being a teacher, being me, Student dreams

Broken Child

She’s got my eyes, you know.

Blue mixed with gray depending  on the weather.   She’s got my long legs, arms for miles, and a laugh that comes from her heart.  Her hands look like my grandfather’s who gave her her name.  And those feet of hers are just like mine, growing too fast for her shoes to keep up.

She’s got her daddy’s sense of humor, always ready to make you smile.  And also his artistic eye, declaring one day she will be an artist.  She will paint the sky with every color she knows.

But she doesn’t have my skills of sitting still.  Of staying quiet.  Of focusing in.

She doesn’t smile easy or understand when others are kidding.  Friendships are sometimes hard to find.

Some would say she is a broken child.  Some would say she is a broken child.

We come up with fixes to help her learn more.  To help her sit still.  To help her conquer the noise of the classroom.  We give her fidgets, wiggle seats, quiet time and breaks.  And when we run out of fixes we ask more people for help.

And I cry sometimes when I think of how hard she works to gain knowledge that came so easy for me.  I cry sometimes when I think ahead because sometimes as a teacher your curse is that you know too much and so you worry even when others wouldn’t.

She’s got my eyes, you know, but not the way I think and some would say she is a broken child.

So we stand in our kitchen discussing the latest reports, the latest assessment, and we thank our lucky stars that the teachers she has sees what we see.  A child with heart.  A child that loves.  A child that wants nothing else but to fit in and feel smart.

And yet, when we compare her to others, even though I know we shouldn’t, some may say she needs fixing.  That we just need to find the thing that makes her right.  That perhaps the doctor knows why she cannot sit still, why she cannot stay focused, why she cannot find friends easily.  Because surely something must need fixing.

And I know that sometimes I feel like I failed.  Like somehow I created this situation.  That perhaps in her childhood if I had only done more, she would have it easier.  But then I remember that my child is not broken. That my child does not need to be fixed.

That she is smart.

That she is kind.

That she works hard.

Even when her brain distracts her every step of the way.

And I know she is not a broken child.

And I know she is not a broken child.




28 thoughts on “Broken Child”

  1. Good G-d… we realize what we do to our precious children? One has to wonder….if she were learning in an environment that did not require sitting still and listening…how would she do.
    I posted this on my FB page and I know we are not friends there: Here is what I wrote and the link is below.
    Have we lost our common sense??? I can remember my childhood well. No formal education before Kdg which I started at age 4yr. 8.3 months, other than a mom who spent a lot of time with me, who read to me, who taught me to recite so many nursery rhymes by 20 months of age. Early reader. Good student. I PLAYED as a child. Played outside a lot and inside. My cat was my baby and I dressed him up and always loved playing house, dress-up, making up “life” as we played. I loved my simple metal dollhouse, my wooden block set I used endlessly, played with my dolls (baby dolls and no Barbies), read books over and over, listened to records (78rpms and 45s) that had stories on them. No IPad, nothing that required batteries. I had doll carriages, doll beds made by my grandfather, took dancing lessons, piano lessons, and theater classes. Very little early homework. Little to no academic pressure, but I was a good student and loved the idea of school, though I am sure I did not love every day. Spent a lot of time reading, too. Books I chose. Time with family, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents going places. Nothing really fancy at all. I turned out pretty well. That kind of life worked. I worry for our children. Seriously worry.

    Our kids deserve so much more. She is not broken. She will grow and flourish and it will be mainly due to the love you show and have for her. (I started teaching in 1970 and still sub, I have sen a lot.)

