“There is magic in the presence of trees,” I mused, inhaling the damp freshness surrounding us. Walking in our rain boots through the lush forest, my daughter happily chatting to her art teacher, I took as many mental images as my senses could hold. I left my phone back in the car when we pulled up (silly me).
This teacher is more than a teacher to Hannah – she’s her FAVORITE. “Mom! Mrs. O’Connor has a real studio!” she exclaimed at the beginning of her first art class last year. “She’s a teacher AND a REAL artist!” We were able to see her work in a local art show last fall and she graciously invited Hannah to come see her studio. To say that Hannah was excited was an understatement.
After the studio tour, Mrs. O’Connor took us all around her lovely space, surrounded by acres of forest land. (Half way through our walk, we stopped and grabbed our cameras!) Having lived here for a few decades, she can imagine living no where else – and it’s clear to see why! It really was a slice of heaven – and a rejuvenating day spent captivated by Mother Nature’s spell.
Teachers: never doubt the impact you have on your students. Read that again: Please do not doubt that you are impacting your students in ways you may never know. (Seriously the last couple of years – whew!) From this mama to one very special art teacher – I thank you especially for taking the time and sharing your gifts. You are a treasure!
“Tell me which of his classes to take! Make me love him,” the message read.
“Huh?” I thought, slightly taken aback. How do you make someone love a particular instructor? I don’t think you can.
I’ve taken classes all my life. Most of us have. Formal schooling as a kid, college, and even on the job training, it’s a life-long process regardless of whether we see it that way or not. My mom is a teacher of dance. I’ve been a teacher of sorts over the years, although not in a traditional school classroom setting. Parents are teachers. Without question, our kids will teach us things we had no idea we needed to learn.
I remember my first jobs as a kitchen assistant at a retirement center, later as a sales associate in multiple retail establishments, then as a waitress, and even as a bank teller, manager and officially a corporate trainer. All of these seemingly unrelated positions had the common thread of teaching. We may not always love every teacher or instructor we have in school or on the job, but we can learn something from each.
My son had a particularly rough PE teacher one year. They got into round after round of power struggles. (My son does have an individual learning plan for autism-related accommodations, but this teacher did not read the plan, much less follow it’s directives. It was rocky to say the least.) She was not his favorite person – teacher or otherwise. I let both kids know that while you will likely not love everything about a teacher, co-worker, or boss you will have, you can learn from them, even the not-favorites. Dubious, they questioned my logic until I explained one of my least-liked teachers.
He was a 7th grade social studies teacher that was nearing retirement. He was the quintessential monotoned-voiced, gray-haired, probably sick of middle schoolers, oldest crank I had ever seen. He looked like he must have been at least 104. (My adult self realizes he was probably in his 60’s, but aged prematurely due to his loathing of teenagers). His classroom was always just about 5 degrees warmer than was comfortable. He would drone on and on about some civilization or other, regularly dimming the lights for a bit while we watched the most ancient film (on an actual 2-reel projector) about how said civilization lived or were wiped out in battle. The merciless clock had a deafening second hand that seemed to take its sweet time moseying around the blurring numbers. “Did time actually move backward?” I would wonder when looking at it for the 18th time in 3 minutes. Having his class after lunch was a unique form of torture. We all struggled to keep from falling asleep. The fear of succumbing to the sandman was not due to the possibility of embarrassment from accidentally drooling on the desk, or even snoring in front of our peers. The poor souls who gave in to their exhaustion were met with the intense whack of a yard stick slammed on their desktop. That stick created a gust of wind it was whipped down so hard. Not only would you pucker, gasp sharply, and make you question if you had just died, it would draw the attention of everyone in the room to humiliate you. The overall lesson was this teacher was someone to be feared above all else.
