This year we started middle school (and high school) and it’s a whole new ball game. I’ve been going to back to school teacher conferences for years, and I can’t remember the last time that one of them scared me. This year I was terrified.
As I drove to the middle school, my stomach was in knots. I thought that I was going to vomit. My hands were shaking. My whole body was shaking. I couldn’t put my finger on what was making me so nervous, but “nervous” didn’t quite cover it.
It could have been that I was about to meet with nine people at the same time. I haven’t sat down with that many people since Yoshi was originally tested for his educational autism diagnosis. It could have been that everything about this year is different. I was walking into the unknown again. Maybe it was because last year was so bad.
We had done middle school already. Big Brother even had these teachers when he was in sixth grade. We had come to back to school/orientation with Big Brother, got his schedule, visited his classrooms, filled his locker. This was not new. Yoshi has even been assigned Big Brother’s old locker. What are the odds?!
I’ve done back to school conferences. I’ve met with new teachers and special ed teachers, administrators and guidance counselors. This was not new. Yoshi hasn’t changed that much over the years—my spiel is pretty much the same. At this point, I feel like I could say what I need to say in my sleep.
this was intimidating
This was different. It was different from Big Brother’s start to middle school and it was different from Yoshi’s years in elementary school. As I’m writing this, I’ve found the word: this was intimidating. The halls that I had grown comfortable in with Big Brother suddenly felt threatening. My usual “meet the teacher” was a me and an entire panel of people, a lot of whom I had never met. I felt outnumbered and exposed.
We have an IEP, of course. I don’t have a problem tweaking his IEP to suit the teacher’s needs—to some extent. As long as Yoshi is getting what he needs, I’d rather it work for the teacher and for Yoshi. Making the adjustments last year did not help the situation. Yoshi did not get what he needed. Last year I couldn’t meet Mrs. Fifth Grade anywhere in the middle—not 50%, not 75%, not even 90%—to get her on board with his IEP.
This year, this meeting, I was sitting down with seven teachers. This meeting was my opportunity to find ways to make Yoshi’s IEP work—seven different times. Mrs. Fifth Grade put a chip on my shoulder and a hole in my heart. I’ve lost a lot of faith in a system that had served us well. That disenchantment prepared me to work harder, to go further than my 50%, to do whatever it takes to help Yoshi succeed. The idea of making that happen seven different ways was exhausting before we even opened our mouths.
That spiel that I could do in my sleep? I left out big important parts. Big. Important. I made mistakes. I am still making mistakes. I don’t know what I’m doing. Middle school has been a huge adjustment for me. Yoshi has taken to it very well. I’m still trying to catch up.
I need a banner waving here.
There’s GREAT NEWS!
Pretend that’s on a banner, okay?
That panel of people I sat down across from? They’re amazing. Sometimes when I think about Yoshi’s team, it makes me cry. Happy tears, grateful tears, tears that I can’t fully explain to anyone that doesn’t have a special child and has miraculously found themselves in a situation that is good.
I also want to clarify that when I’m talking about Yoshi’s team, I’m talking about all of the people that support him at school, not just the “team” that he has been assigned to as a sixth grader. Our school divides all the grades into groups and calls them teams. Obviously, his team teachers are part of his team, but it also includes his spec ed teacher, the guidance counselor, the librarian, his French teacher, the sixth grade administrator. We’re so lucky, you guys. This school is amazing.
Maybe this is God’s way of paying us back for last year. Maybe we’re just some of the most fortunate people on the planet and last year was a little bit of evening up the score. I still miss Mrs. Fourth Grade and Ms. SpecEd with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. I don’t think that Yoshi would be able to do what he is doing now without the tools the two of them gave him. But my heart is full to bursting. I have hope for my son’s success again.
Yoshi won the special education teacher lottery
These seven teachers took a system that Mrs. Fourth Grade perfected, Mrs. Fifth Grade broke, and they have made it work again. Teachers with 120 students are singling out my son every day to help him get what he needs in his individualized education program. It looks a little different (obviously) but it’s working.
If that doesn’t make you cry, well, you are probably normal. But I’m crying. My heart aches for the difference these people are making in our lives. And not just the teachers that are taking the time out of their classes to write in his notebook every day. Yoshi eats lunch with the guidance counselor every day. She eats lunch with him every day, ya’ll. He loves her. He feels safe there.
Losing Ms. SpecEd last year was a huge blow. I was terrified. It turns out that somewhere along the line, Yoshi won the special education teacher lottery because this year he has Mrs. SpecEd2.0 and she is just as wonderful. She is right there to help with anything and everything that comes up. She’s right there at 8:00 pm. She’ll spend an hour on the phone with me after school. She’s freaking fantastic. Just today I sent Yoshi a message on his watch that said “Remember Mrs. SpecEd2.0 = Ms. SpecEd” when he was upset about something. He messaged me back “Oh yeah”—immediately calm.
We needed to start over. We needed a reset. We needed to throw off the devastation left in Mrs. Fifth Grade’s wake. I knew it would be hard. I knew it would be different. I did not know it would be completely other, as if I had never done back to school before. I hoped the change would be good for Yoshi. I would never have dared to dream it could have been this good. I’m sure there will be adversity, but it’s a beautiful beginning.
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