"Just so you understand, your child will be classified as a Preschooler with a Disability."
And so with 15 words, my future career path was laid out for me, although I didn't know it at the time. It was 2002, my son was three years old, and there I sat at a meeting with the local school district trying to get him the interventional services he needed. Barely talking: speech therapy. Extreme sensitivity to noise: occupational therapy. Tentative walker: physical therapy. He had already been getting some combination of all these interventions, but now that he was three and about to begin preschool full time, I needed to plead my case to the next level up in the hierarchy of special education.
The woman who spoke those 15 words was nice enough, but that didn't make hearing them any easier. My son had to be labeled in order to receive the services he needed. I was OK with that. The fact that I actually had a child who needed intervention? Well, let's just say that being OK with that was a longer journey.
Having a child with challenges is really hard work. But with hard work comes rewards and I've had plenty. One of the biggest? Knowledge. By supporting and advocating for my son these past 11 years, I've learned so much. I've watched him work with tutors and therapists and teachers and I've seen firsthand what worked and what did not. I've learned how he connects with certain people and why. I've discovered how to manage the seemingly endless paperwork and red tape that's involved in getting a student what he needs. Over the years I developed a really great skill set and I did it in, arguably, the only way possible: by living it.
And so it felt quite natural and a logical extension of the path I was already on when I decided to open my own tutoring agency in New York City, Mosaic Tutoring. Of course, there are few places more stress-packed and competitive than New York City. Education here is no different. Students as young as eight years old feel pressure to perform on state tests. The guiding principle at Mosaic is not higher test scores or better grades. Rather, it's to develop confident, comfortable students who acquire a love of learning and don't dread going to school each day. And, as I so often find, once students feel better about what they can do and believe they can do it, the good grades follow anyway. I know that because I see it happen over and over again. Saying what I do is rewarding is quite an understatement.
Mosaic grew slowly, as most new businesses do, but today it is thriving. The reason is twofold: one is my passion to succeed; the other is the "been there, done that" factor I have with my clients. I always explain to them that I wear two hats as the owner of Mosaic; I'm an education business owner and a mom. When I meet a prospective tutor for the first time, I always ask myself, Would I want this person working with my son? If the answer is no, then he or she is not added to our roster. Trusting my mom gut is one of my greatest tools as a business owner.
Starting a business and watching it thrive has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my life. And to think it all started that day when my son was so small and my worries so big. A wise 90-year-old newspaper columnist once wrote, "If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's, we'd grab ours back."
I don't regret for a moment the journey my "problems" have taken me on. They have made me stronger and wiser. They have taught me and have helped me to teach others. They have broadened my sense of compassion and tenacity. These are all pieces that have come together and made me what I am today. Pieces that have formed a bright and hopefully long-lasting Mosaic.
Follow Cory Zacker on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PapertreeTutor