I believe that special needs students are not broken or disabled. The true disability lies in society’s inability to recognize the remarkable strengths of these marginalized people. This needs to change. One rainy Saturday afternoon when I was thirteen years old, I was flipping through the channels when the words hit me, “Un-teachable child…. needs to be locked away forever.” This message, spoken by a character in the T.V. movie Untamed Love, became my motivation to become a Special Education teacher. The movie was about an abused child who expressed her anguish in the only way she knew how — aggression. Sentenced to live in a mental hospital, she attended a special needs classroom while waiting for a bed in the hospital to open up. In the classroom, the impact of one teacher forever changed this child’s life. She emerged as a child with the IQ of a genius who needed to learn to trust, love, and accept love in return. Through her teacher’s strength and dedication, she achieved these goals and avoided a lifetime in the hospital.
By the time the movie was over I was in tears. As the credits rolled, I read that it was based on a true story written by Tory Hayden. Being the avid reader that I am, I immediately begged my mom to take me to the bookstore. Once there, I discovered that Tory Hayden authored multiple books based on her teaching experiences. I purchased three and headed home to read. As I read the words on the pages, the emotions of these children and their teacher consumed me. I knew my future.
Bright and early that next Monday morning I marched straight to my school guidance office. I asked for special permission to use my homeroom time to help a girl named Gabby. Gabby is a student who has cerebral palsy, multiple academic delays and is confined to a wheelchair. Sweet and friendly, Gabby and I soon became close friends. My experiences with her were invaluable. Many times we sat across from each other at a desk, and I showed her flash cards. I watched as Gabby struggled to read words such as “a,” “the,” “he,” “she,” “in,” and “at,” by her side and supporting her every second. It was frustrating at times. I had trouble presenting the material so that she could understand it. I knew I needed to come up with something before she gave up. In a moment of clarity, I wrote a corny song that contained all the words and their spellings. Before I knew it, we were both cracking up from laughing so hard. Everyone who saw and heard us thought we were crazy, but Gabby got a 100% on that spelling test. As the all-too-short mornings kept flying by, I was disappointed by the amount of time I was able to contribute. After my experiences with Gabby, I asked permission to also work during my lunch periods to help her and other special education students. I continued to do this throughout my high school years.
While for the most part the students I worked with were innocent and friendly, I also experienced the occasional outbursts. Dodging flying scissors was part of the deal. I watched as students suffered major meltdowns and got in fights. I witnessed an abused child regress and finally transfer out of our district. Some of these moments were heartbreaking, and at times I felt discouraged. My family and friends constantly questioned my commitment to spending the rest of my life in this fashion. Yet I remain resolute.
Teaching special needs children is more than a job to me. It is a passion. The magnitude of the reward I feel when I when I work with these kids is beyond the scope of this small statement. When I see the smiles on their faces after they finally grasp a topic they have been struggling with, I know I have made a difference. The special needs students I have worked with are incredible. They never take anything for granted, and they do not get caught up in gossip or cruelty. There is no question as to whether or not they are sincere. What you see is what you get with them, and often their capabilities will surprise you. They are my heroes and I admire them. I hope as a teacher I make a fraction of the difference in my students’ lives as they have and will continue to make in mine.
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