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We Need More Disabled Teachers

Education.

Just that word stirs up a wide range of reactions from people.

Teacher.

Another word that carries so much power.

Disabled.

Well, we’d be here all day discussing that.

What happens when you put together two of those words? You get an explosive combination.

From an early age, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. That drive and desire stayed with me throughout my adolescence into my late teens. I was a good student with even better grades. I received a full four-year scholarship to a private university in my hometown of Miami, Florida. My initial major was accounting. I absolutely loathed it.

Around my sophomore year, a campus organization got a group of volunteers together to go to the nearby elementary school and tutor underprivileged youth. I immediately jumped at the opportunity because I knew it would help satiate the hunger I had to teach.

After a few months, I decided I wanted to minor in Education. I made an appointment with the dean of the School of Education. She informed me that you could not minor in Education, only major in it. My response was I would double major in Accounting and Education. The response I got has stuck with me for 23 years.

“How are you going to be a teacher? Who is going to write on the board for you? How are students going to understand you?”

Ironically, there we were having this conversation and she understood me just fine. I left that meeting feeling dejected and heartbroken. It was devastating to be told I could never follow my heart’s desire just because I was disabled.

Five years later, I found myself teaching Sunday school at my church. I taught kindergarten that year. I enjoyed every second of being in a classroom and wished I could be a “real” teacher.

Fast forward a few more years and me moving to a smaller town in Southeast Georgia. Once again I was teaching Sunday school and a separate family session on Tuesday evenings. During the first two years, the parents constantly complained that my speech impediment made it too difficult for them to understand me.

My students had no trouble.

The issues didn’t stop there, though. Month after month during the Tuesday night family sessions, two mothers and a father would sit and mock me/my speech as I taught. Three adults mocked me because to them, my speech impediment equaled a lack in mental capacity. Perhaps if they were educated about disabilities, in particular cerebral palsy, they would have treated me differently. There’s also a chance that they were just uneducated and mean spirited.

I’ve taught children from all walks of life and on a broad education spectrum. Though all my students are special, two stand out the most. Both were autistic. When each came to me as new students, their mothers warned me that they were not very responsive. As time passed, that turned into “he doesn’t respond to anyone the way he does to you.”

Disabled educators are important. However, in doing research for this article, I was hard pressed to find statistics on how many there are in the American school system. That alone speaks volumes. Statisticians have once again found a way to marginalize an entire community.

It’s time for society to break free of the mindset that disability equals or should equal disadvantage.

Children would benefit and grow exponentially if they had a teacher with a disability. It would teach them from an early age about differences and how to adapt to and accept those differences.

Inclusion in the classroom has been a major topic of discussion in recent years. However, this discussion should not only pertain to students.

In 2019, disabled educators should be as commonplace in the classroom as their able-bodied counterparts.

Getty image by Vgajic.