  2. This is a beautiful post. I am a mom of a “broken child”. I’ve known since preschool that she was different and unique. She is smart as a whip! Talked in full sentences before she was two, but has never had a friend. She could use both hands equally well to feed herself or write her name, but she wouldn’t cross her mid line. The teacher in me worried, but the mother in me loved. I gave her time, but what would others give. We gave her help, we were her advocates. We agreed to the testing. It came when she was in grade 2. I could tell the teacher just wanted to confirm that she was wiggly, and inattentive. These things can be medicated, if she could only focus she might give better answers and complete the work. We welcomed the results, my gut told me that the testing would show something bigger, than a wiggly, inattentive little girl. We were right, it was bigger, a pill would not fix it and her teacher had a bigger challenge to work with. She was very broken. The deficits I heard about were not unfamiliar terms to me, I had taken the standard special education course, when I went to teacher school. I had learned about visual spatial processing skills, motor deficits, language acquisition, processing speed and working memory. I knew about percentiles. At every physical exam she was in the lowest percentiles. I thought I was prepared to hear more about percentiles. The results blew my mind, 95 in one that uses language and 26 in working memory. Reading in 84, 12 in math. Apparently, her long bathroom breaks were because she was likely getting lost. Her school was large and her visual spatial skills were poor. I wondered how we would make it. But she is remarkable, and she has me. I advocate and teach her to do the same. We work together with a broken system that doesn’t easily fit the “broken child”. Each year is a new adventure, as we help her teachers know and implement the strategies the testing recommends. It doesn’t fix her, because she isn’t what is broken, really. She is just a round peg trying to fit a square hole, and eventually with enough effort the hole will wear and fit everyone. We build the mindset and the capacity with in her to help herself. It’s been a long road. Each year I become a better teacher, as I recognize and honour the round pegs I receive into my classroom.

  3. My son came to us with a difficult and murky past. It is hard to know what the root is behind any given behavior. Labels are useful only if they come with a plan. He brings out the best in me, but sadly, he also brings out the worst. Our family therapist tells us that children from difficult backgrounds are unwitting experts at re-creating the chaos of an abusive home, because it is KNOWN to them, and anything different feels on a cellular level as if it is potentially dangerous. We work so hard; he works so hard; his teachers work so hard. One struggle is to figure out–what do I hold out hope for, when do I set high expectations and figure out how we’re going to get there? And when do I let go of my own expectations and judgements and accept that certain things just won’t be?

    It always helps to hear from other parents who are loving and worrying about kids the world might see as broken. It means even more coming from other teachers. I know I am so much more aware now of different ways and reasons kids might struggle in my classroom.

    Thank you for your beautiful words.

  4. I’ve been where you are. Looking at my child, seeing all of the beauty, goodness, his deep sense of what is just & not understanding why the world does not apply that to him, his love for books & his sharp sense of humor… Whose significant speech issues and slow processing left him frustrated & often feeling powerless when others said unkind things & he couldn’t retort quickly enough. We did the behavior plans & fidgets & talked to him over & over & over… He had some outstanding teachers and others who took his behavior very personally. It took us time as parents- you are so right about how being an educator can be a double edged sword. We know too much- we know what others are saying, thinking, the long road ahead and too often the frustrating lack of answers. Keep living that child, seeing all of the glorious greatness in her… Don’t doubt yourself (tho you still will, my friend, I know) and continue to advocate for her- fund those people who will see beyond the surface of you child, who see that she is NOT broken. Thank you for words- they’ve resonated deep within this mother’s heart.

  5. What a powerful piece. It is a beautiful poem At the same time that it literally brought tears to my eyes, it also brought warmth to my heart. She has you and for that she is blessed.

  6. We are ALL broken in some way. We are ALL brilliant, magical, whole and everything grand in some way. We ALL have parts that sometimes we love and sometimes we hate. As a parent and a teacher the best we could do, I think, is love, love, love – even love ourselves, because loving ourselves is paramount and critical to every thing, every interaction of our days.

  7. My son has had some learning struggles also. With a teacher mom he gets more help than some would; we have that insider knowledge to coach them on how the system works, right? He has so many wonderful qualities (just like your daughter) and all we want is for others to see those things, too. He works his butt off for someone he thinks cares about him, and most of his teachers truly do. I hope your daughter continues to have teachers who care for her and work with her (and you) to help navigate the system and learn at her own pace in her own way. Odds are good…..teachers have big hearts overall, don’t you agree? Hugs to you. You’re a good mom.

