Archive of ‘teaching’ category

Let His Best Be Enough

The irony is not lost on me. My son has special needs and I have been a special education teacher since 2000. (with a two year break in there after having Evan) I also have my certification to be a Learning Disabilities Teacher Consultant. (the learning consultant on a child study team)

I taught for 11 years before having my son (now three years old) and all of those year were spent with elementary school age children with varying degrees of need.  Whether I wanted to or not, I gained a truckload of patience that I didn’t have prior to being a teacher. I learned how to see the talents in a child, rather than focus on the deficits.  I learned how to pick my battles with oppositional students.  I discovered that a huge part of being an educator is the relationships you develop with the parents of your students. It has never been my strong point, contacting parents and having difficult conversations about their children. I tend to avoid confrontation and I have never felt confident making those difficult phone calls. Even when I know my points are valid.

But I never imagined how different I would feel when I sat down this past spring to write an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) for one of the students I teach.  I hadn’t written one since the months before I delivered Evan.  I typed up a sentence about this particular student, one that described his dependence on his teachers and one of his weaknesses.  After my fingers clicked away, entering the sentence into the system, I found myself feeling uncomfortable. I reread the sentence approximately five times.  I realized that I was trying to imagine what I would feel like if Evan had that sentence written in his IEP.  Would I appreciate the wording? Would I agree with the observation?  Is it necessary?? Here I was wearing my teacher hat, but my mama bear hat was sewn into the brim and there was no stopping her.  And this same feeling occurred with each IEP I wrote. I thought longer about each objective. I scrutinized each comment. Was I being thorough? Is the objective measurable and clear?

I also found myself feeling more guilty when I would become frustrated with one of my students. After giving the same direction numerous times, and day after day needing to give the same reminders, I found myself becoming short and visibly agitated with one of my students. This particular student is not easily ruffled and it didn’t seem to phase him one bit. Which of course led me to feel more guilt. I can remember sitting at my desk eating my lunch and thinking, “Erin, that child is doing the best he can with what he has.” and my next thought was, “God, please let Evan’s teachers realize that about him.”

“Please let him try his best, and let his best be enough for his teachers.”

20140716_123140Boom.

One of those moments where you feel like Oprah should appear in the doorway saying, there it is! Your AHA moment!

I need to listen to that little voice inside me that prayed that Evan’s best would be enough for his teachers at school.  I need to accept Evan’s best efforts as well.  Not to say that I should not have high expectations for him and help him to strive to rise to the occasion.  But when he does, when he is trying his very best to use all he has to accomplish something and it is just not working out the way it is supposed to….I need to realize that it is enough. His effort is enough. HE is enough.  The word combinations he is making today is enough. The attention span that causes him to flit from one activity to the next- it is enough. The sensitive hearing that has increased in the past month, it is enough.

I just don’t want him to lose his spark.

20140708_120454

zest for everything

Please let his teachers fuel the spark. Inspire him to try his best.

And let me do so with my students.

Let my best be enough.

Labels. Should they stick?

Bear with me, because I feel like I am going to be a little scattered when writing this.  Could be the head cold or could be that this topic has been swirling in my head for a while now.

Evan is almost three. Gulp.

IMG_8412

Where has time gone?

When he turns three, he loses early intervention therapies (and beloved therapists) and then becomes a part of the school system in our town.  As a part of the transition process, we have several meetings with the child study team where we discuss Evan, schedule new evaluations to be done, look at results, discuss how he has been doing. and make an educational plan.  The experience of being a special education teacher with my Learning Disabilities Teacher Consultant certification who now has a child with special needs is a whole different blog entry. Phew, it sure is.

But the one thing that popped up of course is that Evan has Williams Syndrome and the school district professionals had never heard of it, nor had serviced a  child with it before. I was thrilled when the school psychologist brought along his intern to our first transition meeting and you could tell she had read up on WS. She asked a lot of informed questions and shared some things she had read.  Then a few weeks ago I received an email from the school psychologist saying that they had already done a little presentation on WS for some of the teachers at the school and he hoped to educate most of the staff on WS before Evan starts school.

