Presented with evidence,
her parents shift their eyes for one split second
before the smooth surface of denial
glosses their countenance .

Privileged people,
upper middle class,
they paint themselves above numbers
that scream their daughter’s need
for help.

With a working memory of 69,
words become nebulous gasses—
instructions must be refreshed.
Redundancy becomes a classroom strategy
to facilitate student success.

“Our daughter is not stupid.”

Bare white shoulders shudder under 
parental expectations.
Reduced to tears
she bears their shame
behind closed doors.

“This will go in her permanent file,
so the high school understands why
we did not provide services to your child.”
Final answers disintegrate
when parents don’t sign a document
affirming their denial when all tests indicate
their child’s need for help.


At last, she sits in my classroom.
Beautiful. Nervous.
Geared up to show me she doesn’t belong.
We write and her work ethic
rises before my eyes.
This girl will develop strategies
to navigate the nebulous world of words on page.
She will pin ideas together in strings of meaning
threading a success she can weave into the story
of parental expectations that color her privileged
young life.

Brenda Warren 2012

Process Notes:
True story. Sadly, difficulty in reading can be a stigma in some families. This girl will be successful in my classroom because she has a strong work ethic. I am lucky to be her teacher.

Working memory is measured on a scale that goes from 40 to 160. The curriculum I teach is cyclical. Each lesson is divided into six steps, and each step has some redundancy. That repeated practice helps my students develop strategies to read and write.

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23 thoughts on “Services

  1. When I was a pre-school teacher many many moons ago I encountered several parents who just would not believe that their three year old was different. One father was in complete denial that his son was differently-abled and thought the child would grow out of his obvious (to everyone else) issues. Another father refused to believe that his daughter could be manipulative as well as a ‘biter’. Was she just at the other end of the intelligence scale or did she just have her father wrapped tightly around her little finger?
    Thank you for being a presence and a light in that child’s life. I love teachers with heart!

    I had fun with ‘gassed’ – enjoy:


  2. I LOVE this and I love your work. My daughter was on the Asperger’s spectrum but had other symptoms, so it was missed. Yet she could read a novella in a half hour and tell me about every detail. But put her in a science lab? All the while, I stood by her… knowing that a gifted, if other-minded, child was worth every teacher’s time. She excelled in everything but wearing clean socks. Thanks, and peace, Brenda! Amy


  3. Being of the era when you just struggled through, I look back and know now what the problem was.I don’t think my parents would have been ashamed, more just tired. It sounds like the parents need an education as much as the child. I say this with more sadness than malice. Thank goodness for teachers like you. Wonderful insight into your teacher world!


  4. A very heart-wrenching recounting of a situation that plays out more often than people care to admit. I worked extensively with the drama group at the High School and it was painful to see these kids in such straights. Thanks for this sad reminder, Bren. A brilliant expose.


  5. WIthout even reading all of the other comments here, I’m sure I am echoing what’s already been said…this student is lucky to have you for a teacher!

    Love the direction the wordle words took you for this.


  6. Thank you so much for realizing the value in reading and for working so hard to teach the necessary skills and appreciation for learning to read. It is a travesty that most children will never read well, nor want to. I cannot tell you how much I adore you at this moment. 🙂

    Stanza 3 is my favorite.


  7. Strong wordling here, Brenda. I like when you write a real-life-situation poem. Sad that these parents won’t recognize that ‘services’ might help their child. But it sounds like this girl is in the right place…and with a work ethic, and you as a teacher, will succeed.


  8. Ah – stories like this make me teary with exasperation and true sadness … my brother was dyslexic before they knew what it was and my parents begged for help for him …being unable to read,or write properly, affected his whole life in a profoundly negative way. You’ve captured a different slant on stigma and exasperation – I cannot even fathom parents of any so-called class turning down help for their child … as others have said, she is lucky to have you – both as her teacher and in her corner.


  9. Ditto. It is very interesting to work with people who see things differently. Dyslexia runs in my family so I know a bit about it. This is a smooth poem with grit on the inside.:)


  10. Sounds like you and this student are lucky to have each other this year. Amazing that parents would turn down offered services–usually they are calling for more! Obviously this is a captivating story.


  11. I, too, have encountered parents in denial. It is always a privilege to work with the student who knows what she doesn’t know, and has no idea how to get there, but is eager to learn. You’ve painted my classroom with your words. Thank you.

    Whirling with Jane Kenyon


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