Sunday, October 31, 2010

"If That"

Good News! Buddy Boy has decided that he likes the clarinet, and wants to play in the school band. For 5th grade music, students have a choice of either taking a "normal" music class, or participating in the band. Buddy Boy chose the band. He wanted to do this when school started, and he wants to do this now.

Bad News! We came home to find this letter:

"Buddy Boy" is not finding much success in band. He is able to play alone when we do solos, but when the whole group plays, he is not able to focus on what we are doing and participate. He is often taking apart and putting together his clarinet. When he does play with the group, he is overblowing and squeaking quite often. He is probably trying to play louder so he can hear himself, but this causes him to have a poor tone and squeak. "Buddy Boy's" behavior during class has improved and having "Mr. Jones" with him has been helpful.

Our interactions with Buddy Boy's present school have been pretty straightforward, with only a few bumps in the road. Most of the time, his teachers have liked him (the most important thing you can look for, IMO), and have approached any problems with an attitude of wanting to find a successful solution for him.

I suspected band was going to be a problem. The band teacher is a district wide teacher. Not only is she the teacher for the grammar school (up through 5th grade), but also for the middle school and high school. So we're stuck with her for the duration. 5th grade band is (as I stated above) offered as an alternative class for music, not as an elective after school activity. Students attend during regular class hours. When he expressed his wish to join the band, Liz took him to the band leader, to see what she recommended as an instrument. She looked dubiously at him, and stated something to the effect of "I think he'll be able to possibly play the clarinet, if that". We were hoping that Buddy Boy's determination and charm would slowly win her over, but that appears not to be happening.

About four weeks in we got a call that Buddy Boy's behavior was unacceptable. Liz asked if the leader had discussed this with his regular or special ed teacher (she had not). I think she expected us to say "Oh, well, we'll just withdraw him from band." As he really likes it, we're not going to do that. Like most kids on the spectrum, he takes a while to "get" new situations. With a little guidance (and yes, some forbearance on the part of others) he eventually settles in, and does reasonably well. After that conversation, "Mr. Jones" was added as an aide during the class, to help him not be disruptive. No mention ever has been made regarding Buddy Boy's ability to play.

For our part, we took him for some private lessons over the summer, knowing he wanted to play. He didn't learn much music, but started to get a grip on some of the basics (how to put it together, where to put his fingers, how to play scales). We thought he was doing OK. I'm sure he's not the star of the band. But he practices 3-4 times a week, and seems to do reasonably well (he can play several of the songs sent home with him). When I work with him, in addition to having him play at his own pace, I either count or hum, to simulate the rest of the group playing, and get him accustomed to playing on a group rhythm. Most of the other kids have not played before, so it's not like the rest of the group is filled with virtuosos. We can't take him for private lessons during the year. He has about an hour after school where he will pay attention, and that time is used every day by Liz keeping him current with homework and stuff he didn't finish in school. Saturday mornings he takes part in the only regular physical activity that he'll still do, ice skating lessons. We don't want to discontinue that.

In the US, we have laws like the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) which theoretically ensure that each individual will be treated fairly, and not discriminated against. But the law is one thing, and attitudes another. And when individuals decide that they don't like your kid, and don't want to "deal" with him, then it's an uphill battle. Many studies have shown that teacher's preconceived notions of a child's intelligence determine whether that child will be successful in their classroom. And it just appears to me that this particular teacher decided up front that our kid just wasn't going to be successful.

I'm not sure how we're going to proceed on this. I don't think they have to keep him in band (they could say he's not working out, he has to take the "regular" music class). So calling an IEP and making demands for them to make it work might indeed backfire. So I suspect we'll talk to his other teachers, and possibly the principal (who has mostly been supportive and understanding), and see what we can do. Somehow I doubt that we'll change the band teacher's attitude, but I'd at least like to see Buddy Boy be able to stay in band this year.


Apologies for not posting more often. Things have been busy. School continues (I should finish in May!), work is busy, and home has been hectic. Life goes on.