An Inside Look At Some Of The Major Issues In Education, Training & Career Development Today 

Presented by:
Robert Kirwan, O.C.T., B.A. (Math), M.A. (Education)



A young mother who we will call Samantha (not her real name) came to my office the other day and started the conversation with the following: “I just spoke to my 8 year old son’s teacher. She told me that she thinks he should be tested for ADHD because of the difficulty he is having concentrating in class. I don’t want him to be labeled at such a young age, but I don’t want him to fail his year either. Can you help me?” 

For the answer click here >>>>>



A father and his son came to see me the other day looking for a tutor. He said, “My son is in Grade 5 and he is having a lot of trouble with math. I was always terrible in math and hated it when I was in school, so I guess he is just the same as me. I want him to do better than I did in school. Can you help me?”  

For the answer click here >>>>>



A young mother who we will call Jennifer (not her real name) came to my office the other day and started the conversation with the following: “My three-year old daughter will be starting Junior Kindergarten next September. I would like to make sure that she has a good start. Can you help me?”  

For the answer click here >>>>>



What happens when your child does not learn as well as you expected? Julie Maclean writes a series of articles trying to express her feelings as a mother of a child with special needs.

For the full story click here >>>>>


If you have questions or concerns you would like me to address about education, training or career or development issues, please email them to me through the following link.

Robert Kirwan, O.C.T., B.A. (Math), M.A. (Education)
Education, Training & Career Development Consultant

The Role of Parents In Helping Their Children With Homework 
The jury is still out on the value of homework. As a matter of fact, the views of parents, teachers and students vary widely on this subject. 

For the most part, homework has been considered work that could not be completed during class time. If that were the case, then any amount of homework would generate questions and investigation. For example, if a child has homework, then why was he/she unable to complete it during the allotted class time? Were there distractions? If so, and if they were not the fault of the child, then why should homework be a punishment?

On the other hand, if the child consistently has difficulty completing work during class time, then perhaps an examination of the teaching methods or the intellectual level of the child would be in order.

Many students and parents see homework as "busy work" that was handed out by the teacher to keep the troublemakers in line and busy during the day. The problem with this is that it has been my experience that the conscientious students will spend hours completing their homework and the students for whom this extra amount of work was given often ignore the homework and spend their time playing outside or fighting with their friends.

Homework in the Primary Grades

Children in the primary grades often love doing homework. They have very little to do outside of school and they enjoy the time spent working with mom and dad on things that are being done for school. Reading, drawing pictures in notebooks, and completing worksheet assignments should be made into a fun activity at this age level and can actually help create a positive attitude towards school.

As a general rule, children should very seldom have homework that must be completed for the following day, and if they do it should not amount to more than 15 minutes per night.

Homework in the Junior Grades

Major homework assignments during these years are often considered as interfering with playtime and other outside activities. It is also during these years that boys and girls are starting to get heavily involved in clubs, groups, and sports activities. Homework gets in the way of these fun times and actually has a tendency to add stress in the household as mom and day continually pressure their children to "finish the homework"

During the junior grades parents will begin to see their children working on special long-term projects that will require research and organization. These may be assignments that are due in a week or two and will have to be completed a little bit at a time by the child. These assignments are good and tend to help students develop learning skills that are needed in future grades. 

Junior students will also have homework assignments that are intended to complete or refine work that was done during the day. Sometimes these assignments are due the next day.

As a general rule, your Junior-aged child should not be required to spend more than one full hour on homework. Even this is a bit excessive for this age group.

Homework in Intermediate Grades

By the time a child reaches Grade 7 and 8, homework is usually one of the least favourite things in his/her life. During this stage in a child's development homework really interferes with other more important things like talking on the phone, watching television or playing on the computer. Homework is also divided up according to subject, so it is common for a child to have homework in four or five different subjects on a given evening. When all is said and done, it is not unusual for a student to have upwards of two hours of homework a night at the Grade 7 and 8 level.


Homework Overload Is The Cause Of Burnout And Negative Attitudes Among Our Young Students Today
Should students be assigned homework over the weekend? during March Break? over the Christmas Holidays?

Should tests be given on Mondays?

Should teachers be prohibited from giving out big assignments just before exams?

The issues of how much and when to assign homework are getting more and more "air time" around board rooms, staff rooms and parent meetings.

No homework on the weekend, during March Break or even the Christmas holidays. Forget about tests on Mondays. No big assignments four days before exams.

A toughened curriculum; the compression of high school from five to four years; the high numbers of students holding down part-time jobs; the pressure to enroll you children in a wide variety of groups and organizations after school; and many more issues such as parents who do not have much time in the evening to spend any time with their children have all given rise to the fact that homework overload is now one of the hottest topics of concern among parents and students.

Most boards have recommended a guideline of about 10 minutes of homework per night per grade level. For example, a child in Grade 3 would expect to have 30 minutes of homework while a child in Grade 8 would have 80 minutes of homework. Nevertheless, there are many parents who find that their children are doing hours of homework every night while others complain that their children do not get any homework.

The problem with homework is that it punishes families that try to give their children an all-round education outside of school. If your child is involved in sports, cultural or recreational activities during the week, it often means having an early dinner before being rushed out of the house for a 7 p.m. start time. By the time you get back home it is close to 9 p.m. and there is just enough time to have a bath, a snack and then get into bed so that you can have enough sleep to be fresh in the morning. There just isn't time during the evening for a couple of hours of homework so families are being punished for getting their children involved in extra activities.

Many children are denied the opportunity to ride their bikes or play in the park after school because their homework comes first. And yet we continue to hear critics point out the problems of overweight youth and a lack of activity among young boys and girls. 

Many studies have proven that there is no correlation between the amount of homework and success in school. This means that teachers should really wonder whether homework is actually achieving its purpose. If it is not achieving an education goal, then what is it doing.

Unfortunately, homework is often the residual work that is not completed during class time as teachers load the students with seatwork just to keep them busy and occupied as a form of classroom management. This is having a detrimental effect on the conscientious students who will spend hours each night to complete the assignments, while the hard to manage children often ignore the homework, choosing to face the consequences ( if any ) the following day.

This is an issue that is going to remain around for a long time.  


The Role of Parents As Facilitators In The Education of Their Children

It is becoming increasingly difficult for parents to understand the challenges their children are facing as they make their way through the formal school system today. Everyone knows how important it is going to be for a person to have some form of post-secondary training in order to enter into meaningful careers in the future, but the fact is that half of all students who begin Junior Kindergarten will only go as far as Grade 12 or drop out of school even before obtaining a secondary diploma. Children from stable families with highly educated parents are just as much at risk as anyone else of being included in this group of young people who will terminate their education at or before the end of high school.
   Parents with a high level of education themselves who wish for their children to follow in their footsteps find it especially difficult to cope with children who do not share their passion for learning. Unfortunately, in their desire to instill a love of learning within their children, parents sometimes create additional pressure and anxiety that produces quite the opposite of their desired goal and they actually turn their children off learning instead.
   J.D. Rockefeller once said  "The Road to happiness lies in two simple principles: find what it is that interests you and that you can do well, and when you find it put your whole soul into it - every bit of energy and ambition and natural ability you have." The main responsibility of all parents today is to be facilitators, helping their children discover their own "road to happiness", and often the road taken by their children is much different from that which they took themselves.


   Besides the obvious responsibilities of parents with respect to providing adequate food, clothing and shelter for their children, as well as for creating a home environment which is conducive to learning, there is much more that must be done if children are indeed going to be able to maximize their true potential as far as their formal education training is concerned. The first step in the road to success may well be the acceptance by parents that they cannot fulfil their obligations alone.

For example:

  • When you have health concerns for yourself or your family, you turn to your family doctor for advice.
  • When you have questions about investments or insurance, you turn to your financial advisor for assistance in making the right choices.
  • When you have legal difficulties, you turn to your lawyer to represent you and help you through the legal process to solve your problems.
  • In order to maintain proper dental health, you visit your dentist regularly for checkups and treatment.

   I could continue this list indefinitely, bringing into consideration accountants, chiropractors, massage therapists, optometrists, real estate agents, etc.
   Anyone who is a parent of a child in elementary, secondary or post-secondary school will tell you that from the time a child begins Junior Kindergarten to the time the child graduates and begins a career, everything, and I mean everything that goes on around a home or that involves the entire family is affected by education. Vacations are planned around school schedules. Homework has a direct impact on what goes on around the home in the evenings. Decisions must always take into consideration the needs and responsibilities of children who are attending school.
   And yet, even though education has a tremendous impact on all areas of your life, when you have a concern about your child's education, who do you turn to for advice? When it comes to virtually every other area of one's life there is a trusted person you can turn to who you know will be there to provide you with guidance and advice when you need it the most. And quite often that person has included you on his/her "client list" so that you are always given immediate attention when it is needed. You do not go to a different dentist whenever you have problems with your teeth. You go to a family dentist who knows your history.


