Did you know it is American Education Week? Happy week and I hope you will join me in celebrating the gift of teaching. I often say I believe teaching is the highest calling, and I do. Take a minute and send a message, a note or a shout out to one of your own teachers. Then, if you have students in school do the same for one of their teachers.
Rachel has had many good teachers in her 12+ years in the school system. Yes, she is only in the 9th grade but preschool services for her began at 3. I could write and write about the many great teachers, paras and related services professionals she has had but today I’ll focus on one. Today, I’m going to do a little double duty because Rachel and her English teacher are receiving an award from the Olathe Optimist Club. I think it is appropriate that it is during American Education Week. The Rachel-Ms. C Duo was nominated by one of her high school’s assistant principals. The award criteria states:
Please provide a brief statement about the mentoring relationship between the instructor and the teen and support provided to the teen to assist the student to overcome diversity or excel in one of the following areas, or other as you may designate:
• Overcoming physical or personal challenges
• Academic achievement- high achievement or outstanding improvement
• Athletic achievement
• Leadership development
• Act of bravery
I mentioned Ms. C earlier this year. I suspect when the Optimists developed this criteria they were not thinking of the bravery of both the teacher and the student in this situation. A teacher who reached out to a former teacher and then was brave enough to reach out to Rachel’s parents and say, “I need help. I want to teach your daughter and I am unsure that I know how.” A kiss wasn’t appropriate from this momma, but a pat on the hand and a few stories of how we are going to make this work sufficed. Rachel is brave everyday. As her head is full of so much and by nature of her Down syndrome, she has to work so very hard to sort it all out. She has met the challenge though and moved right along demonstrating to us that she can grasp the important themes in “Of Mice and Men” and “The Odyssey.” This teacher is brave enough to say “let’s try letting her do this without help and see how she does. Are you okay with that?” Of course, I am thrilled because that embraces our own philosophy.
I believe that good teachers teach. Many of Rachel’s best teachers didn’t have specialized “special education” training. However, they believe that all children can learn and that you find a way to teach them and find out what they have learned. That may not look like all the other colors in the box.
It may look like coloring outside the lines. Ms. C told me that she was kind of embarrassed for receiving an award for doing what she is supposed to do in her job. My response, “You have no idea….” Ms. C sends me weekly summaries of the plan for the week so we can help Rachel at home. Ms. C sends me study guides – usually ahead of schedule so we have time for Rachel to practice, practice, practice because repetition and familiarity are key. She understands that for Rachel there is a big difference in a multiple choice, matching, or fill in the blank test. She understands that Rachel will rise to the occasion and do her very best if she knows what is expected. She also allows Rachel to come in and chat with her between classes, and Rachel loves this. She helps Rachel to exceed expectations because she exceeds expectations.
Ms. C seems to have embraced our idea of inclusion. Inclusion isn’t just about the classroom teaching. It is about the process. It is about the classroom interactions. It is about others seeing Rachel and others with intellectual disabilities as capable. The long-term rewards for Rachel and other students are immeasurable. I suspect the results will include more jobs for individuals with disabilities and the ability to interact with clients and managers who are different. I suspect a group of people who will better navigate the course of life.
Good teachers teach. Today, I was proud to watch as one of those good teachers and her brave student Rachel were recognized as Optimist Stars for believing, dreaming and doing. Thanks to the Olathe Optimist, Olathe South and the Vice Principal for recognizing a “super amazing teacher” and a girl named Rachel who is changing perceptions on a daily basis!