The Difference One Teacher Can Make

Second grade was a hard year for my son. I blame a number of factors for this. He’s young in his grade (with a July birthday), has an unlimited supply of energy, he’s impulsive, he tries to make people laugh (often at the inappropriate times in school), and has some major anxiety at times… in short, he can be a handful. Some teachers are really good with children (especially boys) who are like my son. Many teachers are not a good match with this kind of child. His teacher last year, fit the latter of the two. Don’t get me wrong, as a person, I liked her just fine. As a teacher, I saw her be quite successful with many students. I also saw that my son was VERY unsuccessful in her room.

stoplightWhat makes for a hard year in school?

Three words, The Stoplight System. (dun, dun, dun…)

In a nutshell, in this system, each child starts every day at “green”, then moves to yellow with a warning, orange gets a consequence, and red is a consequence paired with a call home (and a visit to the principal). This is all behavior based. The idea, is that a child can “earn” their way back up to green if they make mistakes. Unfortunately, the reality, is that most children like my son, never really earn their way back up.

This sets some children up to fail. In the case of my son, he would do something like forget to bring his folder or papers in from his backpack, and have to move to yellow right at the start of the day. For an over-active, impulsive child, the day could only go downhill from there. By mid-year, he felt like a failure. Getting more than a couple days in a row on green felt like an impossibility. He worked REALLY hard, and had a whole week on green only a handful of times – the whole year! By Spring Break, he HATED school. He never wanted to go, he was anxious about how every day would go, and how he would get in trouble that day. He felt like his teacher hated him, and he didn’t care to try on his school work. As school became more difficult for him, his negative behavior also increased at home, and pretty much every where else.  It became a downhill spiral of frustration for him, and most of the adults that had any sort of regular interaction with him!

Other Factors

We started to pursue the possibility of ADHD. I have wondered since he was a preschooler if this wasn’t the case with him. His pediatrician had us, and his teachers, fill out some questionnaires. It came back that while he has many “ADHD-like behaviors and tendencies,” his anxiety seems to overshadow and overlap those tendencies. We started counseling with him. The counselor suggested PCIT (Parent-Child Interactive Therapy). I will write another post about this another time. Long-story short, close to a year later, we are just getting to Phase 2, which is extremely frustrating! Phase 1 did not seem to make any difference. His pediatrician is again wanting to pursue ADHD as a possible reason for his impulsiveness, high energy, and difficulty focusing.

What Next?

Right before school started, I met with the Principal, who didn’t realize how much my son had been struggling the year before. We talked about my concerns for him, and she assured me that the teacher he would be having this year would be a much better fit for my son. She told me she wished I had said something last year. We talked about this year, and ways it could be better for my son. She encouraged me to connect with his new teacher before the start of the school year, so we could set up a behavior plan.

After “Meet the Teacher Night,” I did email the teacher my concerns. I told her about his anxiety, his impulsiveness, everything I thought might give her a clear picture of what she might expect. I didn’t want her to go in to the year thinking, “Oh boy, this kid is going to be tough.” Rather, I wanted to let her know I was concerned about how things might go, and wanted to create a plan on how to help him be as successful as possible. She emailed me back saying she struggled with some of the same things as a kid. Her mom had been a teacher, and she knew some strategies that might help. We have been in communication as the year has gone on through email. What a great way to stay in touch with your children’s teachers!!


First quarter just ended. My son LOVES school this year. He loves his teacher, he LOVES 3rd grade!!! Even with the more rigorous demands of 3rd grade, he is working hard, trying to be the best he can be. He’s studying his math facts at home (the one area he struggles with). He comes home wanting to show me his work!

He’s still impulsive. I helped out on some pumpkin math in his class last week. When all the children were supposed to be standing next to their pumpkins waiting for instructions, my son and his 5th grade partners were the only ones digging in to their pumpkins. I haven’t had any negative messages come home. When we had his Fall conferences, it was actually about his academics, not his behavior!! 🙂 When I asked about his behavior, she simply said, “He sometimes has a hard time sitting still, and controlling himself, but it’s not getting in the way.”

I don’t know what kind of magic this teacher is doing on him, but I love it! I know she spent the first few weeks of school focusing on building him up, and encouraging him. I’m thrilled that she has turned my little boy who loves to read, but hated school, into someone who STILL loves to read, and now LOVES school and wants to get better and better at everything he does!


5 thoughts on “The Difference One Teacher Can Make

  1. Jan Moyer says:

    I understand why some educators use the Stoplight System, but I’m not a fan, either. One size-fits-all strategies rarely fit anyone. Thanks for sharing.

    • Sarah S. says:

      I myself, have used a similar system, but with smiley, straight, and sad face for some kids I didn’t know what else to do with… I’m glad I stopped doing that about 4-5 years ago – especially now that I have seen what it did to my son! 😦

  2. I took away my whole class management system (color clips), and it has made a world of difference. I do have a hard time finding ways to help the one child who struggles with listening skills, but he is not shamed for it like he would have been last year!

    • Sarah S. says:

      Yay!!! Do you have Second Step at your school? I can’t remember if you were one that had it? There are some great tools (listening song, visuals, etc) that can help with listening skills. You can also create visuals that might help. I have some pictures on a lanyard that I hold up to remind children at times what they should be doing (child sitting criss cross, person cupping their ear for “listening ears”, arrow pointing to eyes “eyes on the teacher”, stop sign, hand being raised…). They work wonders!

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