   Our society has now reached the "Tipping Point" with respect to education. The whole education, career and personal development process has become so complex that it is no longer possible for parents to simply sit back and "accept" what is happening to their children. There is a new form of practitioner emerging in society today called an "Independent Education Agent" who will soon be added to the list of professionals to whom parents can turn in fulfilling their role as "facilitators" in the education of their children. I believe that, in the not-so-distant future, all parents will be seeking to be added to the "client list" of a private sector "Education Agent". Parents will feel comfortable knowing that they have their own personal "Independent Education Agent", just as they will knowing that they have their own family doctor, dentist, lawyer, etc.
   Your "Family Education Agent" will be a person to whom you can turn when you need personal tutoring help from time to time for your children; when you need advice on recommendations being made by school administrators; when you have potential legal issues involving the school board; when you need representation in school matters; when you need advice on subject selection in secondary school programs; when you need to develop a career strategy for your child; and when you need information about any and all education, career and personal development matters concerning any and all members of your family. Your "Family Education Agent" will work cooperatively with your child's teachers, but at least you will be more aware of your own rights and options and will be in a better position to fulfil your responsibilities to your children.
   Lifelong Learning is something that is going to take on more meaning in the next couple of decades. Career life-cycles are shortening and it will be common practice for children who are currently in elementary, secondary and post-secondary schools to change careers up to a dozen times during the course of their life. Each of these changes may require additional education and training. It is going to be important to be able to turn to someone you can trust for advice in making the right choices. Even baby boomers are looking forward to their 60's as a time for renewal, not retirement, and they too will be turning to education for training to enter "twilight careers" that will take them into their late 70's. "Independent Education Agents" are going to be a necessity in the future.  


Open House Season For Local Schools Is An Important Time For Parents and Students
Grade 8 students and parents will have a busy couple of months as local school boards hold open houses at all of their secondary schools. The open houses are designed to provide parents and students with a chance to look over the facilities and discuss the various program options that are available.
                In addition, Junior Kindergarten registrations will be taking place during the next couple of months, so many schools will be offering open houses for new parents.
                It is also a time when secondary school graduates will be considering their choices of post-secondary schools as they come closer and closer to the end of the school year.
                Grants to school boards are determined by enrolment. The greater the enrolment, the larger the grant. Therefore, it is becoming increasingly important for local schools to be concerned about their community image and be continually thinking about recruitment for upcoming years. In addition to the importance of increasing their total grant allocation, the more students enrolled at a school, the easier it is to offer a wider variety of programs that meet the needs of the students.
                A great deal of money is spent on advertising by school boards to promote their institutions and let the public know about open houses. It is highly recommended that parents and students take advantage of these open houses in order to become familiar with the options available to them.

                I have always encouraged students and parents to take advantage of every opportunity to visit schools during the open house “season”. Even if you are already attending your school of choice, and even if you are satisfied, it is never a waste of time to go to one of the open houses and see what is available. Many of us have gone into an open house that has been arranged for the general public by real estate companies, just out of curiousity to see what the home looked like, never intending to buy. There is nothing wrong with doing the same thing with our education institutions.
                One thing I have encouraged with secondary school graduates is to take a private, personal tour, without any tour guides, of post-secondary institutions they are considering. Everyone dresses up their building during formal open houses, so it is difficult to imagine what things are like during a normal day. When you decide to take a “drop-in” tour, make sure you go to the school when classes are in session and it is busy. Spend some time at the student center and just observe. Walk around the hallways, down in the basement, in between buildings, and around residence areas. Check out the library and physical education facilities. And, don’t forget to talk to students who are at the school.
                Unfortunately, too many secondary school students select their post-secondary institutions based on what they see on the internet web sites, in colourful brochures, or during “university and college days” organized by school boards. For parents who may be covering some or all of the costs of post-secondary education for their children, it is well worth a day or two off work to travel to an institution for one of these drop-in tours before you have to sign the final application form. It may prevent your child from being one of the thousands of students who find themselves saying, “This is not what I expected when I applied to the school.”
                If you have any doubt, whether you are looking for the right school for your 4 year old, your 14 year old or your 17 year old, make arrangements to drop in for a private, personal tour of the school during a regular school day to see how the school operates on a day-to-day basis. Talk to the administrators and guidance counselors and ask them to “sell you on their program”. Education is not something that you should ever take lightly.  



Students Have A Right To Feel Safe While They Are At School
Two articles appeared in the Toronto Star recently that caught my attention. They may seem totally unrelated at first glance, but upon closer examination, it is clear that they reflect a reality which school administrators simply cannot ignore.
    The first article was a report about how
Toronto police have been increasing the number of officers patrolling the downtown entertainment district on weekends. The main objective was to increase their presence as a deterrent to individuals who might otherwise be tempted to get out of control. The officers hoped to be able to ward off trouble while it was brewing before it escalated into something more serious.
   The second article was about the professional hall monitors who patrol the hallways in many of
Toronto ’s secondary schools. There are almost 160 hall monitors employed throughout the Toronto District School Board. They earn about $30,000 per year and are considered a critical element in the drive for safer schools.
   When lawyer Julian Falconer released his report earlier this year which was an examination of school safety following the shooting death of Jordan Manners at C.W. Jefferys Collegiate, he recommended that high schools should have more hall monitors on duty. He also stated that there should be more teachers on supervision duty, especially in between classes when “hallway wanders” tend to cause problems for everyone. These “hallway wanders” are often students who skip class and are just looking for trouble.
   The connection between the two articles mentioned above is that when Jordan Manners was shot the first thing the Toronto Board did was hire two extra hall monitors at the school.
They, like the downtown Toronto police, hoped that their presence would act as a deterrent and prevent trouble from happening in the first place.
   Most teachers will readily admit that they are not equipped or trained to deal with the serious behaviours of kids today. One teacher from
Toronto was quoted as saying, "There are kids whose behaviour is so bad that 20 years ago they'd be told to leave school. They don't want to be there, they're not respectful, they're aggressive and quite prepared to be violent if they need to be - and yet the school system is trying to keep them in school and trying not to disaffect them by punishing them for everything. So consequently, there's a bit of a mixed message."
   The guidelines from the Ministry of Education and the school boards are quite clear about what the duties of a teacher with respect to reporting incidents involving students. Nevertheless, there is so much pressure in schools today to uphold a positive public image and to focus on student success that some teachers may be hesitant about bringing forward negative reports to administration.
   The key to the success of hallway monitors in
Toronto , and anywhere else where the policy has been implemented, is to hire the right people for the job. That and consistency. The hallway monitor being interviewed for the article I read had been in his position for 15 years and knew the students very well. He knew where to look for trouble, but more importantly he knew when and how to respond. He sounded as if he had what it takes to make sound, intuitive judgments about when to act and when not to act.
   This is not much different from being a police officer in the downtown district on a Saturday night. There are some incidents which require you to take formal action that often leads to arrests and charges being laid, while there are other incidents that can be diffused simply by “being there” and giving the person a “second chance” to make a better decision.
   In my 28 years as a classroom teacher I spent my share of time on supervision duty both inside and outside. I learned early in my career that at times it was best to just give a child “the look of displeasure” and allow the situation to resolve itself. At other times I had to resort to more serious action that involved the office and parents. Knowing which course of action to take requires the use of your natural intuition and an understanding of the children for whom you are responsible.
   We must understand and be aware that the “culture of fear” which is prevalent in our society today is exhibiting itself in the schools. For example, many adults who consider themselves to be good citizens think nothing about turning their backs when out and about on the streets of the city on what they know are incidents that should be reported to police. They do this not because they are “bad people”, but simply because they do not want to become involved in long, drawn out investigations that will merely make them “targets for reprisal” once the courts hand out “meaningless” punishment to the criminals. Parents do not want to place themselves or their children at risk of danger so they find it is must easier to simply pretend not to notice what is going on and let someone else take care of reporting the incident. And so it is that many people who witness others carrying weapons, committing acts of sexual assault and violence, vandalizing or stealing public and private property, and a whole list of other misdemeanours are too intimidated to report what they have seen. They are just happy that they have not been the ones where were victimized this time around. This “culture of fear” has been created by a “society of bullies” and bullying comes in a wide variety of forms and disguises.
    And so it is with teachers who must deal with so many students in their classrooms who come from such a wide variety of backgrounds. The pressures these students are facing in their life spill over into the classrooms and into hallways, resulting in “flare-ups” that must be dealt with appropriately. Yet, this strong, societal urge comes into play for most people, including fellow students, teachers, administration and parents. Something tells them to turn and walk away rather than get involved in something that may in fact have a profound negative impact upon them and their families. The reality is that students can easily get back at teachers and administrators who make life difficult for them. They can make life horrible in retaliation and can inflict serious, long-lasting consequences on anyone who reports them to the authorities. The consequences to a person who “reports a crime” are often far more serious than the penalty imposed on the person who “commits the crime”. It doesn’t matter how you feel about this situation. It is a reality with which we must all live.
   You can provide teachers college students and professional teachers with all of the information necessary for them to know and understand their duties and responsibilities. However, when all is said and done, the fear of making false accusations, of alienating students and parents; of facing the wrath of parents whose children have been accused of wrongdoing, and the fear of retaliation against your home and your family members is going to play a huge part in whether a teacher actually reports an incident of abuse or violence or other inappropriate action he/she has witnessed. In most cases, it makes far more sense to simply ignore the situation, finish your job and go home; hoping that tomorrow will be a better day.
   And so, it would seem that the best of all situations might be to hire hallway monitors to provide the supervision needed to prevent flare-ups and keep some semblance of control in the school. This would allow teachers to deal with what goes on in the classroom and focus on delivering effective lessons instead of spending time following up on behavioural issues that occur in between classes.
   As parents we all tell our children from the time they can understand, that police officers are good. That police officers are there to protect us and help us when we need their assistance. Police officers are not bad people. They are there to make sure that everyone follows the law and to allow us all to go about our daily business without fear.
   So it is with hallway monitors. They are not there to harm people who respect the rules, policies and expectations of the school. They are not there to intimidate the people who respect the rights of others. They are there to make sure that everyone can go about their business without fear. Their presence alone may be all that is needed to maintain effective control. But when called upon to deal with more serious matters, they are trained and prepared to take appropriate action.
   We all know that violence can erupt anywhere at anytime in any town in any school. There is no school or any other place in society where people gather for that matter that is immune to this “disease of humanity”. We can’t predict when violence will occur, but at least maintaining a “presence” of supervision will give cause for some people to consider the consequences of their choices. That is all we can hope for and so perhaps it is time to bring hallway monitors to all high schools in the province.

