Student Dresses Unconventionally

Discussion in 'Secondary Education Archives' started by CeCe, Apr 27, 2005.

  1. CeCe

    CeCe Companion

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    Apr 27, 2005

    I am a teacher, but I'm asking for advice as a parent of a 12-year old son. My son is beginning to express his individuality, as many preteen & teenage kids do, through his way of dressing. He is a very talented musician (elec. guitar & drums) & loves punk rock music. He has taken to dressing in a punk rock style all the time (tight black jeans, black T-shirt, black leather jacket, black combat boots). He is a good kid & very smart, but not always the most organized kid. He has never been officially diagnosed, but he displays some of the characteristics of mild ADD, like not always paying attention in class & forgetting to turn in assignments that he has completed. I am working with him on trying to help him find ways to get more organized & he is improving slowly. The problem is that a couple of his teachers seem to be really offended by the way he dresses and want him to "dress like the other kids." We live in a small conservative community & there aren't any other kids in the 6th grade who dress like him, although there are many kids at the high school who wear punk styles & nobody seems to care or criticize them for it. Because my son is only in 6th grade, they are bothered by it & are putting pressure on us as his parents to "put a stop to it." I have always felt that it's important to pick your battles with kids this age & it's better to let this sort of thing run its course. (He has always moved in and out of phases -- when he was playing basketball, he ONLY wore basketball clothes all the time.) If I force the kid to ditch his favorite clothes, I think I will be creating more problems than I'm solving. He will be very angry, become rebellious, and our lines of communication will start shutting down. Right now, we have a very good relationship -- we don't always agree on things, but we're able to talk things through and usually reach some kind of compromise. I've discussed the clothing issue with him, but his teachers have made it such a problem that I think he CAN'T change the way he dresses now because in his eyes it would be giving away his freedom to express himself as an individual. Sorry this is so long, but I'm just trying to get some perspective from other teachers who teach this age child. I really feel like he's being discriminated against in some ways because of his dress. One teacher even refers to him as a "WOB" (Wearer of Black). I think labeling students is discriminatory. Am I just being too lenient here? I want to do what's best for my kid without being an :confused: overcontrolling parent.
     
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  3. jen7-19

    jen7-19 Rookie

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    Apr 27, 2005

    From what you have said, he doesn't cause problems in class, gets his homework done and like a lot of kids at this age he is unorganized. As long as he is still respectful to others (teachers and fellow students) then I wouldn't do anything about it.
     
  4. Lovelabs

    Lovelabs Comrade

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    Apr 27, 2005

    I would ask two questions:

    Is there a dress code?
    Does his dress cause a distraction that might prevent others from learning?
     
  5. CeCe

    CeCe Companion

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    Apr 27, 2005

    Lovelabs,
    There is nothing in the dress code that says you can't wear the type of clothes that he's wearing. Basically, the dress code says "no sagging pants" & "no profanity on clothing" (he wears neither of these & we, as his parents, wouldn't allow those things either). They also don't want the kids to wear wild colored hairgels or hair that's spiked because of the distraction factor. He'd like to wear his hair spiked to school, but we don't allow that. He can do that on weekends if he wants.
    His teachers aren't saying his dress is distracting. They are complaining that he doesn't "engage" like they want him to. But I don't think that has anything to do with the way he dresses. That's his personality & always has been. He is a very quiet & creative kid (not bubbly & talkative like they'd like him to be), he's mature for his age (not physically, but mentally), he's able to engage in conversations about politics & things going on in the world that most kids his age don't pay a lot of attention to, he has strong opinions about the war in Iraq & is a liberal-thinking kind of kid. He will raise his hand in class to participate if the subject is interesting to him, sometimes needs to be prodded a bit if the topic isn't that interesting for him, but has come a long way this year toward participating in general. He is a very talented writer & reads books that most kids don't read until high school (Animal Farm, A Clockwork Orange, for example). He just doesn't fit the norm for most 6th graders -- he doesn't hang around & want to chat with his teachers like a lot of kids do. I think he has his teachers puzzled. They don't seem to know what to do with him to make him be "normal."
     
  6. clarnet73

    clarnet73 Moderator

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    Apr 27, 2005

    CeCe, I wouldn't worry too much about it... if everyone was "normal," it would be pretty boring. Have you pointed these other things out to your teachers? I agree with you about not picking battles... at least he GOES to school without putting up a lot of a fuss, works hard, and pays attention to the things going on around him...
     
  7. Grammy Teacher

    Grammy Teacher Virtuoso

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    CeCe...I have raised a talented musician, who went through some of the things you are describing...guess what happened?! He was incredibly intelligent, perceptive, creative, and empathetic to everyone. He was quiet. He was "thinking." In school, he stared out the window. Guess what he was doing?! Writing music in his head. School was a bit of a struggle because of this, but he managed to graduate "early" and has since graduated from A School of music, specializing in Bass...and has a successful career. So, it sounds as though you are doing the right thing for your son...choose you battles and I hope you can find someone in the school who will listen and understand.
     
  8. CeCe

    CeCe Companion

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    Apr 27, 2005

    Thank you to everyone for taking the time to respond.
    Patricia Ann,
    The story of your own son brought me a lot of encouragement. I hope someday I will have a similar success story to tell about my son. Right now, his teachers are making me feel like I'm raising an "at-risk" child who is just around the corner from experimenting with drugs or something. I think he has more sense than that and despite the way he dresses, he has many talents and a kind heart. I'm glad to hear that others think I'm doing the right thing by accepting him for who he is.
     
  9. Mamacita

    Mamacita Aficionado

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    Apr 27, 2005

    Your son sounds like an awesome kid to me; I love the quirky creative kids the best. My son wore black, had long hair, lots of piercings, tatoos, etc, and some of the more traditional teachers didn't like him because of that. But it takes all kinds to make a world. If there were only one kind of flower, think how boring our gardens would be. Your son's teachers sound pretty corncob-a_n_a_l to me.
     
  10. Grammy Teacher

    Grammy Teacher Virtuoso

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    I'll never forget the day my son announced he was going to dye his hair purple(he was about 16)...I continued making supper and said, "O.K.", acting rather uninterested. He said, "Did you hear me? I said I was going to dye my hair purple!" I said, "Oh yea, I heard you...just don't get it in your eyes." He said, "you mean you don't care if I dye my hair purple?!" I said, "Well, it's not something "I" would do, but it's YOUR hair." So, into the bathroom he went and dyed his hair purple. It looked awful and he never did it again. That is an example of how I chose my battles.
     
  11. CeCe

    CeCe Companion

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    Apr 27, 2005

    Jane & Patricia Ann,
    Your posts made me laugh! For my son's 12th birthday, he wanted to bleach his hair blond and we let him. I'm sure his teachers & some of our more conservative neighbors thought we were lunatics to allow it, but I thought, "what the heck! It's only hair -- it'll grow out and in the meantime, if that's what he wants to do with HIS hair, who cares? I dye my hair!!" Lots of not-so-positive comments were made, but I laughed them off. (Actually, he looks adorable with his blond hair and brown eyes.) And Jane, you are so right about being "corn cob A-N-A-L"! :p :p :p
     
  12. sdhudgins

    sdhudgins Comrade

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    Apr 27, 2005

    if he's not breaking any rules...
    and this isn't going to sound professional but this is a good expression of my mood today...
    They can just stick it.
    A good kid is a good kid regardless of how they dress.

    By the way I'm a musician (teach music now, paid my way through college on a performance scholarship on flute and have an unbelievable passion for the piano play a few other instruments but blah blah)... I think musicians are a little different lot and a lot of the time we tend to be just a touch different.... I went through some wierd stages because of it growing up.
    I wish him nothing but the best with his music!!!
     
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2005
  13. ellen_a

    ellen_a Groupie

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    This WOB thing really amuses me--how did you find out about that CeCe?
    I'd never heard of it and it makes me wonder if the other teachers at school refer to me as a WOB.
    I wear black every day and I'm a perfectly normal individual, and I'd be making the same choices you are with your son.
     
