At kindergarten conferences, the teacher told me a story of her kind heart, her generosity, and her empathy for a child who had experienced trauma. She said she was creative. She said she was brilliant. She said she was recommending her for the gifted and talented program. I came home full of gratitude that I had been blessed with this child.

At first grade conferences, the teacher said, “There is no word in this language to describe your daughter. She’s like the main character in Flubber. Smart, but she needs a keeper.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

At second grade conferences, the teacher told me she was too flighty, needed to keep track of her things and follow directions. She was smart but needed to apply herself. She also needed to learn to jump rope, because she had an F in gym as a result of not being able to do so. It would be on her permanent record, and there was no undoing that. That was the year frustrated tears became a regular part of driving home from parent conferences.

At third grade conferences, she needed to quit reading so much and focus on math worksheets. I came home and cried.

At fourth grade conferences in a new school district, she needed to try harder to fit in and quit asking why she couldn’t go to the gifted program with her friends. She certainly wasn’t up for that kind of work! She needed to read less and do more math. I came home and cried.

At spring fifth grade conferences, her teacher said she was an amazing reader who changed the culture of the classroom. She was recommending her for testing for the gifted program. When I explained her academic history, they found paperwork in her file that had sat overlooked for almost two long years and were horrified. I cried with gratitude that someone had finally seen my child again. I cried with frustration that even as an employee in the same district, I had been powerless in my efforts to advocate for her.

Sixth, seventh, eighth reverted back to the usual frustrations.

Stop being who you are.

If she only tried…

If she only cared…

If she only…

Ninth brought an attempt to medicate, and it almost cost her life.

Tenth brought an attempt to advocate, and it almost cost my career.

Eleventh brought an intense level of conflict, and it almost cost us our relationship.

At the last parent / teacher conference I ever attended for her in the spring of twelfth grade, one teacher whose class she was barely passing said, “I simply don’t know what I would do without her! She has such a gift for working with people, and she has the kindest heart. There are many special needs students in the class, and she coaches them and mentors them and helps them more than any adult in the room- sometimes even me. She treats even the most profoundly needy as an equal, when few others do. It keeps her from getting her work finished, but she’s more helpful than any para who has ever walked into my room. Ignore her grade. Be proud of the person.”

I again came home full of gratitude and wept.

She was the same- kindergarten to twelfth grade. What a shame most people lost the opportunity to see it.