   Until next time, this is Inside Education…..


Our “Society of Bullies” Is Creating A “Culture of Fear” In Our Schools Today 
The release on January 10, 2008 the School Community Safety Advisory Panel report has upset educators all across the country. The report suggests there may have been hundreds of incidents of violence within the Toronto District School Board that have gone unreported by teachers and students.
                Most teachers will readily admit that they are not equipped or trained to deal with the serious behaviours of kids today. One teacher from Toronto was quoted as saying, "There are kids whose behaviour is so bad that 20 years ago they'd be told to leave school - they don't want to be there, they're not respectful, they're aggressive and quite prepared to be violent if they need to be - and yet the school system is trying to keep them in school and trying not to disaffect them by punishing them for everything. So consequently, there's a bit of a mixed message."
                The guidelines from the Ministry of Education and the school boards are quite clear about what the duties of a teacher with respect to reporting incidents involving students. Nevertheless, there is so much pressure in schools today to uphold a positive public image and to focus on student success that some teachers are hesitant to bring forward reports to administration.
                There is also a “culture of fear” that is prevalent in our society today that is exhibiting itself in the schools. For example, many people who consider themselves to be good citizens think nothing about turning their backs on what they consider incidents that should be reported to police simply because they do not want to become involved in long, drawn out investigations that will merely make them “targets for reprisal” once the courts hand out “meaningless” punishment to the criminals. Parents do not want to place themselves or their children at risk so they simply pretend not to notice what is going on and let someone else take care of reporting the incident. And so it is that many people who witness others carrying weapons, committing acts of sexual assault and violence, vandalizing or stealing public and private property, and a whole list of other misdemeanours are too intimidated to report what they have seen. They are just happy that they have not been the ones where were victimized this time around. This “culture of fear” has been created by a “society of bullies” that come in all forms.
                And so it is with teachers who must deal with so many students in their classrooms who come from such a variety of backgrounds. The pressures these students are facing in their life spill over into the classroom and into hallways, resulting in “flare-ups” that must be dealt with severely. Yet, everyone, including fellow students, teachers, administration and parents, would rather turn and walk away than get involved in something that may in fact have a negative impact on them and their families. The fact of the matter is that students can easily get back at teachers and administrators who make life difficult for them. They can make life horrible in retaliation and can inflict serious, long-lasting consequences on anyone who reports them to the authorities. The penalty for “reporting a crime” is often far more serious than the penalty for “committing the crime”.
                You can provide teachers college students and professional teachers with all of the information necessary for them to know their duties and responsibilities. However, when all is said and done, the fear of making false accusations, of alienating students and parents; of facing the wrath of parents whose children have been accused of wrongdoing, and the fear of retaliation against your home and your family members is going to play a huge part in whether a teacher actually reports an incident of abuse or violence or other inappropriate action he/she has witnessed. In most cases, it makes far more sense to simply ignore the situation, finish your job and go home; hoping that tomorrow will be a better day.  


Post-Secondary Education Is Something That Every Young Person Needs To Succeed In Society Today
I think we can all agree that a skilled trade, a college diploma or a university degree can open doors that are closed to many people who choose to stop their formal education at high school.

Because of this, there is growing pressure being place on schools and government to remove financial and other barriers to disadvantaged youth who want to pursue post-secondary schooling.

But a new study offers another compelling reason to promote higher education among groups now under-represented at colleges and universities, including students from low-income families, those whose parents do not have post-secondary qualifications and aboriginals.

The Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation produced a report titled Why Access Matters. In the report it is stated that more and more jobs require advanced credentials. However, as older workers retire and the population of young adults shrinks, the pool of skilled workers will not keep up with demand unless more students stay in school longer.

Yet post-secondary participation rates among young people from middle- and high-income families are already "fairly high." That means Canada must boost enrolment among other socio-economic groups in order to stay competitive. 

It is not surprising to find that young people from low-income families are less likely than their higher-income peers to pursue post-secondary education. The numbers are especially discouraging among youth whose parents did not continue their education past high school. Aboriginals are also under-represented in post-secondary institutions.

In order to increase the participation rate of the under-represented groups, it is recommended that we take time to make sure that all young people understand the benefits of continuing their education and that they know their options with respect to returning to school if they do drop out.

For students who do go on to post-secondary institutions, we must better prepare them for the academic demands that they will be facing. At the present time the drop-out rate during the first and second years of post-secondary study is unacceptable. Students must be given every chance to succeed.

Finally, money and the burden of huge debts should not deter under-represented youth from continuing their studies. As tuition for many programs rises, schools and governments should ensure grants and loans are more readily available so all qualified students can attend.  


Your Learning Style Has A Lot To Do With Your Success In School And In Life Itself
One of the biggest challenges facing students today is that their personal learning style may not be in sync with the teaching styles being employed in educational institutions in which they are enrolled. Further aggravating the situation is that the learning style of parents may not be the same as the learning style of their children, thus causing additional frustration.


One of the simplest ways of determining your likely learning style is to ask yourself what comes to mind when you hear the word "dog".

If you see a picture of a dog in your mind's eye or if you see the letters of the word, you are probably a "visual learner".

If you hear the bark of a dog, you are probably an auditory learner.

If you feel the fur of a dog, you are probably a kinesthetic learner.


Our learning style is the way we respond to environmental, social, emotional and physical stimuli to understand and process new information that is presented to us. We all use each of the three learning styles from time to time, but each of us tends to have one style that is more prevalent.

When it comes to helping your children, it is important that you not only have a clear understanding of your own dominant learning style, but that you also know the prevalent learning style of your child.


To oversimplify the matter, visual learners learn by watching. When presented with new ideas they recall images they have from the past and try to relate these previous images to the new concepts. They actually form a picture in their head about the ways things look. It is estimated that about 40% of students fall into this category.

For example, in order for a visual learner to develop new vocabulary, he would have to both hear the word and see the work in written form at the same time. When you read stories to a child who is a visual learner, you should allow the child to follow the story as you read it out loud so that he/she sees the words that you are reading. This way he/she will have a better chance of remembering the new vocabulary.


Auditory learners tend to spell words phonetically but they have trouble reading because they do not visualize well. These students learn by listening and they remember facts when they are presented in some entertaining form. Auditory learners like being "read to" but do not like to follow along. They also learn a lot from watching television. Auditory learners love using email because they can get away with spelling phonetically. They are also very developed in terms of oral presentation skills, but have trouble writing and reading.


Kinesthetic learners are what we call "hands-on learners". They like to learn through manipulation and are very successful in the arts, mechanics and the trades. It is estimated that up to 50% of all students fall into this category and have trouble learning in a traditional school setting.


Studies have shown that almost 80% of instructional delivery in secondary and post-secondary settings is auditory in nature, however only 10% of all students are auditory learners.

This means that in order for a child to find success in school it is often necessary to show him/her how to strengthen his auditory skills or how to review the original information in a different manner at home in order to understand. It means that you may benefit from the services of a personal tutor who is more able to incorporate a more suitable teaching style in order to reinforce concepts taught in class.

Parents must also be in tune with the possibility that their children learn best in an environment that is different from the traditional setting. For example, while a parent may require a quiet learning space, a child may learn best in a more chaotic environment. If your child is having trouble learning then experiment with different environmental settings and teaching styles. It may produce wonderful results.


Girls Are More Likely To Attend University Than Boys According To Stats Can
Young men are far less likely to attend university than young women, and a new study attributes the gap to differences in academic performance and study habits at the age of 15, as well as parental expectations.

Statistics Canada says about a quarter (26 per cent) of 19-year-old men had attended university in 2003 while almost two in five (39 per cent) 19-year-old women had done so.

The study found that more than three-quarters (77 per cent) of the gap was related to differences in the characteristics of young men and women that were available in the study.

Weaker academic performance among men accounted for almost half (45 per cent) of the gap – specifically, young men had lower overall school marks at age 15, and had poorer performance on a standardized reading test.

Another 11 per cent of the gap was related to the fact that boys spend less time on their homework than girls and about 9 per cent was associated with the lower educational expectations placed upon boys by their parents.

Other student characteristics played moderate roles, accounting for a further 12 per cent of the gap collectively.

