I got an email this week from Chase’s new case manager about needing to schedule an IEP meeting before school starts again in the fall. I thought the business that needed to be taken care of had successfully been accomplished by our last meeting but it hadn’t. That get-together which was called a “matriculation meeting” only enrolled Chase at the school, there was still more to do. (By the way, that’s what that fancy M-word means to admit somebody as a student. Who knew?)
Anyway, because I was a little confused, and who wouldn’t be, I replied with a few questions. Why another meeting, what more needed to be done, and when will we have to convene after that? Professional that she is, Chase’s case manager got right back to me and explained things very well which I appreciated, but then she made one comment that worried me. She told me she’d read my February blog post about IEP meetings and was sensitive to my feelings. Of course her sensitivity didn’t trouble me, I thought that was nice. My concern was that I was so clear in my post about hating the meetings I didn’t want her to get the impression I dislike the folks who attend them. “Oh no!” my mind was shouting she read that blog post – yikes! That’s not the way you want to start off with your kid’s new case manager.
An email back wouldn’t do so I called. When Mrs. Tallant got on the phone I immediately told her yes lets meet, I’m happy to do whatever is needed, and please know that while I don’t enjoy the meetings I LOVE teachers. I come from a family of educators and have nothing but respect for the work they do. She was gracious, laughed, and then I asked how she’d even seen my post which she then explained. We got everything straightened out and I hung up hopeful we were on the right foot.
After our conversation I wanted to immediately write a long effusive blog about how much I admire and respect educators but I had an awards assembly to attend for Chase and couldn’t. The irony of course was that I got off the phone with one school to go to another and be surrounded by all the people I now want to tell how much I value them.
Waiting for the assembly to start I was thinking about the teachers that made a wonderful contribution in my life. The list is long. I would love to find them and write a note to tell them I appreciate their work even more now that I have children. I would give them huge kudos for persevering in a line of work where you are constantly asked to do more with fewer resources. I’d go on and on about appreciating how hard it must have been to work with difficult parents and say I try not to be one of those. I would tell them I pray daily for the teachers in my children’s life because I want it to be a joy for them to teach. I want them to sense God’s spirit empowering them. I think this is possible even if we don’t have the same worldview.
Before I could finish the letter in my head the assembly started and celebrating the success of the West 2011 8th graduates became my focus. The choir sang led by their very pregnant teacher who won’t get all the rest she’ll need this summer before she has to return to work in the fall. Then the advanced tech ed students got to show off the electric guitars and amps they built under the leadership of a teacher who stayed late everyday afterschool to help them. After that the student council advisor presented awards and commendations to her students coming back from medical leave early to do so. Chase’s case manager, who runs the centralized program, patiently sat through all of this with sunburned cheeks after taking her kids on a river rafting trip just the day before.
One by one a team of highly dedicated teachers made presentations to their students to acknowledge their outstanding accomplishments. Each one talking about how much they love the kids they work with thus affirming why I admire them so much. Then as if to prove the point even more, the last award given to a standing ovation by all his classmates went to Chase. I was so caught off guard I almost missed it. Luke jumped up applauding as Chase walked to the podium to accept one of three spirit awards given by Mr. Walker the principal who talked about what an inspiration Chase has been to his teachers and peers.
The kids cheered, parents cheered, and of course I got teary eyed but Chase took it all in stride because he doesn’t go to school every day trying to inspire anyone it just happens. It happens because Chase feels safe, loved, and allowed to be himself. Nobody is trying to change him. He’s appreciated for his contributions and celebrated for his successes even if they look different than the other kids.
I got choked up because yes of course I’m proud of him but it’s more than that. I was touched because I live with him, and as precious as he can be, I know he’s not always the easiest to work with. The world for the rest of us doesn’t revolve around his passions so connecting with him can be a challenge. His world is a vast constellation and he connects the dots to things in a way that most of us don’t see. His way of understanding the concept of excessive taxation being studied in U.S. History didn’t come from the textbook it came from a Garfield comic which he’s happy to tell you about over and over, and there you have it – that’s just Chase!
The flipside of that is when he knows you care about him he is the most loyal appreciative student/friend you could have. While he may struggle with the learning and connecting socially he’s enthusiastic about trying. His teachers and all of the other professionals working with him took the time to learn these things about him. They understood that great educators build great relationships and built one with a kid that isn’t like all the others which says more about them than him. They deserve spirit awards and if it had been my assembly I would have made sure they all got one.
So, to set the record straight, yes I don’t like IEP meetings but I highly value everyone sitting at the table. I know from my own life that the words and actions of teachers and how I internalized them had a powerful effect on me. Sometimes those lessons had more of an impact than anything my family could have taught me. No significant learning occurs without significant relationships and I appreciate the stretch that can take for teachers especially with some of the kids and families they have to work with. Thank you for the work you do that we don’t always see yet always benefit from. I hope this post in some small way can be your spirit award. You deserve one!