While I sometimes don’t recall specific details of recent events, I do remember the names of every single one of my teachers from first grade through high school. I admit, it’s amazing that I would still know this information over 40 years later, but there is a reason for it. From an early age, there were certain teachers who absolutely instilled within me a love for learning, especially for reading, writing, and later on, Algebra 1 and 2. Those individuals ultimately inspired me to become an educator myself, before having Brian, but after my stints in the airline and pharmaceutical industries.
I had always looked forward to going to school to learn new things and remembered not only what my best teachers taught, but how they made me feel. Of course, not every teacher was stellar and those individuals also stand out. In fact, there were some who clearly did not belong in the classroom at all and were tormented daily by bored students who would inevitably disrupt the class. Naturally, there was also everything in between. Most of us could certainly share the good, bad and ugly of our educational experiences during our time in school and how these things shaped our learning and views of the world for the better or worse. School was supposed to prepare us for the real world and provide us with skill sets that would be necessary for employment. I’ll always remember my Dad saying to make sure to select a major in college that would translate into a job after graduation. It was very practical advice and ultimately I studied special education. Little did I know way back then how very practical that decision would be later on when Brian was born…
Speaking of special education: it’s one thing to be a student of its curriculum, a student teacher, and then a special educator in the public schools for mild learning disabled students, (which I was for 5 years). It’s another thing entirely to have a severely disabled son who would ultimately require a private program for students on the autism spectrum. I am now in a foreign country and don’t speak the language. I never learned the terminology in college ( because it didn’t exist at the time). Instead of being a teacher of disabled students, I am now the mother of a special needs son. It was definitely above and beyond my ken and pay grade. The learning curve was quite steep, arduous, and relentless when it came to dealing with the school district(s). The process could be so frustrating and was meant to wear one down, with the hopes that you will give up on what your child needs. To that, I would eventually learn to say: Hell No! 😡
Sure, as a special educator I had attended many IEP meetings for my students, in fact, I had written a good portion of each IEP document, but nothing compares to actually having your own disabled child in special education. How strange it was to be sitting around of the table, listening to other professionals talk about your child, instead of the other way around. Those initial IEP meetings were difficult, heart wrenching, and often overwhelming. I realized that I had so much to learn as far as advocating for my son was concerned and the resistance from the “powers at be” was real. It would take time to figure many things out, coupled with copious doses of patience and fortitude… Is it any wonder why special needs parents often get defensive, especially when advocating for things that shouldn’t be so hard to get and that their children need and are entitled to? Argghhh!
The success or failure of IEP meetings and the educational experience in general, rested heavily on the teacher’s shoulders to advocate for their students . I recall that being true for myself and this was certainly the case for Brian’s teachers as well. Just like us, our kids have also had excellent teachers, educators who were horrible, and those in between. I can definitely count on my one hand those excellent teachers who have truly stood out in Brian’s educational experiences. They are his heroes and mine as well. I have an understanding of what it must take to teach our special kids, each one with their multiple needs, and am awe of how those wonderful teachers and their staff persevere. I know I couldn’t do what they do daily in their classrooms to ensure that our kids learn.
Conversely, there have certainly been a few awful teachers who gave up on Brian, which is the worst.. One teacher in particular was only in touch with me whenever there was a problem, despite my attempts to support her efforts so that she could help Brian learn . Finally, one day as she was relating another negative incident regarding Brian’s behavior, I interrupted her in exasperation demanding to know ONE good thing that Brian did that day at school: she really couldn’t think of one. She wasn’t getting him and even worse, she ultimately didn’t care to- it broke my heart. No wonder Brian wasn’t so thrilled to go to school that year- he also could sense that this teacher didn’t want to help him, even though he couldn’t tell me. It took Brian a while to regain his enthusiasm and desire for school and learning after that experience.
Unfortunately, many of our special children have had similar experiences, which have the potential to taint our perception of special educators in a negative way. I had to remind myself of the good teachers and staff in Brian’s educational history over the years and focus on getting Brian more of the same which ultimately happened, thank goodness, but you never forget the scars inflicted on your child or your heart when it happens. These are the things that create tough Mama and Papa Bear Advocates. A bad school year also helps one to appreciate the better school years when they do happen because of those special teachers who understand our kids and help them to learn: what priceless gifts they are!
There is one particular outstanding special educator who has made all the difference, along with her staff, resulting in Brian’s great progress this year. To say that I’m elated would be an understatement! Her role as President Of Team Brian and her ability to teach, inspire, and support her staff, students, and parents is the stuff that true legends are made of. Ms. Sam is simply an outstanding special educator and one of the kindest human beings I have ever known!
During Brian’s 16th annual IEP meeting yesterday, Sam demonstrated leadership in an engaging, professional way. She set the tone for the meeting and communicated her points clearly. Sam highlighted Brian’s progress with great pride, but also highlighted areas of need. The meeting went so well because it was fair, balanced, and celebratory. Even the case manager said it was one of the best meetings that she ever attended ! Sam is a realist and an advocate for her students; she has expectations for them and will do what it takes to ensure follow through. She is a wonderful collaborator with both her awesome classroom staff and the families. Sam’s willingness to listen to my ideas and address concerns has resulted in Brian’s progress this year. Furthermore, Brian LOVES to go to school and is happy when he gets off the bus- further confirmation that he is truly happy in school! It’s truly every parent’s wish and hope for their child.
It’s hard to believe that Brian has just 3 more years of special education left. Where did the years go? Hard to believe and even harder to contemplate that he will graduate in 2025. I don’t like to think about that part too much, as it will be a very bittersweet milestone, I’m sure. Another reminder that life goes on and things will inevitably change whether we want them to or not. No, I will not go there. Instead, I will choose to focus on the here and now and bask in my son’s school successes, made possible by a wonderful teacher and her staff. I look forward to what the next school year will bring for Brian and anticipate his continued progress. I am thankful for Team Brian and all that they do to help my son be the best that he can be. The best is yet to come!
Until next time, thanks for reading! 😊