When parent-teacher conferences rolled around for our 10-year-old son this year, I felt nervous. Not because I was scared of what his teacher would say. Not because we hadn’t yet had his 504 meeting (to talk about school accommodations for his special needs), or because he was having issues with his art teacher.
This year, the parent-teacher conferences were more about me than him. More about how his success or failure would reflect upon us, as his parents. It was about the work my wife and I had been putting in to make him a better brother and son; a more caring, proactive participant in our household; and a better student, friend and citizen at school. The parent-teacher conferences were our report card.
His fifth-grade year marked a turning point, a milestone of sorts in our journey as his parents. It was the result of six years of hard work on our part, as well as his.
His report card came home in late October, and before it did, the parent-teacher conferences had been scheduled. When I arrived home from work and saw the envelope lying on our dining room table, I felt a pit in my stomach. I was worried as I picked up the envelope and slowly pulled out the report card. My mouth dropped open, and I let out a proud-mommy squeal. “Jonathan,” I screamed. I ran up to his room, jumped on his Lego-covered bed and said “I am so proud of you!”
Our child had A’s, a few A-pluses and one B-plus. This report card that I held in my hand was proof of his hard work, but also of our efforts. Some of his A’s were our A’s, too. We had invested in him as much as he had invested in school. He had actually been listening to us during those homework arguments. The reading we made him do over the weekends had also paid off, as he was above grade-level in that area.
We now knew, based on his report card, that this parent-teacher conference would go well. And in fact, it was the best conference we’ve had in his short academic career.
There was a time, however, when we had found ourselves feeling the opposite of ecstatic. When he had been in kindergarten for two months, long before conferences were scheduled, his very experienced, very traditional teacher called us. She wanted to tell us that socially, she thought he was behind his peers. And that he was struggling with showing age-appropriate self-control and listening skills. I was in denial, and shrugged it off as the teacher being too old-school. My wife, though, pushed for a psychological and academic evaluation. The school conducted one and determined our son didn’t have any issues that hindered his academic performance. So we moved on.
By second grade, he’d had countless unofficial parent-teacher conferences to discuss his behavior and academics, so we had him evaluated, both by the school and independently. We finally had some answers. He was diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety disorder and possibly autism. By third grade, we had changed schools, towns and teachers, meaning our son went through more transitions. His diagnosis moved with him. Those labels would be his — and ours — forever.
His diagnosis has been our introduction to each of his teachers since kindergarten, with “something is different about him” to fourth grade, with “We know socially he needs a little extra help while academically, he seems to ‘get it.’” By fifth grade, at least academically, he’d exceeded even his own expectations. His fifth-grade teacher, whom he also had for fourth grade, said she’d chosen him to be in her fifth-grade class. “Why?” my wife asked. She replied, “Because I love working with him; he is such a great student.” She wanted him in her class, not because she thought she could better support him, but because she genuinely enjoyed him as a student and looked forward to see more of his growth.
To my surprise, the arguing and the battles we face at home during every transition (morning routine, night routine, change of weekend plans) are not an issue at school, in her class or any other. He loves school and he pushes himself when he is there. He has used the strategies we’ve taught him to get himself organized in school. We launched a system in first grade in which we rewarded him each day for a good day in school, for kind acts wherever he went, for helping with chores, for listening to instructions. He gained a stone for each of these things and collected them in a jar that, at the end of the month, he cashed in for a toy or book or candy. Each year we modified the reward system to cater to his growing maturity, and combined it with medication and the necessary evaluations.
We were exhausted and no day was easy, but we have succeeded as parents. And when the hard days come again, when he gets frustrated because he cannot get his way, when he has a run-in with his neighborhood friends, or when homework arguments come up, we will think back to this parent-teacher conference. We will remember that we must also be proud of ourselves and the work we put in every day to make sure our son is the best he can be. At a certain point, and probably sooner rather than later, he will be the best he can be and he will value what he can give to the world. That’s our reward.
Nikkya Hargrove is a wife, mother and writer based in Connecticut. Find her on Twitter @Nikkya1128.
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