Mr. Sensitive’s school so far is meh. That is, the sum total of good + bad things = meh. He’s been in school for 8 months.
When he was in preschool I thought he was gifted. At the age of 20 months he could say over 2,000 words. He knew what most of them meant. (I’m not going to explain ‘d@mmit or sh*t’ to him.) Now I’m not so sure he’s even ‘average.’
When he started Kindergarten in September he’d come home and line up his toy cars and say “You poo-poo head!” and “You stupid head!” and “You’re not coming to my birthday party!” It broke my heart so see the battle scars of invisible wars. The words and the behaviour were all new – it was his way of processing the social chaos of Kindergarten. Eventually he was invited to a birthday party and I was thrilled to see him playing with other boys. As time went on he’d proudly introduce children in the community to me as so-and-so from my class. Now he talks about the games he plays – cops and robbers, Batman and Robin, hide and seek, and tag. I am happy for him.
Parent interview time? Bad. I need to say that I am a Special Education teacher and have held my share of interviews. I always give some concrete information to the parent, like reading levels, test scores, latest assignment grades, etc… The Kindergarten teacher told me how ‘cute’ Mr. Sensitive is. I was the one asking pointed questions about letter recognition, his happiness, and his activity level. Then the teaching assistant told me that if I don’t start reading to Mr. Sensitive every night and following their home reading program, Mr. Sensitive will be sitting at the Junior Kindergarten table again next year, instead of moving on with the Seniors – and how would it feel to be left behind?
I was speechless with shock.
This was wrong on so many levels. Legally, the teaching assistant is not in a position to discuss my son’s academic achievement. The teacher should have been telling me this. Realistically, the neither of them has crystal ball and cannot tell what the future will bring. Genetically, my sister has dyslexia and could not read until she was in grade 6. Learning disabilities are highly heritable. Also, boys with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy often have learning and/or behaviour problems due to a lack of dystrophin in their brains. I already told them this. I already told them that Mr. Sensitive is struggling with letter recognition.
I have been worried about Mr. Sensitive’s lack of letter recognition for nearly two years now – and am working with an occupational therapist for visual integration disorder. Mr. Sensitive does not see the letters. He has been recognizing environmental print (like restaurant signs) since he was 18 months old. But he does not see individual letters or remember their names. Jolly Phonics, flash cards, writing in sand or flour, making letters out of play doh – been there done that. I might have better luck teaching him to read Arabic (which I don’t read).
The problem with teaching Mr. Sensitive letters is it is pretty boring. Look, say, repeat. His home reading program books are equally boring. There is the grass. There is a barn. There is a horse.
Mr. Sensitive is a smart boy – he likes to learn about volcanoes (and learned the letter ‘V’ because of it), chemicals (their states and reactions), molecules and planets. He is concerned about polar bears and melting icecaps. He picks up litter and puts it in the right place, while talking about litterbugs. He loves pirates, dragons, knights, and princesses. He knows that reading and seeing letters are more things he can’t do. So he avoids them.
He is an avid reader who can’t read. Story time is magic time in our home – he loves Lewis Caroll’s ‘The Jabberwocky’ and other funny poems. We read ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ this winter. Mr. Sensitive listens to song lyrics and tries to understand them. (Another One Bites the Dust? You Can’t Always Get What You Want?)
We have to closely monitor his exposure to news coverage – Egypt? Elections? Japan? Rafferty trial? How can we explain this to an anxious four year-old? Some things are too terrible for me to process, never mind Mr. Sensitive. (Regarding the elections – we told him people were voting to decide who would be in charge, and Mr. Sensitive announced that he wants to be in charge. I second that;)
Luckily Mr. Sensitive was not at that parent-teacher interview. How can I explain the teaching assistant’s comment about being ‘left behind’? He’s already anxious enough – how can I explain someone’s cruelty to him? Would he line up his cars again, saying, “You stupid head, you’re left behind!”?
The teaching assistant also knows I am a Special Education teacher – and I’ve been working with people who are ‘left behind’ for nearly 15 years. Her one throw away remark brought up a slew of memories of vicarious trauma – girls crying inconsolably because someone called them ‘dumb’; parents crying because of their child’s challenges; boys getting into fights to avoid going to English class where they would look dumb; a tall athletic young man bent over my crudely cut out shapes that represented ‘money’ moving them around trying to ‘make change;’ the kid who sighed, “I’m just a level 2” and believed it; the list goes on. My own sister broke her hand in a fight over ‘dumb.’ I have spent 15 years trying to show people they are not ‘dumb’ and to believe in themselves.
As a Secondary (High School) Special Education teacher I used to read the Kindergarten report cards for my students and believe that if we could get back to this level of innocence, and see the student the way a Kindergarten teacher did, I would see the real person, not the person who believed bad things about themselves and made bad mistakes. That student on auto theft charges? His Kindergarten teacher said, “He was an affectionate and active child”. Yes, he had ADHD. Yes, he made a dumb mistake. But he was actually a warm and friendly student, with a great sense of humour. Because I saw that in him, he did well in my class (yes, he was a bit of a goofball). He completed his assignments and earned his credit towards his high school diploma. No one is left behind in my classes. Ever.
It kills me that Mr. Sensitive is in a classroom where the teacher or teaching assistant might think he is ‘dumb’ and will be ‘left behind.’ I have been fighting this battle for other people for years – and now I’m fighting it for my son.