Teaming Up With Teachers

My son received an autism diagnosis in 2000.

In the years since, he’s attended public schools, from Pre-K onwards. We’ve traveled 3 school systems and a range of settings: self-contained classrooms, resource classes with dedicated paraprofessionals, resource classes with shared paras, and independent work in regular classrooms.

We’ve met a variety of teachers, from passionately enthusiastic young recent graduates to seasoned veterans nearing retirement.

Throughout the whirlwind of changes (of schools and teachers, as well as the changes through growth), I’ve seen one principle proven over and over again:

You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

Please pardon my pun. Baseballs and insects often collide, but teachers are not flies; they are kind people who do their best to work with our kids.

Baseball games let people understand the yearning of learning: the yearning to know what’s coming next, the yearning for the dull boring part to end, the yearning to get on with the game. I know parents yearn in this way for their children; I imagine teachers yearn for this too.

Last week my son had an outburst in a busy classroom. It shocked the teachers; that was their pop fly. My son still feels caught: caught between his own frustration in the class and his own understanding of consequences. He will probably remember that “out” for years.

Over a decade, we’ve fielded a lot of pop flies and thrown a lot of balls. Different circumstances and levels of exhaustion provoked an assortment of responses with sometimes-unexpected results.

Our pop flies usually come in the form of emails. As parents, we have the luxury of learning about incidents once the teachers have had a chance to catch their breath. We catch the fly ball and take a moment to decide what kind of ball we’re going to send back: a screaming scorcher, a gentle lob, or something in between.

On some level, we make a decision: is this a competitive sport, or a team effort?

When this happens, I try to remember: this is not about “me”. However I respond, my son is the one who will face the “umpire” the next day at school. And the ump will have to deal with my son.

The “umpire” is not just a body in a funny striped shirt. We’re talking about a human being who fills the shoes of teacher, umpire, coach, friend, and protector. There are probably other roles I don’t even know about…

So, when I feel a pop fly coming, I put out the honey, dust down my motherly defensiveness, and catch the fly.

To all the caring teachers in the world: Thank you for fielding my son’s throws, and for being his parent when I can’t. I know his throwing arm wobbles sometimes, and you really have to run to catch that ball.

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