Colin was only six when he started in a special education class and it was a bad fit for him. Despite him not knowing his alphabet yet, his teacher decided to start in on spelling tests, telling me it would keep him with his peers and he’d pick up the alphabet on his own. Soon she was finding him inattentive and difficult, something that came as a complete surprise to me as his kindergarten teachers loved him. Although in hind sight, considering she wasn’t helping him catch up with his peers, I can understand. He must have been so bored and frustrated.
He moved from that class into a multiple exceptionality class in grade two and his teacher adored him. He worked hard and had all sorts of innovative ideas. He genuinely loved school and looked forward to attending.
And then came high school and that was an unmitigated disaster. His “innovative ideas” were seen as an attempt to control the class. In fact anything he did seemed to fall under that category. He couldn’t have a stress ball on his desk or a fidget toy because he was trying to control the class by distracting them. Note, he was squeezing them, not flinging them at classmates.
The teachers responded in bizarre ways. Colin loves math, always has, and asked for math class regularly. His grade school teacher loved his enthusiasm and rewarded it. His high school teachers went out of their way to avoid having math class when he was there. If Colin was sick or suspended they would have math class, something the other students would promptly inform him when he returned. One day Colin had felt sick but recovered then walked to school. The teacher watched him enter the class the immediately erased “math” off the day’s schedule.
When Colin came out as trans, he came out as non-binary first. He wasn’t sure what pronouns to use so I googled pronouns and came up with a chart. We sounded out each one then he decided to use the same pronouns as my then friend Lenny; zie and zir. I looked up the district’s policy on trans students and their pronouns and found this quote (bolding is mine):
“Suggestions to enhance the school learning environment for trans youth follow. This list is illustrative and not exhaustive. We encourage you to develop and share with your staff and the Durham District School Board other gender inclusive ideas and protocols you may develop.
PREFERRED WAYS OF ADDRESSING TRANSGENDER PEOPLE
Transsexual females—identified as male at birth To be addressed as ‘she’
Transsexual males—identified female at birth To be addressed as ‘he’
When you are in doubt of an individual’s gender Address an individual as ‘they’”
Colin’s teachers and the other team members insisted they could not use zie and zir because it was against school rules. They could only use she, he, and they as the diagram showed. I pointed out the “illustrative and not exhaustive” part and they insisted that meant again that they could only use the diagram. Sigh, that’s not what the sentence means.
I had to go over their heads and, thanks to PFLAG, found someone on the school board to explain the guidelines. Which worked well in paper but not so much in real life. In real life they continued to use he and him. In meetings they’d, oops forget, 9 times out of 10. You don’t forget pronouns that much unless you never use them in the first place. And, to make matters worse, the teachers were actively teasing Colin over his pronouns. Separating the class into boys and girls then telling Colin he’d never get to be first in line for a treat because he’d “chosen” not to be male or female (among other instances).
At the end of grade 12 both Colin and I were so done with his school. He could have continued in a “bridge to work” programme but we figured it would be more of the same. More of them refusing to allow him into mainstream classes, more refusals to have harder work, especially in math, and more antagonising behaviour.
Colin has loved computers and electronics as soon as he was aware of them and has wanted to work with them for as long as I can remember. It was in high school that his dream job focused on robotics. Now that he was out of high school, he set out to realize his dreams.
He couldn’t start at college, even with support, as he didn’t have nearly enough education. So he called continuing education, who also told him he didn’t have enough education. He only had one high school credit and needed more. Then he tried Durham Alternative Secondary Education and was told the same thing. Same with the Catholic School Board. Finally, in desperation, I suggested the John Howard Society and, bingo, we had a winner.
Soon Colin was in school from Monday to Thursday and loving it. He attended right though summer and only missed days for doctor’s appointments. Then one day recently, he came home and told me he was only going to school on Friday now and was going to be taking school at Durham College. Soon I found him working on a computer he set up on our kitchen table (so not the place I’d have chosen) with two monitors and a calculator so he could finish his work and get it emailed in.
One proud smile
And then came last Wednesday when Colin proudly informed me he’s now going to College Prep classes. He’s attending school from Monday through Thursday again but this time with an eye towards him entering college as a student, albeit one with special needs. Finally his chance of going to school for robotics is in sight.
Colin has always been a smart kid, he’s struggled due to learning disabilities and autism, but he’s smart. I am so glad to see that educators are finally seeing this and are giving him a chance not just to survive but thrive.
Way to go Colin! You’ve earned this!!!