Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What do you do when a teacher insults your Aspie's ability?

Yesterday was Ella's second day of 4th grade. She attends a year-round school (pretty common in our area), and attends 9 weeks on, 3 weeks off with a long break around Christmas. She got in the car yesterday afternoon and did not seem herself. I asked her to tell me about her day, and she gave a brief and un-detailed overview. She is just about as verbose and enthusiastic as her mother, so I knew something was not right. When she got to a particular point in her description of her day, she told me that she didn't think she could tell me about it because it might make her too sad. I asked her why, and she said that she had gotten her feelings hurt by her teacher.

I asked if she would feel better if I were holding her hand while she told me, and she said yes.

This is the conversation as best as I can recall. I wrote it down right after we got home.

Ella: "We were in the media center doing testing for reading groups, and everybody was coloring on coloring sheets while we waited for our turn. My teacher saw my coloring page and told me "I don't allow that kind of coloring in my class.".

Me: "Were you being noisy and scribbling fast?"

Ella: "No."

Me: "Were you angry and coloring loudly?"

Ella: "No."

Me: "Let me get this straight. You were coloring a coloring page, and not drawing an abstract picture of something she didn't like?"

Ella: "We were coloring two coloring pages that the teacher gave us to do while we waited for our turn, we were't drawing."

Me: "Well, I can't understand what she meant by now allowing "that kind of coloring" in her class. What did you think she meant?"

Ella: "I don't know what she means either. I was coloring like I always color, the way you taught me, I didn't know there was another way to color."

Me: "I don't think there is another way to color, Ella. I am sorry she said that to you."

(Hmm. I just can't figure out how to not interpret this a different way than it seems. Let's see if I can get any more information about the setup.)

Me: "Were you sitting with other people when she said this? Can you explain to me what she scene was, so I can picture it in my head?"

Ella: "Yes, I was sitting with other people at a table. My teacher had come from the testing table and told everyone to be quiet. She walked over to my table and looked at my paper, and said "I don't allow that kind of coloring in my class"

Me: "Did she talk to anyone else that you could see about their paper?"

Ella: "No."

Me: "Were there any instructions about how to color the pages?"

Ella: "No."

Me: "Ella, how did you feel when she said that?"

Ella: "I felt sad. I felt like she said my coloring was messy and bad. I tried to color over it and fix it after she left my table. I just don't understand what I did wrong!"

Me: " I can understand why you are frustrated and upset. I can understand why you felt judged. It was not helpful for her to tell you that she didn't "allow that kind of coloring" if she didn't explain what kind of coloring she did expect, and exactly what you were doing wrong that made her say something."

Ella: "Will you talk to her and find out what I did wrong?"

Me: "Yes, I can e-mail her or call her, but I want to talk to Papa and Grandma first, so they can help me know what to say, okay?"

She agreed, and went to play with Maddie. I sat down and wrote the conversation out, and then called my husband. He was livid. He was angry particularly at the abstractness of what the teacher said, and her lack of pointing out what she was doing wrong, and what she wanted. He and I both assume that she has read Ella's file and knows she has delays with fine motor control.. if not that she has Asperger's and has trouble with inference.

For you teachers out there, I am certainly aware that I got only Ella's side of the story. I am interested in hearing her teacher's side of the story, and this is the email I sent, after talking to my mom, who calmed and focused me:

I am sorry to be emailing you twice in the course of a week, I have not been known to be a helicopter/hovering mom! I like that we can email teachers, but I don't tend to use it very often.


Hi Mrs. B:

The purpose of this email is that Ella recounted a conversation she had with you today, and I wanted your take on it, if you had a few minutes.

She said that during the time the class was in the media center, they were allowed to color a few coloring pages. She said that you came to talk to her at her table and said words to the effect of,"I don't allow that kind of coloring in my class.".

Ella did not know what you meant by saying that. She interpreted your words to mean that her coloring was not good enough and she felt insulted. She was upset while telling me the story, and wanted to hold my hand while she told me.

I know your day was long and full, and you might not even remember the conversation. But I would be grateful if you would share your take on this interaction and let me know What you were trying to get across to her.


I wanted to get across what I heard, how Ella was feeling when she told me the story, and I tried to be low key and conversational, showing that I was not jumping to any conclusions. The hardest part was being brief.