  14. D2theMcV

    D2theMcV Rookie

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    Apr 28, 2005

    What's important is what you believe/desire/demand of your son. I'm preaching to the choir, but we all know the connection between active engaged parents and the relative success of their children. You already appear to be that kind of parent, and he's not "rebelling" against you. As a high school teacher, I see the whole spectrum of personal style. Some of the most mainstream average clean cut looking kids cause the most trouble.

    If it were my son, I'd tell him that as he grows older, he's going to experience all sorts of ideas from adults. Not all of those ideas are valid just because a "grown-up" believes it. As a son he's accountable to you, as a student he's accountable for his work, and as a young man he's accountable to himself to make the decisions he believes are the right ones.

    (Actually, if he were my son, I'd probably send an extremely sarcastic e-mail to the teacher(s), thanking them for providing my son with an example of the intolerance and inflexibility I've spent 12 years teaching him to stay away from!!!)
     
  15. mshutchinson

    mshutchinson Comrade

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    Apr 28, 2005

    " He'd like to wear his hair spiked to school, but we don't allow that. He can do that on weekends if he wants. "

    You're setting limits which means you've given him a safety net for his forays into..fashion/style/expression. As long as he's not breaking the dress code -and you have enough sense to keep him from doing something stupid, let him fly.
     
  16. CeCe

    CeCe Companion

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    Apr 28, 2005

    Ellen,
    One of his teachers actually told me that WOB is their "code name" for my son when they want to talk about him in front of him but don't want him to know what or who they're talking about. She laughed when she told me & said something like "I hope you're not offended, but this is what we call him. We have code names for lots of the kids."

    I feel a lot better about letting him alone about his clothes after getting everyone's responses. They were really starting to get to me & I began to question my own judgement for a few minutes. I come from a whole family of musicians and we have never seemed to quite fit "the norm" (whatever that is.) I'm always amazed at the close-mindedness that still exists in our world today. I guess a lot of it is fear-driven. They truly think they are doing us a favor, I guess, trying to educate us about the evils that might befall us if we dare to be different.

    D2theMcV, I like what you said about being accountable and about "grown ups" not always having valid ideas. That's good advice.
     
  17. Azelia

    Azelia Rookie

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    May 21, 2005

    Dear CeCe,
    I know I'm a little late getting in on this conversation. But did you tell the teachers that YES :eek: you were offended at their remarks? (What does WOB stand for anyway?) Any teacher who makes those kinds of remarks to another teacher is gossiping and spreading slander.

    I can't imagine any teacher who genuinely cares about his/her students making such comments. As a parent, I would be outraged :mad: and, possibly, seek legal counsel.

    I hope things get better for you and your son. Living in a small community can be difficult (I used to live in a very small town, too.) especially when the leadership doesn't recognize that to some degree difference is a GOOD thing.
     
  18. CeCe

    CeCe Companion

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    May 21, 2005

    Thanks, Azelia, for your supportive comments. "WOB" stands for "Wearer of Black." I think she was trying to be funny, but yes, I found it offensive and discriminatory.

    Things are better for us since I recently spoke my mind about how I am feeling about the discrimination my son sometimes receives. I tried to say what I was feeling in a very direct, yet not angry or overly emotional way as I possibly could. I do really think that they want my son to be a successful student, but they are overly focused on his appearance and let that get in the way of seeing the real person underneath. He's not a perfect kid, I know that, but all students have their issues to work on. He's no different in that respect. I just think they've focused in on the way he dresses and have decided that he would be a better (more focused & more motivated) student if he dressed just like all the other kids.
     
  19. teacher333

    teacher333 Devotee

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    CeCe - I would rather have a child like your son in class than a child who brings a Coach bag to school, makes fun of other children and is disrespectful.

