Wearing Two Hats: When You're Both a Parent and Teacher
By Kathy Kirkwood
I am his mother. I watch as he struggles with making friends, surviving the school environment, navigating through the obstacles that life throws in his way, while attempting to teach him that some of those obstacles were of his own making by the impulses that he acted on and the choices that he made. I try to create a "safe haven" at home, where he can make mistakes without suffering the scars of the social judgment of his peers, where he can be himself without repercussions, here he can release his tics and frustrations without comments or consequences.
I marvel at how his academic weaknesses are often outweighed by his talents, interests and passions. He can fix my plumbing and has taught himself how to build a ten-speed bike from spare parts. He watches educational TV voraciously and can tell you more about animals, plants, dinosaurs and the Holocaust than any other student his age. He has the kindest heart of any teenager I know. Yet he has no friends, only "acquaintances", and very few outside the family have ever tried to know him well enough to see these "gifts."
I am a teacher. I labor each day to make the students with learning disabilities in my classes feel that school can be a safe place for them, knowing it has not always been a safe place for my own son. I try to really know them, to know their talents and interests, so that they will still be willing to try when the tasks are so difficult and overwhelming for them, though I have watched my son slowly give up on academics. I want my students to be passionate about reading, because I know it is a key to their future success, both inside and outside of school. Yet I know that those reading skills will be useless to them if they are unmotivated, uninterested or unaccepted in their life pursuits. Each year school districts "raise the bar" for many children, like my students and my son, whose talents may not lie in realms of reading and writing (the predominant way students are assessed in school). No Child Left Behind and other legislation of its type may be well-intended, but many creative and talented children are being left behind in its wake, as the "bar" becomes a goal they were not born to attain, in spite of their own efforts and those of their teachers
I am a parent of a son with learning disabilities, and I want what all parents want for their children - happiness, health, good relationships, success at whatever they choose in life. I am a teacher of students with learning disabilities, and I want for my son what I want for my students: academic success, the willingness to take risks, the knowledge that they are valued and accepted for who they are, not just for what they write on a piece of paper. I am my son's foremost teacher, the one who knows his learning style the best. As I hope my son's teachers have done, I serve as surrogate "parent" to my students - cheering them on when they're ready to give up, supporting them as they take each baby step toward the next academic hurdle, analyzing their mistakes to see how to get them back on the track that will hopefully bring them closer to their "normal" peers. Parent and teacher - I wear two hats, and my head is spinning.
Kathy Kirkwood was a teacher and former President of the Learning Disabilities Association of Illinois.