Great! Wow! They are really proactive, they want to learn and be prepared!

Well, that is how I felt at first and that is how I still “sort of” feel. (and believe me, I am nothing but happy with the process so far, they have been great) But I’m finding myself a little perplexed lately.  I wear my WS awareness bracelet. I am THRILLED that the drama club in my school district has chosen the Williams Syndrome Association as their community service project.  I will easily and happily discuss Williams Syndrome with any person who wants to learn.

But what about Evan?

Evan-0886

about 32 months

Evan is so much more than the term Williams Syndrome. So much more than 25-28 deleted genes out of over 20K. So much more than the starry blue eyes, low muscle tone, heart issues, hypercalcemia, lack of stranger anxiety, the constant song in his heart- that can all be attributed to WS, or not?

He is so much more than that, but….he also is who he is partly because he has WS. It is part of what makes Evan the unique individual he is.

Do you see why I said bear with me?  This is tricky.  Tricky because now he has a label. He has a label and he isn’t even three years old.  Teachers can look up WS on the internet the month before getting Evan in class, and assume that he will be overly anxious, overly friendly, and bad at math. Will they see Evan for Evan? Or will they see WS first?

I teach second grade. And I HEART my students. Big time.  I am helping to promote a local event that will support the WSA.  There is a ten minute clip that pulls excerpts from the movie Embraceable, that I find to be the most amazing way to learn about Williams Syndrome. You can find the clip HERE if you click on the Vimeo video.  The teacher I work with asked if I would consider showing it to my class to spread more awareness with them.  I was surprised at how I felt when I considered it. I faltered. I felt anxious, unsure. Would the kids understand? They LOVE Evan. When I bring him into school they follow him around like he is a celebrity.  The children in my class are all approximately seven years old. Would this make sense to them? Would they still see Evan as Evan or would this new label be what sticks? Does that matter? I don’t know….

I watch the video clip and I cry. Every time. Not because I am sad. More because it makes sense to me now. Because I see my son in those clips.  I see little bits of his possible future. I see myself in the faces of the mothers who are gazing at their child’s colossal smile. And I do not feel at all ashamed or badly.  But there is still a part of me that wonders by me pushing the label of WS out there, so boldly, so fervently- what could that mean for Evan?

I want him to have opportunities. I want him to be loved, liked, played with, looked up to, laughed with. The same things most parents want for their child. Do I want him to be the poster child for WS? I don’t know. By blogging and putting our story out there, it certainly seems I do.

This is one of those entries where I would just love to hear your thoughts on this.  I have heard from other parents who have chosen to not share the diagnosis with certain people in their lives because of different reasons.

Should we give others the benefit of the doubt and hope that they see our children as whole individuals, and not just a diagnosis?

Labels? Should they stick? What do you think?

I didn’t know..


First Day of School for Evan (27 months) September 2013

 Well….I did it. We did it. We made it through week one of Project Return to Work. The last day I taught in a classroom setting was in April of 2011.  I was 9 months pregnant and incredibly eager to meet my son and become a mother.  I can honestly say I had NO CLUE what the next two years would bring. 

None. Zip. Nada.

I didn’t know the excruciating pain of labor. 
I didn’t know the extreme joy of holding my first born child after carrying him around for ten months and five days.  
I didn’t know the turmoil that sleep deprivation can do to your emotions and your psyche. 

Saying hi from my classroom.

I didn’t know much I would need and love having my mother in law stay with us when I struggled with anxiety and insomnia in the months after giving birth. 
I didn’t know that being a mother is not necessarily an inherent skill you are born with. It takes work and experience just like any other job. 
I didn’t know that I would miss getting dressed for work in the morning and the adult conversations that go along with having a job outside of the house.
I didn’t know how guilty I would feel for missing those things.

I didn’t know how much guilt stinks. 

