Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fateful moments... if you believe in that sort of thing...

Today was, in the words of Grover, a “bad awful day”.  This morning I realized, too late to turn back, that I had forgotten my cellphone at home... Instant panic - dependent, I know, but don’t tell me you don’t panic when you forget your phone, too... Fine.  I didn’t prep a lunch last night, so I have to run out and grab something anyway. I’ll go home for the phone at lunch.  Get to school cranky about the phone, only to realize I’ve also forgotten my school bag – you know, the one with all my papers I cart back and forth, the stuff I had prepped for today’s activities, and oh... ALL of my notes for today’s IEP meeting with a parent at 9:30am. Fantastic... now I’m really cranky, and panicked trying to re-prepare materials for the meeting and the activity planned for the kids to do while I’m in said meeting.

Kids arrive. 2 of them I can hear arriving halfway down the hall.  This is never a good sign. A) long weekend, b) one of my TA’s is away and there’s a supply (a great supply, but nonetheless...) For those that aren’t following this line of awful, kids with ASD generally don’t do well with changes in routine, staff, ect. Recipe for disaster is already in motion.  By noon, all hell has broken loose.  One kid has been screaming all day, another kid bit the first one because they don’t like the noise, a third is in a bad mood and has spent most of the day flopped on the ground and refusing to get up, and my little one is throwing everything he can get his hands on.  *Close eyes, picture my nice quiet library. Wonder if I may actually be clinically insane. Repeat.* I want to walk out the door and not come back. I feel like a horrible teacher, and possibly a terrible person, too.

When the lunch bell rings, I literally escape out the doors, hoping that the room is still standing by the time I get back, and that all of my TA’s will survive the hour. Jump into the car, cursing my own forgetfulness, and head for home.  Consider Subway, thinking something healthy might make me feel better in the long run. Decide to F* that and get McDonald’s. Hit the drive-through, curse the (as usual) terrible speaker system, pay. Pull up to the second window. Am greeted pleasantly by a cheerful young girl who wonders if I want ketchup in the bag, and then stops and looks at me closely.

“Are you Miss *Teacher in 10*?”


“I’m Nikki!” She points at her nametag, which says Nicole.

I suddenly recognize her... a sweetheart little girl from my grade four class in my first year of teaching... 10 years ago.

“Of course? Nikki – hi! How are you?”

“I’m great! Are you still teaching at *school*?”

“I am. And you’re working here now?”

“Yup, for a few years now – I actually just got promoted this week!” she announces proudly.

“That’s great! Are you still in school, too?”

“I am! I’m actually going to be a teacher, too. And I’m taking sign language.  I want to teach Deaf kids, because you taught us sign language in Grade Four!”

I barely heard the rest of the conversation. I was floored. So humbled. I told her how good it was to see her, and to come visit at school sometime, that I’d love to talk to her. And then I pulled away and burst into tears. I cried all the way home.

“I want to teach Deaf kids, because you taught us sign language in Grade Four!”

I used to have a poster of the manual alphabet in my classroom. As part of their science unit on light and sound, I would talk to my fourth graders about the privilege of being able to see and hear, and have them create universal design household items that could be used by someone who was Deaf or Blind. And I would teach them how to fingerspell their names. That’s it.  The kids loved it... They loved to practice their spelling words in fingerspelling. And now here was this girl – this grown-up, university-aged girl, telling me that she was choosing her career based on what I did with her in grade four.

It was like my entire teaching career crystallized in that 30 seconds of conversation. That’s why become teachers – to have meaningful, real impact on the lives of our students. I left for lunch feeling like the worst teacher on the planet, and suddenly, I felt like if I did nothing else in my entire career, it would be enough.  Enough to have inspired that one girl to want to teach Deaf students, because I “taught her sign language in Grade Four.” Enough to be remembered by her, 10 years later, in a random encounter that might never had happened if I had not forgotten my phone, not packed a lunch and not needed junk food after a “bad awful” morning. The highest of highs from the lowest of lows.

Spirit officially refreshed. Tomorrow is another day.  And Nikki’s gift to me will live for the rest of my life in that incredible moment of affirmation that I will never forget.

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