What are the consequences of your actions? What are the results? Is it valid or appropriate to use the word consequences when talking about a child’s behavior or achievement in school? I used the word. You be the judge of the results.
The IEP Meeting
I got called into the IEP (Individualized Education Program) Meeting for Pablo. He hadn’t been previously identified as Special Ed. but his performance at school had been so dismal (failing grades in all his classes) his mother was certain that he needed to be labeled Special Ed. and given drugs to improve his grades. I disagreed.
I felt sorry for Pablo. He was lazy not Special Ed.. Yet here he was being hauled over the coals by four stern females (his mom, the school guidance counselor, his mom’s lawyer and a children’s advocate his mom also brought) while his mom insisted he needed medication. I was the only male in the room other than Pablo. I was the only one who saw his side of it.
They went around the room. Each expert asking the same questions about his grades, each getting the same shrug of the shoulders and the same mumbled, “I don’t know.”
Then it was my turn to speak. I asked Pablo’s mom, “When he brought home his last progress report with all fails, what were the consequences of that?”
His mom straightened up in her chair and if she had had any feathers I’m sure she would have ruffled them. Then she huffed and puffed and emphatically declared, “There were consequences!”
I then turned to Pablo and asked, “What happened to you after bringing home this progress report with all fails?”
Pablo smiled and quietly said, “Nothing happened.” His mom gave him some serious stink eye for his honesty.
I shocked the IEP meeting.
I said, “Let’s look at this from Pablo’s perspective. What is he interested in? What are his goals? And, what are his incentives to try at school?
“From what I’ve seen: He isn’t interested in school. His current goals in life are to smoke dope and make out with his girlfriend, which he gets to do. So I repeat, what are his incentives to try at school?”
Pablo smiled again but didn’t contest my evaluation of his situation. Of course the ladies were all aghast. I didn’t want to argue the point but I ask you, is it at all unreasonable to think that a teenaged boy might prefer smoking weed and making out with his girlfriend to doing school work? I’m not saying I approve, I’m just not surprised. My advice to Pablo at the moment would be remember Ecclesiastes 3:1 ‘For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.’ By that I mean, when it’s time to learn, learn! Hold off on the partying and the making out until the appropriate time. That’s all.
How Pablo brought his grades up.
That was the last I’d heard of Pablo’s predicament until about a week after the next progress reports went out. My Principal came to me and said, “I want to ask you about Pablo’s grade in your class. Is this your handwriting on his progress report? Did he really earn a B in Algebra?”
I started to laugh, “No. He earned a fail just like the last report.” Then my boss showed me Pablo’s progress report which miraculously had all Bs. At which I said, “Isn’t it amazing how easily a handwritten F can become a B?”
Then I was told it was understandable. Pablo’s parents had threatened to kill his dog if he didn’t bring his grades up – so he brought his grades up the only way he knew how.
When you can’t fix stupid.
I never did learn much more about Pablo. He left our school shortly thereafter because he got arrested for burglary and theft. He got caught breaking into an animal rescue shelter while trying to steal a dog he could have gotten for free during daylight hours.
Epilogue: A few words about consequences.
Consequences are results. What happened after this or that action or non action. Consequences does not mean punishment. This is a fine distinction and can be difficult to understand. Who succeeds and who goes down in flames frequently depends (but not always) on how the child views themselves and the adults around them.
As a CDS school we got to see kids who had made every kind of mistake imaginable and some I’d never imagine. We saw kids who had done everything from scary stuff such as armed robbery and attempted murder, to foolish stuff such as not going to class. Those who were able to turn their lives around usually were able to see that their actions weren’t helping them. And they cared that their actions disappointed others (parents, guardians or teachers) as well as themselves. Then they would take stock of their lives, ‘Wow, what was I thinking? I’m never going to do that again,’ and they’d change according to their skills and situations.
A good example of this is in What Happened to David when Mary observes that David was more upset about letting his parents down than by getting in trouble with the police.
Epilogue: Advice to parents.
I tell my kids, “How the child views themselves and the adults around them starts early in life. Don’t wait until you have an angry teen on your hands to try to get respect or exert power over them.” I use respect for my students’ views and needs to influence my students. By influence I mean that they respect me enough to know that I have their best interest at heart and they go along with me because they don’t want to disappoint me.
Thomas Gordon Ph.D. (Teaching Children Self-Discipline, 1989) says it best,
“…a reality that many parents ignore, …is that by the time children are old enough to get out of the house and away from constant parental surveillance, their parents have lost most of the power they have relied on. …the single most important cause of severe stress and strain in families during adolescent years is that parents keep tying to use their power-based authority when in reality they no longer have any power. …The inevitable result of consistently employing power to control their kids when they are young is that parents never learn how to influence.” [Bolding by Gordon]