A Little Help From Aunt Sheri

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I was still in college when my sister Sheri gave me a gift. She had been a special education teacher for more than five years in a Michigan town before the stresses of the job combined with her CF struggles became too taxing on her body. The district in which she taught was a low-income area that housed a prison, and some of her students had parents or other relatives in that prison. The needs were great. Sheri’s heart was big and she was the perfect one to love and nurture these children while helping them learn.

Because her district didn’t have the resources that some wealthier areas have, Sheri invested a great deal of her own money and time into making materials to use with her students. Her creativity really shone through in a lot of what she made, and when she left teaching, she brought some of it home with her. She gave it all to me while I was in college preparing for my own teaching career. I was able to use her creations in my own classrooms and later, with my tutoring students as well.

This fall I acquired a new student…an extra special young five named Lucas. At conferences, his teacher mentioned that he could use additional practice with fine motor activities such as writing his letters and cutting. For several years now, Lucas has been asking when he would be old enough to be a tutoring student and this was the perfect opportunity to make extra practice at home exciting for him! I put together a program which included muscle strengthening and fine motor practice but also tasks I knew would be fun and easy for him to make it an enjoyable time for both of us. When I broke the news to him he was thrilled and proud to be old enough to come to my office like a big kid. And I was excited too! It’s been lots of fun to have these two loves of mine intersect. Lucas has been an enthusiastic participant.

I was also excited to take out some of Sheri’s creations that had been dormant for a while. I told Lucas all about how she had been a teacher and how she had made a lot of the tools we were using to learn. We keep a picture of her nearby while we work–a Christmas ornament she made with her students one year. I even found some fun animal pencils she and I had made together once and the cat pencil has become Lucas’s official tutoring pencil.

I wish that Lucas could have known Sheri and that she could have known him. Someday that wish will come true. But for now, I’m so grateful that she can still be part of his life, even in this small way, and that we can remember her together as we learn.

img_0985Lucas was one excited boy on the first day of tutoring! He even uses the outdoor entrance like my other students do. After all, he wants it to be official!

Coloring, cutting, matching, tracing. It’s all good.

Here we’re using some of Aunt Sheri’s materials! Lucas is holding her special pencil and ornament, working on more matching activities that she put together, and jumping on vinyl letters she cut out and labeled to blend sounds into words.

img_1535Today in tutoring we learned how to draw a cat. Perhaps Lucas didn’t inherit Sheri’s natural artistic abilities, but I think they’re great and I know she would have liked them too. 🙂

Sheri, thanks for the help! Your legacy lives on.

A Stepping Stone

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A few weeks ago my big boy started preschool. It may seem strange to start school in June, but the center he is attending has a summer program.  In order to hold our spot for the fall at a popular place, we had to start him in the summer. It works well because I am doing most of my summer tutoring while he is away at school.

We debated a bit about starting Lucas in school this year. He was born on August 9th which is a bit of an awkward birthday when you’re trying to figure out schooling.  Had he been born on his due date which was September 6th, we wouldn’t be in this position. The cutoff for kindergarten in Michigan is September 1st, so he would have started kindergarten just before turning six.  As it stands, we will have to decide whether to start him when he’s a young five or wait a year.

Having been a classroom teacher for seven years, I bring that perspective to the table and I would prefer to start him after he turns six, particularly because in our district, kindergarten is full day. Jaime was one of the oldest in his class having an October birthday.  He brings that perspective to the table and is not against starting Lucas in kindergarten when he is a young five, particularly if we choose a private, half day program.  Ah the decisions. Our district does offer a half day young fives program which seems like the best plan to both of us currently.

With all this bouncing around in our heads, we decided to start Lucas in preschool this year, just two afternoons a week. That way I don’t have to part with him too many days but he will have a chance to experience school, learn and grow in his social skills, get used to being away a few times a week, and it will (hopefully) ease whatever transition awaits him for next year. We’re thinking of it as a stepping stone.

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We’re off to preschool!

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Outside the school with Daddy

Lucas did great on his first day.  We had visited two times prior and he was excited to go.  He was unhappy when he realized we weren’t staying with him, but he was so brave!  No tears, just a quivering, sad face.  When I called a few hours in, his teacher said he was having a great time. The second day he was less enthusiastic and when I told him we were going, he said, “But Mommy, I already goed there!” Since then we have worked hard to prepare him, talking about how we go on Tuesdays and Thursdays, telling him which day it is and when he will go next, and it has gotten easier and easier. He even likes to wave to his class (the Robin’s class) when we pass near the school. He is making friends and we already had an outside-of-school playdate with one little boy this week.

Drop off is going smoothly now, and he is always so excited to be picked up.  He spots me from a mile away, shoots across the classroom and throws himself into my arms. What a feeling!  The reunion helps make the separation bearable. He is so excited to show us what lovely creation he has made at school that day–usually a painting or a drawing.  So far they’ve all been for me 🙂

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Unfortunately there was an almost equal amount of red paint on his shirt…

Starting preschool caused some regression in other areas at first–he wasn’t sleeping as well, he was much more clingy than he had been, not wanting to be out of my sight ever, and he was having meltdowns again. Thankfully it’s been getting better and better. Changes are hard for him and we are proud that he’s doing so well!

I had a few meltdowns too. Even though it’s just two afternoons a week, it seems like such a big step. This is not his first “school” experience as he has other little classes he attends, but this time I don’t know his teachers personally and I am not in the building nearby. When he was having a hard time initially, I second guessed our decision, worried we hadn’t fully considered all the options, and considered pulling him out after day two.  I know it’s silly, but I hated to see him struggling and telling me he missed me and wanting to stay home. I never knew how acutely I would feel Lucas’s pain as his mother. And how desperately I would want to shield and protect him from it, even though he needs to be challenged to grow. It is especially hard to stay strong when my heart is a little broken for myself, too. I love the time I have with my sweet boy and am not eager to see it lessen as he grows. Lucas does feel very proud to be big enough to go to school, and I know he’s proud of himself for being brave enough to stay. I just have to be brave enough!