I didn’t know  how being a SAHM sometimes feels like high school all over again, with the mommy cliques and the comparison conversations that go on at the playground and indoor play facilities.  
I didn’t know how much richer my relationship with my mother would be through becoming a mother myself.  
I didn’t know how important it would be to make sure to have a child free conversation with Todd every day.
I didn’t know how hard it would be to leave Evan with a babysitter. We still have not “hired” someone outside of our circle of family members and friends. 
I didn’t know how exhilarating it would be to have a baby free dinner with Todd.
I didn’t know we would find out our child has a rare genetic condition.
I didn’t know how life changing a moment in a doctor’s office could be. 

Evan (1) after diagnosis

I didn’t know how hard it would be to be around my friend’s children for a while.
I didn’t know how desperately I would try to find a reason to believe the  doctor might be wrong.
I didn’t know that one day I would realize my child was going to change people’s lives. For the better.  
I didn’t know how music would bring so much joy to our child.
I didn’t know that I would end up taking an additional year off and have no regrets.
I didn’t know how I would go from wanting to work, to not wanting to work, to needing to go back to work and all the emotions that go along with it.
I didn’t know the power of online communities. 
I didn’t know I would make lifelong friends on a support board. 
I didn’t know I would wear a Williams Syndrome awareness tee shirt to the store and hope that someone would ask me about it. 
I didn’t know how the half hour after nap time would become my most favorite time with Evan.
I didn’t know how important early intervention is.
I didn’t know how much I would value Evan’s therapists.

I didn’t know how hard it would be miss some of Evan’s therapy sessions because of work.
Again, I didn’t know how much guilt can really stink.
I didn’t know how hard working moms work. 
I didn’t know how hard stay at home moms work.
I didn’t know conflicted I would feel about being both of those things. 
I didn’t know how hard it would be to give up the amount of control I have over Evan’s life.
I didn’t realize how much I value being in control.
I didn’t know how two big blue eyes could just fill up my heart and tear up my insides all at the same time.

I didn’t realize how blessed I was, and would continue to be. 


 

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Emotions, Own them, Use them.

I was given the distinct honor and pleasure of guest blogging over at Mommy Mentionables  today.  Melanie’s site is helpful to new moms, seasoned moms, and bloggers looking for tips and ways to improve their sites.  Please take a second and check her out! Tell her I sent you! 

  “Don’t feel guilty for loving the things you love about your job. Don’t feel guilty for missing him. Use up all the emotions. Own them, use them. They will steer you correctly.” – Obi Wan Jamie

Williams Syndrome
When we met IRL for the first time June 2013

So I have this friend. This AMAZING friend Jamie. We met on this fancy thing here we like to call the internet.  We met through a support board for families of individuals with Williams Syndrome. Her daughter, Norah, is about 4 months older than Evan and I just adore her. We have gotten to know each other through Facebook private messaging, text, and phone calls.  Whenever I am feeling doubtful about something, or I am worried about Evan’s development, I don’t google it, I send Jamie a message.  She is one of those people who just “get it.” And not only does she “get it,” but she also gives incredible advice that sounds like it should be coming from a woman far beyond her years.  I call her Obi Wan on the message boards because her responses to posts are always so thoughtful and…well, wise. Can’t think of a better word for them.  
Last week I was having a moment (one of many) where I was struggling with the idea of going back to work.  I messaged Jamie in a moment of panic and told her I was starting to crumble.  She got back to me and part of what she said was the nugget I opened with:  
 
  Don’t feel guilty for loving the things you love about your job. Don’t feel guilty for missing him. (my son) Use up all the emotions. Own them, use them. They will steer you correctly.