Now, if she did say this, if she has something to say about Ella's lack of motor skills appropriate for a 4th grader, and she has read Ella's file... well.. we are going to use some stronger words.

She was so sad, and I can't imagine how that must have made her feel to be both sad and confused by a new teacher on the second day. It sure doesn't set a good tone for the rest of the year!!!

I will update you when I hear back from the teacher. I guess I will call her tonight.


Still haven't heard from the teacher. Here is Ella's interpretation of what the coloring page looked like and how she colored it. I still can't get past her teacher having this discussion about coloring page busy work in the 4th grade.


VTSunrise said...

Write or email , to SPED case manager and CC it to the Teacher( why because you always put everything SPED in writing ).. then you call and get it from the horses mouth. You and your daughter deserve an immediate answer . One that will stop making her feel sad. That sad will lead to anxiety and make her school life horrible.

Too Many Hats said...

Your poor dd. I really hope you get a satisfactory answer from the teacher. Your email to the teacher was excellent.

Cindy P said...

I agree that your letter to the teacher was excellent. From an educator's perspective, it does NOT come across as confrontation and thus, will be more readily accepted. Had it be plrased differently, Mrs. B may have become defensive quickly and blame Ella. VERY good call on your part to write as such :)

I would like to know if Mrs. B is old school or a newbie? Sometimes, seasoned teachers (re: mature in their years) forget being "PC." Also, it could be VERY likely that this teacher has NOT read Ella's file. It was the 3rd week of school before SPED teachers handed me IEP mods for my students. I had NO idea who need preferential seating, test mods, or had learning disabilities. IEP files are not just handed around either. The SPED teacher keeps them or at higher levels, they are locked in a special file room.

Ipray you get some answers and can help Ella's sadness fade. You did a great job helping her, momma!

cwalkman said...


Your blog and email to the teacher were excellent. I hope that it can be successfully resolved and that Ella feels better about this incident and finds the beauty in her own art no matter how someone else insensitively responds. Like Cindy P mentioned above, teachers may not have the information on hand when school first begins. Because of our own previous experiences with early school year misunderstandings, I try to schedule at least a quick meeting with my daughter's teachers before school starts just to make sure that the finer points of her plan/challenges are understood. And, I usually can get a gauge on whether there could be "old school", "non-PC" issues that I can head off at the pass.

Big Hugs for Ella and Many Blessings,


Sharon daVanport said...


I have Asperger's as does my 16 year old son. I know first hand how communication can become tangled without the intent of anyone involved.

I do believe you have handled this beautifully, and I appreciate how difficult it is to be brief when addressing someone with whom your emotions are raised. I am constantly reminding myself to count to 100 before responding to my son's educators when I am upset - KUDOS to you for a job well done:-]

No matter what you find out, and even if the teacher did not intend for her comment to be interpreted the way it was; nonetheless, it cannot be ignored that your daughter did perceive the teacher's comment to be an insult.

The "perceptions" of those of us on the spectrum are probably the most difficult for others to sympathize with. In my experience, it seems to be the consensus that those of us on the spectrum should "just get over it" or "accept that what we heard wasn't intended the way we perceived it; therefore we need to just let it go."

Now I am all for "letting it go" but I long for the day when those who expect the Neurodiverse to make ALL the adjustments finally move aside and share the planet. Can these individuals (especially teachers) meet us half-way and realize that just because "they" did not mean a comment in the way we understood it, does not erase our reality and experience.

It is much like when we wake up from a dream which horrified us. Perhaps someone died in one of our dreams, and we awoke with the feeling of grief which continued on throughout the day. Our logical mind knows that it was "only" a dream; however, it takes time for our emotional mind to let go of the feelings attached to the experience of living through a dream that for only a brief moment was "our reality."

Please keep us posted. I hope your daughter's teacher will make a move toward inclusiveness for your daughter's neurodiverse way of processing information.

Michaela said...

Thanks for stopping by during the Blog Hop. I'm sorry this happened to your daughter. I sure hope that you can get this cleared up quickly with her teacher.

Condo Blues said...

I don't understand what is supposed to be wrong with her coloring, either. I'd be proud to put it on my refrigerator.

I think your email was focused, nonconfrontational, and to the point. I hope you get an answer soon.

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