The study found that men and women have different characteristics at age 15.

For example, only about a third (32 per cent) of young men reported overall marks of 80 per cent or higher while almost half (46 per cent) of young girls fell in the same category.

Young men also fared more poorly on a standardized reading test: only 20 per cent scored in the top quarter on the test, while 30 per cent of young women did so.

Young men and women are also quite different in terms of the amount of time they spend on homework: only 30 per cent of boys spent at least four hours a week on homework, compared with 41 per cent of girls.

The study also found that young men had lower expectations placed upon them: as many as 60 per cent had parents who expected them to complete a university degree, well behind the 70 per cent of young women in the same situation.

Factors such as motivation and preferences were not taken into account in the study since they are difficult to measure.  



When Writing Becomes An Issue In Grade 2

The following letter was written to me by a mother of a child who was in Grade 2. 

Good Afternoon Robert.  I saw your ad in the telephone book, and then looked into your website.   Your program looks interesting.  I was informed by my son's teacher today, that his grades are slipping in the writing aspect of his report card.  I am having a hard time getting him to write down his answers, and elaborate on his ideas.  Would your program help with this aspect of his education.  Can you please contact me.  What kinds of tools or tricks of the trades can you use to assist with this problem.?

Thank you for contacting me, Carol.

Your son is going through a transition period that is quite common with most Grade 2 and 3 children. He is still "learning to read". However, before long he is going to have to use his reading skills "to learn". This transition of going from "learning to read" to "reading to learn" is extremely difficult. In fact, to put things into perspective, I would suggest that the challenges your son is experiencing right now are equivalent to a secondary school graduate beginning a university program, or an adult changing from one career to a completely different career. It's hard enough "learning the language", let alone learning to transcribe that language on paper.

Some children breeze through this transition period and are able to meet the standards that have been established by the school system and by their parents at home. Others may run into some "bumps" along the way. Your son likely has a great command of oral communication and can "talk up a storm". He may also be an excellent problem-solver in "real life situations" such as how to take a toy apart to fix the wheel, or how to get a ball out of a ditch full of water, or how to attach a cardboard to the frame of his bike so the spokes make noise.

However, taking a "word" out of his head and writing it on paper just doesn't make a lot of sense to any boy in Grade 2 (or any girl for that matter). Putting the words into the form of a sentence to elaborate on his ideas doesn't make much sense either when it would be so much faster just to let him "tell you" what he means. Why should he be wasting his time in seemingly meaningless activities when he could be spending his time doing so many other things?

 As adults, we know how important it is to be able to communicate in writing, especially since we often do not have a chance to communicate with our intended audience orally. Nevertheless, as adults we must also admit that if we are given the choice of picking up the phone and calling a person or writing that person a letter, most of us will pick up the phone because it is instantaneous and gets us immediate feedback. We just don't have time to be writing everything down all the time. So imagine how your son feels. He is a boy that is constantly running in high gear with his mind racing a thousand miles an hour, and now he has to come to a "dead stop" and "write" his ideas down on paper for no other reason than "the teacher told me to do it" or "my mother wants me to practice".

The first step or "trick" is to find a way to make your son "want to write" and see the purpose behind the writing. Secondly, you have to find a way of "slowing down" your son's mind so that his hand can keep up with his brain. That is the hardest job, for when you are learning how to write, you simply cannot keep up with your thoughts. You can't write as fast as you think. Moreover, you are thinking with the language that you speak. Your son likely uses vocabulary that sometimes surprises you with its level of maturity and sophistication. Imagine how hard it must be for him to transcribe those "adult words" into something that he can print and spell correctly. He therefore must learn to "dumb down" his thinking and come up with less sophisticated vocabulary so that he can write more quickly and correctly in order to finish this seemingly meaningless task.

All that being said, what your son needs is someone who can come in and work with him once a week to help him learn how to read at a level that will be appropriate for the grade level in which he finds himself now. The more he reads, the more his writing will improve. I have also suggested to some of my instructors that they take a favourite illustrated book and have the student give an oral sentence describing something on each page. The tutor then writes down exactly what the child has said and then has the child "read" it back to her. The child learns to recognize written words that he has actually used and that are part of his oral vocabulary. He is reading his own thoughts. He is seeing those thoughts and words on paper and they make sense.

He is then asked to practice reading back his own sentences for a week with his mother. When the tutor returns the following week, she asks the child to give another sentence for the same page, but this time the tutor only writes down the words that are new and are not already contained in the sentence from the week before. The child is then asked to "write" a new sentence for the page, combining the new words with the previous words to express his idea. Then the child practices reading back both of the sentences with his mother for a week. By repeating this process over the course of several weeks, the child learns that writing is nothing more than combining words that he already uses to express an idea. He learns that there are many small "connecting" words that are the same and that are used over and over again. He only has to concentrate on the new words. He will also see that his four or five sentences actually tell a story about each page and can see how he has developed this story himself with his own vocabulary. Gradually, he will be asked to do the same thing with "thoughts" that he is creating instead of from pictures in a book.

Confidence in his own ability to write is so important at this stage of his development. A tutor who he loves to work with can do wonders for his self-esteem and give him a sense of purpose for his writing.

Please feel free to give me a call if you would like me to find a "learning coach" for your son. I think it will help him a lot.

I hope this helps a bit.



Helping Your Children Deal With School Work Stress

The following article addresses the issue of the stress level of young children which is drastically increasing because of the challenges they are facing at school. Often parents do not understand how their children could possibly be under stress. Adults can talk about the stress of work, raising a family and taking care of financial responsibilities. Yet, to a child, the stress he/she is feeling because of school work may affect him/her just as much, if not moreso, because children have not yet developed coping mechanisms to get them through stressful situations.

Heidi Stevens, in an article she wrote for the Chicago Tribune on March 2, 2010, has come up with five pretty decent suggestions for parents who are  looking for ways they can help their children. What she has to say makes a lot of sense.

School work and stress: 5 ways to help a child
(Appearing in the Chicago Tribune, March 02, 2010, written by Heidi Stevens)

If you’re still plagued by show-up-for-the-final-and-realize-you’ve-never-been-to-class nightmares, you know school work anxiety is no small matter. So how do you help your kids cope before stress tanks their confidence and their grades? Here are five steps to help strike the right balance and keep school work from overwhelming your child.

1. Talk to the teachers. “Establish a dialogue on homework policies from the beginning, including how involved you’re expected to be,” suggests Susan Kane, editor-in-chief of Parenting: School Years magazine.

2. Make sure you understand his or her definition of homework. “Typically the purpose is to practice what is already known, with the theory that time on task helps them learn,” says Frances Stott, professor of child development at the Erikson Institute. “Find out if the material is being taught in class. And if it’s something the child is having trouble with, ask if the teacher can provide extra support during class.”

If you sense your child is overloaded, request another meeting. “Ask how long she expects her assignments to take,” Kane says. “Compare that to the 10-minutes-per-grade-level guideline (how long homework should take) and how long it actually takes your child.

“Avoid being accusatory, but rather enlist the teacher as an ally. Together, develop a solution.”

Find the optimal homework time. After school works great for some kids, not so great for others. “Some children are really alert and can do homework in the morning,” Stott says. “For some children you’re asking for trouble dragging them out of bed to do homework. For some children it can be helpful to have some active playtime after school. A lot depends on your child’s temperament.”

3. Make a schedule. Once you’ve established peak performance time, put it in writing. “On Sunday night, make a schedule for the week,” Kane says. “Put big things like homework assignments and after-school activities on a calendar, so when a task is completed your child can cross it off.”

4. Seek outside help. Calling on a third party can be a huge help. Most public libraries offer on-site homework help. Many websites offer online tutoring. Then there are good old-fashioned tutors. “Tutoring comes in many forms these days: expensive learning centres, private tutors, homework helpers,” Kane says. “Which one, if any, to pick depends on your child’s temperament, learning style and needs, not to mention what you can afford.”

5. Stay positive. “You don’t want to add to the stress,” Stott says. “You want to add to the coping.”

“If you’re overly critical of your child’s work, she’ll get discouraged,” Kane says. “Remember that she’s just a kid and is learning to handle an increasingly large workload with each grade level. Focus on the effort or creativity she puts in, rather than on errors or how much time she spends on a project.”  


Ministry of Education Leaves Decision About When To Register For School In The Hands Of Parents
Ever since Junior Kindergarten became popular in Ontario, parents have lamented the fact that children are often enrolled in school at the age of 3, months before they turn four. In reality, there is absolutely no need for a child, born after the first school day in September, to enrol before the age of four.

The Ministry of Education is quite clear on this from the Education Act which states:

Compulsory attendance

21.  (1)  Unless excused under this section,

(a) every person who attains the age of six years on or before the first school day in September in any year shall attend an elementary or secondary school on every school day from the first school day in September in that year until the person attains the age of 18 years; and

(b) every person who attains the age of six years after the first school day in September in any year shall attend an elementary or secondary school on every school day from the first school day in September in the next succeeding year until the last school day in June in the year in which the person attains the age of 18 years. 2006, c. 28, s. 5 (1).

What this means is that in Ontario, a child "must" be enrolled in a public or private school recognized by the Ministry of Education as per the requirements above. The leaving age is pretty clear. The person must remain in school until the age of 18, or until he/she completes the Grade 12 diploma requirements. Therefore the only way a child can leave the Ontario Education system prior to the age of 18 is if he/she completes his/her Grade 12 diploma.

