When a Teacher Said a Photograph of My Relative Would ‘Scare’ the Students

It started over dinner when my daughter, Caitlin, was deciding what to bring in for “Show and Tell” at school. Remembering her recent visit to my office, she asked if she could bring in the poster of her cousin that hung on my door. Excited about her decision, I agreed and told her I would get it for her the next day.

The following afternoon, I carefully pulled the tape from the back and rolled up the poster of Nick in his Team USA uniform with gold and silver medals hanging around his neck. I tucked it into my bag and headed home. That night after dinner, the kids argued over who would get to share the poster first. My son, Nolan, who was in third grade, stated that he wanted to take the poster to school on Thursday because Caitlin did not have “Show and Tell” until Friday. This seemed like a reasonable request, but I said I would email their teachers and wait to hear back from them.

In my email, I sent links to articles about Nick’s accomplishments and video clips from the Beijing Games, along with a photo of the poster. Nolan’s teacher responded that night saying she had shared Nick’s story with her family and how they were all inspired by his success. Yes, like many world-class athletes, his story is inspiring.

I didn’t hear from Caitlin’s teacher until the next morning. In her email, she explained that she had forwarded my email to the principal and that she was concerned the poster would “scare” the children. I was appalled.

Through Caitlin’s eyes, Nick Springer is her cousin. Nick Springer is a gold and silver medalist in the 2008 and 2012 Paralympics. Nick Springer is a world-class athlete who plays wheelchair rugby. Nick Springer is a survivor of meningococcal meningitis. Nick Springer is a quadruple amputee.

Nick Springer Spin

Unfortunately, the only label her teacher could see was the last, and she found it frightening. The next day, I received a call at work from the school principal. Here is a bit of the conversation from my side:

It is not if Caitlin will share the poster, but when.

How can we be OK with sharing images like Captain Hook with young children, yet we are afraid to share a photo of someone who represented our country in the Paralympics?

I find it more frightening that we have an educator who feels unprepared to embrace diversity in her classroom. If she can’t handle this conversation, what other conversations aren’t occurring?

On the following Friday, with the support and guidance from the principal, Caitlin shared the poster. And, how did her classmates react? Through their eyes, her cousin, Nick, was totally awesome!

As a former kindergarten teacher, professor of education and parent of a child with an exceptionality, I realize we have a lot more work to do in promoting the inclusion of all people. I strongly believe we need to begin our efforts to do so with young children. We should not shield their eyes from seeing the world as it is or avoid challenging conversations around the dinner table or in the classroom. Through rich dialogue and diverse children’s books, we can share the beauty in differences and the abilities in disabilities.

Then, through their eyes, the world will become a better place.

JLStratton Bio Photo

A version of this post originally appeared on Jen Stratton, Ed.D.

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