class-mates. He is by no means a year older than them, just a couple of weeks and months. “Cookie” does not want to talk to anyone at the school, since they have their favourites and she is noone’s favourite.

In question 13, they ask what I feel is important for my child to carry with them from their time at the school.  The easy answer is what all parents would say, the same knowledge that all children in Sweden are supposed to receive according to “skolverket”. D. graduated three years ago, and one of his complaints have been that his classmates in gymnasium, arrived with more knowledge than him. A lot of things brought up in gymnasium is old “stuff” for them, while it has been all new to D. and THAT is worrisome. He has felt stupid and it has made his learning more difficult, since so much has been new information. Question is, how is it that many areas have been neglected?

Question 14, only concerned how I would like to be informed of the daily work in school, and with “Boo” I get daily reports straight from his assistant when I fetch him. From “Kitty’s” teacher, I get reports via e-mail when he has gone too far for a while, or when he has been badly behaved that particular day. It’s always that he has been in a foul mood, he has refused to eat lunch, he has refused to do math, he has not walked up to the classroom till 9:00 when they start at 8:30, he has not come in from lunch recess when the others came in… Most complaints could have been avoided, had he been allowed to have an assistant! The school has created the problem and he has set it in to practice. The next teacher will have to break his bad habits, but how? With “Cookie”, I never hear a word. No progress report, no newsletters, only the half-year performance appraisal.

Question 15, asks if I get feedback to my thoughts which I have presented to the personnel. Well, most of my e-mails to the headmaster are totally ignored, so the answer is no. I have stopped saying too much to “Kitty’s” teacher, since I no longer feel that she is on our side. The substitute teacher which “Boo” has had for a year, was fantastic. She answered all mails right away and we had excellent rapport. I can’t even get hold of “Cookie’s” teacher because she never answers e-mails. I doubt she even checks them. Some teachers at the school don’t. So, I would say that sometimes I get feedback or an answer to my questions or my concerns, but sometimes I hear absolutely nothing which is humiliating! Why?Because it makes me feel offended and that my viewpoints are not wanted or considered too much of a hassle, that I am considered a nuisance. Why do you think I can’t hand in this survey? BECAUSE NOONE AT THE SCHOOL WANTS TO HEAR THE THINGS I HAVE TO SAY!

If anyone reads this post, I am sure that the person will ask itself: Is she insane? Why is she keeping her children at such a school? But think hard and consider if your child’s school is so much better? I have not heard of any good schools in the area, where everything is like in the Garden of Eden. I hear bad things about all schools. And when you have disabled children or children who are bullied and picked at, you always have to consider if a move will do more harm than good. They could go from the ashes in to the fire and I am not going to put them through that. At least here we know what we are getting, which we do not know about other schools. For the normal, healthy, intelligent child, who is mainstream Swedish, you can put it  in any school and it would do great. But as soon as you are not mainstream or your child demands more help than the average child, you are in deep trouble. You need a small school and then you have to hope that they have enough money to give the help needed.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “A survey: Thoughts on my children’s school

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