What my son's teacher did for him (and why we need more like her)

Edgie, my soon-to-be four-year-old, talked excitedly all the way home today about his last day of preschool. They had ice cream treats, did parachute activities, and played a game called "Doggie, doggie, where's your bone?".

"And Mommy, I got a turn!" He exclaimed as we pulled onto our street.

"Wow, that's great," I smiled into the rear view mirror. "Games are more fun when everyone gets a turn."

Isn't that the way life goes? Activities are more exciting when you actually get picked to be a part of them. It's more fun to be on a team when you actually get off the bench to play. It's more fulfilling when your teammates actually pass you the ball.

It's nice to be in the spotlight sometimes.

Slim, my eleven-year-old, almost never gets to be in the spotlight. He doesn't play sports; and if he tries, no one will pass to him or pick him for their team.

For a kid who has personality plus, who knows so much, who feels so much, but who is known to screw up a lot, no one ever gives him a chance. He has never had even a small speaking part in the school musicals, and at school masses he gets the easy reading. He never gets picked to do or be anything.

Slim has definitely had some teachers who have been more willing to see his unique qualities than others. From the kindergarten teacher who treated him with kid gloves because his brother was dying of cancer to the teacher who looked me in the eye and said. "I believe all children are gifts, and I would never make them try to fit any kind of a mold," they understood and cared for him. Still other teachers didn't understand his quirkiness, and he ended up feeling like "the teacher hates me." 

To hear that, is to break a mom's heart.

Since both his ADHD and autism diagnoses, there have been teachers willing to work with both him and us to make him more successful in the classroom; while others wouldn't let go of things such as putting a proper heading on a paper - which he was never going to do - thus setting him up for failure.

Every year the stakes get higher, as does my anxiety about keeping him in his private school. I was really nervous at the beginning of fifth grade. It turns out, he had a wonderful teacher who not only has a master's degree in special education, but a sweet, gentle, loving heart. She looked for opportunities to help him feel no different than the other students.  I just might cry tomorrow as he receives his pass onto sixth grade.

The thing is, the entire fifth grade team was amazing. They understood how to make accommodations for him using his Individualized Education Plan, and they embraced his idiosyncrasies. Rather than always writing how many times he interrupted class on his behavior chart, his social studies teacher would write things like, "Wow, Slim was really excited about the Civil War today!"

I understood what that meant. But the thing is, so did she. Yes, he was interrupting class; but he was interrupting class to add more to the discussion.

You see, he loves history and geography. And true to his high-functioning autistic characteristics, he is obsessed about the details. He reads non-fiction and looks up facts on the computer and memorizes every detail down to dates and names and obscure trivia that others would neither know nor care about.

And this delighted her all year long.

So much so that she promised him he could teach class the last week of school. And not only his class, but the two other social studies classes, too.

When I heard this (of course from a third party source and not Slim himself - boys!), my stomach actually flopped a little in a delight turned to dread kind of dance. OMG, does she know what she's doing? He will ruin class. He will be silly and babble on and the kids will laugh at him and it will be a total joke. 

But then I saw her in the hallway, "Did Slim tell you he is teaching class on Thursday? He's going to do great. We're all excited."

She had faith in him. She didn't even seem concerned that the class would be out of control.

So I helped him prepare a lesson. I talked to him about teaching. We made a plan that included evaluating the class.

And we got cookies. Everything is better with cookies.

I was at school that day volunteering in another grade, but I resisted the urge to be nosy. As the students were walking out at the end of the day, many of Slim's classmates ran up to me and said, "Mrs. Glow, Slim was a great teacher! We want him to teach us again!" The teacher was smiling, "He really did a great job." I stood there fighting back tears as she told me how they evaluated the success of the first lesson and changed some parts around for the other classes.

She never stopped teaching him. This wasn't just a way for her to have a break all afternoon. She saw his potential and she nurtured it. She said to me, "And when he becomes a social studies teacher, he can come and student teach with me."

That's pretty special.

But unfortunately, it doesn't happen enough. Teaching is a very difficult profession. Loving kids is not enough to be a success in the front of a classroom. Because unfortunately, not every child is so obviously lovable.

Having loved school in your youth is not enough to make all of your students love school.

As a teacher, you have to reach deep down to make every day interesting, to make every kid feel special. Sometimes you don't have to reach far. Sometimes it seems easier than it really is, and sometimes it feels darn near impossible.

But, the good teachers, no the GREAT EDUCATORS know that it is possible. They know that every student has potential and worth, and they never stop looking for it no matter how hard and messy and sad and frustrating it might be.

We don't have enough teachers like that, and I wonder if it's because we don't value what they do enough. So much more than "playing school," teaching is nurturing children - YOUR children. We should let teachers know what they are doing right. We should decide what is important and focus on that. We should work together for the best interests of our children. We should give administrators valuable and useful feedback on their teaching staff.

via teacherspayteachers.com

Next year is a new year. A new, scary pre-junior high year. The stakes are so much higher. Slim will have all three teachers for an equal amount of time. My anxiety is a little lower though because of the three amazing fifth grade teachers he had this year. They have laid the groundwork. They have helped him show how special and valuable he really is.

Wouldn't it be great if every kid had that?

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