I’ve been struggling to write this post for the past month and every time I sit down to write nothing comes out. And yet, sometimes we have to write about hard things. So here it goes.
I have worked with Joey since he was two years old. When I began working with him in the summer of 2016 he was not yet using a device, but still loved participating in any learning type of activity. Joey adored books, and the more I connected our work to books and stories the more engaged he became. Even before he had a device to participate with the book he was actively engaged. If I handed him a maraca he could shake it at all the right times for the Pete the Cat stories he loved so much. He knew exactly when his turn to shake the maraca was, and he waited until the right moment in the story. Beyond his bright eyes that could speak directly to anyone he was communicating with, it was his maraca participation that let me see there was a bright and engaged child unable to engage with the world like he wanted.
Some of my work with Joey has felt deeply personal, perhaps because my daughter is only a month younger than him. It’s been so helpful for me to watch their parallel development, and to remind myself of his age-appropriate sense of humor. For four years I watched them grow up in different settings, with different ways to communicate, and yet with similar interests and capabilities that did not involve motor skills.
This fall it was such an honor to bring them together for our inclusive pod and watch them interest – playing math games together, learning alongside of each other, and supporting each other. This fall was a teaching dream.
And yet, my family found our dream house in the blue ridge mountains – a dream my husband and I have had for fifteen years. I was faced with a horribly difficult decision that any teacher will relate to – that moment when you have to face the reality that your students are not your own children, and that sometimes you have to put your own children and family first. It is not something we are good at doing as teachers, and it is not a comfortable or easy decision to make.
We’ve lived here for three weeks now. We eat breakfast watching the sun rise over the mountains and the deer grazing in our field. Thanks to COVID, life is not that different inside of our house than it was before, except, of course, for our inclusive pod and Joey.
We have been able to go back once and work with Joey again. I am pretty sure Joey was happier to see my girls – his peers and friends – than he was to see me, but that is alright. I make him work, and they are there to play. My six year old had brought a Dogman book and Joey (like all six year olds) absolutely lit up when she held it up for him to look at. It was such a reminder of how much time has gone by – how four and half years ago we were reading Pete the Cat and now he’s clearly ready, just like my daughter, to dive into Dav Pilkey’s world.
Joey and I have done so much together. We learned the alphabet, the sounds, high frequency words, and then put all of it together to read actual books where Joey is able to read the sentence silently to himself and select the picture that matches the text. We’ve gone from numeral identification to counting sets, adding sets together, and recognizing and counting money.
I do not think there will be a day that goes by where I look out over the mountains and think of Joey. Yet, four and a half years is a long time to work with one teacher, and while I would love to continue working with Joey, he will continue to grow by being exposed to new teachers, strategies, and different learning opportunities. Joey is ready to expand his learning beyond me and see where it takes him next. I cannot wait to see where his childhood will take him.
I hope to continue to work with Joey in any capacity possible from a distance, or by coming back on a semi-regular basis. But if I cannot, I know Joey will continue to thrive with the excellent team and the incredible support of his family.