There is a lot of talk in education right now, with a lot of opinions – some in favour of educators and others that are not. I’m not one to write about a political stance, so I won’t be doing that today. What I will do however, is ask you to look past the lens of the media and government, and what you’ve heard, or think you’ve heard for just a moment, and know that for many of us, education is rooted in something so much deeper than any of that. It is rooted in passion, growth, milestones, lessons, successes, failures, connections, and most of all, in love.
What you might not know is that our students enter our classrooms, while also entering our hearts. They come home with us at the end of the day and into our weekends. They enter our personal lives as we share their triumphs and successes with our own families, and equally as we agonize over what’s in their own personal backpacks of family life, peer pressure, and world affairs.
Today is no different. Today, as an educator, I have entered my weekend feeling an overwhelming sense of pride, and sorrow at the same time. Truly bittersweet.
I lost one of my students today who is moving to another school. It is May – 10 months into the school year, and we are so invested in our children.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a very special bond with kids with Autism. My first experience came in my Grade 12 teaching co-op. For 5 months, I had the opportunity to work in a Grade 1 pod. And there was Chad (name changed to protect privacy). I remember his look, his smile, his mannerisms, and I remember the very special way in which we connected. I recall his mom even asking me to be his babysitter once I was finished with my co-op because of this bond that had developed. From that moment forward, I wanted to know everything that I could about Autism. I made it my area of focus in teacher’s college, studied, wrote papers on the topic, and then synchronisticlly attracted students with Autism into my classroom almost each year of my career. This led to my interest in leading Autism Awareness campaigns and raising funds to go towards learning more about these very special individuals.
Now, I really don’t like to separate anyone based on a label, or their unique profile (after all, we are all unique and different in some way), and I’m only doing so, to raise a very important topic – that these children are here, in my belief, with a very special purpose and mission that will, if we support them, help to shift the nature of our world.
Sometimes children on the spectrum are misunderstood or perceived as having an understanding that differs from others. Sometimes I actually think it is these children who have an enlightened understanding, that may be beyond what is in the scope of OUR own understanding of what is going on in our world.
What stands behind some of their silence or perceived differences however, is pure love, intention, intuition, and a deep desire to be seen, heard and accepted.
Seen, heard, and accepted would be an understatement for this little boy who moved on from our class this past week.
What I got to witness between the students in my class and this little boy, will never be forgotten. They love him dearly, as do I. I dreaded breaking the news of his move, and what was to come with our goodbye.
This little guy was truly a beacon of light in our classroom. In his few words, he had the ability to make us smile every – single – day.
Watching his milestones throughout these 10 months have been some of the most rewarding moments of my career, and this is not due to me. This would not have been possible without the guidance, and mentorship of his peers. Kids are innately loving, accepting and anything that defies that is taught or modeled.
There was not a dry eye in our classroom during our goodbye. As we met in community like we do each day, all 27 students had a turn to say, “I love you because,” to our friend who was moving away. One boy couldn’t get through his words as he started to cry uncontrollably, and this led to quite the domino effect!
From community, here were some of the sentiments shared by his classmates:
I love you because whenever we have a bad day, you bring back our smile.
I love you because whenever it’s a rainy day, you bring sunshine.
I love you because you make all of us shine and feel happy.
I love you because you’re so blessed with your eyes, and so kind with your words.
I’ll miss you because you’re a special person in our class.
Thank you for always shining brighter than a star.
I love you because you’re your own self and you don’t want to be anyone else.
In a world where so many adults have blinders on to the unique beauty in each person that exists – we could take a page out of these kid’s books.
I couldn’t feel more blessed to be each of these student’s teacher. I feel honoured to learn from them and to have my heart crack open a little more each day, and to expand in ways that I may not have otherwise.
As a I mentioned at the beginning of this, there is a lot going on in education right now. Supports for Autism in particular, are being drastically reduced. These children, like all children, matter. An experience like what our class had this year is not a blip in time. It is not temporary. It is a permanent imprint in each our lives.
With whatever is to come in the next few years, please know that for every negative story, there are 10 more positive ones.
For every teacher who complains about their job online, there are 10 teachers gloating about theirs outside of the limelight.
For every teacher carelessly scribbling a poor grade in red marker, there are 10 teachers writing the grade in teeny tiny letters and following it up with glowing comments about what was good.
For every teacher who yelled, there are 10 teachers using soothing words, a smile, and sharing hugs and high fives.
For every teacher who counts down to the days to summer from September, there are 10 more teachers just making every moment count.
For every teacher who doesn’t seem to ‘see’ your child, there are 10 more waiting to embrace his or her being in its entirety.
For every teacher who seems stressed, or pre-occupied, or is off here and there, it’s because their students’ world often comes before their own.
For every teacher who puts themselves first, there are MILLIONS more who puts the student first in line.
I’m sending so much love to my class on this rainy day – it is ALL of them who bring the sunshine to me each and every day.