Belief is the greatest teacher –

If there seems to be a reoccurring theme in my posts of late about belief and learning it is not by accident. I have written about it before: Who The Teacher, Homeschooling, and Teaching, a Child with Down Syndrome

An amazing thing happened when we started to unschool/homeschool*. We found teachers and other professionals that see Thorin as we do: educable. More over they see him as: Thorin. Their experience with children who have Down syndrome range from never to some.

In the final months of public education, Thorin was becoming a burden to the school as my husband and I pushed for more accountability in his education. One member of his team insisted upon referring to him in school meetings as a ‘cognitive profile’ rather than by his name. She praised him for being able to hold a book right side up. I wondered if “breathing” would be added to his short list of accomplishments.

The first time his first grade teacher told me: “I’m not really his teacher,” I asked, “How is that possible?”  “I have no idea what he’s doing” she said.

I could not tell if she was distancing herself from the lack of reasonable instruction he received, she was out of her depth or if she was sort of an asshole**.

My response was neutral, “Well, our son thinks you are his teacher.”

“Oh, that’s nice” she said.

Mid-year my son told me: “Help, please. Come to school.”

I started volunteering. I discovered he sat at the back of the classroom with his educational technician (ed tech), also known as one-on-one support, while the rest of the students participated in group activities. I asked her why.

“That way the other students don’t see how little he knows” she explained.

Until that moment I had thought of her as “one of the nice ones”. I also thought given her short stature I could totally take her if I said: “It’s Go Time!”. Instead I told her: “That is not a function of education. He is here to learn along with everyone else.”

There was one teacher who believed in our son. The art teacher, after seeing his photographs, she displayed a handful in the main hall of the school. She told him: “These are magnificent!” She told me: “He is gifted not for a child but gifted period. These photos could make people think differently about a child with Down syndrome.”

For posts related to Thorin’s photography: POV, Shutter Bug,Warholian Selfies, T’s Photos of Sally’s Garden  Picture This and Portrait of an Artist as a Young Boy.

Unschooling is predicated on the notion of allowing your child’s interests to dictate the path of learning. His particular interests are art and music.

Our son wanted to play guitar. I contacted a teacher with a doctorate in music who was highly recommended. He thought our son was on the young side of lessons but wanted to meet him solely because a friend of his who was a special education teacher told him that children with Down syndrome are unteachable. It would be a waste of his time.

He shared with me: “I don’t believe her. I have a diagnosis, too. People have made assumptions about me. I have suffered from it.”

The woman who teaches my son’s theater class—at our local children’s museum– told me: “I’ve had students who can’t speak English. I can help a child who has difficult talking.”

His dance teacher asked if it would bother him that he was the only boy in the class. Note: she did not ask if it would bother him if he was the only one with Down syndrome.

When I signed Thorin up for science camp at the children’s museum I asked the teacher if she thought there would be any problems. She said no problem and  thanked me for thinking of them.

No problem? Thank you for thinking of us? How could they not see all the problems and obstacles our school district saw when it came to Thorin?

Thorin is taking a science class through one of homeschool resources. I texted the parent coordinator asking if any issues. She texted back: “Glad to have him. Do you want to come early so he can meet the teacher?”

For two years we were refused by the principal at our school for Thorin to meet his teacher or aide before school started.

The first day of science class Thorin moved away from the group and sat by himself. The parent coordinator said: “If he is uncomfortable the teacher will figure it out. We want this to work for Thorin.”

The teacher told me after class: “It’s a little overwhelming he probably needed a break. My guess is he is taking it all in sitting quietly.”

Where did this lady get her schooling? Doesn’t she know that she should perceive his moving away as a behavior issue? At least that is what we were told at his old—as in decrepit and archaic—school.

Without exception the teachers I have encountered since leaving our public school system have asked the same question of me: How does your son learn best?

A question never once asked by any public school employee.

The most remarkable difference between the public school teachers we have known*** and teachers in the real world we have met has simply been the belief that our son can learn—and as importantly that he belongs.

