By Lori Michelle
(I’m an award-losing author…and here is yet another edition. In the attempt to get my writing “out there” I enter contests from time to time, and this is my latest award-losing entry. But having my own blog means I have my own little forum for growing in my writing. Hope you enjoy reading about how God taught me about being a REAL teacher. If you would be so kind as to comment, or ask questions, I’d be so grateful. Thanks.)
Two months after I graduated college with my BS in Elementary Education, I got my first job. I became a professional educator, as in I was finally getting paid to do the job for which I received my formal education.
But I didn’t become a teacher until years later.
And my guru in the art of learning would be my own son.
Warren* was a feisty, friendly, full-of-life five-year-old the year we enrolled him in kindergarten. When I dropped him off at school in the morning, I would watch my little toe headed boy with his yellow jacket and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle backpack bound into the school building without looking back.
After a few weeks, he began to change. His exuberance and excitement about school diminished. He was overstimulated when came home from school. He was grumpy and overactive and even sometimes violent towards his little sisters. I noted the change, but felt it was simply an adjustment to school.
A few months went by and suddenly I began getting phone calls from the teacher concerning his behavior. Warren had hit a student over the head with his lunchbox. Warren had pulled down a girl’s pants in the lunch line. Warren had spent yet another afternoon in the “time out” corner.
I began to wonder to myself, “There must be a pattern here. There must be a reason.” So I began marking on the calendar every time I got a call from the teacher or principal.
At the parent-teacher conference, I brought my calendar with me.
The teacher began to show me evidence outlying her concerns for my son. It was March of his kindergarten year, and Warren could not write his name, much less any other letters of the alphabet. Warren could not tie his shoes. Warren spent more time in “time out” than out of it.
I brought out my calendar and pointing to the pattern that had emerged, I asked, “What happens every 10 days?”
The teacher surveyed my notes and exclaimed, “I change out the centers every 10 days!”
So every time my son had finally began to learn a new skill, the centers were changed and he had to start over again. My son was frustrated. Even though he was bright, he wasn’t learning at the pace of the other students. The constant change and struggle to keep up was making him feel defeated and incapable and angry. He acted out his exasperation the only way his five-year-old emotions knew how. His behavior was communication…my son had unmet needs and required my advocacy, my voice, and my intervention.
So, I made a radical move. I quit my job as a professional educator and decided to home educate my son. That was in 1993 and homeschooling was not yet a “movement.” At least not in the area of North Carolina where I lived. (There were only a handful of homeschooling families in our entire county, and my resignation caused quite a ruckus in my church and among my teacher friends…but that’s another story)
I said I will only homeschool for a couple years…just until I get him caught up. After all, I had taught many children to read as a professional educator! I knew just how to help him!
Except I didn’t.
I tried everything I knew from my years of being a professional educator. I tried every curriculum or method I could find.
I read to him scads of books on all kinds of topics. We did science experiments. We took nature walks. We spent hours at the library or at the museum. He spent ages building, inventing, playing, and climbing. Anything that stimulated his interest, we explored, from rocks to medieval castles to cooking.
Yet, in the fourth grade, my sweet son said to me, “I just want to go to the library and pick out a book and read it!”
Nothing I tried worked to help my sweet, bright, fun-loving, feisty son learn how to read!
I reached out to a Doctor of Education for help. He performed a full battery of psychological and educational tests on my son. On the day that I was to find out the results, I arrived full of hope and faith that this man would finally have the answer to my son’s learning difficulties.
In a nondescript room with only a small table between us, the professional educator labeled my son’s learning disabilities one by one. He attempted to communicate to me the severity of the situation. I kept asking him what could be done, but obviously, I simply wasn’t grasping the immensity of the problem. He finally burst out, “Your son is NEVER going to read! Why don’t you just give up?”
I drew in my breath slowly and forced back hot, angry tears.
“Sir,” I began shakily, “I will not give up on him because I am his mother! You are wrong.
- SON. WILL. READ!”
I collected my purse and my papers and I stood to leave.
I became a teacher that day. I decided that I would do whatever it took to teach my son to read.
And I did.
By the end of 5th grade, Warren could read on the 2nd grade level. By the end of 7th grade, he was on the 5th grade level. When Warren was in the 8th grade, he decided he wanted to go back to formal schooling.
He graduated from high school when he was 16, and graduated from college with a B.S in Business at age 19.
Today, he is an Assistant Vice President for a major financial company in New York City.
When Warren went back to school, so did I. I renewed my teaching credentials and went back to the classroom, too.
But this time, not as a professional educator, but as a teacher. My years outside of the formal classroom with my son had taught me more about the true nature of education than all of my college courses and years of experience combined.
I now teach special needs children who have difficulty learning in the traditional way. I believe in them until they can believe in themselves.
I treat my students as if they were my own son or daughter…looking for that unmet need that calls for my advocacy, my voice, and my intervention. I utilize my knowledge as a professional educator, but I devote my heart as a teacher.