Getting in good cuddle time


I have heard over and over about how working is a part of who I am. Being a teacher is sort of part of my genetic code, as much as missing the elastin gene is part of Evan’s.  I have felt that myself at times when I missed standing up in front of a classroom.  I actually think my true love is theater, children’s theater primarily, and being a teacher is sort of a form of that.  (sometimes….) But since staying home for the extra year with Evan, I have become very comfortable in my role as mother, therapist, housekeeper, paperwork filler-outer, etc.  I like being the one who knows the most about Evan.  It feels right somehow. But we also knew as a family that I needed to go back to work for financial reasons currently and in the future.  
Hence the transition period we are currently in.   But what Jamie said felt so incredibly helpful to me.  It gives me permission to feel sad when I walk up the ramp of his school on Tuesday to my car and feel the sting of tears that I know will come.  To feel exhilarated when teaching a new skill to my students in a few weeks and knowing they are “getting it.”  To feel anxious when I think of Evan taking a nap on a mat for the first time, and wondering how he will do with the other children, will he interact? Will they be frustrated by his speech patterns? Will they love him?  Permission to feel excited to see the students I left for maternity leave as second graders who are now fifth graders.  To feel comfort in the hugs of my staff family who have gone through what I am going through before.  
I like that concept. Owning my emotions. The good, the bad, and the ugly.  Own them and use them.  Use the sensitivity I have as a mother of a child with special needs to better understand the parents of my students.  Use the sadness I feel from missing Evan eat his lunch or play on the playground to be a better mom to him when I DO have time with him. Make it count.   Love what you love and miss what you miss.  It is all part of the package of being a working parent.  Hoping I can heed my own advice in the coming months. 

The "Right" Time

A lot of emphasis is put on doing things at the “right” time. 

  • Your significant other breaks up with you and says, “It’s all in timing, maybe if we had met a few years ago…”
  •  You discuss with your  spouse about having a baby and you decide to wait a year or two after getting married, because then it will be the right time.
  •  You choose not to move out of your house because the market isn’t good, it is just not the right time.  
  •  You put off going back to school because it is just isn’t the right time, you are too busy.
  • You go to Disney World when the kids are old enough to remember the rides, because that seems like the right time to go. 
  •  Your child isn’t walking/talking/eating/sitting up/smiling yet, and you are told, he is just not ready, it isn’t his time yet.
  •  I’ll go back to work when he or she is_____(fill in age) because then it will be the right time.

Recently this last one has been swirling around in my already full head (not full of smarts, full of entirely too many thoughts).  My last few weeks have been filled with mixed emotions.  One minute I am talking a mile a minute to a fellow co worker about our class this year and feeling the excitement and jittery nerves that come with planning for the school year. The next  minute I am sitting slack jawed watching Evan as he stacks almost five blocks on his
own and reveling in his progress and how much I adore him.  Of course in that minute, I am struck with the realization that my face to face time with him will be less come September.  And sometimes that realization just feels wistful and sort of sad, but sometimes it feels overwhelming and like a brick is sitting on my chest.
 I know, yikes.
This coming from the girl who sat holding a newborn baby in July 2011 and could not possibly imagine wanting to be a stay at home mom for very long at all. Sigh…..if I could just talk some sense into that girl.
Anyway……what I am getting at is this. 

Up, up, and away!

Evan will be going to an public preschool when he turns three.  It is inclusive, meaning that he will be with students with and without special needs.  He is already eligible for the program because of his enrollment in the early intervention program.  Even if I was able to stay home another year, fast forward to the month before he goes to preschool, and I can almost guarantee I would have be having the same feelings. Fast forward two years to when he goes to kindergarten. Same feelings. Fast forward to the summer before seventh grade when he is going into the junior high school. 
Yup, you guessed it.

 Ditto.
The “right” time is sort an illusion.  A concept to help us feel like we are making the right decision. Ugh, that word right just keeps coming up.
It would be awesome if there was a test you could take to tell you it was the right time to do something.  
Kind of like in YM magazine. “Are you made for each other?” “Are you more romantic or athletic?” “Are you ready for a boyfriend?” 
Man I loved those quizzes. They even had an issue that was ALL quizzes. But I digress…..

Maybe Julia should have taken a quiz before deciding on this haircut.


