I had two IEPs this week for kids I have been trying to get into special ed. since August. It was so gratifying and relieving to be able to be part of the team that decides what kind of services they will get, because I was able to advocate for what I think will help them the most next year. But at the same time, having those IEPs also brought some other things up. The second IEP was hard, and maybe I’ll talk about it later or maybe I’ll decide I don’t want to talk about it, but the first one was the best IEP I’ve ever been to (out of 4, but still).
My student’s mom, who I see all the time, came, but his dad also came which was awesome because he usually has work and can’t come to school things. It was especially awesome because as the meeting went on, he started to share with us his own experiences. It turns out that he learns and struggles in the exact same way his son does. But when he was in school 30 years ago, his teachers used to crack his knuckles with rulers and slam books down on his head until, as he said, “it felt like I was jolted right down to Mother Earth.” His elementary school teacher said he’d never graduate from high school. He wasn’t allowed to be in any regular classes in middle school, because he had to be in special ed all day long. He got smacked and humiliated and put down over and over all through school, just because he had some memory problems and a hard time reading.
Meanwhile, all through the meeting my kiddo is sitting right between his parents. He is cheerful and participates in the meeting when it is his turn. He spends most of the meeting drawing, holding his mom’s hand, or, adorably, moving her arm so she’s hugging him. His dad rubs his head and my student watches his dad in awe when he talks.
What made this meeting the best IEP ever was really simple: everybody who was in that room loves that kid to pieces. His mom is Superwoman, and deals with five incredibly tough situations on an ongoing basis but manages to shield her 5 kids from any of that nonsense. My awesome Sp.Ed. teacher friend was running the meeting, and even the district Sp.Ed. testing people couldn’t help but love this kid. I, of course, will carry this child’s face in my heart for the rest of my life.
And his dad. His dad took time off from work to be at a meeting for his son. He went into a school to advocate for his kid, which is hard in any case. But in his case he returned to the same kind of place where he was demeaned, ignored, and hurt for years in order to make sure the same thing wasn’t going to happen to his son.
My student has some academic issues, and he may never be the kind of guy who reads long novels for fun. But he already has so much going for him, because he has this kind of family behind him.
On the way out the door, his dad turned to me and said, shaking my hand, “In case I don’t see you before the end of the year, I wanted to say thank you for everything.”
I was kind of flustered and said something uneventful. But I should have said this. Thank you, for being the kind of dad that will see his kid through anything. Thank you, for trusting me with your son’s education, even when you have no reason to trust anyone in education at all. Thank you, for letting me teach him this year.