There are so many people I am thankful for on this fine Thanksgiving day! But near the top of the work list is Sherry Wagner. She is the author of the piece you’re about to read, and when your done, you will know why I am so thankful I get to work with many people of this caliber. She and her co-workers make Bowersox Vision Center such a great place for kids that need help and for me to be a doctor. So, let’s get to our Thanksgiving word feast! DB
They say life is more about the journey and less about the destination. My journey is far from over—but I have had some interesting twists and turns.
I am a teacher. For nearly half my life, I have spent my days helping children reach their fullest potential. It is who I am. It’s what I do. I am extremely dedicated. My career began nearly twenty years ago. If I did the math correctly, I have worked with more than 400 children. I’ve taught preschool, kindergarten, first, third and seventh grade. I’ve worked with the brightest to the most challenged and seemingly everything in between. I enjoy laying the foundation for children to both discover and reach their potential. I love watching their reaction when they realize they can do something they once viewed “impossible”.
I am also a wife and mother. I try to do all I can for my family. Their success in the routine of daily life brings me joy. I am dedicated. When my children started experiencing frustrations in school, I was “on it”! I sought out answers and advice and help. I wanted my children to love school and thoroughly enjoy their school experience. More than that, I wanted them to view themselves as capable, lifelong learners. That being said, I also knew, from the time my children were very young, they were “wired differently”. I also knew that one day it would be one of their greatest assets. However, in the here and now, I was painfully aware they were working far too hard for the level of success they encountered. I spent a huge amount of time and resources trying to find the right formula to help them meet their fullest potential. My son struggled with academic success in Kindergarten. He was gathering all of the necessary parts to become an independent reader…yet lacked the ability to link the information together. He tried…every day. Every day he just couldn’t do what he was asked to do. Yes, he knew his letters and all of his sounds. Somehow, connecting that information with written word was beyond his scope of ability. I couldn’t make sense of it. My son went through a full battery of educational and psychological assessments in Kindergarten. He was labeled ADHD and put on medication. Beyond that, he was determined to be of “average to above average intelligence”. No one could explain his learning struggles. Meaningful, productive answers were hard to find. Many highly educated people told me they simply “didn’t know how to help”. I was devastated. I was angry. However, I wouldn’t give up my search for help.
Then, one night as my son sat on my lap to read a story to me, I noticed he tipped his head to the side and would skip every third word. I knew his understanding of what he read as well as his love of stories was undoubtedly profoundly impacted by this. I called our eye doctor and made an appointment to see if there was a problem. I am so glad I made that call! I found out my little boy indeed had a visual problem. I know there are no words that I can use at this moment that will adequately express what I felt that day sitting in the doctor’s office and hearing him tell me that my son could only see written words clearly for a few seconds. My little boy that loves to be read to could not even read a book from beginning to end without working harder than most of us would be willing to do. He lacked the control in his eyes to move from word to word. Fluency was nonexistent. In one respect, I was devastated. I couldn’t imagine what daily life was like for him. On the other hand, I was thrilled! I finally had an answer. Additionally, I had a solution! That solution: Vision Therapy.
As the doctor began to tell me about vision therapy, I was intrigued, confused and somewhat skeptical. I was also open to ANYTHING. My son started therapy and we had homework sessions several times a week. I wish I could tell you he was a model student and always did his homework willingly and to the best of his ability. Even more than that, I wish I could tell you I was the perfect mother and that I always approached his VT homework with a smile and amazing attitude. I can’t! Truthfully, it was hard work. I had to fight him to get it done. There were times even I didn’t want to do homework. We trudged through it with less than the best attitude most days. One day, as we were doing these “exercises” I couldn’t really understand the purpose for…it happened! We were standing in the kitchen looking at big colored eyeballs taped all around the pantry door. He was supposed to be moving his gaze from colored eye to colored eye as I called out the various colors. I mean to tell you we have been doing this activity for what felt like FOREVER and the boy just couldn’t move his eyes without moving his head. Until that very moment in time. I watched him suddenly move his gaze from colored eyeball to colored eyeball with zero head movement and (in my opinion) a ton of control. It was exactly what the therapist said would happen “eventually”. Needless to say…at least one of us was thrilled to go to therapy the following week! As he progressed through therapy, I started to see the changes in his ability to read and ultimately his attitude toward school. Finally, the pieces were starting to come together and my little boy was able to work to his fullest potential. As a mother, that is all I have ever wanted for him. Ultimately, my son graduated from VT. His handprint on the wall of the VT center is a visual reminder to all who walk down the stairs that success IS possible.
As an educator, I personally was very curious about what was going on during vision therapy. I met with the doctor and asked a ton of questions. The offer was made for me to come in on Tuesday nights and “observe” if I was willing. I was willing! I was impressed with what I saw. I was also upset that more educators are not aware of what is going on in vision therapy. Before long, I had been “volunteering” for a year. I had grown to love the kids that came in for therapy. Their successes meant as much to me as that moment standing in the kitchen when I knew my son just tackled the mountain before him.
As time progressed, I was offered a job as a full time vision therapist. This of course would mean leaving my job as a teacher. I love being a teacher. I have always loved my job! At first I wouldn’t even entertain this idea. After all I am a “teacher”. It’s who I am. It’s what I do. However, the more I thought about it…the more I realized being a vision therapist is very much like being a teacher.
So, I made the decision to leave the school setting. My classroom looks a bit different these days. No, I don’t have bulletin boards to create, no I don’t walk kids to the lunchroom and special areas as I once did. I am still a teacher. I am still helping children. I am meeting the child where they are…I am giving them the skills and abilities to meet their fullest potential. I still can enjoy their reaction when they realize they can do something they once thought impossible. My title may have changed from “teacher” to “vision therapist”, but I am still and educator. It’s who I am. It’s what I do.
This has definitely been an interesting twist in the journey of life, but I am excited about the change. I am excited to get busy doing “what I do”.
Thanks so much Sherry!