Why Compassion is Crucial to Being an Educator

first-aid-851240_640This week, I experienced something new. Actually, it wasn’t totally new, it’s just that, usually, I’m on the teacher/expert side of the proverbial table, rather than the parent side. And boy, does that make a difference.

The experience was a developmental evaluation for my 2-year-old son. The irony of being a linguist mom in a bilingual household is having a late talker. My son has virtually no productive vocabulary at almost 25 months. Apart from sound effects for animals and vehicles, and a few would-be words like “Um” for yum, “muh” for moon/more, and “bah” for balloon/book/ball, he says nothing. Although his hearing is good and he definitively comprehends 30-50 words (in English alone, make it double if you add Spanish), his pediatrician and plenty of other moms suggested a speech evaluation, and I thought it couldn’t hurt.

I’ve been feeling rather droll about the evaluation, and didn’t have a hint of nervousness going into it yesterday. But coming out of it, I felt discouraged, protective, helpless, and just plain sad. The evaluators were a Physical Therapist and a Speech Therapist, and the evaluation was holistic–cognitive, adaptive, communicative, socio-emotional, and physical. They were professional and kind, simply gathering data, and the evaluation was casual and went with the flow of a 2-year-old’s whims and moods. There was no pity or stigma, and I recognized that their observations and probing questions were simply to make an informed recommendation about whether services would be helpful. I’ve been in their position before, plenty of times. It’s business as usual.

What I never realized as the professional in this scenario, is that, to a parent, each and every question feels like a secret diagnosis. They asked if he always spends this much time on his stomach. They asked if he always scoots under the couch. They asked if this frustrated crying fit, brought on by being told to walk instead of crawl to get a ball, was representative of all of his crying fits and if they happened more than once a day. The evaluation totally drained me, trying to simultaneously reassure him, get him to show his skills, answer their questions thoroughly, and just plain vouch for him. At the end, I was left wondering whether he’s seriously delayed in other areas and I’ve failed to notice. I just wanted to turn back the clock to earlier in the day to when he was just my boy and we had our rhythm, and who cares if he’s not like other kids in one skill or another.

Seeing the evaluators work with him, trying to elicit communication and spontaneous problem-solving by piquing his interest them ignoring him, felt cruel, and made me wonder if I’ve become what I would have once considered an enabling mother. I don’t think I’ve gone that far, but what my expert self never realized, is that a mom CAN’T always act like a professional with her child, because the child needs someone–often his mother–to make the maximum effort to understand hm in order to feel self-secure.

While the results of the evaluation won’t come back for another week and I can’t say yet whether I’ll be sad or glad if he’s eligible for therapy, it was a taste of humble pie. Each and every child I’ve worked with has had a parent or two who loves them fiercely and does the best they can. And each and every child has been so much more than their need for services. Even with kind and professional partners on their side, parents feel small over the challenges their children face. So very small. The experience has sharpened my perspective as a practitioner, and I hope that sharing it might do the same for you, too.

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