Thank you so much for your honesty and vulnerability about your son and his learning differences and the trials of the parent/ teacher conferences. I have been there. I am still there. Both of my children struggle with dyslexia and dysgraphia as well. My husband and I have spent plenty of time in conferences with teachers, counselors, specialists, and administrators strategizing, discussing, debating, and well, at times, arguing.
The struggle seemed to be harder for my oldest son. My quiet one. My one whose strategy was to blend into the background. My one who tried to go under the radar and was only noticed by many of his teachers when he wasn’t meeting their standards and threatened to ruin all of the “test scores”. Before each conference regarding him, I would have to prepare and reassure myself. What is the goal of this meeting? What do we want implemented for him? What will I hear about him? Will I have to fight? What am I willing to fight for? Has he made any progress? Do they see his intelligence? Do they see him at all? Can he be successful in this environment? Can he make it? How am I going to feel when this is over? As you can imagine, I was a bundle of anxiety and nerves every single time.
I learned quickly that teachers can make all of the difference. Many of them were on my son’s side. Several of them were not. At one conference when my son was not quite eleven years old, one of his teachers said with a tinge of annoyance in her voice, “I am sorry that he has all of these ‘issues’, but this is what I need him to do. I need him to read, write, and [do everything] at this level.” I became an expert at fighting back the tears. My response? “I would love for him to be able to do all of that for you, but my son has to work triple hard and climb over huge hurdles to get there. I want for him to do all you ask, and he’s trying, but you need to be patient and understanding.” It was the typical “if he just focused and tried harder” comment I grew tired of hearing. He was trying hard; reading and writing just didn’t come easily for him. I found myself begging everyone to look through all of the learning differences and see the intelligent little boy he was. Like many times before, I walked out of that school that day defeated and got in my car and cried. This became the norm. This became the custom of our parent/ teacher conferences.
Until that one day, the day things changed. When my son was in the tenth grade, five years after the previously mentioned meeting, everything improved. True to form, we sat and waited to hear the read through of the comments from the teachers. I held my breath as I always did and prepared to guard my heart. But this time? This time, I didn’t have to! To my pleasure, words such as “leader”, “responsible”, and “independent” started to emerge from the statements. I couldn’t believe it! I could breathe! I could relax! I beamed! For the first time at one of these meetings, there wasn’t a feeling of sadness or defeat. And, for the first time, I truly believed that the teachers working with my son saw him for the brilliant and intelligent person he was – and still is today!
The administrator facilitating that conference, who had worked with my son since the sixth grade, asked him what changed. What was he doing differently? What transpired to change the normally concerning comments to ones of praise and affirmation? My son answered that he learned to stand up and advocate for himself. He learned to talk with his teachers about his struggles. He also said he was beginning to figure out how his brain worked and learned best. And, although he didn’t verbalize this, as his mom, I could tell that he believed that he was smart and intelligent and capable. He finally believed in himself!
What a blessing! From then on, there was no dread walking into those conferences. We walked in hopeful and confident. We left encouraged and reassured. I am not saying that school work became a breeze for him, but if a challenge presented itself, my son gained confidence in attacking it. In fact, my son graduated from high school with a “distinguished achievement” diploma this past school year and this spring, he will transfer to a top university in our great state of Texas. After many years of tears and frustration, it is such a relief to have many accomplishments and celebrations.
So, thank you Kelly so much for sharing your story. It is reassuring to know we are not alone in our struggles and we have others to celebrate our children’s achievements with us as well.