Many years ago, when I was fresh out of college, I took my first job teaching in a public school. The entire school was a "special needs school." I didn't apply for a special needs job. I wanted to teach kindergarten, preferably in the neighborhood school near my home. Instead, I was in a special needs school, teaching first grade to 21 students. I had an aide for one hour a day. My principal had a strict policy against teachers talking with one another (I'm not kidding). I was on my own.
Have I mentioned yet that I was 21, I got married the first week of school, was pregnant by the end of Christmas break, and didn't have a degree in special ed?
My friend Jan reminded me that the special ed majors had all the same classes we did except for a very few. Perhaps I could do this...The children were, with few exceptions, from very needy and broken homes. There were days, almost every day actually, when I just wanted to take them home with me, feed them good food, give them baths, read them stories, and tuck them in bed. I definitely had classroom management problems. The school psychologist told me it was because I was too available. I didn't distance myself enough. She was probably right; how do you distance yourself from need? I could never get parent volunteers for anything from chaperoning field trips to classroom parties. My new husband, bless his heart, was the de-facto room mother. It was there, in the utter chaos of that sad classroom, that we decided to homeschool.
Our first child was born and eighteen months later, I was diagnosed with cancer. That experience cemented the decision. We were not sending this child out of our home for the better part of every day to let strangers shape his heart and mind. There is something about being reminded that you don't know how long you have to love your child that makes you want to be certain that every day is lived according to its precious worth.
They warned us we'd probably never have another child. Our second son was born eighteen months after I finished treatment. Apparently, "they" didn't consult God.
This child was wired differently. High need, certainly. "Special needs?" I had my suspicions, but I really didn't know. We bumped along with him until he was just four. Then, I was certain that there were special needs. We had him tested, eager to learn if the diagnosis was Attention Deficit or Sensory Integration Disorder. No, the reply came, there's no problem here at all. Academically, he was right on track. And the experts all scratched their heads at that, given that he had had no formal preschool.
We continued on, learning and living together and adding a new baby every two years. He struggled. Things that made most kids smile--birthday parties, theme parks, big holiday gatherings, play groups--all made him cry. So we avoided those. We adapted and compensated and persevered. It just became integrated to our lifestyle.
It took a very long time, but he learned to read. And all along, he had been listening. He heard all the stories read aloud, all the great language and literature, and he took it all to heart. He has the soul of a poet, but simple things evade him. And numbers are his nemesis.
With adolescence in full bloom and things like driver's ed and SATs lurking in his not-too-distant future, we decided we needed to know more precisely what his challenges are. We began this summer with a battery of tests. The scores surprised us; his deficiencies were far beyond what we'd imagined. The tester puzzled over his "inconsistencies."
He didn't behave the way most kids did who were tested by her. He wasn't rude or poorly behaved or non-compliant. Despite substantial reading difficulites, he has a good grasp on stories and an amazing sense of literature. Though handwriting was literally painful and spelling evaded him, he can compose. Boy, can he compose! "Still," she suggested with a knowing smile and a bit of a condescending air, "you need a team to help you with your boy. He needs a special needs classroom or a special needs school." I shuddered. She kept referring to him as "your boy," as if she couldn't remember his name. I kept nodding and blinking back tears.
Oh, but I have a team, and it's growing every day.
When I read the extensive report at home, I discovered that in some places, she did, indeed, get his name wrong. And, I think she got him wrong. There is no doubt we have serious needs here. But she missed the blessings entirely. She failed to see, from her institutionalized paradigm, how well home education has served him. She missed his gifts entirely because they don't fit into her neat little boxes. She missed my boy.
But I didn't. And I won't.