For the truly gifted teachers

It is almost impossible to end the school year without a bit of nostalgia. As painful as the last few weeks can be, what with antsy kids anxious for the allure of summer, the field trips, the last rounds of assessments, Friday folders to sign, etc., it's hard not to think back to where we started, and where we've come. I feel that way about all of my kids, but it is especially significant with my daughter. All of our years at school have been special in their own ways; I don't mean to downplay how great of an experience we have had, and continue to have, but this year has been special.

She's not pointing to her chin, she's in FIRST GRADE!

She's not pointing to her chin, she's in FIRST GRADE!

Flashback with me, will you please?

We finished kindergarten last year. I say "we" because, believe me, I worked just as hard as she did last year. Navigating the IEP process and special education in elementary education, as compared to the pre-school years, is like being dropped into the deep end of the pool after one swimming lesson. And there's no life guard. It was anxiety inducing, to put it lightly. I don't think I'll ever look back at that year without feeling anxious, even though we had the best kindergarten teacher this earth has ever known.

I spent so much time and energy focusing on first grade. After all, kindergarten is a little like a "getting to know you" year. The kids learn the school routine. They learn the rules. They play a lot. They learn some too, but it's nothing like first grade.

It's fair to say that I lost a lot of sleep planning for first grade.

We are blessed to have a good relationship with our school and I was able to work with the principal to choose a teacher that I felt would be a good fit for my daughter. We decided this before the kindergarten year was over, so that I would be able to meet with the teacher to prepare him and get him brainstorming ideas over the summer.

I knew the teacher only in passing. I knew that he had a great reputation, especially for struggling readers (which we had). I knew that he was experienced. I had only heard amazing things from other parents. This was our teacher, I knew it.

I remember when I met with him, he was not overwhelmed. He took in everything I said. He said that he'd meet with the kindergarten teacher to see what had worked before. He said we'd figure this out. In essence, it was not a big deal to him. We'd work together. It was fine.

Maybe this sounds like a small thing, that he was not intimidated. It isn't. Her file is inches thick. I haven't seen it lately, but it's probably several files by now. On paper, it looks like we've got one complicated little girl. And, we do. But she's still just a little girl, looking to learn. And that's how he treated her. The rest of it, well, we'd figure that out along the way.

So much of our plan was up in the air this year. We just kind of needed to see what she'd do, then we'd step in and help if she needed it. There was a lot of pressure on me (self-induced) to be sure that she was making progress and, if not, figure out what supports we needed to put into place.

So, let's skip ahead and I'll tell you what happened.

It was a non issue. All of it. All that worrying... and it worked itself out.

Had we not had such an awful experience last year, I'd be tempted to think that this is just how it goes. That all teams support their kids in exactly the way they need to be supported. But I know better. I have experienced the other side of the coin, and it ain't pretty.

Several people helped to make this year a success for my daughter. Maybe a half dozen wonderful people came together and supported her in exactly the way she needed to be supported. Maybe more. Maybe it was more like 20 people. I don't know every person she interacts with during the day. I know it's a lot. And I know that they all stepped up.

I can tell you that she was supported. Lovingly held and raised up.

See, they saw her.

Last year, her teacher and a handful of others saw her. She survived. We did the best we could in a tough situation.

This year, she was LIFTED.

I am in tears now, just thinking of that. They lifted my girl up, just like I had hoped they would.

Two people made a difference for me, especially.

Our case manager, who simply treated me and my daughter both with respect. She listened to every concern I had. She answered every question. She always looked pleased to see me in the hallway. She was my daughter's writing and math teacher as well, and I can't tell you how much good she did for her. I got emails from her regularly, with cute stories my daughter had written. She found what made my daughter tick and helped guide this girl to produce amazing work.

Again, so simple to do, but something that did NOT happen for us last year. So I knew. This was special.

And then, there's her teacher. It's hard for me to know how to choose the right words to convey how special, how truly gifted, this man is. Without gushing. Which I'm going to do, so excuse that.

Imagine, if you will, the perfect teacher. The one who has a calm persona, who knows how to interact with each student in just the right way. The one who has a Mary Poppins bag of tricks at his disposal, pulling out the right one in just the right way every time. The one who can just use a word or two to completely diffuse a situation or settle a class. The one who knows all the things they don't teach you at school on how to be an amazing teacher. This was her teacher this year.

If I sat here and wrote down all of the things I saw him do that were amazing, we'd be here all day. He could write a book on how to teach first grade and districts would buy it in bulk.

So many small things that changed everything. I saw him do this time and time again. Not only with my daughter, but with every single person he interacted with.

One day, at the beginning of the year, he was absent. The next day I asked if he was feeling better and he told me that he had taken the day off to attend a workshop on teaching students with Down Syndrome, because he had a student in his class with Down Syndrome. When I heard that, I knew we had something special. Here was an experienced teacher, still looking to grow in order to best teach his students. That means something.

My daughter and her best friend at the school library, reading the same exact page on the same exact book. Taken by her teacher.

My daughter and her best friend at the school library, reading the same exact page on the same exact book. Taken by her teacher.

We were on a field trip the other day and I was talking to another parent about our teacher and she said to me, "He's truly gifted." We've both been in the school system for awhile now, probably a dozen years combined. We've seen many teachers, most of them fabulous. This man is a yard stick above fabulous.

Some people find just the right career for them and they bloom. You just know that they're doing exactly what they're supposed to be doing and the world is a better place for it.

The world is a better place for having our first grade teacher.

Seeing my daughter so lovingly lifted warms my heart. Seeing her progress during that time blows my mind. The things he was able to pull from her simply shouldn't be. But they are. She did it. He helped her do it. And to him, it was no big deal. "Just doing my job, ma'am."

When you get a teacher that outshines all the other stars in the sky, it's easy to stand back and admire. It sets the bar high for all those around him. And that's kind of what he does, he raises the bar. He holds it high and says, this is what teaching is. Everyone around him sees that and, I hope, we all strive to reach his heights. He doesn't brag on himself, ever. He just does. And so he makes you want to do as well.

I'm obviously not a student in his class, but I feel like I learned so much this year. About my daughter. About education. Respect. Being calm and exuding authority. How sometimes a whisper is more impactful than a shout. How sometimes a shout, or a joke, or a high five, or a kind word, or a gentle reminder is required. How to turn cleaning up after inside recess a coveted job that kids would rush to do. (Yes, I actually witnessed that. It was amazing.) How to turn a few extra minutes in the hallway into a "bubble" game where the kids competed to be the quietest, then chose the next quietest, and so on. (Sounds insane, I know, but it WORKED.)

I didn't know how this year would be for my daughter, or for me. I could not have asked for a better outcome. He simple took away all the stressors that we had last year. They were just gone. And, because of that, she was able to learn. That's it. He took away all of the barriers and she bloomed. Oh, how she bloomed.

We should all be so lucky to have someone that simply allows us to bloom.

I wish I knew how to say thank you. To paint a picture of my gratitude that would do it justice.

Consider this my thank you, Chad. From the very bottom of my heart, you cannot know how grateful I am. Best wishes next year at your new school. You do not know how big of a hole you leave at our school.

You saw my daughter. You lifted her. And, in turn, you lifted me. Thank you. Thank you. THANK YOU! I will never stop singing your praises. You are, truly, a gifted teacher and we were so lucky to have you.

Her teacher took this picture as well. It is simply her. Yes, he saw her, alright. Here's proof.

Her teacher took this picture as well. It is simply her. Yes, he saw her, alright. Here's proof.