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Friday, June 13, 2014

An Open Letter To My Son's Teachers On This, His Last Day Of Elementary School

Dear Teacher, Aide, Therapist, Learning Support Staff, Secretary, Principal, Counselor, Nurse, Janitor, and Cafeteria Worker,

For five years, you have taught my son. 

Some of you are shaking your head thinking, "I'm not a teacher..." but I'm here to tell you that yes, you are.

When I sat down six years ago at the County Intermediate Unit with a group of teachers and therapists, and representatives from the school district, I remember quite vividly that I held a pen in my right hand. I did this for two reasons. 

First, I knew there would be paperwork. 

When you have a special-needs child, there is always paperwork. Some of it you understand, some of it you need to have explained to you. A lot. But it's there, and it has to be signed and dated and initialed and passed around the table for everyone else to do the same.

But the real reason I clutched that pen was because I didn't want them to see how badly my hands were shaking.

I was terrified. They all sat there, smiling, nodding their heads enthusiastically and telling me that yes, my son was ready. Ready to mainstream in with his peers. Ready to take on public school - this boy, who only eighteen months before had a vocabulary of less than twenty-five words.

This boy who often smiled when people yelled at him or corrected his behavior, because he thought it might make them smile, too. This boy who was comfortable in his routine was going to be thrust, velcro-sneakers-first into a new building and a new routine with unfamiliar people and noise and activity all around him. And he was going to be expected to learn to read. And write. And add and subtract and divide and multiply. He was going to have to one day read books without pictures and write reports on them, tell the difference between isosceles and equilateral triangles, interact with his peers and work in groups and be part of a larger collective known as school.

I will confess to you now, that I had a very, very hard time wrapping my head around that. So I clung tight to the faith his teachers and therapists seemed to have in his educational levels, the faith the administrators seemed to have in the school and its teachers, and my unshakable faith in the power of my son to surprise me, as he always has.

And look, just look, at how that paid off.

He reads. He writes. He does math that I have to ask his sister to help him with because I'm not sure of the answer sometimes. He has friends that he jokes with in class and plays with on the playground. He sings in the chorus and paints and sculpts and runs relays in gym class. He greets all the cafeteria workers because he made a point to say hi to them on his very first day, and they've always made a point to say hi back. He converses with the secretaries and the nurse and the classroom aides, because, despite his social disability, he wants, oh how he wants to make friends. And every one of you have taught him how to do that, by being his friend and modeling that behavior.

I'd like to shout you all out by name from a giant marquis in Times Square, you who've made such a difference in his life:

Julie. Robin. Stacie. Deb. Barry. Lynne. Melissa. Craig. Megan. Anita. Caris. Sue. Arielle. Alicia. Carol....countless others whose names are all a blur, but every one of you have been such a tremendous influence. Your patience and humor and warmth and caring natures have bestowed much upon my son. I could write a thousand blogs about you, and still never give you all the recognition you deserve.

So I'll say simply, "Thank you." With everything I have inside, from the bottom of my son's heart, and mine, Thank you.

God gave me a son, but you gave him the world.

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