Sunday, February 2, 2014

Mom of a Sped Student: Impossible vs. Reality


Soon it will be annual ARD time and since I teach 5th grade, for many students, it will be the first time anyone has ever asked the special needs students what they plan to do with their life upon graduation from High School. For many- having no initial idea as to why they are being called upon to a meeting of many teachers, other professionals, and their parents (as friendly and supportive as these faces may be)—I would think it could be a little intimidating. And yet… it is always my favorite part of an ARD. I love seeing the expression on their faces as they grapple with the fact that someone is asking them their plans of a future… to be prosperous… and full of possibility. It’s almost as if in that tiny moment of time- you see the student’s recognition that their life, their future-- is being validated; bursting with possibility.The part that comes next is the part I have always feared. Not as a teacher, but as a mom knowing that one day I would be asked the same question next- “What are your hopes and goals for your child’s future upon graduation?”

I believe every child needs consistent and encouraging affirmation in the hopes and dreams that are held dear- especially in those who learn differently than his/her peers… but there is also a fine line between pushing a child toward his/her goals and realistically looking at the talents and abilities a child has to see if the career goals are attainable. Notice I said fine line. I say this because often this is where I struggle as a teacher-mom. This is the part where I could put up a super-mom, super-teacher, Edu-awesome fa├žade and tell you anyone can achieve any dream and goal they place before themselves and it just takes grit, determination, and perseverance (and lots of encouragement, affirmation, and love) to achieve any goal…. But this is my own blog I am posting to, and well… I’m trying my best to be real and honest. My authentic mom-side who lives in the real world seeing the requirements of today’s needed skill sets in this 21st Century we live in sometimes doubts… and worries. Don’t misunderstand me- I DO believe all of the things mentioned above, but then the other half of my brain takes stock of all of the struggles we deal with when the curriculum is modified, much less ALL of it and at a much higher level of rigor. (I loathe that word, by the way.)

Luckily, I have had the honor and privilege of having many great examples and mentors to learn from, but one is most special because I've had the opportunity to see this young man grow, learn, develop, and dream through middle school, college, earning his degree from college, through the job hunting phase of life, to finally holding down a very lucrative job as a CAD draftsman. However-- I am still just an outsider… looking in. But this is what I saw:

A mom who relentlessly pushed (and sometimes pulled) her son through every course he ever took. Even in middle school. At the time, I taught 4th grade writing and was asked if I would tutor this young man, we will call him Perry, in preparation for the upcoming state assessment for writing when he was in the 7th grade. While it wasn't always easy, he was always giving of his time and his best and did so—because it was expected; and he knew it. I saw a mom who made it her mission to be an assistant to her son- his external memory. When he forgot about a test, a task, an assignment- she was there and study aids were created, hours devoted to preparing and studying. When he didn't know the material- she would work with him until he did. She was his greatest advocate and if anyone (teacher or not) said that Perry wouldn’t be able to do something or an accommodation couldn't be done- she was quickly there to prove otherwise; always professional, yet mama-bear fierce. I especially watched as graduation loomed and she began making preparations for college- attending meetings to find out what were allowable accommodations, looking at schedules and classes- always attending meetings with advisors-- with her son, preparing HIM for these meetings and giving him the tools to lead them, but also being the backup- always on standby. I watched as he moved into the dorms at a community college- not too far, but definitely not at home. I watched as she taught him how to live and cohabitate even with someone he didn’t otherwise know. I watched her share his honors, grades, and accomplishments throughout his college career, and I watched his graduation.When the time came- the time for the real world and a real career- I watched her set up meetings with an advisor to help prepare Perry for the hiring phase and walk him through the interviewing process. I took part in playing the part of a potential firm calling for an interview so he would have some experience dealing with that phone call- that first opportunity to make an impression to a potential employer. I watched as this mom gave her son every tool he could ever need… and many he had no clue he would ever use- in order to provide him what he needed to be successful.

I’m happy to say that Perry is a successful CAD Draftsman with a firm making his own money and being a contributing member to society. He attends many volunteer events throughout the community with his parents, attends church with his father, and is quick to give you a hug and ask you how you've been.

It makes me proud… and full of hope.

It gives me the encouragement I need as a mom to see that it will take a ton of work on my part to help prepare my child for the future, and yes- I will have to be prepared to go above and beyond what I might otherwise initially think to do, but Perry’s mom also taught me a lot about expectations. She never expected that Perry would do less or be less than any of his able-bodied peers. If they gave 100%- she pushed Perry to give 110%. At times, she was relentless. At times, I’m sure she probably seemed pushy. At times, I'm sure she was seen as unrealistic in some of her expectations for her son- but becoming anything less than what she believed he could accomplish was not an option. Perry and his mom taught me something- to dream that anything is possible, and truly believe it.   *I would like to add that Perry has two fabulous parents that have gotten him to the point where he is, but because Perry’s mom is a teacher- I have had the opportunity to see Perry’s adventure through her, but would also like to definitely give credit to Mr. Perry because he, too, is a stand-up guy!