  8. This is a diffficult read. It’s disheartening that children and parents find themselves so beat down by the school experience. I hope she continues to see the positive in herself and that her teachers can see it too.

  9. What a brave post. I think your perspectives as both parent (first and foremost) and educator are so insightful and a must read for all educators. Too often we focus on the negative and/or compare kids to one another that we forget about their strengths. We often speak about meeting kids where they are, but how often are we able too…or worse yet willing too? Thanks for sharing Pernille. You reinforced the importance of compassion when dealing with kids who see the world differently. As educators we need to realize it’s not a choice and kids need our support, not our wrath.

  10. Parents of ‘broken children’ find it extremely difficult to fill out your beginning of the year parent questionnaire that you posted in 2013. Our unwillingness to fill out these types of forms bring judgment and scrutiny to an already difficult situation. We love our children dearly and don’t want them pigeonholed or flagged as classroom problems.

    1. I agree that parent surveys can be hard to fill out, but I also see them as a way to frame the narrative of our child. Parent surveys mean that we have a voice in how we want our child to be seen. Our words will shape the perception of others and that can make a difference for my child.

      1. My daughter, Grace, is a joy for any teacher to have in class. My questionnaire is a breeze and doesn’t help Grace or her teacher — she’s easy peasey.

        Henry, on the other hand, struggles with transitions and arbitrary rules. Sit him in the front. Dont’ sit him nex to _______. Sit him next to his friend _________. I’m divorced, living, out of wedlock with my same sex partner. Teachers, who are NOT behavior specialists, parents, or psychologists — nod their heads in judgment. CLEARLY it is an unstable home environment. And how do these teachers accommodate my child? They don’t.

        YOU and your judgement are the problem.

  11. It is a common passive aggressive tactic to shift focus to the reaction rather than address the root. My point is that parents of happy children have no problem filling out your questionnaire, while the same form alienates the parents of struggling children. I am not angry with you — I don’t like your intrusive questionnaires — or the judgment you place on parents who choose not to fill them out.

    1. The fact that you think I place judgment on parents who do not fill them out tells me you do not know me. Questionnaires are meant as a tool to help for those who fill them out, those who choose not to don’t. It has been interesting to be judged by someone who does not know my own background on how I judge others.

  12. I was troubled to read your July 25, 2013 comment regarding parents who don’t remit your beginning of the year questionnaire “…parents who don’t respond to the questionnaire ‘tells a story in itself’.” By definition, this phrase is one of judgment. I don’t know anything about your background — i judge you based on the way you have responded to me on your blog.

    1. I can understand how that comment can be misinterpreted, what I meant and still mean is that if a parent does not turn the survey in then that means I would like to get to know them in a different way. So the story being told is one that I need to learn in some other way than a survey. It seems that you have been burned in the past by teacher assumptions, I am sorry to hear it. I work hard to make this a judgment free classroom, much like I hope my own children will be in. Some your comments have been very angry towards me and I stand by my original statement of not feeling like it is deserved. I am the child of an out of wedlock couple, my background is not a cookie cutter one so your comment of how I would judge your children, who I do not teach, is hurtful in many ways. I cannot change your mind, I hope I have responded to you in a way that works for you.

