In Gratitude for Great Teachers
The envelope arrived today.
The one addressed “To the parents of…”
I had been dreading this ever since spring, when SquidBoy underwent the first of what will become an annual ritual for him: our state’s high-stakes standardized testing.
I have mixed feelings about standardized testing for our son. Even with accommodations, it seems it is somewhat unfair to compare the performance of an autistic child (even one with no intellectual disability) on a test with that of his typically developing peers.
In addition to his language processing and sensory differences, SquidBoy has always been on a different trajectory from his peers in terms of acquiring some skills—what one kid learns slowly over the course of, say, three months, SquidBoy will seem to suddenly “get” in one day, albeit six months later than many other kids. This, of course, has an impact on how his understanding and knowledge can be measured.
On the other hand, I think it’s important for kids like SquidBoy to participate in assessments because they can provide some—albeit limited—feedback on how well the we (his parents, teachers and IEP team) are serving him compared with other kids both in the school and the state as a whole. While I don’t expect SquidBoy to “perform” (I hate that term) at the same level as the majority of his peers, if there’s a huge gap between where he is and where they are, that’s a signal that something isn’t working.
I opened the envelope with hands that trembled ever so slightly, took a deep breath, and…
There he was, right smack dab in the middle of the “proficient” pack for both language arts and math.
I don’t think it’s any reflection on SquidBoy if I say that I am totally surprised.
He had a tough year: the part-time aide that he had shared—and adored—the previous year left, and he came into this last school year with confidence shaken in part by a less-than-stellar fit between him and his previous teacher. His speech therapist, who had been a great champion and influence on him, retired. The greater academic demands of second grade were matched by some social challenges that arose in part because of playground issues between SquidBoy, his best friend (a great kid with his own challenges) and a few other “typical” boys he plays with.
His teacher turned out to be a godsend. Not only was she a good “fit”—firm, yet kind and soft-spoken—she cared. Not just about his “performance” or behavior, but about his emotional well-being. She was willing to try any accommodation we thought might help him succeed. She expected a lot from him, but understood his challenges well enough to cut him some slack when slack was sorely needed. She was instrumental in helping get the full-time aide that’s been a great support for him in class.
So I write this in wonder and awe at SquidBoy’s hard work and ability to overcome his challenges, and gratitude to his wonderful teacher, therapists and aides who work tirelessly to help this sweet little boy fulfill his potential.