I have an old laptop that I used all through college and my first year of teaching. I was searching for an old poem I had written and thought maybe I could find it there, so I dusted it off and pulled it out of storage today. I was pleasantly surprised to find a picture of me and my first class as the desktop background picture. A flood of memories rushed back to me. I loved this little class of 21 students. There were some challenging days, but for the most part it was a truly enjoyable teaching year.
Almost automatically my eyes were drawn to a little boy in stripes on the front row; Grant. I got emotional just thinking about little Grant, because Grant forever changed my teaching, and my life.
Grant, you see, had autism.
I taught this class when I was just 22. A brand new college graduate. I had very little teaching experience under my belt, and I had absolutely no experience with autism. To say I was nervous to be his teacher was an understatement.
I soon got to know Grant. He only initiated conversation with you if he was asking a question. His favorite was, "How old are you?" He would read to me or answer questions if I asked them, but if he began the conversation it was ALWAYS a question.
He wore hearing aids, and if he was mad or upset he would simply take them out so he couldn't hear the conversation.
He had a wonderful Mother who checked up on his progress often.
He was generally an average student, but tended to throw tantrums and fits at times. One time he had to leave my classroom and go sit in a special chair for him in the office to calm down. About 10 minutes after he had gone he came running back in, jumped on his desk and began dancing. As an inexperienced teacher I didn't know what to do! My calm principal simply walked in the room, whispered to me, "Give me a second." He calmed wrapped his arms around Grant in a hug, picked him up, and carried him out of the room.
We got right back to work and Grant was soon back in our room calmly working at his desk.
I loved that little boy and still think of him often when I am teaching.
The day he changed my life was on the last day of school. Remember how he always only initiated conversations as a question?? Well on this day he walked right up to me, gave me a hug, and whispered to you, "I will miss you Miss French." We both cried, gave each other a squeeze, and I sent him on his way.
I have no idea if the things I taught him that year or the way I led my class made a difference in his life. But, the way he lived, acted, grew, hugged, and taught me will forever change me as a teacher and a Mom.
On my drive around town today I saw a sign up that said, "Do Work that Matters." I love the saying and I love that teaching is work that truly matters. But, it was also the work of my little student that mattered so much to me. No matter what you do each day, make it count, make it matter to you and those around you, and give it your all.
Download a classroom poster here
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