As a teacher and as a mother who home schooled her children for fifteen years before returning to the profession of teaching, my perspective of success when working with children is that each child is challenged and not frustrated which happens to be the goal of our charter school, Telesis Preparatory Academy in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

Some of the ways that Telesis tries to make sure that goal is met is through smaller classes and each child moving at their own pace. I was determined to see each child succeed and have a positive self-image; the same goals I had set for my own children when I taught them at home. However, children don’t always come from stable environments or have parents who are willing to work with you to see their child succeed. One child, whose real name I do not want to use, has been one of those challenges for the past two years. I will use the name Tim to share the challenges this child brought into the classroom environment. Tim was sexually, physically and mentally abused by his real father before the age of three and as a result, a professional concluded that he was physically and mentally two years behind a normal child. When he first came to school he did not know how to function in a classroom or in a playground full of children. He was constantly hitting, using foul language and throwing rocks and sticks at other children at the age of five. I appreciate the support I received from our principal and the help from an expert who did not take over or take this student out of the classroom on a regular basis as this would have been handled in a traditional public school situation. In a traditional public school, this little boy would have been placed in a special education class and they would have encouraged his caretakers to put him on drugs.

It was not easy to learn how to reach this little boy but I was able to show him that I believed in him and tried to use any and all opportunities to point out the good things he did. I won’t say I didn’t get discouraged and sometimes broke into tears over what seemed to be a hopeless situation at times. Because of the teamwork that is quite strong at our school, other teachers tried to help Tim and encourage him when they could. Even the parents who come and help in our classroom had gone out of their way to give him the attention he so desperately needed.

Because children do not move to the next academic level until they are ready, I was able to continue to help Tim for another year. He was very determined to learn to read this second year in our Developmental Kindergarten. Most of my students get reinforcement at home, Tim, of course, was not getting help at home. During the second year caring parents gave him extra help and I was able to work with him individually as much as possible. Our small class worked to encourage Tim and the hitting stopped. Eventually the hiding in his cubby and in corners stopped. He even sits in the learning square and doesn’t go into a shell when I point out bad behavior. A smaller class allows me the opportunity to make each child feel special, wanted and appreciated. There were some landmark experiences with Tim like the time he read his first book. I have to laugh when I think of the substitute P.E. teacher who had encounters with Tim in the past made an interesting comment to me. “Tim is doing so well, I’m so glad they found the proper drugs for him.” Needless to say I told her that he was not on any drugs. For me personally, I will never forget the day he started to go out the door for lunch and he stopped and looked at me and said, “Mrs. Vander Jagt, I love you.” I told him that I loved him too and I really meant it. It’s easy to love the good ones, but investing your life in the outcasts or the difficult child has a dividend that will last a lifetime.

As a homeschool mother, we often looked at the public school as effective as herding cattle but Telesis gave me an experience that allowed me to invest in the lives of my students. Tim is just one story.

Submitted by Karen Vander Jagt
Developmental Kindergarten Teacher
Telesis Preparatory Academy