The Ministry of Education has, however, left the decision in the hands of the parents as to when the child may be registered if that child's birthday falls between the first school day in September and the end of December. Junior and Senior Kindergarten are both optional years. Parents do not have to enroll their children in school until Grade One.

This means that if your child is not going to turn four until some time after the first school day in September, you can delay enrolling in school until the following September. Very few parents exercise this right, choosing to send their child to school at the first opportunity. However, this decision should not be made lightly. Studies have shown that there is a distinct advantage to being one of the oldest children in a class as opposed to being one of the youngest. A parent who sends their December baby to school in the September prior to the child's 4th birthday is actually placing the child in a situation where for the rest of his life he will always be up to a year younger than the other children in the room. Delaying entry until the following year means that the child will always be one of the oldest.

When it comes to self-confidence, physical activity, and leadership, older is often more advantageous while in school. 


Depression Is Something That Affects Bullies as Much as Victims
The following article appeared in Teacher Magazine and was written by Beth J. Harpaz. It contains some important information about bullying and depression. It seems as if bullies are just as much affected by depression as their victims.

NEW YORK (AP) — The word "bully" may conjure up images of a 9-year-old punk shaking down a 7-year-old for lunch money. But teenagers experience bullying, too, and research shows it can be a red flag for depression and suicidal behavior.

That is true whether teens are doing the bullying or are its victims.

"If you are vulnerable and being bullied, it can be the straw that breaks the camel's back," said Madelyn S. Gold, a professor of psychiatry and public health at Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute who has studied bullying.

That does not mean bullying causes suicide, but it is an associated factor. Six teenagers were charged recently in South Haley, Massachusetts , in the case of Phoebe Prince, an Irish student who killed herself after she complained of being tormented by kids in her high school.

In another case, a teenager named Alexis Pilkington killed herself in March in West Islip , New York , and nasty comments about her were posted online even after her death. But Alexis' father told a local newspaper, Newsday, that the harassment "was not the major or even a minor factor" in the suicide.

Ann Haas, director of suicide prevention projects at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, cautioned against thinking in terms of "cause and effect" when it comes to bullying and suicide. "The key risk factor for suicide in youth is unrecognized, untreated mental disorders, particularly depression," Haas said.

A study of 2,342 high school students published in 2007 in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry showed "a clear association" among bullying, depression, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts, according to Gould, one of the authors.

Among students who said they were frequently bullied in school, nearly 30 percent reported depression, and 11 percent reported serious thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts.

Among those who frequently bullied others in school, almost 19 percent reported experiencing depression and about 8 percent reported suicidal thoughts or attempts.

In contrast, among teenagers who said they were never bullied, only 7 percent reported depression, and 3 percent reported suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts.

Overall, the study found about 9 percent of high school students said they were frequently bullied, and 13 percent said they frequently bullied others. These rates were consistent with other studies, the researchers said.

Teens are often secretive about their social lives, but bullying is "something we need to ask our kids about," Gould said.

Remind them that insulting or humiliating someone on Facebook, by text or e-mail can be just as devastating as physical confrontations or pranks.

"In the 21st century electronic age, you can be one step removed from what you're doing," Alec L. Miller, an adolescent psychologist at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York . "You're not actually saying something to someone's face. You're just writing an e-mail. That makes it a lot easier to bully and harass. We've had bullying for centuries, but this is a new phenomenon."

In addition, Miller believes that trash-talk on television, such as the critiques on "American Idol" and in-your-face insults on reality shows, has desensitized Americans to the harm words can inflict. "There's a level of mean-spiritedness" that has come to be accepted, he said.

Explain to young people that bullying, whether physical or verbal, "is serious, that it's not in fun, that some people take this very seriously and they can think of hurting themselves," Gould said.

Encourage kids to take action if they witness bullying. A simple comment like "Cut it out" or "Leave him alone" could help change the dynamic when someone is being picked on.

"Everyone needs to take responsibility for what's happening in the school," Miller said.

Yet teens may fear becoming the bully's next target if they speak out. So be sure to encourage them to tell parents, teachers or guidance counselors; if you are the one they come to, let school officials and other parents know what is going on.

What if your teen is the one being harassed?

If he or she does not seem deeply distressed by it, offer some simple coping strategies. Bullies thrive on getting a reaction from their victims, so ignoring them can be a powerful antidote, Gould advised. "Defend yourself, not by getting into a fight, but by showing that you have resilience," she said. "Find other friends, join other groups, find another social network that is not going to do that to you."

How do you know whether a teen's reaction to bullying is normal or not?

Teens often are moody, but "depression is a much more sustained kind of thing" that can last weeks, Haas said. For worried parents, an easy first step is to call the child's pediatrician, either for a checkup or a referral to a mental health provider.

Despite the popular conception that the social world of every high school in America is run by "mean girls," Gould's research found that rates of bullying behavior, both for victims and perpetrators, were about twice as high among boys as among girls.

Other gender differences: Physical bullying is more prevalent among boys and "relational" bullying — teasing, verbal harassment and social manipulation — is more common among girls. But while girls involved in bullying were far more likely to report depression, suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts than boys, boys both involved in bullying in some way or not involved are four times as likely as girls to die by suicide, Gould said.

Haas added that teens struggling with their sexual identity may be especially vulnerable to bullies.

Gould said a new study awaiting publication followed adults who reported being bullied in high school to see if it had any lasting impact.

The good news: Most adults who were bullied in high school "were not suicidal, not depressed and not at risk for suicide," she said.

"There is life after high school," Haas said, "but that can take many years for all of us to appreciate."  


Study Finds That Television Hinders a Child's Math Achievement Level
The following article contains some interesting facts about the correlation between the number of hours spent watching television and a child's academic and physical development in the early years up to the age of ten. There has been a raging battle going on about the negative impact of video games and social networking and how the time spent on the computer could be better spent elsewhere. Proponents of allowing children to use modern technology as much as they possibly desire have long stated that the practice of watching television is much worse than playing on the computer. While this study only considered the time spend watching television, it would be curious to look at the results of a similar study involving the use of computers.

Watching TV hinders kids’ math achievement, study finds  
(From The Toronto Star, May 3, 2010 edition: Written by Kristin Rushowy, Education Reporter)

TV doesn’t just turn kids into couch potatoes — it also makes them poorer math students, less interested in school and more likely to be bullied, says a long-term study on the toll of the tube on children.

“We see negative effects across the board,” said lead author Linda Pagani of the Sainte-Justine hospital research centre, Université de Montréal.

“Television exposure is a very passive activity both intellectually and physically, and what we see eight years later (at age 10) is that these kids are suffering from the effects of having developed passive habits. They have higher BMI (body mass), less preference for physical activity, they engage in physical activity less and in the classroom their teachers rate them as less persevering, less task-oriented and less autonomous.”

The study, which followed 1,134 Quebec children, looked at their viewing habits at 29 and 53 months, and then their academic and physical development by age 10. For every hour above the average for television viewing in the early years — which in the study was modest, at slightly more than one hour a day — there was a 6 per cent drop in math success, 7 per cent in classroom engagement as well as a 10 per cent increase in being victimized at school.

The preschool period is a critical time for brain development, as well as a time for learning social skills and building healthy habits for life, Pagani said. Early math skills are “intertwined with attention and early on if there’s a weak link in that chain of events, it can undermine the long-term” outcomes, she added.

Pagani attributes victimization to the “social isolation effect of watching television” or spending time at the computer — time that isn’t spent interacting with other kids. “They’re on PlayStation instead of playing with other people,” she added.

Interestingly, the study found no effect on reading by age 10, although Pagani thinks by that age kids have moved on from learning to read to “reading to learn.” “Common sense would have it that television exposure replaces time that could be spent engaging in other developmentally enriching activities and tasks which foster cognitive, behavioral and motor development,” she added.

If parents are going to allow their children to watch TV, she said they should heed the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics and ban it for children less than 2 years, and limit it to less than two hours a day after age that.

“Beyond age 2, all the way to the end of your life, you shouldn’t have more than two hours of media a day,” Pagani recommended.

The study, funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, is published in the May issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. The children in the study were part of the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development Main Exposure and data was collected from both parents and teachers.  



The following articles were written by Julie MacLean, a young mother from the Greater Sudbury Area who has a son who has attended the Children's Treatment Centre in Sudbury since the age of three. Her articles are written to inform parents about where they can turn for help and support, but the articles also give you a good idea of how difficult the challenges are for someone who is in need of support and assistance to raise a child with special needs.

I Didn’t Get the Child I Wanted

Five years ago we bought a house. The upstairs bathroom has an old-fashioned claw bathtub and the living room has a gas fireplace.  The bathtub was the selling feature for me and the fireplace was it for my husband.  It felt like we looked at every house for sale in this little town before we found this one.  Our budget was very fixed and we didn’t have a lot of choices.  This house was at the high end of our scale but we really did “just know” when we walked inside it.  We put in an offer and the rest, as they say, is history.  We now owned the house we thought was perfect.  Funny thing is now that we’ve been living here for awhile we’ve changed our minds about what we thought we wanted.

