When we were told that my five-year-old daughter had epilepsy, we sat, the four of us, a doctor, my wife, my daughter and me, in a small, brightly lit, sterilized room. It was modern, and had many calming colors painted on the walls. The computer was in an alcove opposite the small, pediatric bed on which my daughter had sat momentarily for the exam. She scampered around the room while the doctor talked to us. Later, when I would talk to my wife about this, her memory would be very different from mine. I am not positive whose perception is accurate, but the moment is sealed in my brain like a prehistoric man caught in an avalanche during the Ice Age: cold, feeling-less, permanent.
He had been working at the computer, asking us questions, looking at EEGs, studying an MRI. In my memory, he slowly swivels around in the wheeled desk chair and stops in the middle of the room.
“So, you’re daughter has epilepsy.”
That was it. If I was cliche, I would state that he delivered the news as a parent would quickly pull off a bandaid, supported by the wisdom that painful things are delivered quickly and concisely to minimize the pain.
Years later, when we would be sitting in a neurosurgeon’s office, discussing brain surgery for my daughter, much like people would discuss their weekend plans over a cup of coffee, I would ask the doctor how we were taking the news.
He paused, looked at my wife and me, and started with, “Well, you’re still in the room, and that’s a good thing.”
After that meeting, I reflected on the way the neurologist years before delivered the news to us. These doctors are dealing with life and death situations. There is no time to dance around the issues. They must give the news and hope that the adults can work through their emotions so that the hard work can begin. In situations with doctors, there is rarely the choice of not dealing with the information. The parents must decide quickly to help their child; to do what is best for their child. But do we educators deal with information in the same way?
Currently, I’m working with a reading specialist in our school. He is helping me to figure out which measure we use so that we can support student learning. Currently, a Tier 3 program in our school uses the DRP, and we are considering using that to figure out reading levels of other struggling students in our school. It is quick, accurate, and easily tells the specialist at which grade level the student is reading. But he informs me that many reading specialists are moving away from grade level and towards lexile scores. I’m going to admit that I am not completely sure why this change is happening. However, this specialist, as well as a few others, have informed me that it is not because of a more accurate score, but because of the stigma around telling students, and the parents of those students, a grade level.
Initially, I decide to think this is good and start doing the work that is required to wrap your brain around something that seems not to make complete sense.
And then I think of those doctors. Those doctors who only wanted to help my daughter. There were probably so many different ways that they could have supported our feelings when dealing with our daughter’s specific situation. But the truth is, she has epilepsy. The truth is, she needs help. Worrying about how I feel about my daughter’s situation only prolongs when she gets the help. The bandaid still needs to come off.
But this is typical in education. Instead of quickly ripping off the bandaid, instead of quickly delivering news that a parent can easily understand, but may have difficulty accepting, we tiptoe around the problem. And while we tiptoe, children don’t get the help they need. The gravity of the situation is put off until later.
So I’ll keep sharing scores with parents. I’ll keep informing them of the grade levels because I know that the most important thing I want to do is allow my daughter to have the best life she can. In order to do that, I need to have the information so that I can act. And I need act with the wisdom that I know comes from the quick and painless tug. I think parents deserve that right.