Even with teachers like him, I still learned. I learned that some teachers use humiliation as a tool. If I was ever in a teaching capacity, I recognized (even if I was unable to articulate it at the time), that fear is not an effective tactic nor is shame. Fear and shame inhibit learning. Can I tell you anything I learned in that class in terms of social studies? Absolutely not. But I can in crisp detail, outline the way I felt, describe the skin-prickling heat, and the intense urgency I felt to be done with those 55 minutes each day.
Certainly not the ideal, valuable lessons were learned. The same is true when we look at any kind of class – be it a grade school teacher, a dance instructor, or a fitness professional. Similar to story-tellers, teachers all bring their own unique something to any lesson. If someone isn’t rocking your socks off, okay. No big deal. Find someone who does. We can learn something.
Excited for their respective field trips, both kids had no trouble getting out of bed.
“Where’s my class shirt?!” One hollered from the closet.
“Hanging right there,” I hollered back. “Right where you hung it up last night so you wouldn’t forget it….” I continued, mumbling the last part to myself as I grabbed the freshly brewed pot and poured myself the delicious, and necessary, first cup of coffee.
Her trip was to the local art museum to engage in some performance, dance and music fun. With ease, two talented performers from the museum wrangled a play out of three 2nd grade classes! It was a feat of epic proportions!
What these pictures don’t show you is that while the kids are engaged in activity, their teachers are watching, monitoring and helping. For one child, the noise is too overwhelming. Instead of shushing him or telling him to sit down for the 100th time, she creates a space for him to calm himself. For another, the urge to fidget is too great. Not only do I see these educators focus on reading and writing and math everyday, but they are seeing the whole child. They are soothers. They comfort. They wrap their arms around the child that for the first time is requesting to be hugged. It’s a joy and a privilege to witness.
I’d been asked to chaperone his class field trip to the aquarium and happily accepted. This is, after all, why I chose to not work outside the home; so I could do all the mom things and help out when needed. Having field trips on the same day, in the same part of town allowed me to hop from one to the other with out missing much of either. I looked forward to having a bit of one on one time with each of them. After this year of single parenting, there’s been but a time or two that they’ve been apart, much less had me to themselves. I think they look forward to their dad’s return not only because they miss him, but equally because they need some space from each other and some undivided attention.
The day was lovely and perfect for an outing. The aquarium is one of Jake’s favorite destinations, loving all things ocean-related.
The exhibits went smoothly, the aquarium staff delightful and engaging. Sitting in front of the dolphins, questions and answers flew fast and furious.
“What grade are these kids in?” asked a man in a wheelchair behind me, having heard a few of their questions.
“Third,” I whispered quietly, smiling holding up 3 fingers.
“Wow,” he replied. “I taught fifth grade. They are really smart.”
Nodding in agreement, I turned back to the playful dolphins twirling behind the plexiglass. The really are incredibly smart I mused, simply enjoying the moment, and the opportunity to be a part of it.At the last exhibit during a group exercise, Jake was frustrated having not heard the instructions, then realizing he wouldn’t have any input in his group’s presentation as they worked. The tears started. (The other kids were not being overtly mean, but sometimes it’s easier to ignore people than to actively include them.)
It’s these moments that are hard. Autism or not, kids (as well as adults) have to learn how to deal with emotions, deal with disappointment and handle frustration with others and themselves. Group participation isn’t always easy, but it’s part of life. Physically, I was too far away and couldn’t get to him, and it was hard to hear over the chatter of the kids, engaged in their task to create an imaginary creature.
His teacher noticed the situation and swiftly grabbed an additional folder so he would be able to participate. She got down on the floor and engaged him. She didn’t have to. It would have been easier not to. She helped him help himself. She didn’t scold, embarrass or patronize. He didn’t have to have mom intervene. She was subtle and quiet.
I smiled and mouthed a grateful ‘thank you’ as she got up to assist other students. I was humbled and as my eyes started sweating, I sternly told myself to save it. Lord knows my kid didn’t need a blubbery mess of a mom sobbing about gratitude in the middle of a field trip.
But I was, and am, very grateful.
How supremely lucky we are to have teachers that care so much.