Two years after we moved into our home we got married.  We had the ceremony in a small nearby church and the backyard was where we had our reception.  We had a barbecue.  There was a tonne of food, love and laughter.  It was everything I had wanted for my wedding day.  It wasn’t what I had planned when I was a little girl but it was definitely what I wanted now that I was grown up.  Funny thing how I changed my mind about my wedding once I was actually planning it.

A little over a year after we were married we had our son.  He’s not what I wanted.  He has special needs.  He’s not permanently disabled and once he gets a little older you may not realize he ever needed additional assistance.  You may not know that he was 20 months old and not walking or talking.  You may never know that he had to wear casts for the first 7 or 8 months of his life or that we had weekly appointments at the orthopedic clinic.  You may not even realize that he has been diagnosed with a rare syndrome.  A syndrome that effected his muscles when he was younger to the point where he had difficulty turning his little head to the left or raising his arms up because his muscles were too tight and it was uncomfortable for him.  I’ll bet that after spending 10 minutes with my son you’ll notice one of two things.  You’ll either notice the colour of his eyes or you’ll notice his smile.  Doctors, nurses, family members and strangers have all commented on how happy and “engaging” my son is.  He is the happiest most easy-going kid I’ve ever met.  Don’t get me wrong, he’s a toddler and he definitely has his moments (did I mention he’s almost 2?).  We’ve had a few misunderstandings that have led to tantrums (he’s picked up an impressive little squeal from daycare) and he ALWAYS lets you know if he’s not happy about what you’re doing.  Mind you, when all is said and done, I’m amazed he can be happy at all after everything he’s been through.  I suppose when you’re his age it’s easier because he doesn’t know that what he’s been through isn’t “normal”.  I certainly know it though.

The truth of the matter is that no matter how you slice it or rationalize it or try to accept it, he’s not what I wanted.  I didn’t PLAN to have a child with special needs.  I didn’t envision the first few weeks after he was born running back and forth to the hospital because, first he was in intensive care (he wasn’t eating) and then it was off to those orthopedic clinics to get his casts re-applied.  I didn’t PLAN on having a pediatrician, an orthopedic surgeon, a pediatric urologist, a geneticist, a physiotherapist, an occupational therapist and a speech therapist all as part of my child’s life.  What I had envisioned was spending time with my family (you know, the idea I had that my maternity leave would be like a holiday) and just getting to know my little boy as we shared our time together.  I also planned to watch my child’s progress with the help of one of my many step-by-step books (you know the ones I mean) but after a couple of months I threw the books back upstairs onto a bookshelf or gave them away.  All they did was depress me. 

Your head always knows what the doctors and therapists are saying.  It knows that he should eventually walk and talk and do everything “normal” kids his age are doing.  He theoretically shouldn’t need any further assistance (at least that’s what they keep telling me).  The trouble I have is telling my heart.  Sometimes all you can see are the other children his age walking and talking and communicating in ways you only wish your child could. One of my mom’s friends commented once on how she couldn’t remember seeing “age I learned to walk” as a blank on a university application.  I just wish we could be at that stage now.  I don’t mean I want him out the door and off to university…I just want him to catch up and be “normal”.  Then there’s the other side of the coin.  You go to his appointments and you see children with much more severe issues and you can’t help but feel relief or gratefulness that your son doesn’t have to go through that. Apparently it is possible to feel blessed and cursed all at the same time.

It’s been a year and a half now and we’ve decided we’re ready to try for another child.  It’s a little scary because there is a chance that we could have another child with the same syndrome.  Of course we’ll be much more prepared this time around but I don’t really think that’s the point.  I think the point is that no matter how prepared you THINK you are, you aren’t.  I’d like to say that I’m comfortable being a mom now.  It took me a long time to get here (20 months and however many days to be exact) but I’m gaining confidence daily that I’m doing the right things to help my son grow and develop at his own pace (even if it is delayed).

Life doesn’t always go as we planned.  Love it or hate it, it’s our life.  My son has a smile that can make anyone’s day brighter.  I’m not really bragging, well maybe I am, but he IS my little boy.  I didn’t get the child I wanted but that was when I imagined having the perfect child that all pregnant women dream about.  Would I give away the joy my son brings to my heart to have a more “normal” child?  Never.  Would I trade these passed two years if it meant my son would be different from the little boy he is today?  Definitely not.

Funny how sometimes you get what you wanted even when you thought you didn’t.


I have a child with special needs.  That’s a fact.  I’ve been apologizing for various things ever since he came into my life.  I’ve been apologizing like it’s my fault when I know that it’s not.  I apologize for his behaviour sometimes, I apologize for his inability to speak properly, I apologize for the fact that he’s not toilet trained and I apologize for his lack of understanding of some concepts.  Guess what.  I’m done apologizing.

Through various discussions with my medical doctor and my counselor I have finally come to the conclusion that I can’t do it all.  Go figure.  I have to take ample amount of time off work (did I mention I’ve been working full time during all of this as well?) and I’ve been apologizing for it for years.  This year was shaping up to be a good one.  Then both my children got sick.  They’ve been sick on and off for the last few months now and I’ve literally reached the end of my rope.  I can not keep up this pace anymore.

Here’s what’s happened.  I wrote a letter to my manager at work.  I basically stated that I love my job but that I can’t keep going at this rate.  I can’t work full time and give my sons what they need.  I figured they would send me on my merry way.  Most employers would, at least that’s what I assumed.  I was surprised and touched by their response…They are willing to give me some time to sort it out.  To figure out if I need a complete change of career or if I can find the way to get through this and get back to where I was, both physically and mentally, before.  Hell, I may even have a job when I sort this stuff out.

I don’t pretend to assume that all places of work would be like this.  I don’t even recommend doing what I did unless you’re 100% sure that you are ready to make the decision to walk out the door regardless of where they stand.  It’s funny, my manager is always pushing me to tell her what *I* want.  I never really understood that before now.  I think she knew what I needed before I did.  To quote one of my all time favourite movies “Scrooged”…”Sometimes you just need to hit them in the head with a toaster to get their attention.”  Well, consider me cold cocked.

Now, let’s make one thing perfectly clear as well.  I am getting help financially.  There’s no way that my family and I could do this without it.  This is why it’s been so hard for me to make this decision.  I know that some people do it.  They quit their job and they make it work.  I wasn’t convinced that we could but things have changed.  I have my family to thank for that. 

I also need to be very clear that I’m still not thrilled with my decision.  I’ve been told that it’s not a failure, that without taking care of myself, how can I possibly take care of those around me.  There’s still a part of me that feels like a failure.  It feels like I’ve given up and I’m letting someone else take the punishment for it.  Yes, I’m referring to my workplace.  It’s not my job to worry about it, but guess what, I do care.  I’ve been working there for almost 8 years now and they’ve been very good to me.  They gave me my career (and no, I’m not being overly dramatic).  It was them that gave me a shot at this job and there’s been no looking back since.  There’s been some bumpy roads and some definite potholes, but they have helped me over every one of them.

How lucky am I?  When you look at the grand scheme of things, I’m very blessed.  My family is ultra supportive and now, I can count the company I work for in there as well.  I’m finally going to get some time to take care of myself and to be there for my two sons.  We’ve got some big things coming up in terms of surgeries and possible testing.  I can honestly say that I haven’t felt so open to taking them head on in a long time.

I’m going to get through this.  Trust me, you can too.

“If it’s not one thing it’s another”…and other favourite sayings

 I don't think anyone truly knows the impact of that statement until they have a child with special needs. I can assure you that when you have a child like mine it gives a whole new meaning to that phrase. It always seems like just when you've conquered one hurdle another one rears it's ugly head and you're faced with a new dilemma, or at least a new obstacle of sorts.

There have been many times when I've been ready to throw in the towel and just forget about it all. Forget the doctors, the therapists, the specialists and all the other people from all the other organizations who I've come to know...but then one look at my son and I know I can't do that...I find the will to go on and figure out what steps to take next. Some will credit God with this strength...some will just say I'm a “strong” person...My mother would say it's my pigheadedness and I would probably agree with her the most. You could probably throw the love I have for my son into the mix and you'd come up with a good recipe for dealing with everything we have to deal with. I guess it just really comes down to “you do what you have to do”.

“You always find a way” is another one I love to hear. The problem is that sometimes those “ways” aren't so clear...or they're so full of hardship and heartache that you aren't sure you're going in the right direction. It's those times when I'm pretty sure someone gave me the wrong map and I'm lost beyond hope. I guess “when the going gets tough...the tough get going”...and so we continue to muddle our way through and eventually we see “the light at the end of the tunnel”...

It's hard to believe but after 3 ½ years it's almost become routine. When things seem to be going right I'm usually waiting “for the other shoe to drop”. With my son it's usually safe to assume that things really are “too good to be true” because generally speaking after awhile something will always go wrong...I don't necessarily mean something serious...but...”if it isn't one thing, it's another”. “Am I right, or am I right”?

The truth of the matter is it really is normal now. I don't expect to go 6 months without having to take my son to the doctor for “one thing or another”. I've learned to almost expect it. I dont necessarily like it but it's expected. More and more I'm coming to grips with the idea that this is my life now. “Take it or leave it”, this is my life. I still wouldn't trade him for “all the tea in China”.

