Wednesday, June 24, 2015

From Fear to Fairies

Two years ago we were a few weeks away from Finley's IEP meeting.  Things were not going well.  Finley was doing fine in first grade, but her teachers felt she should still stay back.  But we weren't having it.  We were moving on and that was that.

I had a talk with the principal because I wanted a chance to meet the 2nd grade teachers and see what their classrooms were like.  Being a mom in a small town, I had already put my feelers out for whom I wanted and whom I didn't.  I made my thoughts known to the principal, but he just smiled and took me to the classes anyway.

I sat begrudgingly in the back of one of the classrooms and thought "I don't care that I was brought to this class - I am not going to want Finley in here".  I started to look around the classroom, and unfolded my arms.  The kids were in their last week of school, but they were being polite and quiet.  They were still learning and seemed happy.  But then I refolded my arms.  No no - I had made up my mind.  I knew better.

Or so I thought.

I sat in the back of Mrs. Holm's class that day with my mind already made up.  Then I started to watch the class.  Really watch.  My hardened exterior started to melt and I started to think I was too quick to judge.  That maybe I didn't know.

And I didn't.

Finley got assigned to Mrs. Holm's class.  Because the principal is smarter than I am, and he knew that I would come around.  Eventually.  I spent the summer wringing my hands.  Talking to parents.  Talking to her braille teacher.  I insisted on sitting with Mrs. Holm before the year started to make sure we were on the same page.  I have felt so out of control at the school up until this point.  (which was all in my head, but that is another story).  I needed to maintain my hold on Finley.

We met.  She was polite.  She expressed her concerns that were brought to her attention about Finley and her possibly being in for a rough year.  I was worried that she was already being set up for failure.  So I put the wall up.  And insisted that she was going to be fine.

But she wasn't.

The year was terrible for Finley.  But not for me.  Mrs. Holm was warm, kind, sweet, and sharp as a tack.  Finley didn't get lost.  Mrs. Holm didn't throw up her hands and say "this kid doesn't belong here - figure it out".  She reached Finley.  She made sure she got the support she needed.  And when we met for conferences in December, she filled me in on what was going on, what she was doing to get Finley through this.  And she gently told me that she thought Finley was in trouble.

And I agreed with her.

We saw Finley start to hate school.  She didn't want to go.  She loved Mrs. Holm but she didn't understand the material, and braille was catching up with her, and 5 hours of pull out of her classroom was sinking her ability to be successful in second grade.

And Mrs. Holm got her through it.  And SHE was the one that I trusted when it came time to make a decision about staying in 2nd grade or going on to 3rd grade.  For the first time, I let go of my control to someone else and realized that she had Finley's best interest at heart.  And that she had truly tried EVERYTHING to make Finley successful.  She didn't quit.

I can't tell you what the turning point was for me in the relationship with Mrs. Holm.  All I can tell you was that it didn't take me long to trust her.  Or to like her.  And to be okay with Finley repeating 2nd grade - as long as she could have Mrs. Holm again.

A few weeks before Finley's IEP last year, Mrs. Holm came up with a plan for Finley.  She wanted to show her that her very (very) large group of adults that worked with her were a team.  That we were all pieces of Finley's puzzle.  She and Finley made a puzzle on paper and listed all the people that were on her team.  And each on of us got a puzzle piece key chain.  And Finley got a puzzle piece necklace.  Each of our pieces fit into hers.  Finley thought this was fantastic.  And so did we.

This year was a complete 180 for Finley.  Mrs. Holm is amazing.  She changed parts of her cirriculum, and even rearranged her room and painted to make it seem a bit different for Finley.  For one student.  We knew she had her back.

A few days before school started, I got an email from her that said she had remembered that Finley loved fairies and fairy gardens.  She had gone out and gotten supplies and made fairy houses in the trees on the school playground.  I was to keep it a secret so that the kids could discover them when school started.  She thought about Finley and Finley's feelings in everything that happened this school year.  Finley and I fell in love with her, and without a doubt in our mind knew that we had made the right decision to keep Finley in 2nd grade for a second year.

The year sped by.  This year's IEP was a breeze.  Finley was doing well.  She was ready for 3rd grade.  She didn't need nearly the support this year that she needed last year.  She had become more confident and a better learner.

Before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye.  We knew it was coming.  Finley had been talking about it for a few weeks.  How hard it was going to be to say goodbye to Mrs. Holm.  None of us would ever be able to thank her enough for what she did not only for Finley, but for us her parents as well.  For the first time in Finley's little life, when it came time to talk about placement for her next year I told the teacher that I had full confidence that she knew what Finley needed.  Because it is true.  I know she does.

This morning, when we stepped out onto the porch to take our last ride to school for this year, we found a fairy garden kit on our porch.  Mrs. Holm had snuck to our house early this morning and put it there for Finley to find.  Wrapped neatly and full of goodies, it came with the following note:

Dear Finley,

            Most teachers do not get the opportunity that I had. The chance to spend two years with a student.  So often we wish we could keep out students for another year to learn more about them and help them to grow.
           In these two years, you've grown so much.  You've learned a great deal and you've taught me a lot too.  The lessons I've learned have helped to make me a better teacher.  I think about many things differently now.
          It's with great pride and sadness that I watch you go on to third grade.  You are so ready and I'm excited for you to experience all that is in store for you.  The sadness part is only because I will miss you.  I've become quite accustomed to seeing your little face.
          As I thought about what to get you, I changed my mind several times.  I wanted it to be something that would remind you of your experience here and to maybe even remember me.  I also wanted it to be something that made me think of you.  I came across this description of fairies.
          "Fairies are said to have magical powers, are very shy, and tend to be a little mischievous.  They like to play tricks; they move things around in the garden and hide things just for their own amusement.  They love to dance and play.  If you look closely, you may see them dancing in the dakr with the fireflies."
          I said, "WOW! I could take out the word FAIRY and put in FINLEY!"  Then I knew just what to give you.  Fairies make me smile.  I love to think about white dandelions being fairy wishes blowing in the wind.  I created my own Fairy Garden in my backyard.  With your creativity and imagination, I thought you might like to do that too.
          Some people doubt the power of fairies because they're so small.  Some people say they don't exist.  I choose to believe in magic because it brings me joy.  I will always believe in you.
         You will do great things my friend.  You are one of the most talented, bravest people I know.  I will always keep you in my thoughts and forever in my heart.

                                                                                                             Mrs. Holm

Are you crying yet?  You know you are.

Life is full of people who change you.  Vanessa Holm changed us.  She changed how we felt about Finley's education and she gave Finley the confidence and the skills to do anything she wants.  Finley will always have that.  We will never forget her.

Do you have a teacher in your life that changed you or your child?  Use today to write them a letter or an email and thank them.

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