I sat down to write this piece thinking that I would jot a few thoughts down. One thought came, then another, and another, and another. It’s a bit long — most of my blogs will not be this long —but hopefully it conveys a deeper message.
He stares stone-faced, straight ahead, head down. You just want to hug him. He’s a man-child, taller than you, but still so young and new to the world. You wanted to protect him from this mess. You never wanted your son to have to suffer through this type of an experience.
The school called its annual meeting to help prepare your son’s Individualized Education Program, which is the legal document that will determine the services the school will provide, the tools that will be used in the classroom this year to help him reach his goals, and the ways his progress will be measured. The IEP is everything to the teacher. It’s the teacher’s bible—so if your son needs anything, you must speak up now.
The meeting should be positive. It should be a celebration of what your son can do, the strides he’s made since first being diagnosed with Dyslexia, but the meeting—like so many others in the past—becomes an exercise in everything that he supposedly lacks as a student and as a person.
You look intently into the face of each teacher present in the room. You want to ask them:
- How would you like a large room full of teachers and administrators to discuss your every fault, your every flaw?
- How would you like us to discuss openly, brazenly, without feeling, ways you need to improve in your job?
Would you like it? Heck this is great, let’s bring in a group of your students and have them review your performance! Right now, in front of everyone. What do you think? How do you think that would go over?
You know that this meeting is necessary. And fortunately, you do feel that his teachers have his best interests at heart. You feel lucky. He seems to have a learning support teacher who gets it and will work with him. This hasn’t always been the case. While you hate the idea of this meeting, you also know that your son needs to hear where he’s strong and where he needs help. But you still want to stop the meeting. You want to stop it before it even gets going and show everyone what they’re missing.
You want to shout to them: Do you know how far my son has come? Do you know about all of his accomplishments? Do you know how hard he’s worked? The same boy that struggled to read not so long ago now reads at a college level. The boy is now taking two AP classes: AP History and AP Psychology. Two of them! And he’s taking Physics and he’s in the Advanced Math class. Yes, his writing can fall back on some old habits; at times it lacks the complexity that you’d like to see in a junior, but I dare you to ask him to tell you what he’s learned in your class. You’d be amazed by the detail, by the fine points he’s picked up.
You have kids running through the hall with lifeless looks on their faces; kids who could care less about college or making something of their lives—and this boy is making plans. He’s going places. He wants to go to college. He’s trying for an NROTC scholarship. He wants to serve as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. His goal in life is to serve his country and to lead other men. This boy with so much against him has come so far.
You want to tell the school administrators and teachers present in the room about the outside tutor who gave so freely of her own time and worked with your son week-in and week-out for several years and helped break Dyslexia’s hold on him. You want to thank her again and again, but every time you see her now, the words just don’t come. They lack the power, they lack the fullness that you want them to have. You get emotional just thinking about it. Your words can never go far enough in explaining how thankful you are to her.
As you stare at the stone-faced assistant principal sitting next to you, you want to grab him and shake him until he sees how far your son has come—and how far he still wants to go. You don’t want the teachers present to give your son an easy A. You want them to challenge him. He’s got high goals. He needs high expectations. But you want them to work, too. Is it too much to ask them to print out their notes in advance for your son? He’s putting in so much extra effort; is it so much to ask for extra effort from you, too?
Do they even realize that your son is an auditory learner, that he’ll be able to repeat back verbatim to you later that night everything that they talked about in class? Do they realize how far they as a team, teacher and student, they could go together if they just gave it a chance? If they just believed in your son like you do. You’ve had gold-star teachers who believed in your son in the past—teachers you’ll never forget; teachers you owe everything to. How do you inspire the teachers in this room to become the gold-star teachers your son needs now?
You bring your attention back to the meeting. You chime in where you think one teacher has been too difficult or has not given your son a fighting chance. You sing the praises of another teacher when you see that she gets your son and is already starting to speak his language. You look again at your son suffering in front of you. You try to lighten the mood in the room, noting areas where your son has made improvement and other areas where he’s a leader in the classroom. You know the year is going to be a ton of work for both of you.
But mostly, you can’t help but think about the discipline it must take to be in your son’s seat. It takes a lot to hear others point out your every weakness in detail in front of you. He listens intently to the criticism. He doesn’t bend. He doesn’t act-out; nary a bad word comes from his mouth. Instead, he listens quietly. He takes it all in with a quiet professionalism. He’s got a discipline that you wished you had yourself.
And you think to yourself: He’s had to sit through at least one of these meetings every year for the past ten years. Every one of the meetings has been the same; every one of them has been different. The best ones have been a celebration of who he is and all the hard work he has put into his education; the worst have been a litany of his imperfections and how he doesn’t measure up to the rest of the class.
You’re amazed that your son has been able to take this “beating.” You think more about that phrase, about that word. You admit that it’s not really a beating, but it’s how you feel, like you’ve just gone toe-to-toe with the biggest bully on the block. You shake your head. You know that his teachers mean well. They work long days. They’re trying to reach every kid. At the same time, you just wish that they would see your son the same way that you do.
Finally, the meeting is over; it’s come to close. You stand up to shake hands with everyone in the room. You’re grateful for everyone’s concern and you managed to get some changes put into the plan that will help your son. But you’re also frustrated for a million different reasons. Mostly though, you’re just glad the proceeding is over. You’re exhausted. You’re exhausted and you weren’t even the subject of the meeting.
Your son has had enough, too. He gets up from his seat and rushes to the door. He raises his hand to say goodbye to everyone. He can’t get out of the room quick enough. He says that he has to leave for cross country practice. He doesn’t want to be late. You hope he has a good practice, one where he has the chance to run along the secluded, wooded trail by your home and can scream at the top of his lungs. You know that’s what you would do if you had the chance.
You try to stop your son. You want to catch up to him to check on him, but he’s gone before you have a chance to hug him or tell him how you feel. Instead, you grab your things and say quietly to yourself: I’m proud of you, so very proud of you.
I think every special Ed teacher should be handed this at the beginning of every school year.
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Thank you. Took my thoughts and put them into words.
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I have so much respect for teachers. They have such a tough job. I just wanted to point out the positives that Sean has worked so hard to accomplish. Thanks for reading.
I am as always in awe of your ability to just sum things up . Sean has been through so much in these past sixteen years.. Thanks for helping to recognize his feelings.
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