I never thought this would be my life. I figured I'd have a couple kids and go to team sports and cheer from the sidelines. I've decided that I can't really complain or I would go insane...”the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. I can definitely say that I don't expect different results anymore even if I am doing the same things over and over.

My second little boy is a “text-book” baby. Seriously, he makes strange, he is continuously up to no good (in a good way) and he screams like a banshee when he's upset about something. My oldest never did that. He was always entirely too easy going. I'm constantly wondering how much of that is personality and how much of that has to do with his “issues”. After having my first we hoped to have a “normal” child next. “Be careful what you wish for” is all I have to say about that. I wouldn't trade either of them but it sure is hard getting used to a “normal” baby who seems to be doing things entirely too quickly for Mommy to handle. I know kids are inherently different on a good day...but these two are “oil and water” still amazes me that they came from the same parents.

Oh well, I guess “all good things come to those who wait” and I'm assuming that at some point we might get through all the doctors, therapists, etc. Hmmmm, just thought of another...”you should never makes an -ass- out of -u- and -me-”. I guess I should just accept what life throws at me and “don't worry, be happy”...(Ok, that was a song lyric but everyone knows it ) It's still hard sometimes but we'll figure it out...eventually.

We're now waiting for three separate appointments from three new doctors/clinics. They say “two's company and three's a crowd” but in this case I guess we'll make an exception. I'm hoping that with these new opinions we might get some new insights and move things in a different direction.

Well, “all good things must come to an end” and I'm quickly running out of phrases to write into my little tirade. It's late and I'm just thinking to much to sleep. I figured if I could get some of this down on paper then maybe it would help. I figured I would “kill two birds with one stone”.

Who knows...I'm just following “the yellow brick road” and hoping it leads to Oz or home or a possible solution. Here's hoping we don't run across any crazy flying monkey's...but...if “it's not one thing, it's another”.

Are Redundant Questions Really Questions?

I come here tonight with a question (or ten).  How do you cope with the knowledge that you can't help your child?  How do you get over that feeling that you will never be able to be whatever it is that your child needs?  I don't mean to sound discouraging, although, that's just how it sounds.  I'm just curious as to how other's have done it.  How have they come to that epiphany and lived to tell the tale?

When my son was born I was given the impression that although he has a rare syndrome there should be no long lasting effects and he should progress slowly but surely.  Don't get me wrong, he has progressed but I'm beginning to wonder how far that progression will go.  Will he be able to live on his own or will we have to provide for him after we're gone.  Will he go to school and do all those things that other kids his age do.  He doesn't do them now but will he ever?  I'm afraid that he'll be that kid in class that is the last to catch on to concepts.  I'm afraid that he'll be teased and ridiculed but at the same time I wonder if he'll even realize it.  Is that the better way to be?  Can you really tease someone who honestly has no idea that he's being teased?  Can you ridicule someone who doesn't understand that concept?  I may see it and hear it but will he?

I guess what I'm trying to figure out is whether or not I should even be worrying about it.  I know all parents worry about their children.  It's natural.  I also know that you can't make someone believe what they don't believe in.  I'm talking in circles but I think you see my dilemma.

When I first started out on this journey I was worried about the little things.  Walking, talking, eating etc.  Now I find myself coming to a new beginning...School.  His first year he'll be in an environment that is welcoming and understanding but he's not going to stay there.  “The goal is integration”, or so I've been told.  What a load of crap.  You can't integrate someone into a system that isn't built for them.  It's like trying to nail a square peg into a round hole.  It just doesn't work.  Oh, you might jam it in there but it's always going to be out of place.  I know society has come a long way with making it easier for people with special needs to belong but is it really enough?  The old prejudices and stereotypes are still in existence and you can't get rid of them, at least not completely.  Unless everyone out there is touched by someone who has special needs can you really understand and accept those who aren't the same as you.  Whoa, now there's a can of worms...You can't really understand or accept those who aren't the same as you...Isn't that the pot calling the kettle black.  Everyone is afraid of things they don't understand.  It's normal and it's expected.  If everyone understood everything else it might make for a better understanding place but it sure would be boring.  Imagine if you understood the motives and the reasoning behind everything someone else did.  Where would the wonder and the amazement come from?

I'm sure there are some people who will read this and think I'm naïve and that I'm worried for no reason.  There are people out there who will read this and be absolutely astounded that I could think my child would be treated differently because he has “special needs”.  To those people I say go ahead and live in your world of sunshine and daisies...I know the reality is that my son will be treated differently.  He already is and he hasn't even started school yet...What's going to happen to him when his “special needs” are shoved in his face on a daily basis?  Maybe not by 100% of his class, maybe not even by 3% of his class.  It only takes that 1% to make life horrible.  I should know, I was teased all through school.  Generally speaking in these situations where one leads others will follow.  It's a shitty truth but it's still a truth.

That being said I'm led back to my wonder about whether or not you can really bother someone who doesn't understand that you're bothering them.  I've often wondered in the last little while if it's better to be mid-range functioning or not.  Is it better to be totally oblivious to what's going on around you or is it worse.  If you're the last one in class to catch onto something and you KNOW it, how does that affect you?  Wouldn't it be better to have no idea at all?  I honestly believe it's the latter.

The problem I'm still having is that * I * know the difference.  How do I let it just roll of my back if it's clearly not a problem for my son?  How do you just sit idly by while your son is being “attacked” and not do something about it?  I guess this is something that all parents go through...that fine line between fighting your children's battles and letting them learn to defend themselves.  Is it really compounded by his special needs or does that give him a defense that other kids don't have?  Ignorance is bliss, or so they say...Can a parent be truly ignorant of what their child is going through?  I'd really like to believe they can or that they can at least accept that their child isn't bother by it and let it go at that...

What is our role as a parent?  We teach them everything we can about life and the world around them and hope that we've given them the tools to go out and conquer that world for themselves.  That's all most parents want for their children.  They want to give them whatever they think is best and then let the children decide what to take and what to leave in order for them to make it on their own.  I guess I'm struggling with the same battle that parents have been struggling with for centuries.  Why does it feel like I'm the first?

My brain is churning with “what if's” and “maybe's”.  I know that it's completely out of my control but how do you not worry about do you let yourself believe that you have done and are doing the very best you can?  Is there a point in time when you can step back and just KNOW that “this is it”...THIS is what I hoped for all this time?

I have to believe, as a parent, that there is a time like I've described.  If you lose that hope then you've lost out on your child's potential.  We are a prisoner of our own making.  When it comes right down to it, we can't lose out on something we believe is ours for the long as we believe it was ours in the first place.

I might have it all backwards.  I'm willing to concede that I may not have a clue what I'm talking about...I'm just scared because I don't know what's going to happen and I worry for my son.  See?  It's that whole thing about being scared because I don't understand something.  It's also scary because I honestly don't know what the future holds.  None of us do but if we let ourselves become entangled in that web of unknown's then we've already lost.  We need to go forward with that glimmer of hope.  That one moment when our child does something small that he never did before.  For some it's as tiny as a head nod and for others its as momentous as, well, a head nod.  Those of you who read this and have a special needs child or work with special needs children you'll understand.  For those of you who don't, just trust me on this one...the moment doesn't have to be a graduate degree or a wedding...Hell, I'm excited because my son has started kicking his legs in his swimming class...well, he tries at least.

I suppose when I started writing this I was sort of negative and full of apprehension.  I'm still a little apprehensive but it feels different now.  I'm more afraid for myself, not my son.  That may sound negative but it's really not.  I can find ways to cope with my own worries, I can even see a shrink if I really need one...I guess I'll just have to believe that so long as he is happy and (relatively) healthy then I don't have anything else to fret about.  All answers will reveal themselves in time and so long as I can live with that knowledge and stand by that belief then I don't have anything to worry about...Yeah, sure. 

Anyone know a good shrink?

Label vs. Diagnosis (is there a difference?)

Diagnosis is defined as “the process of determining by examination the nature and circumstances of a diseased condition and the decision reached from such an examination”.  Pretty straight forward, right?  Label, on the other hand, is defined as “a word or phrase indicating that what follows belongs in a particular category or classification”.  Hmmm, do we see a similarity in those definitions?  I’m thinking that labeling and diagnosing a patient is sort of the same thing…

If you’re labeled “trendy” and then show up one day wearing black pants, white socks and black shoes (this is a fashion faux pas in my opinion by the way) do you lose your status?  Are you no longer “in the know” when it comes to fashion choices or were you simply in the middle of laundry and had no more black socks to wear?  People who are labeled tend to have more pressure on them to act or behave a certain way or they have expectations put on them to “be” that label.  Think about it…When a child is considered “gifted” do parents, teachers and other students not look at them differently?  If a child has “special needs” is it not the same thing?  Whenever I tell someone that my son doesn’t talk they all of a sudden give me that “awww, you poor Mom” look.  I take it in stride and it has long since stopped bothering me, but it’s still a change in how they look at my son.  He is now, wait for it, LABELED.

