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Friday, November 16, 2012

...crying, it's (un)professional...

In my profession, I often find myself in emotional situations/meetings with parents. Most of the time, I am expecting it and am able to prepare myself mentally. There is a certain circumstance that no matter how much I prepare myself, I struggle. And by struggle, I mean choke up, get teary, or flat out cry in a meeting with a parent. Today, that circumstance came as a surprise.

When I went to work this morning, I did not have any parent meetings planned. I was going to meet with a vendor, catch up on some things I was behind on, and do some observations. My day quickly changed, as it often does, and I ended up having to rearrange my schedule and cover some parent meetings. No big deal.

I got to the school, got settled in and got out my paperwork for the meeting. It was going to be pretty simple. We needed to determine if we should test a little girl for eligibility in the area of health due to her ADHD impacting her education. So, we started going through the educational areas, talked about how she was struggling with attention to task, how her grades were low, and got out her old records only to figure out that she had been tested previously...and not just once. So, I started flipping through her previous evaluation, and felt like I had just been punched in the stomach. I looked at my Psychological Examiner, she looked at me, and said "do you think we need to go ahead and have this conversation?" (She was as blindsided as I was.). My reply, "umm, yeah."

I took approximately 3 whole seconds to compose myself by staring straight down, looked up, and with a quiver in my throat began to explain one of the hardest things that someone in the field of education says to a parent.

I don't recall exactly what I said, or how many times I apologized for the tears that were threatening to spill over my eyelids, or the quiver in my voice, and the pausing in my explanation, but I am sure it went something like this...

"When she was tested the last time, her scores were significantly lower than average. When we are looking for a learning disability, we are looking for a discrepancy between ability and achievement. Her language scores are commensurate with her ability level, and her ability level has remained consistent over the different tests that she has been given. Your daughter scored one point higher than the state criteria for an Intellectual Disability. We need to test her again. But this time we pray that she tests at least one point lower because in order to get the specialized instruction that she needs, we need for her IQ to be in that Intellectually Disabled range. But please understand that this score does not and will not ever define her, it is simply the score that is going to give her the help she needs." And then the mom passed me the box of Kleenex.

The thing is, we are not doctors, and we are not diagnosing illness. I know that in no way, shape or form can this be anywhere nearly as difficult as informing a parent of a terminal or lifelong illness. But I work in the business of sometimes having to tell parents that their children may struggle through life because cognitively they fall in the lowest percentages of functioning. That adaptively, they may need support with daily things. That their dreams of their child becoming a doctor or lawyer or even college graduate could be crushed. There is a whole new myriad of things for them to worry about. And, it's tough. And, I struggle.

Does crying while telling this to parents make me unprofessional? Perhaps. But, it won't stop me. I can't help it. I am a mom and I am human. I am a real person who has the empathy to hurt with a parent and I will continue to do so as this will never get easier.

And today, they thanked me for being real.


  1. Although I know it's important to be professional, I think that your tears show parents that you are empathetic and warm and that you understand what a challenge this is. And that's awesome. That's why you're so good at your job. :)

    And I know it was totally different, but the doctors and nurses who cried with us never struck me as unprofessional. I was so appreciative that they were acknowledging how terrible our tragedy was. I didn't once think they'd be less capable or skilled just because they were expressing their emotions.

  2. I agree with Brooke. I don't believe one doctor has shed a tear while discussing FA (although the initial doctor did look green around the gills). Don't get me wrong - we have some GREAT doctors involved (and all are men and we all know men don't cry) but if they had shed a tear, they would have only confirmed that they care about my sons wellbeing and him as a person. When you have to rely on others to help you do what is best for your child, knowing someone on the other end cares is a blessing. When it comes down to it, you gave these parents the knowledge that you recognize their child is a PERSON not just a number and that you care about this child - and that my sister is nothing short of a gift. Never question (or care) if it is "professional". In your profession, I think anything less cold be considered more unprofessional. You are amazing at what you do!

  3. Girl...if crying in parent meetings makes you unprofessional, I don't know how I've survived in the district this long without being fired. Also, on every evaluation I've gotten, my rapport with parents has been complimented, tears and all. The funny thing is that you and I are scarily similar in so many ways, our relationships with parents no exception. If a teacher would cry with me in a meeting about my boys, I'd love them forever. And I love you and your big heart.

  4. I think you are amazing, how you impact children and their families is not an easy path.