Two Things Your Child’s Teacher Might Be Trying to Tell You (But Can’t Say)

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As an educator, I feel like it’s our job to be honest and work closely with parents in order to best help children. However, sometimes we aren’t allowed to be completely honest.

Teachers are trained to recognize any issues with a child’s development. They are well-versed in child development and understand the cognitive, social, emotional, and physical developmental milestones that kids in their class should be meeting. When something seems off, it is the teacher’s job to discuss this with the parents and to provide proper support in the classroom.

While teachers can talk with parents about what they are noticing, they have to be very careful to avoid certain words. Saying the wrong thing can lead to legal ramifications for the school district. The sad thing is that this prevents many parents from truly understanding what teachers are saying and from seeking help for their child.

Here are two instances where this occurs most often…

1. Bob’s Behavior

Teacher: “I’ve noticed that Bob has been having a very hard time remaining focused throughout the day. He is often looking around the room or playing with his clothing. Most of the time he misses my directions and I have to repeat them for him and give him many reminders. He is struggling to remain in his seat and is having a difficult time with work completion.” 

Parent: “Yes, Bob has always had a hard time remaining focused. We talk to him about it all the time and we have taken away his video games. We told him that if he doesn’t start to pay better attention then we are not going to the theme park next month.”

Unfortunately, parents usually take this feedback to mean that their child is being ‘bad.’ They need to be punished or reprimanded and then they will choose to pay attention.

Here’s what I wish I could say…

“I’ve noticed that Bob has been having a very hard time remaining focused throughout the day. He is often looking around the room or playing with his clothing. Most of the time he misses my directions and I have to repeat them for him and give him many reminders. He is struggling to remain in his seat and is having a difficult time with work completion. All of these behaviors are consistent with ADHD. If you haven’t already done so, I would suggest bringing this up with Bob’s pediatrician.”

Can you imagine how much more impactful that would be? Note – I never said, “he has ADHD.” ADHD is a medical diagnosis which is why teachers have to avoid using the word. A doctor needs to be the one to diagnose and (at least in my school district), if the teacher mentions testing for ADHD, the district can be responsible for paying for that testing (which they do not want).

We are doing such a disservice to the children. Teachers are highly trained professionals who are able to identify behaviors consistent with ADHD, but they aren’t allowed to be honest with parents about. Only a handful of parents take these comments seriously and head to the doctor’s office. We have seen massive academic gains from students who finally received a diagnosis and support.

Now, that doesn’t mean that every time a teacher mentions these behaviors that the child has ADHD. This is exactly what doctors are for. It’s the same as saying you have a sore throat and a fever. You might think these symptoms are consistent with strep, but you need a doctor to test you to find out for sure. Sometimes it is indeed strep and sometimes it’s just the common cold. Moral of the story: get it checked out!

2. Sally’s Tendencies

Teacher: “I wanted to mention some behaviors I’ve noticed. Sally has been having a hard time socially. She prefers to be by herself and doesn’t enjoy interacting with the other kids. I’ve also noticed she is bothered by loud noises and gets very upset when there is a change in our schedule. Have you noticed these things at home as well?”

Parent: “Yeah, Sally has always been like that. It’s just part of her personality. She is shy and likes things the way she likes them. She is quite stubborn.”

Sadly, I can’t say much else after that. I can’t argue with a parent who believes that these behaviors are a result of personality.

Here’s what I wish I could say…

Teacher: “I wanted to mention some behaviors I’ve noticed. Sally has been having a hard time socially. She prefers to be by herself and doesn’t enjoy interacting with the other kids. I’ve also noticed she is bothered by loud noises and gets very upset when there is a change in our schedule. Have you noticed these things at home as well?”

Parent: “Yeah, Sally has always been like that. It’s just part of her personality. She is shy and likes things the way she likes them. She is quite stubborn.”

Teacher: “I understand. You’re saying that Sally has always displayed these tendencies. Have you ever discussed this with Sally’s pediatrician?”

Parent: “We had talked about them at one point, but it never came up again.”

Teacher: “Okay. I want to let you know that these behaviors and tendencies are consistent with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). I would recommend making a list of these any other behaviors that are not typical for her age and bringing them to your pediatrician for discussion.”

ASD. Touchy subject. Parents are with their kids every day from birth. These tendencies and oddities become a part of their child’s personality and it can be very hard for them to see them as signs of a developmental issue. Again, avoiding social interaction and loud noises does not automatically equal Autism. This is something for a doctor to examine and discuss with parents. But, with any condition (development, health, etc.), there are symptoms, behaviors, or tendencies that cluster together and can point to a particular condition.


I’m writing this post because I want parents to be informed. What I do not want is for parents to become panicked if they hear these comments from their child’s teacher. The teacher providing these comments might not be thinking of ADHD or ASD or another particular disorder. Your child might or might not have ADHD or ASD if these or other behaviors are noticed. Only a doctor can work with you to determine this.

Information is power. We can’t always give you all the information. Take the comments seriously and use that information.

Kim

Two Things Your Child's Teacher Might be Trying to Tell You (But Can't Say)

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An education blog created by Kim. A former elementary school teacher turned stay-at-home mom. Useful tips and tricks from a teacher to parents.

2 thoughts on “Two Things Your Child’s Teacher Might Be Trying to Tell You (But Can’t Say)

  1. it is so hard for a teacher to see things and not be able to express the concerns to the parents. I typically will ask if they have addressed these issues with a pediatrician when parents agree to seeing these types of issues at home. we live in a world where parents seem to think that the teachers are out to get their kid, so we must be very careful about how things are phased and even if it is worth saying anything to certain parents.

    1. I completely agree. So many parents take these comments as personal attacks instead of constructive feedback that we can use together to help their child.

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