I was obsessed with the idea that my son was going to be labeled, excuse me, diagnosed as “autistic”.  He has some tendencies so we had him tested.  I was under the assumption that, should he receive that diagnosis, he would be forever pigeon holed into one place never to return.  How narrow minded is that?  Don’t get me wrong.  I do realize that there are plenty of services out there that are not available UNLESS you have a specific diagnosis (whatever that might be) but I (emphasis on the I) was obsessed with what would happen to him if he had autism.  Well, good news!  My son is not autistic.  Hmmmmmm, now what?  Well, we’ve learned that my son is not normal (news flash) in that he does not have enough characteristics of any one thing to give him a diagnosis of it.  Ok, now we’re getting somewhere, right?  Wrong.  As much as I hate them, I’ve decided that having a label for a child with special needs may not be such a bad thing. 

What I mean is that now we have no idea what to do for him.  He has a piece of this and a piece of that but he’s not a whole of anything?  I’m not saying he’s not whole, just that no one is really sure where he belongs.  What group should he be with?  He is best suited to a “special” class?  Could he make it with his peers in a “regular” classroom setting?  Should I just throw in the towel and stop trying to figure it all out?  Ok, throwing in the towel isn’t really my style, but I’m just trying to make a point.  If he had some sort of label or diagnosis that people understood and/or studied then maybe we could change what we’re doing with him and he would respond better.  For all I know there is a technique out there that would work really well for him but, unfortunately, without knowing what he’s got we’re sort of flying blind.  He’s doing well, and he’s made some HUGE leaps forward in the last few months but without really knowing what’s going on with him it’s hard to know if what we’re doing is really the best for him.

Now doesn’t THAT just open up a huge can of worms.  As a mom, we’re stressed enough about all the day to day stuff.  What’s for dinner, do we need bread, and is that runny nose going to turn into a full blown, days off work, cold?  When you add a child with special needs to the mix, stress levels can rise exponentially.  NOW, add to that having a child that has special needs, but no one can actually tell you what’s wrong with him.  We were told that our son has “the people who scratch their heads” scratching their heads.  Apparently this means that my boy is one of those unique cases out there that no one can actually put a label to.  Isn’t that “special”?  Now where did I put that proverbial towel…I’d really like to throw it somewhere!

My son currently attends two SK classes.  One is an “intensive support classroom” (I’ve made sure that no one calls it the autism class anymore – again, my own obsession with labeling) and he also attends the English CTC SK class.  I truly believe that he is in the best place(s).  When I found out the level of support that the “regular” school system offers I was astounded.  I couldn’t believe that it just dropped like that!  I have a son that doesn’t speak and you want him to receive 10 weeks of speech therapy in the entire school year?!?  I think not!  No wonder there are so many people out there fighting the school system.  Granted, special needs kids make up a small population of the whole group, but come on!  These kids benefit from having these therapies!  Should they not be entitled to having as much as they need?  Sorry, I went into a little bit of a rant there, but I’m terrified of what might happen should my son now “lose” his label.  What if the extra help he’s getting now continues to progress and he starts talking and learning more?  If he’s put into a regular classroom there’s no guarantee that he’ll keep up and we all know that teachers are in a tough spot when it comes to giving students what they need.  Then what will happen to him?  Will he just be labeled as “slow” or “hard to teach” and lose everything we’ve gained?  I know…it’s the pot calling the kettle black…I can’t have it both ways and THAT is what makes me nervous.

It’s a crazy double edged sword.  Do I want him labeled?  At this point, definitely.  Am I worried about what it’s going to mean for him and his future?  Of course I am.  I can only hope that whatever labels, sorry, diagnosis we receive in the future will work for us and not against us.  I’m less obsessed with labels then I was before.  I have learned that they aren’t always a bad thing.  I am still cautious of them though.  I think, as a parent, we all should be.


A Beautiful Message For Young Teachers
The following is an article written by Gail Tillery who teaches at North Forsyth High School in Cumming GA, where she was teacher of the year for 2009-10. Among her many roles are British literature lead teacher, literary coordinator, and mentoring coordinator. She earned National Board Certification in 2002. Tillery is also the author of a Teaching Secrets article for new high school teachers, Take Charge of Your Classroom. The messages contained in this article are appropriate for teachers of all ages.

Teaching Secrets: Hang on to the Magic

It was a Monday last spring in the middle of testing season. At the lunch time “venting” session, people were whining and complaining about the testing schedule, which was indeed an indescribable disaster. I totally understood why people were so angry and frustrated, and I didn't blame them for getting their frustrations out among friends. However, as we were leaving, one of the young teachers in the room said something that really resonated with me: “Twenty-six years and four days.”

It took us a moment to get what she was saying. What did that random time period have to do with anything? Then it hit me: She was pointing out how long it would be until she could retire. The other teachers and I kind of giggled nervously. But it got me thinking. What kind of a profession are we in where people count down the days and years to retirement? How could such an amazing young teacher become so disheartened in her fourth year of teaching?

When I thought more about these questions, I understood the reason for her despair. She would absolutely tell you that her unhappiness has nothing to do with the kids, and everything to do with the forces outside of her control. They’re the same things that drive every teacher crazy. Politicians. Testing. Merit pay. Budget cuts and teacher furloughs. Parents who don't care. Parents who care too much and hover. People in charge of our work who are clueless and don't know what they're doing. All the extraneous forces that combine to suck the life out of even the most positive teachers in the profession.

As I thought about this wonderful young woman who is like the daughter I never had. As I thought about future novice teachers who will face the same issues, I asked myself, “How can I be part of the solution? How can I help young teachers see that, despite the current insanity around our work, this job is still the most magical one there is? I offer the following to the novice teachers out there who are about to embark on their careers.

Lesson one: Acceptance. One of the best prayers ever is the Serenity Prayer, which teaches us to accept the things we cannot change. The way education is set up in this country, teachers do not control their own work. Until legislators get out of the middle of it all, we will continue to struggle with top-down decisions that aren't good for kids. We can rant and whine and cry about it all we want, but we still have to get on with the business of teaching the kids who come to us every day. (Although I firmly believe that if enough legislators had to be in a building for even one day, standardized tests would end tomorrow.) Thus, we must take a deep breath, remind ourselves to control the things we can control, and go from there.

Lesson two: Holiness. No, I don't really mean this in the religious sense. What I mean is, what we do with kids is holy and sacred because it changes lives. We provide lifelines to kids who have no one. We turn kids on to knowledge. We listen to their dramas, let them cry themselves out, help them work through their problems....I could go on and on about what millions of teachers do for millions of kids every day. The excellent teachers in the world are not in the classroom to deliver knowledge and skills alone; they are also there to provide life lessons to children whose futures will be brighter because a teacher cared for them.

I was watching M*A*S*H the other day (my favorite show, ever, forever) and thinking of all the lives that were saved by units like these in the last few wars. I was also thinking, “What must it feel like to know you saved a life?” And then I realized I've done the same thing many times in my classroom. Not literally, of course, but just as importantly. When I help a kid learn a new skill, when I help him or her try one more time instead of giving up and quitting school or making life-altering negative decisions, I am saving lives, too.

Lesson three: Don't take it personally. This lesson is especially important for high school teachers. When we pour our time, energy, and hearts into planning lessons for students, and then they grouse and complain and aren't engaged, we get our feelings hurt. Let go of that. The students' lack of interest and snarky attitudes are not about you as a person. The flip side of this, of course, is to spend the time and energy to create the most engaging lessons possible, but we have to understand that we can't reach every kid every day.

Lesson four: Understand that there are people out there who are content to be mediocre. When I first came to a public school after 12 years of teaching in a private school, I jumped in with both feet and got involved in as many leadership positions as I could. While many of my new colleagues were supportive, others were a little judgmental and critical. I went to a trusted administrator about it, and she told me, “If you step out in front, there will always be people who try to shoot you down.” Step out anyway.

Lesson five: Stay away from the Dark Side. You will learn quickly who the positive people are. Gravitate to them in your department and in your building. Stay away from the people who hate their job and are counting down the days until school ends. They will pull you down with them if you let them.

Lesson six (a corollary to lesson five): Don't let the turkeys get you down. College in the 80's was all about how many buttons you could display on your clothing or your bag. One button I still have in my classroom is a picture of an elephant who is lying on his stomach with his legs spread everywhere. He is covered in turkeys. Enough said.

Lesson seven: Be in balance. Remember that your job is not your life. Your life is your life. When you leave the building, leave everything in it: the kids you can't reach, the kids who are hurting, the Eeyorish colleagues, the insane demands, all the negative stuff. Do not burden your spirit with it. After all, it will all still be there when you come back. Work out, be quiet, worship, sleep, read, laugh. You'll be suicidal by Thanksgiving if you don't.

Lesson eight: Own your power. I have written in other places about how to take charge of your classroom. This version of owning your power is about realizing that every day of your life, you have the power to make a child's life better or worse. You will interact with hundreds, if not thousands, of children through your career, and you will not remember them all. But they will remember you and how you made them feel—whether it was good or bad. Choose your words carefully, take deep breaths, and understand the impact you can have on a child.

Teaching is an art and a science. It is hard every day and challenging every day. But every day something akin to miracles happen in teachers' rooms. Use these lessons to make your room miraculous.



If you have questions or concerns you would like me to address about education, training or career or development issues, please email them to me through the following link.

Robert Kirwan, O.C.T., B.A. (Math), M.A. (Education)
Education, Training & Career Development Consultant


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