The point is, there is no litmus test to tell us when the right time is for any decision, change, of life event. So for me, it is just a matter of taking a deep breath, keeping the faith, and making the leap.  And I need to keep in mind that there are MANY others who have taken this same leap and landed quite nicely on the other side. I have plenty of people holding a safety net for me when I take these leaps. Lucky gal, I am.  

About to take a leap

Stumbling a bit, but I got right back up again.


 Disclaimer: Those pictures were actually a reenactment. We were trying to reenact the opening scene of The Sound of Music where Maria spins in a circle filled with hope and glee. We were visiting the Trapp Family Lodge in Vermont. I don’t want you to think I put copyrighted material on the blog since it looks so authentic.

🙂 

Trust me, Mama

Relaxing after class (and a rainy morning)
Mama, I got this.  

That is what Evan seemed to be saying as he walked away from me this morning at his first “Meet and Play” class.  I have been calling this class, ‘Preschool Prep.’  I had to do a little mommy maneuvering and negotiating to get him into the program.  He is only able to go for three weeks but I was excited to get him into any amount I could.  It is a small group class with several teachers and therapists.  Parents leave and can watch through a two-way mirror.  They do a mini-schedule with the children- with gross motor activities, art, music, snack, etc.  I thought it would be a perfect setting to see how Evan might do this fall. 
It’s no secret, I am a teensy bit nervous about this fall.
Evan will spend part of his week in a daycare/preschool setting and a few days with my mother, while I return to work for the first time in over two years.

Believe me, I know how lucky I am.

You do not have to tell me twice. I am so lucky to have had this time at home. I am lucky to have a wonderful job to return to where the staff is like family.  I am lucky that my mother is able to help out a few times a week to offset costs and to give Evan a mix of socialization and one-on-one time.  I am lucky that I found a school for E where I am close friends with a staff member and I felt at “home” the minute I walked through the doors.
But being lucky, and being blessed- does not make me any less uneasy about those first few weeks when we will all be going through a major transition.

Mama, I got this.

Every time I look at Evan lately, he is doing something new and exciting.  Eating a meatball, walking all over without any support, opening doors himself, Identifying animals in books with no prompting, telling Zoey to “iiiii-ooooowwwwwnn” (lie down)
It seems he knows I am nervous. He knows I am worried how he will “fit in” with the other children.  How will they treat him? How will the teachers handle his need for repetition? His bouncing and rocking? His unusual diet.  He is attending school with children who are developing typically.  If there are other children with special needs enrolled, I am unaware of it. They will be sitting at a table to eat, washing hands at a sink, using a cubby for their belongings (yes I said belongings), creating art projects, doing circle time, the list goes on.

Relax, mama, I’ll be fine. 

This morning, he sat at a table and did a puzzle. He ate a snack with the other kids and didn’t run away.  He sat in a music circle (albeit in a teacher’s lap) and did not try to get away.  He carried two rubber stars across the room so someone would sing “Twinkle, Twinkle,” to him. He played with watermelon that they had for snack and did not gag or throw up. 
He only cried because others were crying. (story for another day)
My little Mr. Empathy.
I walked out of there beaming from ear to ear. I was so proud of him. 

Mama, I am going to be fine. Believe in me.

 Ok Mama?

And I will be there waiting at the end of the day to give you a big hug and a smile, I promise. 
Trust me, Mama.

Your child will be loved….

 Warning, no cute pictures in this entry. But please read, this means a lot to me. Especially if you are a mother or father of a child with special needs who is going to school in the future.

