I’ve been a teacher for almost twelve years, and I’ve probably had close to 1000 students walk through my classroom doors. I try to impart a little wisdom about reading and writing and a lot about how to be a good person. Somewhere, somehow, I hope to have an impact on my students. However, it wasn’t until I was a parent that I realized how deeply a teacher could touch a child.
We had a rough year at pre-school last year – transitions to a new school, feeling our way though Robbie’s sensory issues, difficult teacher interactions. Over the summer, I had a hard time not pulling him out and starting over somewhere else. But, I’ve always heard you shouldn’t make any drastic changes to your hair while you’re pregnant; I figured this fell into the same category. That, and Justin talked a little sense into me, reminding me that Robbie loved his school and only had one more year there. And so, unconvinced, we plunged into this year.
There was a lot to orchestrate before school started, including making sure that Robbie was enrolled in Early Start through our school district. This would ensure that he was ready to transition to kindergarten and give him some additional services. I wasn’t sure anything would pull together – and it did take much persistence (although I’m sure the people with the school system had another word for it) and patience. But, two days before school started, we had a plan.
Justin and I went to Open House with Robbie, unsure of how we would feel about the new teachers, given some of our past experience. I was relieved to find that the teachers had experience with both Early Start and sensory kids. In fact, they didn’t seem the least bit put out over either. They simply asked that we share strategies with them and give them information on anything that the school system decided to implement. It was all I could do to not tear up – these women didn’t dread the challenge. In fact, they embraced it.
Over the past two weeks, my child has been in “time away” once. Once. Last year, he was there at least once a day. They tell me they redirect him and give him options. For example, when the teachers noticed Robbie touching his friends in line, they suggested he come give them a hug if he needed to squeeze. That’s exactly what he does, multiple times a day. On the first day of school, Robbie snuck out of the classroom to get the gum he had smuggled in his backpack. Instead of getting angry with Robbie, they kept the gum and told him he needed to come to them to ask for it. So he does, especially right before it’s time to do a quiet activity. I didn’t know this had been going on until he’d been there for a week. Robbie simply explained, “Mom, I get gum when I have to be still. It just helps me.”
My favorite option of all? Robbie’s biggest trouble time is circle time. He has to sit still and be quiet. For more than two minutes. His teachers know this and give him three choices. He can sit in the big bean bag at the back of the circle. He can actually sit on the carpet with his class mates. Or, he can sit at a table right next to the carpet and do a puzzle. Every time, he opts to sit at the table. As soon as he finishes the puzzle, Robbie quietly slides onto the carpet and sits for the duration of circle time. He just needed an extra transition, one which doesn’t distract the class or take the teacher’s time away from any other students. One that allows him to be successful.
These changes aren’t just happening in the classroom. He’s a different child at home – compliant and pleasant. He helps cook dinner and rolled two of our three trash cans out to the curb yesterday. In fact, my sweet child thanked me for doing his laundry twice on Sunday. I know Justin and I aren’t doing anything different. It can only be his teachers.
Robbie is in a place where he feels safe and successful. His teachers are setting him up to believe in himself, despite needing extra transitions or gum. They are giving my child ownership over his actions and his education, gifts I hope to instill in my own students. And to see him smiling, telling me how much he loves school. I just don’t even have words for it.
There was a lot of doubt about all the avenues we pursued over the summer to get Robbie the extra support he needs. Seeing these accommodations put into place and the impact it has had on him makes it all disappear. I don’t dread picking him up and hearing what went wrong during the day anymore; it’s a wonderful gift to hear what has gone right.