    As both a teacher, and a parent of 14-year-old daughter who is in the "black clothes" phase, I would speak up on behalf of your son. For some reason, middle school used to be a transition phase for children, where they were starting be taught more independent thinking and acting, not being a "sheep", but then they try to pigeonhole them into categories. My daughter also was not doing well in school, failing science and social studies, but yet passing all standardized tests at the 12th grade level!! (She is just going into 9th, and that was doubtful until I went to school and requested they test her to rule out ADHD/ADD). What was found was an emotional component to her doing poorly in school. She is a very creative child, using art and writing as her medium, and told me point blank that she was tired of the ridiculous questions they would ask her when pulled out of class, such as "Are you depressed, is that why you are wearing black?" or 'If you had 3 wishes what would they be?" My child, being brought up the right way, not to be rude or disrespectful would not answer back the adults with what she felt, but would just internalize it, to the point they then labeled her painfully shy and noncommunicative. On pursuing this issue on my own by taking her to a counsellor, the counsellor said they were trying to change her personality which is an impossible thing to do and wrote a letter to the child study team in the school to that effect. The counsellor is also teaching my child ways to verbalize more of what she is feeling, just not in a rude way, just enough to get her point across.

    Hang in there - adolescence is probably the worst time for any child but your son needs to know that at least he has support for his individuality at home!
     
  20. becky

    becky Enthusiast

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    May 21, 2005

    CeCe, are you a teacher too? And they said all this to your face??

    To me, teachers like that don't belong in the profession.

    You might not know my son is 18, he graduated last year. He's got mild C.P., and he's having a third corrective surgery next month. You wouldn't believe the people who will ask me why he's not working, what does he do with himself all day, etc., etc. These are people who know about his disability, too.
     
  21. TeachWildThings

    TeachWildThings Comrade

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    May 21, 2005

    Wow! I have a difficult time with unproffessional teachers...like the one who told me my son was just "lazy" in front of another parent & my child, which is the same one who said, "He's working below ability you know." I bit my tongue from saying, Yeah, I know, um, that's why they call it a "learning disability" :rolleyes: My kid is deffinately "out of the box" & most of his teachers don't know what to do...high test scores, exceptional vocab, loves to read, can't look you in the eye, finishes homework but doesn't turn it in, completely distracted most of the time but can tell you what you just said....sound familiar? Good to know I'm not alone! And great advice about battle picking & boundries, looks like I'm doing that as much lately as when he was 2!
     
  22. teacher333

    teacher333 Devotee

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    Yes, lazy seems to be the catch-all phrase now when a child who should be doing well in school is not! I actually had the Assistant Principal of my daughter's school tell me that a Pupil Assistance Committee Meeting, right before he told me when my child was in 6th grade that he would not even consider having my child tested for a possible learning disability (she is now in 8th, and just classified within the last 2 weeks!!!) And I am a teacher in the very same district, part of the Pupil Assistance Committee process in my district.

    There also is a classification which is being used more often now called a Nonverbal Learning Disability, which usually includes children who are high scorers on standardized tests, actually testing at grades above their actual level, good readers, writers, spellers, but failing multiple subjects and in danger of being retained, hating school, doing homework and not handing it in,etc. She tells me she is bored in school, can have a conversation with any adult about most any subject, etc.
     
  23. CeCe

    CeCe Companion

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    May 21, 2005

    Teacher333,
    Thanks for sharing the story about your daughter. Just like TeachWildThings, it is comforting to know that we're not alone in what we're going through with our adolescent children. You would think teachers would know better than to try to pigeonhole kids, but unfortunately many teachers seem to have an image of "the good student" and only the kids that fit their image are met with approval. It must have been very painful for your daughter to have her teachers suggesting that she's depressed and unhappy. My son's teachers also suggested that he might be depressed. And at times, maybe he was starting to feel depressed or angry, but I believe it was a direct result of how he was being treated at school. I'm glad you found an intelligent counselor who helped her learn ways to stand up for herself. You are so right about not being able to change a child's personality. I think that's exactly what they've been trying to do with my son this year. They think he's unhappy and disengaged, but he's really just a quiet, deep-thinking, creative kind of kid.
     
