The Difference a Teacher Can Make

Anna with her backpack

First day of 2nd Grade

The last year has made a big difference in Anna’s education and her outlook. Her first grade year wasn’t easy. She wasn’t getting the support she needed either in her classroom or in her school as a whole. So we made the hard decision to move her to a different school.

It was a last resort. I changed schools several times as a child, and I hated being the new kid. I wanted to give her stability, but not at the cost of compromising her education.

The first month was hard. She had several emotional meltdowns in class and at one point her speech language pathologist even suspected that she might be on the autism spectrum. We doubted this since she’d never shown any signs before, and instead we researched school adjustment issues.

She was taking the change harder than we realized, but after about a month or so she settled in. Her second grade teacher, her SLP, and her occupational therapist all supported her, and she showed great improvement in academics, in her speech, and in her handwriting.

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She Likes to Write

Anna writes in her notebook.

Photo: David Ozab

My daughter likes to write. Obviously, this makes me happy. I’m a writer, and whether or not she follows my path, I want her to share in my love of words and language. The important part is that she likes to write.

Writing is a challenge for her. Not because she lacks words. She loves to read and has a big vocabulary for a child her age. It’s a challenge because she struggles to write clearly. And for a while, the struggle discouraged her.

Not anymore.

She doesn’t just write for herself now. She writes for us too. A few weeks ago, when her favorite football team—the Seattle Seahawks, were playing Julia’s favorite team—the New Orleans Saints—in the NFC playoffs, Anna walked up to Julia’s desk and dropped off a note.

Dear Mom,

Go Seahawks!

From ?

A short note, but a big deal for Anna.

“Who wrote this?” Julia asked.

“I don’t know.” Anna replied.

“Well who else calls me ‘Mom’?”

A few minutes later, Anna returned with a second note.

Dear Anna’s Mom,

Seahawks will win!

From ?

Since then, she’s been writing a lot more. Little notes for us. Schedules for her day. Even a song for her make-believe dog Betty.

Howloooo howooool oooooo howlooo!

Little things, but she’s using her imagination. As as her handwriting and typing both improve, she’s sure to discover the limitless possibilities of her own words.

I can’t wait.

Five Minute Friday

Tell Me About Dysgraphia

Dysgraphia writing sample.

Handwriting with dysgraphia (Image: Alyssa L. Crouch and Jennifer J. Jakubecy)

I’ve been writing about childhood apraxia of speech a lot on this blog over the last month, and I’ve received some great responses from parents of children struggling with this difficult motor-speech disorder. But many “apraxia kids” deal with more than apraxia. Often there are other issues that accompany it. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to talk about some of these other challenges, starting with one that Anna has struggled with since she entered school …


We weren’t sure what to expect when we met Anna’s first grade teacher for our one and only scheduled parent-teacher conference last year. We had heard little  beyond biweekly emails up to that point. Anna brought home regular reading homework, and was one of the best readers in her class, but we had no idea how she was doing in other subjects, particularly handwriting, which she had always struggled with.

Her teacher showed us a variety of schoolwork Anna had completed, commenting on her progress, and then she handed us Anna’s journal.

“This is some of Anna’s writing.”

Page after page of loops, scribbles, and swirls. A cipher without a key. All at once it was four years ago—Anna pleading to be understood, and us unable to understand.

Awaem oobie ees.

Then in speech and now on paper. The scribbles and swirls were the consonants that all sounded alike, the loops were the vowels that flattened into an indistinct “uh.” The lines on the page were like unraveling spools of barbed wire, blocking us from our daughter’s words.

And after four years of struggling to be heard, she had to start all over again. We added occupational therapy to her IEP, and a young girl who’d faced so many obstacles now had one more to overcome.

So much weight on such small shoulders. Like so many kids dealing with one or more of the interconnected aspects of dyspraxia.

As her parents, we had questions. Maybe you are asking yourself the same ones.

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Writing a Santa List

Anna opens gifts on Christmas morning

Photo: Julia Ozab (Christmas, 2011)

Anna is working on her Santa list again this year. This is the third year she’s put one together with Julia’s help. In the past, she cut out pictures of the toys, games, books, and videos she’s wanted and glue-sticked them on a sheet of paper, but this year—for the first time—she’s writing the list herself.

Anna is struggling with handwriting, due to possible Dysgraphia related to her Childhood Apraxia of Speech, so writing a short, legible letter to Santa is a big deal for her.

Toy catalog in hand, she told Julia what she wanted to say, Julia wrote it out and then Anna copied it. Once they were done, they brought the letter in to show me. It wasn’t perfect, but I could read every word. I gave her a high five and a hug for her good work, and then we rehearsed her visit to Santa:

“Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas!” I said in my best Santa voice. “What’s your name?”

“I’m Anna.”

“Do you know what you want for Christmas this year?”

“Yes. I wote you a ledder.”

“Would you read it to me?”


Dear Santa, I have been very good this year. I would like the following:

(I love how she gets right to the point)

  1. Baby Merida and Angus
  2. Unicorns or horses
  3. Tag Solar System, Human Body, and Maps
  4. Art Supplies
  5. Brave DVD
  6. Tinkerbell 4 DVD
  7. Games

Thank you.
Love,  Anna.

We’re planning to see the jolly old elf this weekend and she’s ready. As for us, the progress she’s made in her handwriting over the last two months is our Christmas gift.

More Santa-themed posts at Fatherhood Etc.

And a musical selection for the Feast of St. Nicholas:

December 6

 Advent calendar graphics by Oh My Gluestick. They are intended for personal use only and may not be used commercially.

First Grade: The First Week

First Day of School

Photo: Schoology Blog

Anna has been in first grade for a little over a week now, and she seems to be settling in. Last week, I wrote about the adjustments she needed to make: she has handled all of them well.

A new teacher? So far, so good. Anna likes her new teacher: maybe not as much as her Kindergarten teacher, but I’m not surprised. Ms. Linda was special, and she and Anna clicked right from the beginning. It’s not every teacher that so inspires a child that she wants to be a teacher too within the first week of school. And despite their differing opinion of the Ducks vs. the Beavers (Linda is a die-hard bleed-green-and-gold Duck fan) Anna will always have a place in her heart for Ms. Linda.

A full day? She loves two recesses, she loves snack time, and the rest of the schedule works for her too. She’s settled right in with no problems.

Different kids? She now has a new “second-best friend” a girl named Dakota whose love of princesses and fairies matches Anna’s. Her “first-best friend” is her best friend from last year—no surprise there—but she’s warming up to the new kids quickly, just as I thought she would. She never has trouble making new friends.

Desks? They don’t have desks, they have tables. The only change is an assigned seat. It seems like Anna’s new teacher has found the ideal transition stage between the “sit on the carpet and rotate around the room” approach of Kindergarten and the “sit at your desk all the time” approach of the higher elementary grades. She should have no difficulty making the switch to a desk of her own in another year or so.

Other observations?

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