Saturday, September 27, 2008

What positive parent-teacher collaboration can do to a child

Ethel and mom last year in my classroom
Last Tuesday, during our Back-To-School Night, I was so happy to see two of my past students outside my door waving at me while I was explaining briefly to the parents my expectations about homework, grades, standards, and behavior. They gave me a hand signal that they will come back in a few minutes.

After the group of enthusiastic parents left my room to proceed to other teachers, Ethel & Antoniqua, now in their 9th grade, came back hugging me and excitedly talking about their new High School. They showed me samples of the work that they were doing in Algebra, and we said that we had it last year, they still remember but they need a refresher. Ethel, as usual, was talking a lot about her books and how she enjoys her English class because they were writing poems and reading literature books. She is very accustomed with poetry writing and reading because that was a routine in my class. I have prepared them well for high school. Antioniqua saw the Shakespeare books I have in the book rack and immediately grabbed Romeo & Juliet and asked "Oh, can I have this?" I said sure. Just then, Ethel's sister and her friend, both regular students in the 8th grade, came in.

Ethel asked if they can practice some scenes in Romeo & Juliet. The four of them assigned their roles and played some scenes in front of my classroom. You couldn't tell who the special ed and the regular ed students were just by looking at them discuss. I enjoyed watching while reminiscing...

When Ethel first came to Jefferson three years ago as a 7th grade student she was very ill looking, very pale, timid and shy. Her mother immediately explained to me that she was very frail, her helmet (due to head banging) was recently removed, she has cerebral palsy, significant learning disability, ADHD and was also diagnosed with congenital encephalopathy. Ethel is a product of premature birth. Her skills were very low then, almost in the Kindergarten level. During my first meeting with mom, I already know that we can make things better for Ethel, because she said she'd be watching her child in my classroom, in the school, and she'd be checking her homework, and monitoring what I'd be teaching her. She'd be watching me too, I told myself, and that's good.
True enough, mom was always in my classroom after school following up on projects, and class works, asking for make up work when Ethel was absent, checking on who the substitute teacher will be when I was not around, volunteering during special functions in my classroom. Mom has been very supportive, determined to work with me and was eager to see Ethel successful. She was an advocate of her child, whenever we talked I know that she's been with Ethel through thick and thin, she was fluent with the professional language of special education, the IDEIA, the best practices, and the importance of the role that she plays in Ethel's life. I told the Multi-Disciplinary Team during Ethel's last IEP meeting with me that she was very lucky to have a mother like her, I was very sure that I will see Ethel successful one day. She met all her goals before she left Jefferson, and she is continously making tremendous progress now. The team recommended Ethel to be in a full inclusion program in High School with sped teacher consultation. Ethel learned how to use the computer from routinely typing her poems after the final draft for publishing in our class blog. We are still emailing each other up to now.
Before they left last school year, mom gave me a letter. Here's her letter that I am sharing to you.
I gave her a gift for the closing ceremony and I was happy to see her wearing it on stage while getting her diploma from the principal. I handed her my letter when I bid her goodbye in the car:

Dear Ethel,

Your indomitable spirit was able to surpass all barriers. I am very proud of you.
I need to thank you today for making me feel like a very successful teacher. Today, I have seen a miracle in you.


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