Love to Teach, Teach to Love

Filed in From the Desk of... by on September 11, 2013 3 Comments

Written by: Eddie Cruz

Love to Teach, Teach to LoveTeaching—or perhaps more broadly, education—is something that’s very close to my heart, and it takes an extraordinarily special person to do it well. (Do it well is, of course, the pertinent bit there.) So this post is, I suppose, a sort of very personal case study: Following a massive failure by our county’s educational system, my wife, Emily, took charge of educating our youngest son. For five years she did this, and it was thrilling to watch her initial, and justifiable, apprehension and uncertainty become confident proficiency.

Julian, now 11, is hard-of-hearing, and has shunted hydrocephalus, epilepsy and cerebral palsy. His educational needs are resoundingly outside the norm, certainly far beyond what our local school district offers, so home schooling was our only option. We searched everywhere for teaching content. We found lesson plans for deaf students and for hearing students and for developmentally delayed students. We found an embarrassment of curricula, but nothing that was right for Julian. This was frustrating in the extreme, and I confess we felt despair.

Lacking off-the-shelf options, Emily created her own lesson plans. She was already familiar with occupational and speech therapy techniques—any attentive parent of a special-needs child can’t help but pick it up—and was fast becoming fluent in ASL. So she combined a few almost-right reading tools and adapted them for Julian; she found math and science and geography worksheets and figured out, through trial and error, what worked and what did not. She and Julian pushed through obstacles together, and together they learned, though there was, to be sure, wailing and gnashing of teeth on both sides of the dining room table. It might be, in fact, not inaccurately considered a kind of guerrilla education. But neither of them gave up.

Statistics show that deaf people by age 18 read, on average, at a third or fourth grade level. To an insatiable reader like me, this was crushing. Then came the day when Emily sent me a short video of Julian reading a primer—haltingly, laboriously, but he was by-God reading. Her text message was brief, and to this day makes me tear up: The light bulb went off.

For the 2012–2013 school year, Julian attended a private school in Clearwater, Florida. It changed his life. For the first time, he was able to interact with peers, which for Julian are few and far between. He was exposed to a real classroom environment. His ASL comprehension improved dramatically as he watched others, not just Mom and Dad, signing to him. He embraced the Montessori method, which seems to be uniquely appropriate for deaf and hard-of-hearing children. His behavior, his communication, his patience and his socialization skills improved beyond what we could have hoped. Academically, he continued to struggle, however, and on Monday of the week following the last day of “official” school, Emily resumed reading and math instruction at home.

It took less than one week for the light bulb to go off this time. I received another emailed video: Julian not only reading, actually sounding out words instead of immediately looking to Mom for help, but breezing through basic addition and subtraction problems on an iPad app. It was as if everything that had come before all at once coalesced in Julian’s brain. All of Emily’s work, work I am utterly certain I could not have accomplished; all of the day-to-day, practical life teaching—the “little things;” everything he absorbed at Blossom; all these and more came together, and things that had frustrated him for so long suddenly just made sense. I’ve been present for many of his light bulb moments, and the experience is indescribable. Something in his eyes…changes, and seeing it happen changes something in our hearts, as well. This is what teaching should accomplish.

Teaching is one of the most precious gifts, not something to be entered into lightly, nor ever taken for granted. The effort is enormous, the responsibility massive, but the rewards can be all but immeasurable. A person need not stand in front of a single student to be a gifted teacher; some of the most important things I’ve learned came from books, but from books that were written by gifted teachers. If you have had the privilege of learning from a teacher who had a profound effect on your life, you have been singularly honored.

Comments (3)

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  1. avatar Bonnie Jones says:

    What a neat story!!!! Praise God for his grace and mercy to you as parents and to Julian!

    • avatar Eddie Cruz says:

      Thanks so very much. That boy is an inspiration to everyone who meets him, and his mom, though she doesn’t see it, has accomplished things with him that not many parents could. She is a wonder. I’m grateful every day for both of them.

  2. avatar anne says:

    Eddie, you’re such a good writer! Again you brought more tears to my eyes. I just wish Emily and Julian were closer to us. We need a Montessori School for deaf students right here in Seminole County.
    Emily is the best teacher in the world! Julian is a wonderful student! … and now when I sign my ASL alphabet wrong Julian quickly comes to my left hand and places my fingers in the right position! I forget quickly though so he’ll have to keep on teaching me. I probably need to practice more 🙁

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