Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Meet the Teacher: 6th Grade is A Very Scary Place

For the past several weeks, there's been a dirty word in our house. Every time anyone's mentioned the word "school," Jack fires back, "I hate school! I don't want to talk about school!" Whenever we see a commercial on TV that mentions "Back to School," he wails, "Why does everything have to be about school? I hate school!" As much as we've been trying to reassure him that Mom and Dad are going to do everything we can to make sure he has a good year, he was still insisting he hated school.

Today was "Meet the Teacher" day. We were supposed to be at school between 2:00 and 3:00 to meet his new teacher. I kept trying to build it up as, "Yay! We get to see your new classroom. Meet your new teacher. See your friends!" He wasn't buying any of it. "Why can't you just go without me? You go meet the teacher. I'll meet her at school tomorrow."

This was my cue to begin the lecture I've been honing since first grade, "We need to be positive! It's going to be a great year! You're going to be at the top of the school! 6th grade! It's going to be awesome! You're going to have so much fun!" Nothing. He finally got dressed, brushed his teeth and hair and got in the car like he was going to an execution.

As we got out of the car and were walking onto campus, he was finally able to tell me what was bothering him so much. "Mr. D [one of last year's 6th grade teachers, who's since gone on to another school] said that 6th grade is harder and stricter than 5th grade." Suddenly I got it! He's scared! He's afraid he's not going to be ready for 6th grade.

"Oh, no! That's not true," I assured him. "All the teachers you've had up until now have prepared you for 6th grade. You're ready, along with all your friends. You're so smart! You're going to have a good time this year and you're going to learn so much!"

When we met his teacher, she was very kind and smiling. I told her that Jack was a little worried. "Oh, no!" she said, "you don't need to worry! You're just a kid! Nobody expects you to know everything. That's my job. To teach you. Let me do the worrying!" 

All summer I thought he was resenting going back to school cause he'd rather stay home and play video games (who wouldn't?), but really he was scared. How did I not know that? The thing that makes me angry is that the teacher who told him 6th grade would be hard, thought he was motivating kids. Little did he know he nearly paralyzed ours!

For every child, a new teacher, a new classroom, a new schedule are a challenge. Even more so for a child with autism who struggles with transitions in general. Why on earth was it necessary to add fear into the mix?

I'm just so grateful he was able to tell me that he was afraid, so that I was able to reassure him that everything would be okay. I'm even more grateful that his new teacher was so kind and understanding with him. And she's pretty, too!

Because he's so bright, I sometimes forget that he's special too. I forget my own description of him that I wrote in Love Letter for My Autistic Child:

Sometimes "I won’t" only means "I can’t."

Coming home in the car, he was a totally different child. Chatty. Animated. The weight of the world had been lifted off his shoulders. I think he's looking forward to the first day now. Maybe 6th grade isn't such a scary place after all!

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