I have a disability but sometimes I forget. I forget when I am participating in a group or activity and I can do everything that everyone else is doing. Watching a Brewer game at Miller Park, for example. You don’t need coordination to sit and have a conversation while simultaneously keeping track of balls, strikes, outs, and runs. It’s during those rare times that I forget.
In those moments I feel extremely proud of myself. I have worked incredibly hard to get to those moments when I am just like everyone else. It’s a good feeling to truly be a part of something because of what you can contribute.
Unfortunately, those moments never last and something reminds me of how I am different. Most times are when my brain believes that my body can do something, despite having 53 years of memories that say otherwise. For example, my summer school students were playing basketball on the playground when one of the students passed the ball to me so I could take the next shot. Since he had only met me a couple of days earlier, he was unaware that if you would like me to catch an object thrown to me, I require three days notice in writing. The ball hit me in the chest as my arms reached for it over my head. I was urged to pick it up quickly (again, another skill not in my possession) and make a basket. Instead of chasing the ball, I resorted to my alternative skill of waiting until it stopped moving and then picked it up. With the ball in my hand, I walked five feet away from the hoop, stopped to get my bearings, shuffled up another two feet and lifted the ball with both hands over my head. I pushed the ball straight up and a tremendous downdraft of gravity grabbed it a foot and a half from my head and crashed it into the ground. As the young men around me just stared at me, I pretended my cell phone rang and walked off the court to take the call.
I knew all along that would be the outcome, as soon as the ball left the boy’s hand, but I still had that small thought of maybe this time would be different. When my circumstances remind me of my limitations, like in the above scenario, I just shrug and move on. There is really nothing I can do to change the outcome. My body will always react that way and that is something I have come to accept and even embrace.
The other times I am reminded of my disability are not so humorous and have caused me great distress. These are times when others have noticed my differences and have concluded that I am somehow less of a person because of said differences. These are random and isolated moments, but they hit like a bolt of lightning out of the blue and usually send me into a tailspin of self-doubt and depression.
Some wonderful examples would include the lady golfer who contacted the caddy master after my 18 hole round with her and praised the organization for hiring “those” people. Or the drive-thru attendant at McDonald’s who threatened to call the police on me for drunk driving because my hand shook when I gave her my debit card. Or the time I brought my students to a Special Olympic track meet and one of the judges gave me a ribbon, slapped my back and said, “Good Job Buddy!”. Or the time when my College advisor told me that I should not be a teacher because the students would make fun of me (Actually, he was right about that one!)
My latest moment came this week at ESY. ESY stands for Extended School Year and it is a summer school program for those students with a disability who require the structure of a school classroom on a year-round basis. Having the summer off would cause them to forget some necessary academic skills and would require a great deal or “retraining” when they arrived back at school. Not all students with special needs require this, so a large district like Milwaukee will send all the students to one school for the summer program.
As a teacher, I must move into an unfamiliar building every summer, with students and teacher helpers I am not used to. In addition, I also have to take direction from a group of administrators who don’t know me. Now, although I have been a Milwaukee Public School teacher for over twenty years, my methods are unconventional and my classroom can best be described as “organized chaos”. At my regular school, I am given a wide berth, because I have a good rapport with the parents and I get results.
This week in ESY reminded me I had a disability. It all started with a young lady who was assigned to my class. The boy that she likes was assigned to another class. This did not make her happy. After a couple of days of complaining to me (and anyone who would listen) about this great miscarriage of justice, she began to get creative.
She started by telling her Mother that I am mean and we don’t do anything in the classroom. Mom called me on the phone the next day and I defended myself over the phone. Next, she started asking to go use the restroom but instead would meet up with her friends in the hallway. When an administrator asked her what she was doing out of class, she told her that I kicked her out of the room because she wanted to work, but I was only interested in having fun.
The student was removed from my room the next day, but the administrator made it a point to “pop”into my room several times over the next couple of days. The first time I was sitting down while the students were watching something on the smartboard. She made a mark on a clipboard and left. The next time she came, the students were coloring a picture of “The Jetsons” and watching a short documentary of how many of the machines created on the show in the late ’60s have come true in the 21st century. She informed me, in front of the students, that we are not here to watch cartoons. The last time she came in, we had just finished an activity and the students were on a 5 minute break. Again, I was informed that students should be engaged at all times.
She also made me angry due to the fact when I tried to explain, she kept asking me to repeat myself. I thought that was just rude. I was speaking as clearly as I could and can not help it if I sometimes slur my words when I talk.
I went home Thursday extremely dejected. I started questioning my curriculum to determine if I were too lenient on my students. I looked for ways to include more rigor and content and even started to look online for (shudder) WORKSHEETS! I can teach that way, but I really don’t like too. I believe that the best way to teach is to be one half Game Show Host and the other half Stand Up Comic.
On Friday, I decided I have had enough. I resolved that if she stuck her nose in my room one more time, we were going to have a good, old-fashioned, come to Jesus meeting! I planned my arguments and my comebacks. I reviewed my research and my observational data in my head. I was ready to tell her what a great teacher I am!
Then I realize that this is the opposite of what I teach! You can’t “tell” anybody about yourself, you just have to show them. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Friday morning we were working on an activity called simply “NEWS”. We had just started when I saw her walking past my classroom door. I went into the hall and invited her in to observe. In this activity, students listen to me explain a news story from an online source. Then, in a email that they send to me, identify the 5 “W’s”. She was stunned that the students knew how to send an email. I informed her they didn’t when we started a week ago. She began to ask questions and I began showing her more and more about my “organized chaos”. I explained about my CP and the need to sit down occasionally and the learning intention behind the Jetson cartoon. She explained to me about her slight hearing loss, which caused her to ask to have things repeated. By the end of our 5-minute conversation, I felt like MR. P, Rock Star Teacher again. Instead of telling her I was a good teacher, which was accomplishing nothing, I got better results by showing!
As I reflected back on this, I was reminded of another instance back in 2006. I was getting prepared to leave a teaching assignment at the end of the school year, as I had just gotten a new one closer to home. One of my colleagues asked me about my plans for the summer. I told her I was going a a mission trip to Guatemala in August. She then commented, “huh, I didn’t know you were a Christian”.
That stuck with me to this day and reminds me that faith and spirituality are like everything else. People don’t care what you believe until they believe that you care. Another saying that I am fond of is “Preach the Gospel and, if necessary, use words!”
Just like my administrator, some people are always looking at what you are doing. They want to see you (and others) mess up because it makes them feel better about their messes. They know those who do not walk the talk! They dismiss Christianity because they only see hypocrites and sinners practicing and proclaiming the Good News. They do not understand that our actions are not an outcome of our faith, but the cause. If a human being were capable of perfection, there would be no need for a savior. Paul summed up the human condition very succinctly when he wrote “ for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 8:23
So, sometimes I forget….
I forget I have a disability….
I forget that I am a sinner…
I forget that I am forgiven…
I forget who made me the way I am….
Thank You Lord!!