If you’re like me, when the teacher speaks about those areas that need improvement, it can feel as if you’re the one being assessed.
I remember meeting with my daughter’s kindergarten teacher last year. When she handed me the progress report, I only noticed one thing.
The letter N – Needs improvement.
There it was beside: Ties shoelaces independently. I’m the one who needs improvement, I thought.
I’ve failed her. I’ll be tying her shoes for her first day of college. If she even goes to college?!
Haven’t we all done this? Haven’t we seen the N or the C – or even the F – and felt like we failed them?
Recently, I was talking with a mom of a new student at our school who was homeschooled all his life. She was concerned that she had not prepared him for this new journey. I was shocked. He’s an incredibly smart and compassionate individual. For the last 16 years, she’s dedicated her life to teaching him math, science, social studies – and more importantly – how to love God and others above himself.
“Don’t worry,” I told her. “You’ve done everything to prepare him and much, much more.”
But I quickly realized I have the same concern about my own son.
This year will be my three-year-old’s very first Parent-Teacher conference. I’ve been trying to prepare myself to once again face the dreaded letter N. You see, my son has Autism and he’s in class with seven typically developing children. There are many things that I’m sure need improvement.
This time, however, I will be mindful to focus on the positives because I know he is improving each time he walks into school.
This time last year, he wouldn’t even do that. He’d scream at the door, refusing to go in to pick up his big sister. He also wailed each time we went to get a haircut, to the grocery store, or even to my in-laws. But today, we can do most of those without a battle.
He’s improving. And that’s how I know I’m not failing him.
While there are many days I feel like hyperventilating by just the thought of him going to kindergarten or possibly driving a car, I try to focus on how far he’s come.
I remember the day we received his diagnosis. I was sitting in a small office, waiting for a woman I’d met only once to come in – and in my mind – define my son’s future.
She sat down, smiled briefly, and said, “I’m sure you’re already aware that your son is in fact on the spectrum. He has Autism.”
My heart stopped.
The only word I could say was, “Okay.”
She went on to explain about 25 pages of data that supported her diagnosis while I sat there glowering at her. She talked about his deficits in speech, fine motors, and social skills.
Fail. Fail. Fail.
Every word felt like a bullet.
While she stressed the importance of continuing therapy and handed me several parent resource pamphlets, I found myself wondering about his future.
Will he play baseball? Go to prom? Have a family of his own?
It’s easy to get lost in the moment and allow a label – or even a bad grade – to cause us as parents and teachers to question how well we have prepared the children in our lives.
Thankfully, that day did not define my son’s future. It changed our life in many ways, but it didn’t change who he is or take away his potential for a happy and meaningful life.
Today, James is talking more, can string a row of beads, and has developed relationships with his peers.
We are not defined by weaknesses. My daughter can do many things well, but needs help in a few places. My son struggles more, but has made great strides in critical areas.
And I’m equally proud of them.
When you’re sitting in those conferences this month, be sure to celebrate where our children and students have progressed and don’t focus on what needs improvement or where they’re falling behind.
Think about how far they’ve come. Rejoice in the fact that they are accomplishing things that a year ago they couldn’t dream of doing.
And be sure to tell yourself that you are also improving.
You have prepared them well.