Assumptions are toxic, but we all make them. Before I married my husband, I made assumptions about marriage. Before I became a mother, I made assumptions about moms. Before I became a STAY-AT-HOME mother, I made assumptions about working moms and stay-at-home moms. AND I made assumptions about their kids. Before I became a teacher. Before I lived overseas. Before I taught in public schools. Before I became a mom to TWO kids under two. Before I earned a degree in Educational Leadership. BEFORE. BEFORE. BEFORE. For my entire life I have been making assumptions.
It’s very easy to be on the MAKING SIDE of assumptions.
The photo above was taken during what was one of the most difficult seasons of my marriage. I had just gone through two pregnancies back-to-back, both hard on me physically and emotionally. I experienced postpartum depression after giving birth to both boys. Add to that a major move, finishing graduate school, and after working for fifteen years, becoming a stay-at-home mom. LOTS of CHANGE. Lots of joy. But still very difficult. No one would know in this picture, though. By looking at the picture in isolation, one might ASSUME we were happy and well adjusted. If you walked with us during this season of our lives, you might know otherwise.
What assumptions do you make about others? Teachers? Parents? Students? Friends?
On the Receiving Side of Assumptions
I shop at Costco once a month. On my most recent outing, I experienced two people make assumptions about my life, specifically my tolerance threshold, and my awareness of others. One came from an older woman, the other from an older man. Here’s the short of it.
I dropped my husband off at the airport, and took my two boys, ages 2 and 8 months, to shop at Costco. As every parent knows, this outing could have only gone two ways. I am usually waiting (with clenched fists) for the bottom to fall out and my kids to lose it. Today, my oldest helped feed my youngest while I packed as many items into the cart as quickly as possible. My oldest even decided NOT to jump out of the cart (which has been known to do). Both boys giggled with one another, enjoyed the lights, the people, and the noise.
When we finally made it to the checkout line, I felt relieved and giddy that my experience with my kids at Costco had been so PLEASANT. Then… (of course, there’s always something )… an older lady approached me and shared how refreshing it was for her to see me out alone shopping with my boys. She then shared how her granddaughter, who has twins, refuses to shop alone. The only response I knew was to say, “You’re catching me on a good day,” and continued to place my items on the checkout counter. We exchanged a few more comments, then went our separate ways. (For all you mommas out there choosing to stay home instead of shop with your babies, I am with you. YOU DO YOU.)
I left the checkout line and moved into what I thought was the line for food. After a few minutes I realized I wasn’t in a line at all, and the line for food started in a different area. At that moment a man who was in the actual line just happened to YELL, without making eye contact with me, but loud enough still, “Yeah people. This is the line. I guess some people don’t pay attention to where lines begin.”
It’s not fun being on the receiving side of assumptions.
Assumptions about Children
I was most recently reminded of how I make assumptions about children (and myself). I have been teaching and working with struggling learners for sixteen years. I have a lot of knowledge on children and teens with disabilities. Recently, I’ve been helping a few people connect with local resources for teenagers with Autism Level 1. While researching, I learned new facts specifically about female teenagers and Autism Level 1. Here is what I found:
As I reflect on that time, and how I missed that opportunity to research and find answers for Jan and for her family, I also know that research on females and Autism was just beginning. Not a lot of information was easily available at that time, but our Special Education Committee as a whole did not even recognize it. I know I am not the sole person to blame, and somehow, we ALL missed the signs. We assumed we were viewing the situation from the correct perspective, but we weren't. HOW does that happen?
It’s difficult to accept I failed at something based on my wrong assumptions.
Assumptions about Our Current System
As a former public school teacher, I read the papers and hear comments about our public school system, our teachers, and school board, state policies, and federal mandates. Sometimes what is printed is accurate. Many times, I read opinions and assumptions about our schools.
Here is my experience. I remember wanting to help and provide as much support and structure for each student as he/she needed. As a teacher of Exceptional Learners, I often felt like I wasn’t enough, that my students needed more than what I could offer, even in a system with already built-in supports and structures.
Every teacher with whom I worked directly looked for new, innovative ways to help our students. We collaborated, advocated for them to our administration, in faculty meetings, and at teacher-parent conferences. We referred students to our Student Support Teams and Special Education Committees, looking for guidance and help. We lost sleep thinking about our students. We arrived early, stayed late, and took work home.
Not one time did I ever witness any of my colleagues give up on a student or stop trying to find ways to reach struggling learners. We ALL wanted to find a better way, more effective methods, to reach these kids. Many times, through this messy and arduous process, my colleagues and I witnessed students pass high-stakes tests, make 2-3 years growth, and attain life-long strategies for task management and content mastery. Sometimes, what we did still wasn’t enough.
Assumptions about The Need
As I began this venture of starting my own business to support struggling learners and their families, I assumed I would be working one-on-one with students to teach learning strategies and provide academic support. What I’m finding, however, is that families who reach out to me have children who require more supports and structures in place than what they are currently receiving. The fire is growing inside me to help these families, and although I know their needs are greater that what I can provide as one person, I want to be a resource, and an advocate, in finding and advocating for supports and services for their children.
What I also know is that these children need specially designed to support their kids’ individual strengths and needs. The public school offers this through Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS), Response to Intervention (RTI), and, at highest level of need, an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This process can, at times, be cumbersome, and take several years. Parents might assume all options have been exhausted. It can feel overwhelming. Parents might feel paralyzed, or angry, and want to run away from it. A parent might think that to become fully informed, and to fully understand your child’s rights and how to advocate for them, is like swimming in an ocean with no land in sight. You might need guidance, someone to clear the path and make it understandable for you.
That’s where I come in. If you are a parent looking for guidance on how to walk this path with your struggling learner, please reach out. I am here to advocate for you, help you understand the process of MTSS, RTI, 504s, and IEPs. I can support you in school meetings. I can analyze your child's records to help you understand where your child may benefit from more supports. I can work directly with your child to develop solid learning strategies which can be applicable to multiple subject areas. I can also provide you with a list of resources in our community where you might receive more specialized support. You can refer to our Parent Education and Advocacy page for more details about how I can help.
Parent to parent, when I struggle to wade through the waters of uncertainty with my family, I choose to assume, or I choose to find the truth. I hope most of the time I seek the latter. I seek truth from experts: educators, therapists, and medical specialists. No one needs to walk alone. Reach out. When we move away from assuming, and open our minds to learning, we will find the answers we need.