When my son was in grade 1 and we went for our parent-teacher interview, his English teacher told us with some urgency that our son was not picking up “pen to paper skills”. His French teacher jumped in, kind soul that she was, and holding up a picture our son had made, said with a little bit of awe in her voice, “But look at this art work; look at the perspective in it!”
A few years later, after several parent-teacher interviews with escalating concerns expressed about our son’s “pen to paper skills”, we had him assessed by a Psychologist for learning disabilities. We learned that while our son had cognitive abilities that were greater than 97 out of 100 children his age, his ability to process numbers and letters was lower than 97 out of 100 children. In other words, our son was very bright but had a learning disability that might always limit his ability to read and write. We were discovering that this was a dangerous combination. In grade 4, our son was beginning to dread school.
We put him into an alternative school for a few years that offered an unconventional method for treating learning disabilities; a method that was incredibly frustrating and tedious for our son, but ultimately effective. After some bumpy years transitioning back to the public education system, he managed to graduate from high school with honours. But more importantly, in high school, he had a wildly wonderful art teacher who told him that he had the talent to have a career as an Illustrator. This was the spark that lit his life.
He has been in the Illustration program at Sheridan College for 2.5 years now and he is incredibly happy. He is working hard; he is meeting like-minded people; he is excited about his future; and he loves what he is doing. After so many years of worrying about him at school; meeting with teachers; helping him to advocate for himself; worrying about his ability to find a place in the world; his current state of mind is a gift.
But it also makes me think. For so many years, the schools, the teachers, and we, as parents, were all focused on “fixing” my son to get him through the school system. And yet the talent that may lead to his life-long career was always there; well before grade 1. He just needed someone to identify that innate talent as one that was valuable.
I am watching the same process unfold with my daughter. She graduated from high school last June but she went back to school for an extra term because she could not decide what to study at College or University. She signed up to do a co-op course where she would be a Teacher’s Assistant in return for a course credit. She finished that “course” last week with tears in her eyes, telling me, “I am going to miss the kids so much”. She stayed up till 1:30 a.m. the night before her last day, preparing little gifts and personalized notes for each of the 25 children in her class. She came home with a glowing evaluation from the Teacher and a report card made by the children, in which she got A+ for being a great teacher. So, now she is clear; she wants to pursue a degree in the humanities with the goal of becoming a teacher.
I smile to myself as I think back on the many times in which my daughter played teacher with her friends, and her brother, and her father and I. I think about her compassion and her diplomacy, and I think, of course she is going to be a teacher. She will be a fabulous teacher. And I chuckle to myself when I think about all of the things that we worry about for our children, and how they have a way of naturally learning and growing up all on their own. They just need us to provide loving support while they figure out what they are meant to do.