* Very generally: Unschooling is an educational method and philosophy that advocates learner-chosen activities as a primary means for learning and homeschooling as curriculum-based. We do both.

** One of the best things about having your own blog is you get to question unopposed if someone is an asshole.

*** Some of my favorite people in the whole of the world are teachers. The one I love the most is my Aunt Nancy. I am not talking about those individuals who are dedicated and vigilant.

This entry was posted in By Notatypicalmom, Down syndrome, education, homeschooling, Inclusion and tagged , , , , by Kari Wagner-Peck. Bookmark the permalink.

About Kari Wagner-Peck

Kari Wagner-Peck lives with her husband and son in Maine. She is a blogger, writer & social justice storyteller who unschools with her son. She also has a M.S.W. and was at various times a practicing social worker, documentary videographer and film festival director She is the author of Not Always Happy: An Unusual Parenting Journey, May, 2017, Central Recovery Press. She has been published at The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, The Sydney Morning Herald, Parents, BLOOM and Love That Max among others. Follow her on Twitter @atypicalson and like her at Not Always Happy Facebook page. Email her: atypicalson@gmail.com

15 thoughts on “Belief is the greatest teacher –

  1. It’s fun to read your stuff. You question what every caring parent questions. Is my child getting all they can out of their education. Every one of is has felt our child was dismissed, under appreciated and under challenged. You articulate it better than most.

  2. I am a newcomer to your blog. First, I’m floored by Thorin’s photographs. If you lived closer, I’d come over today and ask him if would take my picture. I need a new one.
    Second, you are very fortunate to have found a few great teachers. Over all of my daughter’s years in and out of school (pre-K through college), she found about six teachers who really understood how she learned and what she could teach them. My daughter was my greatest teacher. Now, I will add Thorin to my list of great teachers.

    • His photographs blow me away as well. He’s like any artist though he doesn’t like “Ideas”:) He will be honored by what you wrote. Finding these teachers has been such affirmation we are on our path.

  3. I just continue to be so incredibly happy for all of you! I wish it had not been such a ridiculous struggle, but then you would not be doing what you are doing which seems to be the exact right thing for you both. And if he ever decides to do a photography exhibition, I will be first in line. <3

  4. Kari, reading your blog was like a step in the past. I can totally relate. I homeschooled my daughter and she is a secure and accomplished young lady. She is a competitive swimmer, plays piano,and works at McDonald’s. Her goal is to be independent.

    • Rosa, thank you for taking the time to comment. I love hearing this! Makes me feel very good. You must be quite proud:)

  5. Awesome! It totally sucks that you couldn’t find someone in the public school system to believe in Thorin. I would have….I’ve had lots of special education students in my general education classroom over the years. But I know many of my colleagues that would rather walk over hot coals than teach spec. ed. students. We are lucky that Owen’s teachers have bent over backwards this year trying to help him “show what he knows” while being non-verbal in every way.

    His photography……..blows me away. You can tell it’s his passion. I fully expect to hear about an exhibit of his somewhere soon!

  6. Kari, my heart is so heavy to hear about the way Thorin was treated in his public school. You and I have spoken before, and I’ve told you that I am a special education teacher. One of my top priorities is making sure my students have as many inclusive opportunities to learn from their peers (and show off all that they know themselves!) as possible. What a shame that Thorin’s teachers did not see the benefit of that themselves. I feel humbled every day to be able to teach students who show me how to learn and teach in many different ways to respect and celebrate each person’s unique learning styles and strengths (and interests!). I hope that Thorin’s various experiences outside of the public school have instilled in him a validation that he has so much to contribute to the world and that his thoughts and talents matter. His photographs are beautiful, and I hope that he will continue to show us the world through his lens (pun very much intended). As always, thank you so much for sharing.

    • Thanks Elise. Inclusion only works if everyone is on-board. We decided to stop fighting for it and help Thorin learn. We realized our priority is to him not to the system. I wished there had been a couple teachers like you at his school:)

    • One last thought Catherine– I am inspired too. I said we would never choose this path of homeschooling and it has been the best for Thorin. He is so happy again and learning!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s