I like being in control.
I have joked that I have OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) about detail and organization but, truth be told, I think that is a good thing.
I learned how to be organized from my teachers who repeated the maxim “a place for everything and everything in its place” several times each day from the time I was in primary school, and from my father, who lined up his things in his briefcase every day exactly the same way. It was thanks to his ability to be on top of all the details that our lives ran so smoothly. We moved a lot and changed countries, schools, and houses every few years, but I don’t remember any real problems cropping up. Everything was organized.
I was grateful for the constant reminder of those little habits which make things go more smoothly when I arrived at university. I had an International Baccalaureate degree by then, so I was able to get credit for courses I had already done in high school in Brussels and move onto other things which interested me. What shocked me was how many of my classmates did not know how to study. They were smart and passionate about learning, but they got lost in their notes, they left assignments to the last minute, they rarely looked for further elucidation or details which would help their understanding of what they were learning. Quite a lot of them felt that simply going over something once was sufficient to master the subject.
I was horrified. More than one of them asked me to help them study. We almost never went over the subject matter because I was trying to teach them how to organize their study habits so the information would stay in their minds. My insistence that one overnight study crunch would not yield the same results as a consistent, in-depth, daily revision of the subject seemed extreme to most of them. Not everyone took to the regimen.
People Ask Me How I Do It
It’s so simple: think ahead, plan, make lists, keep after others if they are supposed to help you and don’t finish your day until you’ve had some sort of resolution regarding all the items on those lists. Some people will find that annoying, others will take advantage and try to make you do their share, but you can make sure those things those don’t happen if you’re, well, organized.
But Life is Not Perfect
Situations will come up which throw your otherwise orderly way of doing things out of whack. When I was told my sons had autism that was a huge whirlwind which has only recently died down and allowed to me feel like I have my feet somewhat steadily on the ground again.
After reading all the books I could about the disease, asking professionals questions and listening to others who had been through the same thing, I knew was this would be the biggest challenge I had ever faced. Would I be able to master enough of the situation to give my boys what they needed? Would I be able to keep up consistently? Autism is not something that goes away. You can only take care of it on a daily basis and tomorrow something entirely new can come up and make your whole game plan obsolete.
More Than Once I Felt I Was Failing
In those moments I tried to ignore the panic constricting my chest and do something which would help rather than harm. Very quickly I realized I could not do it alone. What bothered me was that it seemed that I couldn’t do anything substantial alone. I kept having to ask for help and advice. I was embarrassed and dreaded having to yet again say “I know I already asked you about this but there is something else I need to know….” I was convinced everyone saw me as a failure and I struggled not to chastise myself.
Surrounded and Supported
During this time I was back in college getting my second Bachelor of Arts degree. A lot of the girls at Salem College were studying to become teachers so I had two great advantages: a great group willing to help with any questions I had, as well them being such sweet girls who were wonderful babysitters. We had classes together so they saw me as a fellow student, not a pushy Mom. We were learning together and I wasn’t intimidated by them. We had so many conversations about how to teach my boys, how to steer them toward having self-esteem and confidence. In this environment, I finally felt I was gaining some as well.
Stepping Back For A Moment
After a while, I began to wonder if I had become too interested in my sons’ condition and less in my sons. So once again, I asked advice. I did not want to be a “helicopter parent” but I could not shake the dread that they are more vulnerable to bullies and danger in general because autism makes it nearly impossible for them to discern nuance in facial expressions and tone.
During a conversation with one of their teachers, it dawned on me that there is only is much I can do. Accepting that is hard for someone like me who has always pushed to be a high achiever. As I listened to this sweet, intelligent young teacher I stopped worrying. She has dedicated her life to teaching kids like mine so they have more fair chance of living a fulfilling life. She could handle it and by simply doing her job she would help me every day. I knew I couldn’t do her job no matter how hard I tried. She was the expert, I was the Mom.
The Scary Future
The recent confirmation of Betsy Devos, a very rich, non-teacher who believes the best way to make education better in this country is not by expanding the budget for public education but to create more magnet and private schools, scares the hell out of me.
How can most people afford that? I know we can’t.
How will kids with autism, dyslexia or ADHD manage if the teachers are only interested in test results and don’t know how to teach children with special needs?
How Do You Fail Kindergarten?
My son Joachim was put in a class with good teachers his first year in kindergarten, however, they did not know how to teach him and he “failed” that year. All I could think was, “how do you fail kindergarten?” I saw his terrible results and his complete lack of self-esteem; he felt ignored, put down and useless. He was not happy to go to class and tried to get out of it more than once. I was furious and pushed hard to have him diagnosed. Once he was in the right environment with the right teachers he flourished very quickly. You can’t replace a professional—the pros take care of the situation, the rest of us are just for backup.
What I Know
I learned how to study from teachers who knew how to teach good habits not just the courses. All my IB teachers could have been professors in colleges here in the U.S. because of their level of knowledge in their subjects. I had the best of everything and was encouraged to excel beyond what I thought I was capable of.
If the people in charge of education don’t revere learning, know how to teach to every child and don’t care about anything but results they can boast about, the educational system in this country is going to fail even more.
My husband and I spoke about moving to Canada if things look like they are going to be too awful for our children. This makes me furious. The fact that this thought came to mind, that I should feel that leaving my country is necessary for the well-being of my children and their future disgusts me. This is 2017—we are not at war or in a poor country.
What We Can Do
We will not allow the crushing defeatism of the current political climate to contaminate our family. Our boys, and so many like them, are able to learn and thrive. Their chances should not be killed by an elitist, unproven theory of education created and followed by people who have no experience in the field of education and who have gained their positions purely through political cronyism. We will fight any policies which short change our children. Whether it will be in the classroom, in protest or in phone calls to our government representatives, the parents of children with special needs will have a loud, clear and unrelenting voice.
The pros need to step up too, more than ever before. We can’t do it without them and they have the weapons of knowledge, experience and caring in their arsenal. We’ll be there to back them up. Together we can make sure that education remains about the students, first, last and always.
Feature image courtesy of Flickr, lewiselementary.