“Your daughter needs special education.”

My parents were a bit confused because my teacher had a Southern accent and the word came out “spatial.” My father, who was very attentive to the advances NASA was making in the early 1960s wondered why I was singled out for some kind of advanced scientific education.

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein

I was in fourth grade and was doing horribly, getting failing grades and being sent to the principal’s office because I had not done my work. I was bored. Horribly bored. So I gave up.

classroom-510228_1280My elementary school, built in the late 1950s to support the population of the post-World War II cookie-cutter residential neighborhood, was planned for a population that was smaller than existed by the time I got to first grade. The administration compensated for the problem by have a class and a half for each grade. In both 1st and 2nd grade I was in a first/second grade classroom. In 3rd grade I was in a third/fourth classroom.

It may have been tough on the teacher but what happened for me is that I learned to pay attention because the teacher could only give half the time to the designated grade for the curriculum that needed to be covered and could not take the time to give repeated instruction. I learned to work independently of her guidance or with my study partner if I needed some help. I also benefited by hearing the other grade in advance or behind, as a reinforcement for what I would be learning or had been taught the year before.

Then in 4th grade I was assigned to the straight 4th grade class and things slowwwwwwed down. The pace was horrible and the teacher repeated instructions as many as four times. I stopped paying attention to the first three.  I “heard” it without listening.bored-16811_1280

Because I got my work done quickly, albeit incorrectly, she released me from the classroom to go work on other projects. I remember escaping to the storage closet to work on a puppet show. I do not remember her sitting me down about incorrect work, just several visits to the principal’s office.  I felt shame but also seemed unable to make any change.

With a horrible report card partially through the first half of the year and then continuation of the pattern, my parents got involved. That is when they were told I needed special education.  I suppose today I would have been placed in a gifted and talented program to supplement the classroom work. Instead, when school started again in January I found myself moved across the hall to Mrs. Haskelkorn’s classroom, the mixed third/fourth grade classroom.

She was not particularly happy because when my parents raised the issue, the principal decided to move three of my classmates as well. So now her class, which already had the challenge of teaching two grades, had four more kids. These were kids that each had demonstrated some level of a loss of aptitude over their previous years, although my parents were the only ones who got involved to push for help.

I remember the first test vividly. It was a spelling test and I was a whiz at spelling. I always got 100%. It was on homonyms (homophones): words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings. So, Mrs. Haskelkorn started the test by giving the instructions and then said the first word. But I hadn’t been paying attention. I was waiting for the repeat ad nauseum the other teacher had done.  I thought quickly. What I THOUGHT she had said was “I will say the word and then a sentence. You write it the other way.”

Oh sure, like a fourth-grade teacher is going to do THAT to a bunch of kids. But there I was proudly writing it on purpose the opposite of the way it was given in the sentence.

I got a big fat ZERO for my effort.zero-706875_640

That was the last time I didn’t pay attention.

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Mrs. Haskelkorn retired to Florida and my parents visited her several times. She had forgiven them after getting to know me and saw how well I did with the right level of stimulation and expectation of quality work effort. When she died, her family mailed my mom all the postcards that she had saved; mail I had sent over the years when we traveled. I have no idea if she had others from other students, but it sure made me feel very “special”.

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308083_259534974087419_983851575_nParenting is not a spectator sport. You MUST get involved in your child’s life if you

see something is not going as well as you expect.

Beth Rankin is an entrepreneur, blogger, and writer who lives in McMinnville, Oregon.