Some things slip by me. Especially post pregnancy and delivery of a certain toddler.  Things take longer to sink in, and concepts once so readily available in my brain- are now just out of reach.
So today, when all of a sudden I realized that Evan is going to be okay in school, I felt a little dim for taking so long to feel that way.
This is what happened. Try to follow this spectacular train of thought. (cough) I am a special education teacher by trade. I taught for 11 years and then took two years off to be home with Evan. I have taught elementary level almost that whole time: grades 2,3, and 4- resource room and co-teaching settings.  An old co worker/friend of mine made a comment to me that her son told her she looked beautiful and that it made her day.  That brought to mind the time that a certain student told me he liked my headband and gave me a compliment. Without thinking twice, I felt myself reminiscing and I told her it was one of the best moments in all my years of teaching. In 11 years, the memory of this little third grader telling me he liked my head band is what stuck with me.
Let’s call him C. C was a student who had to work harder than the majority of other kids his age. He was smaller in stature, could be riddled with anxiety, and struggled with different learning disabilities.  C did not enjoy participating in class and would rarely initiate conversations, but would respond when spoken to. He didn’t have a slew of friends, but he did have a few classmates who would stick up for him, help out, and be by his side on the playground and classroom. I taught him for two years in the resource room setting.  In my school district, resource room refers to a “pull-out” educational program where a child receives certain academic subject in a separate classroom at the same time his or her peers is receiving instruction in the homeroom setting. Or as we call it, the general ed setting.  I taught C math and language arts.  His anxiety could get so intense that he had to wear gloves on his hands because he would pick at the skin until he bled.  C’s voice was gravely and he often would speak very quickly and without regard to grammar rules. Often his attempts to communicate would be riddled with frustration, almost as if it annoyed him to have to answer your question or speak at all. 
I.
LOVED.
THAT.
KID.
And I still do.  He provided some unique challenges in the classroom, and some days were tougher than others. But, I loved him.  I stuck up for him in IEP meetings. I smiled wide when he would participate in social studies class and I happened to be there to witness it.  I would talk to my mom about my students and relay story after story of C’s progress.  I had the highest respect for his step mother, who would do anything for him, and did just that day after day. 
One day, I was teaching in front of my small group of 6 boys in the resource setting.  C sort of half raised his hand, and half pointed at me.  I called on him, thinking he might have had a question. He simply replied, “I like that.” Having no idea what he was talking about, I asked for him to repeat his question. He pointed again at me, and said, “That, I like that.” I then realized he was pointing more towards my head, so I absentmindedly touched my hair and felt the pink scarf I was wearing in my head.  He said, “Yea, that. I like it. You look good.”
Then a small shy smile, and that was it.
I thanked him, and he got embarrassed and I knew not to push it.  Inside I was bursting at the seams. My heart was completely full. With just eight words, he had affirmed why I teach.  C did not compliment you. He especially did not do it spontaneously. He ESPECIALLY did not do it twice, because you didn’t hear him the first time.
I remember that I shared this compliment with everyone I knew, particularly the teachers who also knew C, and had worked with him before.  They all shared in my joy. If I remember correctly, I also wrote his step mom a note because I knew she would also share in my joy. 
C is now 17 years old. I am friends with his stepmother on Facebook so I have been able to see him grow.  I’ve seen the pictures of his braces, his first horseback ride, his first FORMAL DANCE. 
C is not the only student I have felt this way about.  I have connected very deeply with other students as well.  One student I taught in third grade, and tutored for years and years after. She is going into her senior year of high school now, and I share in her accomplishments like she is a part of my family. 
My child will be loved
Your child will be loved. 
How do I know this?
Because for eleven years, before I gave birth to a child who has special needs, I taught and loved my students. My students with special needs. My students who struggled harder than the majority. My students who had trouble making friends. My students who fought me tooth and nail to write a sentence. My students who threw books on the floor, and spit on the desk in anger. My students who wrote me secret notes, telling me that they didn’t like school, but they loved my class. My students who would poke holes in their pants out of a need to release their anxiety. 
My student who told me he liked my headband. 
I had days where I felt like I couldn’t do it again the next day. But I loved those kids. And I still do. Enough to go back to work in the fall.
And guess what, there are PLENTY of teachers like me. Plenty. I’m not claiming every teacher is perfect, and believe me, I had had some B.A.D. days. But overall, teachers care about your kids.
Our kids.
A lot.

My child will be loved.

Your child will be loved.