I love to hear Lucas talk about what happened at school. Of course we only get bits and pieces at this age but it’s fun to have a little window into his preschool world anyway, whether it be a bird feeder that fell down in a storm (and Eva fixed it, Mommy!) or a book he heard (even the dog had some soup, Mommy!) or a field trip he’s taken (I saw pink and white flowers at the Fairy Garden, Mommy, but no fairies…), or something he did on the playground (Leo and I sang songs on the slide!). It’s an adjustment, hearing about his day rather than experiencing it with him, but it’s a good and necessary step.  A stepping stone, for both of us.

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My big boy.

Supplies

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There is something exciting about this time of year.  Summer is drawing to an end, school is starting, stores are filled with back to school clothes and supplies.  Oh the school supplies!  They call out to me.  I can’t help but take a look to see what new, colorful and unnecessary yet wonderful wares are for sale at the start of every year.  I was at Target with Jaime just a few weeks ago and when I mentioned I needed to check out the school section (for my tutoring business, naturally), a groan escaped the man’s lips.  I guess spending a lengthy amount of time browsing in the supply section wasn’t his idea of great time.  What?  Who doesn’t love school supplies?

Maybe I’m a little over the top.  I remember waiting eagerly for the supply list to arrive every August and poring over it as a child.  The list often gave a hint as to what the teacher might be like.  Did they require binders with dividers?  Were folders okay?  Were you allowed to use notebooks or did you have to have loose leaf paper?  I remember feeling proud and excited once I hit the age where pens made the list!  I always loved going to school and it was thrilling to have fresh, new things to take along on the first day.

I was a classroom teacher for seven years before cystic fibrosis caused my health to take a turn.  I left my job because I felt I needed to be away from the constraints of a full time job and especially away from the germs in the elementary setting.  While I was employed by the school district I spent all but one year teaching special education in a program that involved both instructing students in my own classroom, usually for some combination of reading, writing, and math, and supporting students in their general education classrooms for content areas such as science and social studies.  I loved teaching, and every year, when my former colleagues head back to work, I feel a bit wistful, and not just for the school supplies.

I remember clearly the feeling leading up to the end of summer.  I would simultaneously lament the loss of summer freedoms and feel excited and exhilarated as I headed back to begin a new year.  It’s nice to have a career where each year feels like a fresh start.  There were always new ideas to try out, new technologies available, new decor in the classroom, and new students to meet.  It was so much fun to go shopping, buy materials, and get all set up and ready for the students.  Things look so bright and shiny on the first day of school.  I would get there early, put a few finishing touches on the room, and wait.  The busses would pull up, the kids would file off, and the building would suddenly become alive with energy and chatter.  A new year!

I’m still a teacher even though I don’t work in a classroom anymore.  In many ways, tutoring is much the same as teaching special education only it’s one on one instead of small group instruction.  I get to foster relationships, target specific areas of need, and work on coming up with creative ideas, resources, and strategies to meet educational goals.  Tutoring is a bit more relaxed than teaching and there is more room for students to comfortably express themselves which I love.  I don’t have to attend long meetings, write IEP goals, mark report cards, or keep binders full of documentation anymore.  I don’t miss those things.

But there are things I miss.  I miss my colleagues.  It was fun to be part of a team of teachers, working together towards achieving the same goals of educating children and trying hard to make a positive difference in their lives for the time they were under our care.  I miss sharing daily life with those fellow workers and friends.  I miss being employed by a school district–being a part of a system that was working together for the greater good of the community and its families.  I also miss the classroom setting.  There was something deeply satisfying about smoothly running a special education room that included multiple grade levels, students with differing schedules and services, students with wildly different strengths and weaknesses.  I miss teaching groups of students–watching the dynamics between classmates, seeing relationships develop and blossom, observing the magic of children learning from one another.

It has been seven years since I resigned from my teaching job.  I can hardly fathom that.  When I left, I felt I had been teaching for so long, and now that amount of time has passed again in its entirety.  Giving up my job was very sad for me.  It was hard to lose a career that I loved, that fulfilled me, and that gave me a sense of purpose and a feeling of security.  I felt forced out by my my disease, strong armed by cystic fibrosis as it were.  Initially I felt defeated–like cystic fibrosis won and I lost.  Diseases do take.  They take away energy and strength, freedom, and sometimes dreams and aspirations.  But God gives.  The door closed on my classroom teaching career but God opened up new doors for me and gave me new things to do.  He gave me many wonderful students to tutor.  He gave me time to sleep, exercise, and focus on my health.  He gave me volunteer activites to pour myself into.  Four years after my resignation He gave me Lucas.  Being his mother has been my favorite vocation thus far.  Someday I’ll get to buy school supplies for him.

I actually bought some school supplies this year.  I couldn’t help it.  Here is what Lucas got:

An adorable pencil case creature (orange, of course!).

And here is what I got (for my business!  I promise!):

Ah, fresh folders and notebooks.

Ah, fresh folders and notebooks.

Gotta love new markers and a clean marker board with lines!

Gotta love new markers and a clean marker board with lines!

These pens may have been a bit superfluous.  But I like to make colorful notes for myself!

These pens may have been a bit superfluous. But I like to make colorful notes for myself!

I still miss my old job, but I adore my new one.  God is in the supplies business too.  He has supplied all my needs–for a purpose, for vocation, for things to do, and for people to love and serve.