Positioning each child in School and Life: Part 4
This last article focuses on several, additional, tips in the school placement process.
1) Almost every placement suggestion brings with it some level of risk. Although risk may be a negative factor, it doesn't automatically disqualify a suggested school. A specific school may be a perfect match except for the fact that it's located in a large city, which offers many opportunities to go to inappropriate places. Whenever possible, I avoid suggesting such schools. If the teenager is self disciplined, or because I have no other option, I'll suggest a school that's located in a large city. However, teenagers and parents must understand that despite the risk when being placed in a large city, this option may still be the best one.
2) In addition to the risk factor described above, other options for schools may have natural weaknesses built into their systems. For example, teenagers who lack self esteem should go to schools in which the Rabbeim/Teachers play the role of Rebbi/Teacher and mentor. However, if these schools have weak English curricula, the teenagers and parents may reject them. Nevertheless, the Rebbi/Teacher/Mentor advantages may be significant enough to accept most of the disadvantages that may come with them.
It's important to note that that weaknesses can frequently be found even within schools that offer several strengths. For instance, a school may have a warm staff but be far away from the family's home. The parents may believe that being far from home will not be good for their teenagers. In such cases, the parents can obviously look for an alternative, closer, school, one that also has a warm staff.
However, there are some disadvantages that are a natural result of the schools strengths. For instance, a very patient staff often means that they only accept students that require patience. A classroom filled with a dozen students requiring patience can't offer a decent educational program. In that case, the teenagers and parents must make the decision of whether to sacrifice the patience in order to have the decent education. If that's their decision, then the parents should hope that their teenagers mature very fast, before they wear out the staff and get expelled. The alternative is to send their teenagers to a school that lacks strong academics but offers large doses of patience and love. To find a school that offers both academic excellence and unlimited patience is unrealistic.
3) Parents frequently accept my attitude that they must sacrifice "A" to get "B", because they feel that it offers their teenagers a strong opportunity for success. However, sometimes after our discussion, they feel disillusioned. Each option seems to offer more risks and disadvantages than opportunities and advantages.
In these cases, I remind the parents that they shouldn't disqualify an option, no matter how bad it is, unless they've a better alternative. I'll ask them, "How bad is an option that offers a 10% chance of success? If the alternatives are less than a 10% chance, then it's pretty good". Sometimes the available options aren't promising and the parents reject them outright. However, sometimes their only choice is to embrace a poor option.
4) One of the hardest things to convey to parents is that I focus on where I want the teenager's behavior to be six months from now, while the parents focus on how their teenagers are acting at this moment. Remember that people's behaviors always lag behind their goals. We think about dieting weeks, even months, before we begin. We talk about going to college long before we apply. We also think about going "off the Derech" long before our first act of rebellion. We decide to go back to Yeshiva and change our behavior long before we go to Shul for the first time in months.
I'll often see, or in many cases the teenagers will tell me, that they "don't want to be Yeshivish", "don't believe in religion", or some other secret decision of theirs. The parents see their boys in their white shirts and the girls in their Tzinius dresses. They want me to suggest a school placement consistent with where their teenagers are now. I want to place them in a school based on a combination of their attitude and behavior.
Although it's sometimes difficult to know what teenager's are thinking, they'll often tell their true thoughts in private conversations with those that they respect. In addition, their small actions, those that often go unnoticed, are also very telling of their directions in life.
It may be true that placing them in a school with lower standards will reinforce their desire and ability to act out their negative interests. However, placing them in a school with higher standards offers the unacceptable risk of having them leave the school within weeks. Sustainability, as I mentioned previously, is a key component of any successful placement.
To highlight this point, I've been advised by Gedolim that, when necessary, I can even accelerate the process. Accelerating the process means sending a teenager to a school with a Rosh Hayeshiva, whose standards are lower than the teenager's present standards. I once discussed the case of a 13 year old, socially inept, boy who hadn't, as yet, been exposed to "the street", but also hadn't been able to succeed in any mainstream school. The only choices for that boy were those schools whose students were highly exposed. I told the parents that I could place him in a "B" level school from which he'd be asked to leave within months, or I could try a "C" level school and know that within the year he'd be going to a school with even lower (exposed) standards.
I was quite certain that by the time he was ready to go to the most "exposed" school, he would've become exposed to the same negative behaviors from which we were trying to shield him. I asked the Rosh Hayeshivah if I could place him there immediately, avoiding all of the rejection, and accelerating the process of failure and regrowth! The answer was that I could. (Keep in mind that those schools offered excellent mentoring services).
5) Although this article presented the advisability of sustainability versus growth, there's an exception to this. There are teenagers who sincerely want to try a school that's above their present academic and/or discipline level. If they appear to be sincere and realistic, I'll listen to their suggestion. I believe that people should never be told that they can't succeed at something that that they're sincerely willing to undertake.
6) Parents should also keep in mind that most schools can't offer students 100% of their daily recommended Chinuch needs. Parents still need to send their teenagers "care packages", drop in for visits, and make sure that they and their teenager's siblings call regularly. If they feel that their teenager requires more support, they should find outside mentors and Shabbos hosts (if the school permits it) and, when necessary, therapists.
7) The school staff must believe that the parents are team players. School staffs work much harder when they believe that the parents are working with them and that the student is a worthy investment of their time and efforts. Parents shouldn't send their teenagers to any school in which the parents don't get along with the staff. If parents and staff have opposite views of Chinuch the student will suffer.
8) My last thought on the school placement topic is for parents to be objective. Parents will tell me that, "our child should be at home", even when they've previously admitted to me that their home is not a healthy place for their child. Other parents will insist that "our teenager really wants to grow," even though they constantly lament that their teenager never thinks, and doesn't seem to care, about anything.
Sustainability, being a team player, creating a support group, and removing resistance are some of the points mentioned in these articles. I would like to remind the readers that although these, and all the other points in these articles focus on school placements, they apply to every transitional stage of our lives.
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