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When My Daughter's Teacher Used the R-Word

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Nearly three quarters of the way into my daughter’s second year of kindergarten, I scheduled a meeting with her teacher to learn more about how things were going in the classroom. It was an enlightening experience, in more ways than one.

It’s understandable that as a child with multiple disabilities in an inclusive classroom setting, my daughter would be pulled out of class for a variety of necessary therapies. While just 20 minutes per week doesn’t seem like much in a two and a half hour day, multiplied by five days, subtracting all of the extra activities, there simply isn’t much time left available to teach and learn.

Although, a disappointing reality, this isn’t what shocked me.

During the course of this meeting, my daughter’s teacher scrambled to show me all the items that I had requested to see – math workbook, poetry folder, etc. She even offered to burn a CD of some sight word chants so we could practice them at home.

That’s when she said it.

In reference to the technological skills required to burn that CD, she said she was “retarded” when it came to those kinds of things.

Ummm. Pardon me?

I didn’t even take a breath before I called her out on it. Oh, no, no, no… please don’t use that word.

Without skipping a beat, she kept talking, throwing in a few sheepish “I’m sorry’s” along the way.

After the meeting ended, I couldn’t get that scene out of my head. The physical hurt from it wasn’t apparent until the following day – when I could barely turn my head due to the tightness in my neck.

What caused the pain was the realization that this is not only my daughter’s teacher, but at least 40 other kids’ teacher as well – this year alone. How can we expect someone to teach a concept they don’t fully understand? How many children who look up to this teacher may have heard her say the R-word and believe it is acceptable because she did?

It’s been seven years since Rosa’s Law was signed. The R-word has been deemed offensive and inappropriate at the federal level and at many state levels. The Spread the Word to End the Word campaign has reached hundreds of thousands of people through social media, inviting them to take the pledge to stop using the R-word. Hollywood actors, television celebrities, and other high-profile individuals have been called out publicly for their use of the R-word.

In spite of all of these efforts, one group has been overlooked. It’s the very people on the front lines, those who are helping to bring up the next generation of people to treat each other with kindness, dignity, acceptance and respect. It’s within our communities, our neighborhoods, and our schools where we need to shift the focus our efforts on raising awareness and signing pledges to abolish the use of the R-word.

I’m sharing this experience as a means to bring awareness to the ignorance that exists within the very walls in which future generations are learning how to treat each other. I sincerely hope no other parent feels the pain of hearing their child’s teacher refer to him or herself as “retarded,” and that all school districts place a higher priority on teaching children the true meaning of Respect.

Take the pledge! Sign up to support the elimination of the derogatory use of the R-word from everyday speech and promote acceptance and inclusion.

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Originally published: April 4, 2017
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