Throughout life, we hear several things about first impressions: first impressions are so important, first impressions are everything, and, first impressions can be misleading.
The summer after Jess left the school for the blind, she turned 18 years old. It marked 16 years since our initial contact with our school system. Although I felt like I had officially tried everything I could think of to try to make that big breakthrough we had known was possible, it had not happened yet. Along the way, she had made some remarkable progress and made many friends; but still, I had hoped for more. The clock was ticking. I started feeling like time for big progress was running out.
Jess could attend public school through her 21st year. So, she still had four more years to accomplish things, to keep hoping for that breakthrough. I still believed in my heart that Jess had the potential to be a productive citizen. I knew somewhere in the world, there could be a place for her to have a job. I knew she was capable. Still, I approached the upcoming year with no serious expectations, no big plans. The only thing I was focused on was how I couldn’t wait to demonstrate how Jessica had started learning Braille. I definitely wanted her to continue that process. Otherwise, looking back, I suppose overall I felt defeated after all of the years of effort.
That summer was much the same as previous summers. Madison and Hannah had been on the summer league swim team for many years, and that filled our summers from beginning to end. Jess and I would take them to practice, then hang out and watch, walk around the pool deck, and visit with friends. Swim meets were particularly fun because it meant yelling and cheering, snacks and drinks, lots of people to talk to, and dinner with the team afterwards.
One day that summer, I saw the special education director out in the community. She excitedly told me that she had hired a new teacher and thought I would really like him. ‘Uh oh,’ I thought to myself – him. Jess had never been a fan of many men. The director went on to say, this new teacher had just retired from another school system and was really good. I smiled and thanked her for letting me know, but inside my head I thought, “Oh great! We already experienced the retirement age male teacher before, and it went terribly.” I did not stress over it, I just did not expect good things to come of it. We proceeded toward the next school year as I mentioned, no big plans. No big expectations. No defined quest.
Since Jessica’s previous year had ended in a different school system, we needed a new IEP for the upcoming year. We had a meeting in the summer before school started back. When the day arrived, IEP meeting was held in a big conference room which quickly filled up. Jessica’s IEPs were always well attended. The new teacher was in the room, sitting at one end of the long table. His appearance surprised me. He was very tall with a large frame and did not meet my visual expectation of ‘retirement age.’ He was polite, but not talkative, and appeared solemn. The meeting started, initial introductions were made; and after that, he said very little, if anything at all. While he sat there mostly in silence, someone else lead the meeting. It seemed a little odd. I am pretty sure I had never been in an IEP when Jessica’s teacher, or teacher-to-be, sat in the meeting did not actively participate. It was sort of confusing. Different. So passive.
After the meeting, as we walked back to the car, a family member said, “he did not seem very impressive, did he?” No, I was not particularly impressed either. So we pretty much left the meeting like we went in. No significant expectations for the upcoming school year other than a continued goal of literacy. “Oh well,” I thought. It is what it is. At least she’ll have something to do for the next four years.
About that first impression…