We found out last week that my son’s favorite teacher won’t be returning  for his last year of preschool.

But I’m not hitting the panic button.

A year ago, I would have been in a total panic.  I would have been a wreck, wondering how on earth Howie was going to get through the year without her there.  But it’s because of all the amazing work that his teacher has done with him this year that I know things will be just fine.

Let me tell you a little bit about Mrs. M.  In the interest of full disclosure, she is my neighbor and also my friend.  But our interactions with her started even before we moved here 4 years ago, as she not only helped me enroll Gerry in preschool over the summer, but got him into a “Circle Time” camp at the school with his new teacher, so he would feel more comfortable starting at the new school.  The kids that Gerry met in that class have became some of his best friends, and three of the mothers that I met at drop off and pickup are still my closest friends four years later.  I’m not sure I want to think about how different mine and Gerry’s life would have been had we not started at that school when we did.

As Howie got older and we started to notice some definite delays in his development, I turned to Mrs. M for advice and help.  As a special educator, she had information and resources and perspective.  She gave me the words to use with my pediatrician, and was my sounding board after the early intervention evaluation.  When the director at the private preschool where I had enrolled Howie when he was 2 1/2 called to say that they wanted to reduce his hours because of his behavior (her words were “he doesn’t have any sensory or processing issues, he’s just a badly behaved boy”) Mrs. M listened as I was almost in tears, helping me realize that they were the ones who were wrong, not me.  Mrs. M was the team leader for our school district’s CORE evaluation of Howie when he turned three, and even though he was found to be ineligible for services, the school district enrolled him in her inclusion classroom  for the remaining months of the school year when it was clear that he needed some extra help.

Thanks to her teaching style, her fantastic classroom aides, and the physical setup of her classroom (being an inclusion room, there were already accommodations in place in the room and the schedule), Howie did amazingly well for those few months.  Summer came and went, however, and the return to school this past year in a class of 16 kids was difficult for Howie.  It was clear to us that something was going on with Howie, and even with all the classroom accommodations still in place,  he needed more.

I started the paperwork to get him evaluated for autism spectrum disorder, and without hesitation or complaint, Mrs. M filled out every piece of paper required by all the hospitals – some even three times as I tried to get him on three different waiting lists.  She made sure all the reports were in order, and when the time finally came for our appointment, Mrs. M came with me to the parent meeting so that we could all be on the same page when it came to Howie’s diagnosis and what he needed for support.  In truth, at that meeting, she was my support.  Even though we all knew the ASD diagnosis was coming, it was helpful to have another objective set of ears at the appointment, and I left there feeling a sense of comfort and relief knowing that at last we were all going to work to get Howie on track at school.

That was six months ago, and the change in Howie’s behavior both at home and in school has been tremendous.  He’s now in the full day special needs program at the preschool with a one-on-one aide, and she worked to design an IEP that is speaks to Howie’s strengths and weaknesses.  He’s getting OT and social speech supports in and out of the classroom.  She’s come to the house to help us set up activities for Howie when his behavior starts to spiral.  Mrs. M worked with the preschool director to create a new classroom setup for next year – a full day inclusion program for kids like Howie, kids who don’t need to be in the special needs program for the whole day, but who still need the extra support and accommodations of an inclusion classroom.  And more recently, she’s been my sounding board again as we got Lewis evaluated for his speech delays, reminding me to go with my gut if I think something just isn’t right, just as she did two years ago.

So when I found out that Mrs. M would be moving up to the elementary school to teach the full day inclusion kindergarten class, I could have panicked.  The original plan was for her to teach that new classroom setup and be Howie’s teacher again.  But as I listened to her talk about her amazing new job, I realized that we were in a great place.  While Howie would have a new teacher next year, he would still be at his familiar school, with aides that he knows and kids he recognizes.  The transition to a new teacher would be an easier one at the preschool level.  The harder transition for him would come in a year – kindergarten is in a different building, with a different schedule, different kids, and a ride on the big yellow school bus.  The possibility that Howie could have Mrs. M for kindergarten – the potential for some familiarity in an unfamiliar place – was a huge relief for me.

It’s thanks to Mrs. M that I can feel that relief.  I don’t know where we would be without her guidance, compassion, and sense of humor.   It’s a testament to her teaching skills that Gerry asked if she’d be teaching third grade so “he could experience what Howie did”.  I hope that every kid and family gets to have a teacher like Mrs. M once in their school life.  I’m hoping we’ll have her twice!

“Don’t you ever ask them why
If they told you, you would cry
So just look at them and sigh
And know they love you.”
– Teach Your Children Well by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young

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