The first fifteen years of my teaching career were spent in the early primary grades – three years in Kindergarten, twelve years in Grade One – but I have been challenged (and blessed) in the last two years by making the transition into Special Education and taking a job as a Learning Resource teacher. I had no idea where this job would lead.
“Nothing will work unless you do.” (Maya Angelou)
Some of the time it is amazing. I work with dedicated professionals from many fields who live to help children find success. Some of the time it is frustrating. I work with a variety of people who have different opinions, backgrounds and preconceptions. Some of the time it is heartbreaking. I work with children who are on the edge of failure, who struggle, who face more challenges before breakfast than I have faced ever… But all of the time it is hugely rewarding, because the work I do every day makes a difference.
“Do what you can with what you have where you are.” (Theodore Roosevelt)
In the (less than) two years that I have been doing this, I have faced an amazing learning
curve cliff. I have had to work to understand the incredible variety of differences that can be found in the human brain, and how vastly those differences affect the learning profile of each individual. It is amazing.
One small hand
To touch the
Woven fabric of
Such rounded softness –
Sticky clean –
Explores the threads:
Falls to shreds.
Finds an end-
Thoughts unravelled as
Fingers grasp and
I wrote this poem (remember! it’s poetry month!) during my education year at university – before I had experienced many years in the classroom, and long before I had children of my own, but I had already recognized one essential part of teaching: it is not about me. It is about the child and what they can grasp. What falls apart as they attempt to understand, however brilliant it may seem to me, is completely worthless. I am only as good (as a teacher or parent) as I am useful to the little people whose challenges I attempt to support each day…
Which brings me to this.
I spent a day with a group of educators at a presentation by Stacey Wakabayashi (POPFASD) who shared his experiences (failures and successes) from a very diverse and challenged community with a high prevalence of students with FASD. It was transformative.
As a classroom teacher and as a resource teacher I have worked with children and families who live with FASD. I have witnessed their challenges and wished for their successes, but it was the time with Stacey, the commitment and understanding he brought to his presentation, that gave insight into the empathy and imperative for support that these fragile little people require from us as educators.
There is so much to know about FASD – more than I can compress into this short space.
For insight on a personal level – Trying Differently Rather Than Harder – Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. This book was written by a woman who has experienced this disability firsthand, and had faced the difficult stigma of identifying and accepting the responsibility for it in her own family. Her take : “Our kids are ten second kids in a one second world.” (Diane Malbin)
The knowledge network made an amazing documentary about families living with the repercussions of FASD – set here in B.C. It is emotional and eye opening. Kids living with FASD are not an easy fit for our educational services.
As Stacey said, it is our responsibility to “Make curriculum and resources fit your kids, NOT make your kids fit curriculum and resources.” Students with FASD – or with any neurodevelopmental disorders – are facing giant obstacles that we can only imagine. They come to us looking like all the other students, and yet need as much empathy and support as a student in a wheelchair… As Stacey says, “we need to build a wheelchair for the brain.”
We need to make a shift.
We are charged with the responsibility of meeting those neediest children where they are ready for us. It is our time to live out that challenge in new way, as the world changes around us – it is up to us to change in order to give the most to the children who rely on us for stability and support.
“If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.”
Go ahead – live your life to serve. You are needed – you shall not live in vain.