We are coming to the end of another school year. Sam is finishing up second grade. And while one may look at his year on paper, in the form of his report card, you might think things have gone okay. Not stellar, but okay. But this has been a lousy year for my boy from start to finish. He's managed to learn, despite everything, he's still managed to learn what's required. Imagine what he could have done, what he could have learned, had his teachers done their jobs properly.
This year, for Sam, it's all starting to fall apart. He struggles. He struggles just to get through the day. It's mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting. There just isn't enough in his skinny little eight year old self to handle everything that comes his way each day, and as a result he is shutting down. He is withdrawing more and more into himself, which makes his teachers frustrated and alienates his peers. And the very people who should be helping him navigate through his day only seem to want to punish him for being different. As a former educator, I want to take his teachers by the shoulders and shake them and shout " LOOK AT HIM! He wants to learn, he has the ability to learn, you just need to find out the best way to make that happen." As his parent, I want to tear them limb from limb. He is loving and earnest and wants nothing more than to learn and be accepted for who he is. Instead, he is pushed away and isolated and punished. I want him to be challenged not humiliated. I want him taught strategies that he can use to handle the stressors that are making it difficult for him to function in a classroom. I don't want him sitting alone at his desk, when the rest of the class is together on the rug, because he hasn't figured out how to handle sitting on the floor with a group. I want my creative and enthusiastic child to express his creativity at school without worrying if his efforts will be good enough. I want to see him glow with pride at his accomplishments, not crushed by criticism and judgement.
I'm just not always sure how to go about making that happen. Joe and I struggle too. We weren't given a road map with his diagnosis, or lack thereof. You just kind of blunder along with the best of intentions and hope it all works out for the best. This year was one of the worst yet. We made some bad decisions and didn't push hard enough for action. I hope we can learn from the mistakes we made this year.
Last night Sam played in his last baseball game of the season. Not a single one of his coaches are trained in child development or have much, if any, experience with special needs children. And yet, they managed to accomplish in two months what his teachers have been unable to do all year. They accept him as he is, as they do all the kids on the team and they challenge him to always do better than he did the last time, every single time. I listened to these men and watched them all season. When Sam started acting up in the outfield, in his quirky but not so appropriate ways, one would call out for him to show them he's ready, or if one was nearby he'd go over and put his hand on Sam's shoulder. One of them helped him position himself at bat, every single time he was up. They put him in every position and challenged him to make the plays. They recognized every ball stopped in the field and every swing at bat with sincere praise and often a joke when things didn't go as hoped. And Sam responded. He showed them he was ready. He ran as hard as he could. He tried to catch or field every ball that came his way. He swung like he meant it, every time at bat. Last night, I watched Sam field the ball at second and orchestrate the play that resulted in the last out of the inning. He ran in from the field, pumping his fist and acknowledging the pats on the back from his teammates with a beaming smile. He ran over to his coaches and they rumpled his hair, slapped him on the back and admired his play. Here he could shine because they believed in him. And because they believed in him, he began to believe in himself. It didn't take much extra time or effort on the part of the coaches to help make this happen. I didn't have to ask them for special treatment. They took each child as he/she is and did all they could to teach them to be better ballplayers and have fun while they were at it. Why couldn't his teachers have done the same?
I will not allow him to be placed in a classroom with a teacher who does not believe in him. I cannot allow my boy's spirit to be so diminished again, because his teachers are unable to see the possibilities within. I hate that this has to be a battle. I hate that school is becoming a place that fills Sam with fear and insecurity. I hate that there are people in our schools that think it's okay to humiliate a child and chip away at his self worth day after day, month after month. This year his teachers gave up on him. But, you know, despite this horrible, awful year I still have hope. I may not know exactly where to go next, but I have hope. Watching him shine at his game last night, I have to believe that it's possible there are people in our schools who will believe in my Sam as strongly as we do. There are people out there who will love and accept him, quirks and all, and challenge him to push himself to do the best he can. And when he strikes out, they will still find something positive to say, so that he has the courage to get back out there and swing away, because next time could be the time he hits it out of the park.