A Love Letter to my Students
Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet 43 begins, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” There are not enough minutes in the day nor empty spaces in the world for me to pour out the words in my heart to you – my students – but I will try. In the last five years, I have taught hundreds of lessons, but from you, I have learned many more. Like a mother, I love all of my children equally, but there is a part of heart reserved especially for my students with special needs.
While people are multi-dimensional and bring an array of gifts and talents to this world, more often than not, we are judged according to our successes. When I say success, I am speaking of the very traditional definition and when it comes to children, success is often rooted in academics. These spectacular, unique beings are reduced to a report card, a Regents score, a GPA. Even for those children to who excel academically, this is a disservice, but for students with disabilities (diagnosed, undiagnosed, and misdiagnosed), it can chip away at their self-esteem and leave them with the lasting belief that they are not enough.
Though I am but one educator, I know I speak for so many educators when I say, “You are more than enough.” To the children I have taught, if I have never said it to you directly, and if I ever left room for doubt, please know that you have been everything to me. I have never seen more grit, more tenacity, or more heart than I have in you.
As a person with epilepsy and ADHD, please know that my work with you comes from a deeply personal place. I know what it feels like to be humiliated or scolded by a teacher for something that was genuinely beyond my control; I know what it feels like to carry that shame. I remember, like it was yesterday, the overwhelming anxiety that coursed through my body at the thought of being called on in certain classes. I remember feeling better about not submitting an assignment than turning it in and having my teacher know just how little I understood.
For all of those negative memories, I also remember the teachers who showered me with praise when I gave it my best (even if the final result wasn’t an A). I remember the teachers who took the time to show me different ways of approaching assignments without making me feel like I was different. I remember the teachers who gave me second chances on assignments because they’d taken the time to get to know me as a person and they knew that, with a little more support, I could reach my full potential. I remember the day I was finally diagnosed and it really sank in that I wasn’t a “stupid person who had to work really hard to seem smart.” I was a really smart person who needed something different from my peers to accomplish the same result.
It is my sincere hope that in our time together, I have done at least one of those things for you. It is my ultimate hope that someday, every student has equitable access to education, regardless of ability. Your donation today will move us one step closer to understanding disability and providing children and their families with the supports they need.
To my students with disabilities (both past and present), to the teachers who push themselves every day to create classrooms that meet the needs of all learners, to the families who stand behind and advocate for your children, you have my undying admiration, support, and respect. This is my love letter to you.
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