"These tests only measure a little bit of you and your abilities ..."
When our kids fail to do well at school it can be pretty devastating for all concerned: the child, the parents — and the teacher. While we try to encourage our kids to keep on going, it’s not always easy, especially when our kids have particular learning needs. So when 11-year-old Ben Twist, who has autism, failed his mandated standardized tests, I could imagine how disheartened his mom Gail may have felt.
Fortunately for both mom and son, Ben’s teacher, Mrs. Clarkson, sent him home with a letter of encouragement, and most importantly, an acknowledgement that he had plenty of immeasurable talents that any parent would be proud of. The list is quite impressive: “Your artistic talents, your ability to work in a team, your growing independence, your kindness, your ability to express your opinion, your abilities in sports, your ability to make and keep friends, your ability to discuss and evaluate your own progress, your design and building talents, and your musical ability.”
Clarkson, who teaches at Lansbury Bridge School in England, goes on to point out that “these different talents and abilities make you the special person you are.” Her message was loud and clear: Ben wasn’t a failure. But what makes the teacher’s letter so special is that she took the time to highlight to Ben, and to his family, that she was aware of his efforts — something that many people can’t really appreciate until they have to face these challenges themselves. It’s no surprise his mom was left in tears.
My own son, age 10, suffers from severe dyspraxia, where writing is sheer torture for him, and he has spent most of his education feeling inadequate and humiliated in class. He, his father, and I have spent many evenings in tears as we reassured him he was not an “idiot” — a word so easily bandied around the classroom by both students and sadly, some teachers too. It’s only when one teacher took the time to understand what dyspraxia is, adapted his lessons, and shared this information with her colleagues, that his life — and mine — turned around.
School is hard enough for kids, but when we add to that a particular condition or disability, it can make life so much tougher, disheartening, and exhausting. This can lead to feelings of isolation and depression, with parents devoting hours upon hours on trying to boost confidence, go over lessons, and pray that their child survives school in one piece.
Clarkson has managed to capture in so few words exactly what all kids, with or without additional needs, and their parents, need to hear. That life is about making an effort and not giving up. That we need to do our best, always. But most importantly, school is an environment where we can foster life’s most important skills, kindness and empathy — and isn’t that worth a million A’s?
See the actual letter here, or you can read the text in full below: