It's why I don't leave them easily, these seemingly mundane bits of gathered information, and why when I hand them over, I do so with care. I let them linger in my hands, sigh a bit, and feel compelled to share a bit of each child's story. The child who has overcome great medical odds and bravely struggles each day to keep up with the demands of life and school. The child who is bright and articulate and kinder than most humans but words on the page have never stood still for him. The sassy middle school girl whose face is like a closed book, but who I have learned to read because of the teardrops that form in the corner of her eyes revealing that she does indeed care although she has been accused of the opposite. Their stories will continue and my story will continue, although in parallel. I will hold these learners in my heart, as I do each and every student I have encountered.
I am in a constant state of awe of my vocation and the wondrous beings that I have been able to know. The gift of being part of their lives never ceases to give me pause to wonder at the sheer privilege therein. I have sat across from many parents, shared many tears, and heard the fears and the hopes of families. My mother wisely kicked me out of the house one summer forty-some years ago and told me to go volunteer at a special education preschool. I found my life's work within a week of being with children who labored to walk and talk and hold their heads upright. I didn't see their struggles as much as I saw their shiny hearts, the sweat on their brow, and their crooked and endearing smiles. When God calls us to our mission, sometimes it is in a voice so loud, you can't help but hear.
Throughout my career, I have struggled mightily for a high quality of education for children with disabilities. I have been cowardly, I have been brave. I have made many mistakes and I have made some wise and helpful decisions. I have saved a few children from a really rough school experience and dastardly math tests but many more have saved me, have raised me from despair, cynicism, and selfishness. They have laughed with me, honored Earth Day just to humor me, and told me when my clothes were stylish and when they were not. They have rolled their eyes at me, given me the middle finger, and ran up to me with a warm embrace. I deserved it all.
I am moving again from my current position. It is a job I love with colleagues and children I love and I am going to miss the holy quietness of teaching at a school that corporately prays. Oh I will still pray! My stubborn Protestant self has come to know the sign of the cross as a holy seal, holding me fast to the gift of grace. My current teacher friend and kindred spirit said to me when I told her I was leaving, "Some birds just can't be caged." I do have a restless heart, itchy feet, and an AD/HD brain. I do. My hope is that I raise the standard at every place I work, in order that respectful practices are always a given. One of my first mentors taught me that when you treat someone with respect, it rewires her brain and she will never settle for less. My hope is that each child I have worked with will remember he/she is worthy of respect, not in spite of, but because of his own unique strengths and weaknesses.
Finally, I hope that our state and our nation continues to look at our standardized testing practices and ask if we are trading in real learning for mass trials of regurgitation. It's a fair question. When I sit with a child in front of a flickering computer screen, watching them wrestle with questions that aren't developmentally appropriate for him, my heart breaks a little. When I look at a classroom of 27 children, all unique and differently able, I wonder why they will all be held to the same standard by the end of the year. Some will be bored, some will be challenged, and some may be broken if we aren't extremely careful. Let's be careful. Let's be brave enough to have hard discussions about how to make our classrooms safe and respectful of the souls entrusted to us.
I am so profoundly grateful to the children, families and teachers I work with every day. I am, in the style of Bilbo Baggins, skipping off to a new adventure but carrying with me the memories of my current home. It is a place I love and will never really leave. THANK you. Thank YOU.