We’ve been blessed with amazing teachers who have absolutely adored my son, in fact, we’ve been beyond lucky with our school district in general. We moved to this particular district for the amazing schools, and our teachers have been off-the-charts fabulous. But last year I started to question if my son was actually earning his grades, or just had the teacher wrapped around his cute little finger. For example, one of his projects was awful. I watched him do it and I even intervened, asking him to re-do it, because quite frankly, it deserved an F. I was shocked when he came home with an A.
So this year, my son’s teacher and I did not get along from go. I won’t give details, but lets just say I don’t believe in tossing kids candy like seals when they get an answer correct. And she couldn’t hide her disdain for my spawn. But, like all things, there were many lessons and so I highly recommend thinking it through before switching your child out of a classroom where you and they don’t necessarily have the warm and fuzzies for their teacher.
We hated our teacher this year…and it was awesome!
Why you ask? Am I crazy and cruel? Well, considering there was absolutely no abuse from this situation (and I consulted with a close friend and fellow teacher who assured me that while tough, she was an excellent teacher), I thought it was best to observe how my son did rather than swoop in and save him, as I’ve done in the past. Some life lessons are taught by experience. You can’t tell a child how to act in a situation if they haven’t gone through it. So this year, I allowed my son to walk a challenging path, and I’m thrilled to report that he has made it through with more social skills, emotional skills, and thinking skills than he had before the school year. #4 is probably the most important and valuable.
LESSON 1. Weeding Through the Words
From the very first day, she wrote pages and pages upon pages of information for the simplest task. For a child on the spectrum, it was difficult for him to weed through what was important and what was not. Even I had a hard time reading through it all and figuring out why she was a). writing so much and b). what she wanted. And so he asked. He wrote her an email and asked for clarification. Her response was the directions cut and pasted. The exact same long winded, unclear directions. This happened regularly throughout the year. He’d ask what she wanted, she would cut and paste the SAME directions. How helpful is that? And just an FYI, simplifying complex directions is written into his school plan.
But since we chose to tackle the year head on, his first lesson was to weed through the words. Use his dictionary. And re-read her pages again and again until he could do the assignment. Sometimes he got it, and sometimes he didn’t. Such is life, and something he will always face with a literal mind.
LESSON 2: Controlling Your Negative Emotions
This year he wasn’t chosen first, he wasn’t babied, and he wasn’t a favorite. So, he had to feel what it was like to not get special treatment, to be passed over, and he had to fight for his grades. This was the first year he got low test scores and low grades on his homework, and so he had to talk to the teacher about his interpretation of the answers, ask for make-up and extra credit assignments, and he had to control his temper, which we all know is not easy.
I almost caved and went to the school a few times, when his anxiety about attending her class would skyrocket before school, my defensive inner-Mama Bear on high alert and provoked, but then he was able to pull himself together and not let it ruin his day. A huge accomplishment for someone on the spectrum, or anyone in general! I kept my Mama Bear on the sidelines, watching closely.
LESSON 3: Get In The Game of Life
Let’s be brutally honest for a second, people are manipulative. We all are. And we have to learn how to navigate through other people’s manipulation. Everyone wants something, or has a desired end goal, and that’s not a bad thing, it’s natural. In an effort to help him navigate, we made it a game to try and figure out what his teacher would respond to and how he could make her like him. There are always going to be difficult people to deal with, whether it’s at school, at work, in the community, or even at home within a family. So, the lesson included figuring out how to jive with people that think differently than him. Way different.
While I know it looks like I’ve painted her as a bad person, she’s not. She’s a great teacher and a wonderful human being, just her and my son had personality conflicts. That’s okay, and that’s another life lesson. We are not all going to get along, but that doesn’t make anyone wrong. Seeing the world differently is always going to be an obstacle for him, and so we would discuss the good in her, what he learned from her, and he came home one day and told me she gave him a hug. Progress!
He has been known to hold grudges for life, so the fact that he was able to move past their differences and let them go was quite remarkable to witness.
