Friday, September 16, 2016

The Gift of a Teacher

In addition to Daniel's friend Steven making a huge difference in his life, his 2nd grade teacher Mrs. Hickox has had an incredible impact as well. This is part of what I shared in the spring at our school district's Special Education night to honor her:

Just before Daniel joined our family 2 ½ years ago, he got a serious brain infection and lost pretty much all of his functions. He had to relearn how to walk, talk, use the bathroom, and feed himself. While we can see that he is continuing to make progress from the brain damage he experienced, there have been times on this journey that we have faced real discouragement.

While we were still living in China, we tried teaching Daniel at home and struggled with finding the right balance of pushing him. We didn't want to push him too much, but we also didn't want to expect too little. How could we best motivate him to learn and then help him to remember what he had learned? We really didn't know what he was capable of. When he turned 9, we tried putting him in a Chinese kindergarten with 4-5 year olds, because that seemed to be the best fit for him developmentally. But he had behavior issues there and the teacher didn't really know how to handle him, so we took him out after a few months. I really wondered at that time if he would ever be able to make it in a classroom.

Mrs. Hickox's 2nd grade class before a field trip

Mrs. Hickox has been amazing. I don't use the word “perfect” very often, but I think it is the best way to describe the balance Mrs. Hickox has found for pushing Daniel. She naturally discovered what we struggled to find when we tried teaching him at home (and thought we might pull out all of our hair). She has an incredible gift as a teacher of both nurturing and motivating each one of her students in a very structured environment.

When her students come into her classroom in the morning they line up outside her door, and one-by-one they shake her hand and say, “Good morning Mrs. Hickox. I'm ready to learn.” Over time, Daniel has learned how to say this full sentence too and understand what it means.

Early on in the school year, Mrs. Hickox let us know that Daniel was being disruptive in the mornings. Not wanting to add more burden to her already full plate with all of her other students, my perspective was that if he can't be quiet and respectful then he loses the privilege of being with his classmates. But as we talked, I realized that Mrs. Hickox's desire was to help him grow in meeting her standards. She actually wanted him in the classroom as much as possible. So we worked together on a plan. And that first month after he met his morning goals, he received the Mountain Mover award at the school assembly.

Daniel about to run the gauntlet, beside his XC coach Mrs. Miller

Part of Mrs. Hickox's morning routine is to have a show and tell time on different topics, which has helped Daniel learn how to listen and how to speak in front of his class. They also have a time to shake hands and greet each other by name, which has helped Daniel to learn all of his classmates' names this year. A huge accomplishment for a child who struggles with memory and with the English language.

Daniel sharing a photo book that CJ made for him and David,
with his para Mr. Wayne on the side

Daniel was part of the school cross country club last fall, and Mrs. Hickox was at the finish line of every race. She cheered Daniel on and gave him a double high five and a big hug when he was the last one to cross the finish line. She has helped him to believe that he can accomplish big things when he works hard and doesn't give up. 

Mrs. Hickox in the center and Daniel's now 3rd grade teacher
Mrs. McRae cheering on the left

A year ago we were doubting Daniel could make it in a regular classroom, but he has been in her class almost 80% of his day and he's thriving. Mrs. Hickox has believed in him, motivated him, and worked hard to integrate him into her classroom. We are overwhelmed with gratitude and want to let Mrs. Hickox know that she is a true blessing from God


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