I had a parent come in and talk to me the other day. I have known her for several years because 2 of her kids had speech and language issues and they were on my caseload over the course of several years. I ‘ve learned quite a bit about her through those years. I know that she barely made it through high school and her husband received a lot of special education support to get him through. She and her husband both work long hours. She cleans houses and he works nights at a gas station. The schedule works for them since they have a new baby at home and one of them can always be home for the kids.
At parent teacher conferences and IEP meetings I am always impressed that she listens intently to what I am saying, responds with good questions and asks what she can do to help at home. I can tell she does not really like to be at the IEP table hearing about what needs her children still have, but she is there. She does not have her kids ride the bus so she is often waiting in the front lobby for school to let out. She smiles at any children that pass by and says “Hi” to adults. Even on half days, she is never late.
So she comes into my office with her oldest daughter’s math sheet. The oldest does not go to our school anymore. She moved on to another elementary school and is now in third grade. She held out the paper to me and said she wondered if I could help her understand the math. She does not know that I am horrible at math. I completed both my undergraduate and graduate degrees without taking a single math class….. one of the biggest selling points when I was selecting a career! She told me that she went to her daughter’s teacher and asked her to explain how to get the answers. The teacher said casually, “Oh don’t worry about it we’ll do it in class.”
Plenty of teachers have said that to me…. And I have simply sighed in relief! But this mom was very hurt. She told me she could not look the teacher in the eye any more and felt very uncomfortable around her. I asked her why and the mom said that the teacher treated her like she was too dumb to learn. Now I know that no teacher would ever imply that to a mom- but I am comfortable in schools. I am comfortable knowing that if I really cared about “Lattice math” or “Touchpoint subtraction” I could learn. This mom was not. I realized that every day this woman comes into the school to get her kids and every time she sits for a PAB meeting, conference or IEP she feels the way I would feel walking into a motorcycle-muscle bar or a convent where everyone took a vow of silence…. Very uncomfortable. Yet day after day she comes back for her kids.
I spent quite a while with her (I even tried to do the math) and when she left I think she felt a little better about talking to her daughter’s teacher again. It makes me realize that we have to be so careful with what we say because it is so easy to hurt others without meaning to, even the people we really like and admire. I am sure I have hurt people in my life that I never meant to hurt…. By saying things I did not even know caused pain. If you are in my life and I have said something to hurt you…. I am sorry. I hope that all the nice, non-hurtful things make up for the wrongful things…. and that I get opportunities to say lots more nice things to you. Maybe I should spend a little time in one of those silent monasteries learning to keep quiet. ☺