As a Special Education Teacher, I clung to the reality that the unexpected was to be expected. When there was no other explanation for that latest surprise, I’d shrug and say, “Never a dull moment.” If only it were that simple….
Once upon a “never in a dull moment,” I met Drew, a brilliant third grader whose academic skills far exceeded my own. I never expected to be teaching Calculus in my little self-contained classroom, all the while teaching seven other students who had their own unique set of skills and needs.
Drew may have been ready for the academic rigor of college, but he was also filled with frustrations and emotions about how the world should and shouldn’t be. He made it very clear that it was an injustice for him to be in a classroom with so many “idiots.” I was challenged to acknowledge his deep concern while also providing some much needed perspective about the value of each member in this vulnerable classroom community.
It wasn’t long before I was added to Drew’s list of “idiots.” In my attempts to teach him, he quickly came to the conclusion that I wouldn’t be able to challenge his hunger for learning. I knew that providing a challenge for Drew’s intellect was the door to a trusting student-teacher relationship. Feeling completely ineffective and discouraged, I sought input from Drew’s mother. I hated admitting to her that I was struggling to provide for Drew’s academic needs. She was not surprised by the news. Although academics were important to her, the current priority was for him to gain social skills and to become more flexible in how he viewed the world. So, Drew’s mother arranged for a “college professor” to provide private, weekly lectures during the school day. Letting go of my responsibility to teach academics was tricky, but this was our way of showing Drew that we heard him and that we were responding to his request to be challenged.
Meanwhile, some interesting things were happening in the classroom. Drew showed an interest in joining the class for soccer games at recess. Quickly, we saw that this was a recipe for disaster. Drew did not take well to losing or to others taking the ball from him. His way of coping was to change the rules, and the rest of the class accused Drew of cheating. In an attempt to minimize his frustration and to encourage his involvement in the game, I asked Drew to help me in refereeing the game. He agreed. This was the perfect plan because he saved face with the group and still had a role in the game.
As referee on the field and in the classroom, Drew began to find his place among his peers. I would be lying if I said it was all happy and glorious from that day forward. In the end, Drew continued his education elsewhere. I’m so glad that I took the risk to be open and honest with Drew’s mother, and I’m thankful that her acceptance allowed us to move forward with creativity in addressing what Drew needed. Above all, I’m thankful for these unforgettable, life-changing “never dull moments.”