About this time last year, I was deeply divided about where to enroll my son for kindergarten. Fall enrollment was in full force, and my spouse and I had a dilemma.
My four-year-old exhibited aggressive and disruptive behavior in day care. We visited with doctors and specialists and still could not determine if this was simply slow brain development in terms of impulse control, or if it was the early stages of ADHD.
Like most people, I wanted to throw money at the problem and make the behavior go away. I purchased books, talked to countless behavior specialists and other moms with similar experiences, and bought all the “tools”… weighted blanket, calming swing, fidget spinners, you name it.
So when it came to choosing his kindergarten, I took a similar approach. We were zoned for a good public school, but I thought a fancy private school would ensure the one-on-one attention my son really needed. And with a teacher to student ratio of 1:18 (compared to 1:26), I decided to suck up the exorbitant tuition and “do what’s best for my challenging child.”
My son lasted 24 days in that fancy private school. We were called in with the understanding that we would make a plan for how to deal with my son’s disruptive behavior, but instead we were told to pack up his things. They said my son’s teacher had simply “had enough.”
I thought my world had fallen apart, and my heart broke for my son. We had all been trying so hard — him more than anyone — and to see him dismissed so easily was devastating. They kept talking about test scores and scholastic achievements, and I just kept looking at them thinking, “These kids are five!” Why weren’t they focusing on behavior, social cues, how to communicate, and appropriate classroom behavior? I don’t care if my son is reading at a first grade level if he doesn’t understand how to communicate with his peers.
We enrolled him at the public school the next day, eager not to break up the school routine, and trying to sound excited and hopeful about new friends and a new teacher. I told the teacher everything, and even met with the principal preemptively. I was in full defense mode. We were going to figure this out and get through this. We talked about 504s and IEPs; I couldn’t believe all the resources available to us (and all for free). Ultimately, we decided not to use any of it because it quickly became apparent that my son felt far happier and more comfortable in this new school setting, and his behavior improved naturally with no intervention.
My son’s teacher at public school was the best thing that’s ever happened to him. She took him under her wing and earned his respect right off the bat. She made him feel respected and secure, too; she was firm, but kind. She took time to talk to me almost daily about my concerns, she gave me ideas for things to try, and she even sent me pictures and notes about my son’s day on her breaks to ease my worries.
The teacher came up with ideas of how to help with his attention and his need for personal space. She moved things around for him, she rearranged chairs. My son was not an inconvenience — he was simply a part of the classroom. The teacher never pondered removing him, and she never questioned if her job would be easier without him. And that is probably the biggest difference in the private versus public school experience.
We still had behavioral struggles, and occasional visits to the principal, but the aggressive behavior went down 90%. We were able to nip the last 10% in the bud through — get this — time. My son will be six next month. It turns out he just needed a little more time for his brain to develop than some of the other kids in his class.
Public school was the best thing that’s ever happened to my challenging child. I only wish I had known this time last year that money wasn’t going to fix challenging behavior. Everything my son needed was right there in the public school system — complete with the best teacher I’ve ever met.
Some good did come from our private school experience. The administration refunded our hefty tuition, and we used the money for a family vacation to the beach so we could reconnect after one of the hardest experiences we’ve faced.
I took a few moments on the beach to reflect as I stared at the waves in awe and relief. Thank God we found a safe space for my son. Thank God for teachers who love our kids. Thank God for my child’s school.
My son is where he belongs, and that is all a mom could ever ask.
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