The past few weeks I’ve been engaging in the task of reviewing several different classes in an effort to find an appropriate high school placement for Katherine. Certainly not the first time I have had to go view multiple classroom settings. Katherine’s placements have had to change more often than I care to even think about. Of course up until now most of those changes were driven by me and Katherine’s father rather than her reaching an age necessitating a move. The last time age necessitated a move to a new school we set off a cataclysmic chain of events that lasted the better part of 3 years which I am fine with never repeating again in Katherine’s lifetime….or mine!
As those of you who follow this blog know, Katherine has incredible difficulty with transition. So why I thought transitioning to a new school and teacher would be any different? Beats me but I guess I didn’t give it enough thought last time. Needless to say the psychotic break it caused has left me with an indelible reminder of what happens when I don’t remember and don’t plan for her needs in a transition scenario. It’s also why we kept Katherine for one extra year in the middle school although some have been all too willing to tell me what a mistake that was. So it was with no small amount of trepidation that I started looking at choices for Katherine’s new class next year in High School.
Together with her therapist and psychiatrist we came up with a concept to put together a transition that would allow her to spend some time – at first 1 day a week in the High School while remaining a student in middle school. This way she’s getting an opportunity to adjust to the new setting with the safety net of middle school safely underneath her.
The first choice was to move her into a similarly classified classroom. While on the face of things it would sound pretty ideal, the reality was so very different than anything I had in my head. I was very thankful that I could see the setting in advance. Had we just transitioned Katherine into that setting I can guarantee we’d be back in that roller coaster ride of hospitalizations again. Teachers seem good, children in the class were impressive. However Katherine would flounder in that setting. It was a total mismatch, a disaster waiting to happen.
The second choice was to take her into a class of children who were not as high functioning and not expected to function at the same level of independence as the first one. The teacher seemed great – very kind and nurturing and loving. The children were sweet, very obviously connected as a class – they rooted each other on in their various classes… impossible not to smile and root for them as well. Too bad that the teacher is leaving that classroom, the parapro is retiring and the classroom may move it’s physical location. So I saw yet another classroom in a different school praying it would be what we needed.
I entered the classroom to see probably 10 children sitting appropriately at their desks working on some worksheets. The teacher came over and introduced herself and for the next half hour while we watched the children working on their independent work with a parapro and several students from mainstream classes who were doing a workstudy in the classroom assisting. The teacher told me of her philosophy, things I could expect if Katherine were a part of the classroom, her qualifications as a teacher and allowed me to ask numerous questions. I also carefully observed her interactions with the students.
Ok, this mom is willing to admit that at first I was a bit overwhelmed by this teacher. I know I have been accused on more than one occasion of being a pretty assertive personality. This teacher made me look meek and mild and yet she was strangely compelling. Whatever it was I was picking up on was obviously working for these kids though. Regardless of the in your face nature of this teacher it was abundantly clear to me that she loved these children and that the feeling was mutual!
The teacher willingly admits she employs a “toughlove” approach with these children. She’s tough on them and unapologetic about it. Not unreasonably so, not the kind of tough that expects they are going onto college and careers as doctors, lawyers and teacher but tough that recognizes that each one of them has strengths that they should be encouraged to achieve the maximum their potential provides for. I felt like she was telling me this for two reasons. One because she feels that this approach maximizes each of her students potential for independence by the time they graduate. Second because I think she realizes her approach isn’t for everyone and wants to make good and sure you know it before you have your kid in there and you’re freaking out on how she’s treating your baby.
Without question, the two classrooms whose only real difference should have been the fact that they are in different high schools within the county system but the truth is completely different. What a difference a teacher makes in the classroom. Same basic curriculum. Similar variations in children’s personalities and abilities. Night and day the feel you leave when walking out of the classroom. It left me with an interesting decision to make.
I know when relating this to some of my friends yesterday everyone assumed that I would be choosing the class with the warm fuzzy teacher even though there would be no guarantee that the teacher who came in next year would be warm and fuzzy let alone with any talent or interest in teaching special kids. However that wasn’t what decided it for me.
Believe it or not Ms. Toughlove’s approach is the one I truly believe will work better for Katherine. Sometimes she really needs a kick in the pants. Without question she needs you to stand firm in the face of her behaviors. It is something I’m not always perfect about but I’ve come a heck of a long way. Sharon (Katherine’s personal support aide) is far better at it than I am and honestly – its just one part of what makes Sharon’s role in Katherine’s life so important.
Let’s face it. It’s just not always easy to be tough on your kid – especially when (s)he has had a rough day, week, etc. So often you just want to bring them close and kiss it all away. Being a teen is rough. For Katherine I feel like it’s even harder than it was when I was a teen. Sometimes it leaves me wanting to be warm and fuzzy but as I’ve learned in the past several years it really doesn’t help Katherine and the result is that it won’t benefit any of us in the long run.
So I went to the meeting at school where I said I want Katherine to have a dose of Ms. Toughlove please – in my warmest, fuzziest, most assertive manner possible
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