LESSON 4: Self-Advocacy
This is the grand champion of life lessons for a teenager on the autism spectrum. When my son had enough and felt pushed to his limits, he walked out of his class and went straight to his counselor. He explained to the counselor what he felt was unjust, and they discussed how to rectify the situation. I was so proud that he was able to articulate to the counselor his entire story from day one, when the teacher and I butted heads, and he couldn’t understand the homework and she never clarifies, only cuts and pastes the same convoluted semi-directions again. He unloaded it all. The counselor then talked to both the teacher and my son together, and they worked through their issues at the time. How brave was that?
He learned that he has to stand up for himself, and he has to be the one that vocalizes what he needs. We are SO incredibly fortunate that he is able to use his voice, and he does. I know this is an absolute dream for parents with kids on the spectrum, and believe me, it is not lost on me. I’m grateful. Though the situation has never been rectified and never will be, he was able to stand up for himself and that’s a better lesson than figuring out what her directions mean.
LESSON 5: I Don’t Need To Save Him
While my son knows that both me and his father would do absolutely anything for him, he has learned that he doesn’t need me to be his safety-net nearly as often. Since he recently became a teenager, he’s showing signs of more independence and we celebrate that. While I loved having a Velcro baby for my own selfish reasons (the snuggles), of course I want him to fly away from the nest (if possible) so that he can live his life to the fullest.
And so I don’t hover. I don’t check his homework (except on the rare occasion). I don’t pester him to study for a test. I don’t volunteer in the classroom anymore and I don’t bring the teacher a Starbucks. School is his job and his responsibility. If he fails, he has to deal with that. How else could I prepare him to have a career one day? I certainly can’t show up by his side for a job interview and do the work for him, so I’m not going to now. What I’ve managed to give him is a sense of pride. He’s accomplished it all on his own, and he doesn’t need his mom to come and save him.
LESSON 6: When you Apply Yourself, You Can Rise to the Challenge
My son was convinced he was NEVER going to be able to get a good grade in this class. He was absolutely positive that he could not read a book in a weekend and then write a complete book report. No way, no how. But he did. And he completed projects, both on his own and with others. And he learned more grammar and punctuation than I have (still my weak spots). And he shocked himself, telling me he couldn’t believe that he could do it and do such a great job.
He used to want to give up when things got tough. Or he’d make up excuses of why things wouldn’t work out. Or self-sabotage. While he still struggles with laziness (what teenager doesn’t want to be a couch potato?), especially with non-preferred tasks, he at least knows that deep down if he wants to do it, and applies himself, then he can. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, but when he tries, he’s got a better chance. No amount of me squawking at him had taught that, but now he knows it is within him.
LESSON 7: He Can Do It!
This is kind of a compilation of all of the above. With his anxiety and fear issues, and knee jerk reaction to say NO to absolutely everything, he is learning that he can move passed those emotions and keep moving forward. His fear may get the best of him at times, but the more he practices getting past it and letting if flow through his mind and body, he’s able to accomplish what he desires. He’s not letting his disabilities stop him from his goals.
My son is walking taller as we see the end of the school year in the near future. He feels good about himself and what he has overcome. He gained life lessons that I couldn’t teach him by myself, or by watching a television program, or hearing a lecture. He’s walked through it and came out stronger. My peacock’s feathers are more colorful and his strut more confident. What a grand gift this teacher has given.
Note about the teacher!
Okay, so hated is a strong word, but I have a teenager and they use this term a lot. In reality, we didn’t hate her at all, just maybe frustrated and even angry at times. And now that she’ll be exiting our lives soon, there’s really no heated emotions there, or any emotions really.
I hope that by reading about what we went through this year and how it was actually a positive experience in many ways, that more parents will support their children with a slightly challenging teacher. Instead of rushing in to save your child, maybe observe and support to see if there are life lessons to be learned.
***Please don’t hesitate to step in if there is ANY abuse either verbally, emotionally, or physically! My point is about a personality conflict, and different teaching methods only. Never put your child in danger of any kind.***