Q.I am a single mom and deeply concerned about my 15-year-old daughter, who I think has had emotional problems ever since she was in elementary school.
She gets belligerent and hostile whenever she feels that her public school isn't meeting her academic needs.
If she raises her hand to understand an assignment better, the teacher says, "Read the paper I gave you. The directions are there."
My daughter then becomes disengaged and says anything that comes to her mind. She has been suspended for this behavior many times and I get upsetting calls at work. They leave me feeling distraught and sad and make me think that I'm failing as a parent.
I've gone to several parent-teacher conferences, only to be told that my daughter must learn to wait, to sit in her seat and to keep quiet. And then the teachers tell me that they have 25 to 40 students in their classes or that they have never taught before or that they don't know their subject very well.
I have also taken my daughter to anger management classes and to see psychologists, and she usually passes these tests and visits with flying colors, but still she does poorly at school. Most of the time she only achieves a 1.2 grade-point average.
I am very frustrated, tired and upset. My daughter constantly says that she's hardly learning anything in school and that what she is learning won't help her in life.
She wants to succeed but I don't know where to find the help she needs.
A.You're probably confronted by two problems and one of them may be caused by inadequacies at her school.
Twenty-five to 40 children in a class is three to 18 too many. While a new or mediocre teacher can probably manage 25 students pretty well, only an experienced teacher can manage 40 at once and then only if she has the energy and interest, if she knows the subject well and if she draws up a thoughtful lesson plan every day.
The other problem concerns your daughter, but don't assume it's psychological.
Consider instead learning disabilities, which first show up in elementary school. If they're fairly serious, they reveal themselves by the second grade, and certainly by the fourth, but many learning-disabled students can hang in until the sixth grade before they hit the wall.
A learning disability has to be diagnosed and treated, however, before it can be fixed.
To find out if your daughter has one, ask the special education department of your public school system -- by phone and also in writing -- to evaluate your child, a service that is free to any public, private or parochial student as well as a home-schooled child. According to federal guidelines, this evaluation must be given within a reasonable time, which usually means 60 days.
The special ed department will set up an appointment with you to meet with an evaluator, who will ask you for a full history of your child and her learning problems. He or she will also ask the teachers for their opinions and will observe your child in class before ordering tests to assess her development, her psychological and neuropsychological growth, her intelligence, her ability in speech, language, reading and comprehension and perhaps other tests, each given by a professional who's trained to give these specialized tests.
You can receive the test results if you ask for them in advance -- and you should, because you need to review them before you meet with the evaluation team.
If any learning problems are found, this team will present you with an Individualized Education Program outlining the services your daughter will receive at school, and without cost, to correct her problems, whether they are academic, social or behavioral. You can accept or reject this document, in whole or in part. If you accept them, the services must begin immediately, but do go to every parent-teacher conference thereafter, so you can keep up with your daughter's day-to-day progress.
To understand the evaluation process better, read "Straight Talk About Psychological Testing for Kids" by Ellen Braaten and Gretchen Felopulos (Guilford, $16.95) and look online for a used copy of "Why Is My Child Having Trouble at School?" by Barbara Z. Novick and Maureen M. Arnold (Tarcher).
If your child doesn't have a learning disability, however, read "Dreamers, Discoverers & Dynamos" by Lucy Jo Palladino (Ballantine, $14.95). It will tell you about original, independent thinkers, whose minds reach out in many directions at once or who learn by doing, not listening, or who run through life at top speed. They too can learn, but in their own way.
Questions? Send them to email@example.com or to Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.