Two years is 23 months too long to have to wait

Thursday, July 3, 2008

In our letters to the editor section on the next page, you’ll see one from a parent who waited for two years before his child was finally diagnosed with a learning disability.

The Grade 4 teacher thought there was something wrong and suggested testing.

The Grade 5 teacher agreed.

So did the Grade 6 teacher.

And now, as another school year ends, this family finally learns what has caused the child difficulties learning — something that comes in handy when you’re trying to help the child learn.

They were lucky. I started complaining in Grade 2 that my oldest son couldn’t read well.

The pat-on-the-head reply: It’s a new system of learning. It’s whole language. He’ll catch on.

He didn’t.

By the end of the year, the vice-principal was the go-between if I wanted to speak with my son’s teacher.

That routine continued for several years. We hired tutors for him, we spent hours working with him, we begged — we even bribed him to keep on trying but the love of reading had never been fostered in him.

Finally, a gifted Grade 9 science teacher at the former John Peterson secondary lent him a book he thought my son might like. The long bus rides home and to work gave him plenty of time to make his way through it and, for whatever reason, something finally clicked.

The words were finally worth reading, so he put in the time and effort required to succeed.

It’s not a matter of the march of time that’s seen the system improve somewhat.

When I was in kindergarten, my teacher noticed early in the year there was a problem teaching me and before the snow had started to flow, a bunch of suits had come in, played some totally stupid — to a five-year-old — games and declared me “different.”

They didn’t have all those cool terms to describe those “unique” students, like they do today.

Unfortunately, parents who find themselves tripping over every stumbling block the education system has within it aren’t that uncommon.

I have many friends who have found the system not particularly kid-friendly when it comes to putting away the cookie cutters and dealing with each student as the individual he or she is.

A couple of us have shared horror stories — our horror, not the teachers’ — about the times we’ve sat in meetings while the representatives of the education system tell us all the things that are “wrong” with our children.

He can’t do algebra.

He can’t handle French grammar.

He can’t sit still.

He can’t — fill in the blank. Many of you know how these sentences end.

At a recent such meeting, I listed all the “can’ts” a medical specialist had once given us to describe the future of our youngest child.

After each “can’t,” I pointed out that he now can — and then asked if we could spend the meeting time more constructively by identifying all those “cans” and determine ways to build on them.

It’s not that these teachers and support people don’t want to see each child succeed. It’s just that the system has to be quanitified and analyzed and justified and rationalized — and there must be standards established to help determine all those signs of success.

I remember my Grade 13 history teacher pushing me to join his profession when I grew up. It’s an honourable profession, he said.

Perhaps it was then, but now, it seems to be a profession where teachers can’t truly do the jobs they want to do, can’t ignore the bureaucracy that surrounds them and just teach the child — and can never do enough to satisfy many of us parents, even though we know they’re doing the best they can.

We just always want it to be a bit better.

So perhaps in today’s education bureaucracy, two years to diagnose a learning disability isn’t shocking to teachers.

But it is shocking — and we can’t remain complacent or even more children will lose precious learning years.