Jodi Grubb

@jodigrubb | contributor
I am here to learn, but also to share wisdom gained from the greatest teachers of my life who thought they were my students! I have taught in special education for 26 years in a variety of settings from birth through age 21. I’ve also earned a Doctorate in Educational Leadership and serve currently as an adjunct professor in the field.
Community Voices

See It Through

“The world needs us to lead, not to lick our wounds.” – Donald Miller

Most of my greatest teachers thought they were my students. This writing honors one such teacher, a strong-willed boy with a fighting spirit who will forever be one of my heroes. I believe people come into our lives for a reason — maybe to help build us, if we let them. This is an attempt to share what I think his reason was for showing up in mine….

It was the hardest year I ever had teaching. I loved all nine of my middle school students, but the maximum recommended number for a self-contained classroom is eight — for a reason. Feeling spread too thin and worried that none were getting the individual attention they deserved, I was called to the office to meet my new student, number ten, Tyler Hanes.

Deep breath. Not sure I could handle one more thing, I walked to the office more worried about myself than whoever might be waiting in there.

His quick, melt-your-heart smile lasted all the way… until we got back in the room, where he lost my undivided attention. Determined to regain it, whatever it took, the next few weeks were a series of explosions. Running out of the room down the hall (outside at the slightest chance) and, if nothing else, yelling profanity in front of the class usually worked to get some one-on-one time. One of my all-time favorite classroom stories happened during one of those spells. Everyone else was taken to the gym, and I stayed behind with Tyler. He was getting a little aggressive so I went into the hall, holding the door closed behind me.

Our conversation through the door…

Tyler: OPEN THE @#%@#& DOOR!!!

Me: You can’t leave the room talking that way. We have to say nice words at


Tyler: OK, Open the @#%@#& door, PLEASE!!!

Ann (my assistant): You’re making progress.

So that began a day or two of missing p.e. to say bad words. Ann and I told him that was fine if that was what he would rather do — just sit there with one of us and say any he could think of as long as no one else could hear him. It wasn’t as much fun, I guess, if you had permission and you really liked basketball.

Over the next few weeks, we began to notice amazing progress. What started out as dark scribble on a piece of paper turned into actual legible words. Tyler was finding another way to gain attention. He desperately wanted to please. I will never forget his face the first time he made it through a whole paragraph of mostly consonant-vowel-consonant words. He looked up at me and said, “Hey, I didn’t know I could read!” Never has a student been able to drain every ounce of energy I had, only to turn right around the next minute and fill me right back up — and then some.

I worked with Tyler for three years. I watched him sing in our annual musical. I watched him win medals at Special Olympics. I watched him have compassion for students whose problems were different than his own. I watched him sit in the middle of the band room soaking in the sounds. I watched him make sure I was okay after a hard day, even when it was his fault.

The third year, he quit eating very much. He bruised easily, and he was diagnosed with #Cancer . It was then that I began to realize why God made him such a fighter. In his sixteen years, he learned to compensate for a disability, and he battled a terminal illness until his last breath on earth.

Tyler helped build me. I met him worried about myself, and somewhere along the way my perspective changed. He needed a teacher. It wasn’t about me. In the whole scheme of things, I was fine. What if my class was his last shot at school? If I wasn’t going to teach him, who was? It appeared that I was his hope. Turns out, he was mine. He taught me to see things through. He taught me, as Andrew Solomon says, “Love is made more acute when it requires exertion.” What if I hadn’t stuck it out? What beautiful things I would have missed. He made me learn to step up and lead, not lick my wounds. He taught me to be more like him, and I am glad.

In my mind, I see Tyler busting heaven wide open. And getting all the attention he can handle.

Jodi Grubb

Seeing Beyond Tests and Supporting All Students as Special Educator

“I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.”– John Steinbeck In high school, I drew the picture on the below during art class. I worked as hard as I could. I remember determinedly trying to use shading techniques like I was shown. It took a lot longer than it looks. It was one of my best pieces. Renowned artist, Phillip Philbeck, painted this picture below. I have three of his landscapes hanging in my house. He graduated a year before I did. We had the very same art teacher, Doug Pruett. I remember Mr. Pruett’s teasing grin as he tapped his fingers on his desk saying, “I just don’t have the talent in here I had last year.” If Mr. Pruett’s teaching abilities were judged solely on the artwork we produced, Phillip would be making him look pretty dang good. Me? Eh. I mean really, is that the best he could do with me? I should be pretty ticked in comparison. Except that I remember Mr. Pruett as one of my greatest teachers — someone who had an impact on my life, a true artist who shaped my mind and spirit. I’m sure it took way more skill and creativity and a whole lot more patience to teach me, than it did to teach Phillip. The truth is, I could take art classes until my last breath, and I would never have landscapes hanging in anybody’s house. But you know, since I still remember the term cross hatch and dipping a pencil eraser in ink to give my football texture, I must’ve been proud of my work. Although there’s no way to measure it on any standardized test, that’s what makes Mr. Pruett a great teacher. He recognized my individual potential and weaknesses, and yet I left his class with a lifelong confidence in my creativity and a desire to always find a way to express myself. Mr. Pruett inspired me to be my personal best and to realize there is no one standard of beauty or one single measure of success. He could’ve crushed my spirit by holding me to Phillip’s standards (or pretty much any other kid in the class), but he chose to focus on my strengths instead. As I recently administered standardized testing myself as a special education teacher, I thought about this a lot. I thought about it every time a student significantly affected by autism spoke one of the three words he is beginning to use to ask for something rather than take it by force. I thought about it when I was required to ask him to “solve for x” on a 7th grade math test. I thought about it when I watched tears well up in a teacher’s eyes who just gave an 8th grade reading test to many students who came to her barely reading at a 3rd grade level. I thought about it when she whispered, “What can I possibly say to convince them how much they’ve grown, when they make another Level 1 on another standardized test?” I thought about it as I tried to find words to convince her of the infinite ways she helped them grow, when they made another Level 1 on another standardized test in her class. Not to take anything away from teachers and students who performed well—I love my Phillip Philbeck paintings. They need to be admired and gazed upon. But so do the best attempts at footballs and tennis shoes. There are some teachers whose hard work and passion and insight will never pay off in excellent test scores, but their impact will be manifested in countless other ways. To the true artist teachers who wonder how those kids who struggle academically will know how much they’ve grown, I just wanted to tell you about Doug Pruett. If you spent every single day for nine months focusing on a child’s strengths and pouring your heart into working with the most precious of mediums, you can’t help but have positively shaped minds and spirits. I am certain that you’ve helped instill in your students a lifelong confidence in their personal worth that will stay with them long after test scores are forgotten.