      1. “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

        ― Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

      2. This is long, but I have been reading the comments here lately and wanted to share my perspective. Thank you in advance for bearing with me. I have been a teacher since 1970. Around the later 1980s I found a letter in a book by Lucy Calkins from a teacher who asked parents to write a summer letter about their child. I used a similar letter with what I thought was very good success. I invited parents to help me get to know their child. (Gr. 5 and Gr. 3). I said that I wanted to do my best and felt they had insight that could help me help their child to do well right from the start. It was open-ended, though I sent some suggestions. Not all sent in letters. The ones I got were helpful. I judged no parents. I wanted to have a chance to “know” the child a tad before the first day so I could begin to build a rapport and an understanding.Some were long and detailed, others short. One of my favorites was a paragraph in length. I could feel the mother’s love shine through. Of course I had been teaching in my school for a while and people knew me. They knew I was sincere and a good, kindly teacher. I was known for going out of my way to reach all the children, a teacher who had “no pets,” a teacher who cared about every child, no matter their background, ability or difference. I also have a number of children whose families and the school would attest to the fact that I helped tremendously. One came to me as a selective mute (Gr. 3). I had taught his mother, his older sister and knew his grandmother. I asked them to bring him to school on Labor Day weekend when I was in the classroom setting up. I brought in my son’s little cars and trucks and talked to him, let him play and had a few “jobs” he was free to help with or not, ie putting books on desks. I asked the parents to leave us alone for a bit. They did. I talked to him, showed him the room, encouraged him, suggested this was a new building and hence he had a new start. I wanted him to hear his voice in the room before the other kids got there. I wanted him to know he could trust me. He spoke to me a little. I told him that to be the best teacher for him, I would need to know some of what he was thinking and would not pressure him, but wanted him to talk some in class. No goal sheets, no stickers, no rewards, just honesty. By mid-Oct. he was no longer a selective mute. His grandmother reported that when they went out to dinner he ordered his meal and talked to the waitress in a strong voice. By the end of the next year, gr. 4, he was reciting one of his own poems on stage. He is just one example. My father worked with differently-abled students as did my sister. I learned a lot from them. My father used music to help visually-impaired and brain-injured students who also had other problems thrive and be happy. Those stories still move me to tears. In fact the State Education Dept. stated in their review of his school, that they wanted to clone him. He had the belief that anything was possible for any child. Patience, breaking the tasks down into manageable parts, acceptance and encouragement, combined with the patience of a saint were huge lessons for me as a teacher. My brother had ADHD before it had a name back in the 50s. He was such a nuisance he spent 3rd grade in trouble and under the teacher’s desk because he could not learn and would not stop drumming. It seemed she hated him and that broke my mother’s heart. Near the end of my career I had a girl who had serious issues. Thanks to a concerted effort that included her parents, our school counselor, my extremely supportive administrator and others in my school, we helped this child get services she needed. We helped her to succeed. In the beginning of 3rd grade she would not allow anyone to take her photo, she would not call me by name and she certainly would never hug anyone.She also did no work in class. Last year I sat in awe as she was the emcee of a school show. Whenever she sees me now, I get a big hug. She is doing well academically, too. The list goes on. I guess what I am saying is that it may be hard for parents who may not know individual teachers or have a school where they feel sure that they will be heard and understood to see how a summer survey would definitely benefit their child or to be confident that what they share about their child will help and not hurt. I would say that so many of us teachers are there for the right reasons. But I understand the worries of parents that their child will be pigeon-holed and labeled. I would urge, though, that parents do not make assumptions and paint every teacher and school with the same brush. I also think if a parent does not want to fill out a survey or share, that it is the parent’s right and the teacher should make no assumptions. A parent of a child with special needs might want to start by meeting the teacher and getting to know him/her and then sharing a little to try to help make a plan for their child. It will be obvious to almost any teacher that a child may have a learning difference. I never met two kids who were the same. My job was to learn to appreciate each child and help him or her grow as much as possible in all ways possible. I wanted parents on the team, I offered them and their children respect and I pledged I would do my best. I would want all parents to feel that their child was in a safe room, with a good and caring teacher. I wanted that for my child. I want that for all children. Working together is in everyone’s best interests. Of course there are “outliers” in students, teachers, schools, parents and families, but like Anne Frank, I continue to believe that “people are really good at heart.” If you don’t like a survey perhaps you can send it back in and say, “can we talk? I’d feel better talking in person and maybe not until after X time goes by.” Most teachers would and should definitely respect that parent’s wishes. It’s the kid who matters most.

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