I have a LOT to fill you in on...
Dear Teacher (Who told me that my son would never learn to read),
You were cranky and tired and miserable. You were lonely and bitter. If you ever loved teaching, then that love had extinguished years ago. You were impatient, cold, smug and condescending.
And I THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart! You were the best thing that ever happened to my kid.
Was it disgust or contempt in your voice that day?
Either way, there was a sense of enjoyment as you called me in for a conference to tell me that my 6-year-old son would never learn to read.
He was my oldest, a twin. It was a pity, you said, that one twin was bright and the other unable (or, as you suspected, ‘unwilling’) to grasp even the basic concepts of learning, of reading, of math. You stunned me into silence by your callous demeanor.
Broken hearted, I returned home and watched my beautiful son play. How could this precious, sweet boy be robbed of an education and a normal life? I worried about his future. I wallowed in my sadness.
And then ... I got ANGRY!
What did you mean he was unable or ‘unwilling’ to learn? He was 6-years old!
How was struggling with math and reading a character flaw? How could his teacher and the educational system write him off so quickly? Did the responsibility lie with him? His parents? The school-system? I decided it was all three.
With our foreheads touching, eye-to-eye, my son and I made a pact: I would do my best to discover new ways for him to learn and, in turn, he would do his best to give everything a good try. We would keep what worked and discard the rest.
For the remainder of his schooling, I kept my word and he kept his.
From the common to the bizarre, we tried all sorts of things to help my son learn.
And we failed. A lot.
There was a hair-raising amount of failing. There were even more tears: his tears, my tears. And the level of frustration felt maddening.
Some days, I made myself proud. I could see a door open for him or a concept click in his brain. Other days, I cried myself to sleep in shame. Did I really just shout at my grade schooler, ‘Learn your math facts, already, damn it!'?
I became a sweet, smiling bulldozer.
There wasn’t a teacher (well maybe that one French teacher in seventh grade) I couldn’t convince to join 'Team Michael.'
Everyone wanted a part in his success (except you, of course). They may have felt driven to the edge of despair at times, but Team Michael held my son to the highest of standards without apologies. They were tough. They were inspiring.
For his part, Michael was charming. Academically, he tried and fell short many times, but his eagerness and love of learning was irresistible to his teachers. They all went the extra mile for him.
Every new school year started with a bright-eyed teacher informing me that he or she would like to focus on my son’s lack of organization. Each and every teacher was certain, if we could crack the disorganization, we could accelerate his learning.
Of course they were right, if we could have gotten him organized, he would have had an easier time, but, alas, 12 years of trying and there was seemingly no hope to organize him.
Somewhere along the line, he started moving forward. There was real progress.
He could read. He could write. He learned his math facts (I think).
Ultimately, it was his OWN love of learning that pulled him through the dark years.
Grades weren’t as important to him as conquering a subject. He had a tremendous thirst for knowledge and cared little for how people perceived him in the classroom. It was a perfect combination. He grasped tough subject matters even if they were hard to test accurately. He began to excel.
On his worst days, I would have him close his eyes and envision the pride of being accepted into college.
When he was 18, I stood at the top of the stairs looking on as he ripped open the large, white envelope. All he had worked for came down to this moment. He got accepted into college. Screams of joy, then his brow furrowed again as he kept reading.
"Mom," he whispered as he looked at me with wide eyes. "I got an academic scholarship!"
I burst into tears, hugged him like crazy ... and I thought of you.
You, who found him too difficult to teach and not worth the effort. You, who was too bothered to go out of your way for him. You, who didn’t believe in him. You, who would have let him languish and fall through the cracks, if you could.
You put the fire in my gut. I owe you a lot.
He went to college and succeeded beyond what any of us ever imagined possible.
Technology finally succeeded in getting him organized (mostly). He earned fellowships and internships. He stood in ivy-covered buildings and debated some of the world’s sharpest minds. He traveled the world. He is brilliant, motivated ... and kind.
Unlike you, I knew my son's learning disabilities would one day be his greatest asset.
I was right. His difficulties made him more curious, humble, compassionate and motivated. He is shockingly confident.
And now, as he prepares to graduate from college (a semester early, FYI) I’d like to thank you one last time.
Proving you wrong has been one of the greatest accomplishments my life.