  24. Grammy Teacher

    Grammy Teacher Virtuoso

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    May 21, 2005

    This all sounds familiar. My boys were very unconventional students and it was "hell" at times listening to the mumbo jumbo of the teachers at conferences. I'll never forget one of the teachers who was not very well liked by any of her students because her requests were so demanding and she favored the girls as long as they were good students in her eyes. Anyway, she was going on with her speal about how he(our son) could surely do better and bla, bla, bla,...and I looked right into her eyes, leaned foreward and asked, "did you know that he is an accomplished musician?" She stopped dead in her tracks and stuttered, "No." I suggested that she strike up a conversation with him the next time she saw him...and to do the same for more of her students in the future.
    By the way, both boys graduated "early" and have since graduated from College...and guess what? They outgrew the crazy hair and life styles.
     
  25. teacher333

    teacher333 Devotee

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    May 22, 2005

    Patricia Ann/CeCe -

    It's all about taking the time to get to know "all" of your students, not just the easiest ones in class! Adolescence is just that - a time to express your individuality - and that may not be the Abercrombie/Gap/Coach purse kind of kids! Thanks for your stories. My own district was starting to make me believe there was something wrong or unacceptable with my daughter.
     
  26. Grammy Teacher

    Grammy Teacher Virtuoso

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    May 22, 2005

    I would like to add that many adolescents go through various stages , which may include the wearing of all "black." It is important to know your child and keep an eye on this trend because of the nature of the color "black." It is has "dark" indications...definately not a "happy" color...just something to keep in mind.
     
  27. Azelia

    Azelia Rookie

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    May 23, 2005


    Yes, this is true. My brother went through a very strange period. He hung out with people that all wore all black. The girls dyed their hair black, wore pale colored makeup. And he began to wear black, too. However, his personallity never changed. He just enjoyed "hanging out" with that group because he didn't fit in with the mainstream groups. But he never did drugs or anything to get into trouble with the law. And my mom and I would always talk with him and keep an eye on him. Today he is 30 years old working a well paying job and raising his two children. So he's pretty mainstream today. I guess he just needed time to be different and grow into his own person.
     
  28. Miss W

    Miss W Phenom

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    May 23, 2005

    As long as his style doesn't affect his grades or break any dress code rules, I wouldn't be too worried about it. We all go through our stages.
    In high school all I would wear were jeans and t-shirts. I wouldn't even think of wearing preppy clothes, even though kids from my neighborhood said that I should dress according to my station.
    In college I dressed comfortably, unless I had to go to the public schools to do observations. I was told the same thing by students there. I wasn't there to socialize, I was there to get an education. I guess paying for a private school yourself will do that to you.
    Now that I'm an educator, I dress proffessionaly as much as I can. Only on Friday's will I attempt to wear jeans. I wouldn't even wear capris. Now I wear them all the time as long as they're cute.
    I think that I really didn't care what I looked like or what others thought of me. Now I really do care what I look like and a little about fashion.
     
  29. cparks

    cparks New Member

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    May 23, 2005

    Your child sounds a lot lot my youngest son. I agee that you should pick your battles. My son is still dressing unconventionally, but he is successful, productive and happy. I couldn't ask for more. C
     
  30. Eki75

    Eki75 Rookie

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    The only thing I would do would be to talk to the schools principal about how these teachers are DISCRIMINATING against your son for his choice in clothing as well as HARASSING you about it. Wearing black surely shouldn't distract anyone from learning, especially if he wears it often and people are desensitized to it. I would absolutely not tell your son to wear different clothes, especially if he is prone to phases with clothing. Wow, I am offended that the teachers would cause such a stink over nothing. lol.
     
  31. gigi

    gigi Groupie

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    Jun 1, 2005

    As the parent of three, I went thru the black stage, colored hair, and (gasp) a tongue piercing! (My child did that on her 18th birthday). Unbelievable. Having said that, one (pierced tongue) is a police officer, the second studing to be a children's librarian, the third is studying drama. SO! Tell that teacher to look beyond the clothes, no school rules are broken, and apply all that energy she is using to worry about your child's clothes to her teaching!
     
