To the Teacher Who Encouraged Me as a Student With a Disability
Dear Ms. T,
I don’t know if you remember me, but I definitely remember you. You were my seventh grade Social Studies teacher and were also one of the teachers supervising my Work Study period in both seventh and eighth grade. Two years later, I don’t remember much from seventh grade, but I do remember one thing quite clearly: I remember how strongly you’ve impacted my life.
I remember about a week or two into school, I still hadn’t brought in a binder for your class and I was keeping everything in a folder. You didn’t know that was because the beginning of the school year is always overwhelming for me because of my disability, which you also didn’t know about yet. You asked me to stay after class, then took a binder out of your closet, put all my stuff in it, then gave it to me. I remember I was still scared of you at the time, and I probably whimpered a “thank you” before running out of the classroom.
I remember a couple of days before we wrote our first essay, I told you I had a disability and I have typing accommodations. I think it might have been one of the first times I had to tell a teacher about my accommodations since typing accommodations were written into my IEP at the end of sixth grade. I was probably very visibly nervous: my eyes glued to the floor, my shoulders and arms tense, my legs shaking. I don’t remember exactly what I said, probably something along the lines of “I have a condition that makes my hands hurt when I write a lot, so for the essay, I need to type.” Knowing me, I probably mumbled or even whispered it. You then said “OK” with a look that said, “Why the heck are you so freaked out about this?” I reminded you again the day of the essay, and you said you remembered, then pointed to where the computer was and treated me like every other kid in that classroom. I remember crying from relief, both after I told you I need to type and after the essay.
I remember I was sick for nearly a week at one point in the year. I might have had a cold, I might have had pneumonia, I can’t exactly recall. Most of my teachers shoved work in my face and gave me a due date for all of it, usually no more than one to two days later. You didn’t. You asked me the next day I’d be able to stay after school, and I said I already planned on staying after to do makeup work in the library that afternoon. You then said you’d stay after that day to help catch me up and to let me take a quiz I missed so I wouldn’t have to miss lunch. You stayed late that day for me, just to help me out.
That afternoon you asked me what I want to be when I grow up. I told you I want to be a doctor, and you told me I’m so smart, I could definitely be a doctor. You also joked that I already had the handwriting. I was so stressed out that entire day; this was one of the few times I smiled and laughed. I remember walking home from the late-bus stop, with the pressure of an entire class’s worth of work taken off of my shoulders, knowing a teacher cared about me enough to stay after school just for me.
I remember reminding you about my typing accommodations the day of the in-class part of the final, which included an essay. Of course you remembered. You set me up on the computer, then handed out the final. Later that period, another boy needed a pen. I offered to give him one of mine, but you yelled at me to “shut up.” I know now that you were probably stressed out (what teacher wouldn’t be during finals season?) but since I was also stressed, I took it personally and started crying. It was silently, most people didn’t notice, but you did. Then you did something no teacher had done to me before: you apologized. You sucked up your pride and admitted you were wrong. You then helped me calm down, so I didn’t lose that much time to take the final. You’re the only teacher ever to apologize to me, and I mean ever.
I remember the last day of school. You asked us all to say something we’ve improved on that year. When it came time for my turn, I said I didn’t forget or lose as many homework assignments this year as I had the year before and I was proud of myself for that. You said you were proud of me as well and that you could see I got better at my organizational skills. You also said I needed to have confidence and that you knew I’d grow up to do amazing things. You then asked the rest of the class if they agreed with you. Nearly everyone raised their hands. I remember going home that day having more self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-love than I’ve had in awhile, if not ever.
Ms. T, I don’t know if you remember me or if I’ve touched your life. But I remember, crystal clear, how you’ve touched my life. I remember you.
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Thinkstock photo by Tab1962.