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Angelo Angelo is offline
Joined: Mar 2011
Posts: 1,179
Senior Member

Joined: Mar 2011
Posts: 1,179
Senior Member
Old 08-26-2019, 09:27 AM
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That's the thing. I'm sick of parents talking about the staff at our school as though we were somehow mean, uncaring, or lacking in understanding of anxiety. Our admin does back us up, which is nice. The reason some parents think we're obtuse and unsupportive is that we don't simply excuse students from work when they say they are anxious. On the contrary, I'd argue we do more to help students than many other schools. We will support students as they work through their feelings. We will meet with teachers and parents to discuss next steps. The difference is that all our interaction centers upon getting the student to the point where they can still be accountable for their work. Some parents don't like that.

Every year, we (I'm an academic counselor) get calls from a handful of parents asking that their kids simply be exempt from tests and exams because of anxiety. "He's a bright kid, but he doesn't test well, and exams just trigger his anxiety. Is there anything else he can do?" Or else, "He's so anxious about these exams. Can't you just use the term grade instead?"

No. You may think exams are an antiquated and blunt instrument to test students' mastery of curriculum (a case some parents try to make) and/or point out other schools that have done away with timed tests and exams. But that's not us. And you KNEW we had traditional exams when you applied and were accepted (we are a private prep school). You were under no obligation to come to this school, and you're under no obligation to stay here. If you think your kid will benefit from a less competitive academic environment with more flexible assessment options, then make that choice and take ownership of it. The thing is, parents know about our success rate. Our students (with very few exceptions) get into good colleges. And when they get there, their success rate is very high. But some of these parents want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to tap into our success but expect the school to bend its (clear and transparent) expectations and regulations to suit their kids.

There's a common pattern to some of these interactions. There's a strong correlation between "screen time" and anxiety. Many of the kids whose parents say they have "anxiety" will admit privately that they stay up until all hours binge-watching on Netflix or watching Youtube videos or gaming. They are chronically tired in the mornings and tend to be late to school. They inevitably get behind in their school work (no wonder) and then become "anxious" when confronting the consequences of those choices. Yeah, I'd be anxious too if I had dicked around and ignored my work and now was looking at a precipitous drop in my GPA.

I had a student last spring who had done precisely that. He was taking AP English, and in the final quarter, got a serious case of senioritis. He had his college admission in hand and thought he had it made. The English teacher was raising red flags for months that he appeared to be "phoning it in" and didn't appear to be making any progress on his major research essay. The teacher spoke to the parents. The teacher spoke to me. I spoke to the student. I spoke to the parents. It was clear that the student had not even read the two novels about which he had to develop a research essay. When I spoke with him, it was all "Yeah I know" and promises, promises, promises. I reminded him that his college admission was conditional and that a grade drop in English would drop his GPA and probably cost him his admission. He said he knew. The parents said they knew. Action would be taken.

Well, the due date for the research project came and went, and no project was forthcoming from this student. The teacher spoke to the student and offered support. The teacher reached out multiple times to remind the parents (not that such should really be necessary for an 18-year-old SENIOR allegedly off to college in the fall) of the gravity of the situation.

Then one day the mother called me in tears. Her son was about to receive a zero which would indeed cost him his English credit and his admission. She said, "I can't believe the school would do this to him. He's come so far and you're going to let him lose everything over one assignment?" I said patiently that this wasn't something the school was "doing to him." He had had multiple opportunities and multiple offers of support. The mom said, "I know he's made some bad choices, but he's a kid. And he has anxiety." (There it is, I thought.) He was exhausted by the pace of his senior year and "felt anxious about an assignment he wasn't confident he could do well." So his choice was to do nothing. The thing that really annoyed me was that it was one of those beating-around-the-bush conversations where the parent w-ouldn't come right out and ask, although clearly she was angling for someone to wave a magic wand and say, "You know what? It's okay. He doesn't have to do the project. We'll just input it as an incomplete instead of a zero." I made it clear that we would support him to get this work in, but that he would still have to do it. Then mom got mad and accused us of being mean and of not accommodating a mental illness. "What if we get a doctor's note for his anxiety?" she asked. That's fine, but it won't excuse him from doing this work. 17 other AP students have worked their butts off to get this work finished. It's a major course requirement.

I asked the mom rather bluntly if she intended to follow her son around at college and make excuses for him. She said, "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. It's all for nothing if he doesn't get in." You know what? It's all for nothing if he DOES get in and pulls this crap and washes out in the first year.

You have honest-to-goodness anxiety? Okay. Get help. I'm one of the helpers at the school level. If you're a diabetic, you need to take your insulin and monitor your blood glucose. If you're an alcoholic, you need to abstain from drinking and go to rehab or join a 12-step program and commit to it. If you have anxiety, get professional help and commit to learning coping strategies to improve your mental health, participate in therapy, and learn to advocate for APPROPRIATE supports (not simply asking to be excused from your work when you feel "overwhelmed").

Imagine an employee who said to his or her boss, "I'm suffering from alcoholism. I tried AA, but it wasn't for me. I prefer to carry on drinking. So I need Mondays off. No way I can come into work until Tuesday. What if I get a doctor's note confirming I suffer from alcoholism?"
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