  32. JenPooh

    JenPooh Virtuoso

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    CeCe: I honestly think that you are doing the best thing for your son by letting him be himself, even if it means dressing a little unconventialy. His teachers shouldn't be worried about how he dresses and should worry more about him recieving his education and do their job. As long as he's happy with who he is, then they should be happy with who he is as well. If his teachers were educated enough then they should understand that he is just expressing himself and using his clothes as a statement of who he is. His head on his shoulders is what is most important, not the way he looks. They need to accept him the way he is, clothes and all, and if they can't get over it, tell them too bad. Everyone has a different taste in clothes, they shouldn't expect him to look like "everyone else". He is being his own person, and having that kind of personality will probably take him far in life. Taking that identity away from him will only cause more problems, or start them. Good for you for not wanting to change him!
     
  33. katerina03

    katerina03 Devotee

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    Jun 8, 2005

    CeCe, I hope you are feeling better. I am a teacher and the parent of a teenager who is into the anime japanese stuff and likes computers. He told me he is a geek and I told him he was not, he is as cool as everyone else. But he said, "No, it's ok. Being a geek isn't a bad thing like when you were a kid. It's just what I am." He was very "matter of factly about it. I was very upset that he has taken this title, just because he's very quiet in school, not into sports of rap or anything "everyone else" is into. I home school him now and I love it because it forces him to spend time with me (which I think he enjoys as well). Also he has a learning disability. I have always admired the kids who do their own thing. At a school I sub at, I have heard teachers talk so badly about the "gothic" kids, as if they aren't as great as the "normals". It makes me so mad and I told them one day, " I like the kids who wear black. I think it's really cool." ( I wore green hair in junior high and glitter as eyeshadow). Well, the repsonse to me remark was, "Well they're ok, but they can express their individuality on the own time. They don't need to be such a distraction." Personally I think baggy pants and girls wearing tight clothes and bellies exposed is more of a distraction than black clothes.
     
  34. teacher333

    teacher333 Devotee

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    Jun 8, 2005

    Katerina -

    Thanks for putting it so well. I also have a 14-year-old, a daughter, who is into the anime for the art of it, and has sketchbooks of anime sketches, as well as a collection of well over 100 of the books. We always tell kids not to be followers but leaders, but when they try to express themselves through their clothing, music, etc., we try to pigeonhole them into a particular group. Finally, at a meeting at my daughter's school, when they once again commented on the fact her clothing is mostly all black, and she is failing 2 subjects, blah, blah, blah, I quietly brought out her educational testing that has been done in the past month and asked why an 8th grader who is supposedly failing and supposedly no "strange" with her clothing choices is currently testing at a 12th grade level in almost all areas. I also talked about the fact that this that they are embracing is not a "religion", but an expression. Yes, of course, as with any fad it needs to be watched, but I am hearing more horror stories about the so-called preppy and good kids in my town that the so-called goth oriented group.

    Thanks again.
     
  35. katerina03

    katerina03 Devotee

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    Jun 9, 2005

    My son has struggled with every subject since kindergarten. But I know he is very bright, has a great since of humor and is talented in computer stuff. I used to dread parent/teacher conferences because all I ever heard was how disorganized and forgetful he was and how he is failing almost everything, though I would spend painful hours studying with him nearly every night! I vow to never focus on the faults of any student because I know how depressed those teachers made me feel. It seems as though your daughter is extremely intelligent, I wondering what her relationship is like with the teachers whose classes she's failing.
     
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2005
  36. teacher333

    teacher333 Devotee

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    Jun 9, 2005

    Her personality is quiet, such as mine was at her age, and this is perceived as "depressed, withdrawn, sad". I would attend meetings for her on a monthly basis and I would hear that "she appears....". We were always told as teachers to report what we actually do see and things "appearing" and actually "being" are many times two totally different things. She does not always seek help but will gladly take it when offered. She likes the teachers she has, or so she says, so I do not understand her reluctance to ask for this needed help. She has since been classified this year because of the discrepancy in her testing and her actual performance, but to have a child classified this late in the game is many times unusual. When creative projects are called for, that is where she is excelling and those projects are what keeps her head above water in the area of grades. The rote memorization of facts, dates, etc., she feels has no purpose to her. It has reached the point where this bright kid is telling all that it does not matter any more as she plans to drop out of school at age 16 (which I wouldn't allow anyway).
     

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