“Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.” -Desiderata
Dear Special Education Teacher:
Back in the fall of 2018, I observed your classroom for my Foundations of Special Education course. We talked to each other warmly and I carefully observed the methodology you used to interact with the disabled students in your class. At the end of the day I thanked you and you returned my thanks. Then you told me to get in touch with you if I had any questions about what I’d observed. I was impressed by how you related to the children and I imagined implementing the same strategies in my own classroom someday. I left thinking that the observation had gone well.
However, a week later, you told my program director that my behavior in your class was so “shocking” and “annoying” that you didn’t want to be in her program anymore. These “shocking” behaviors included yawning (caused by an anti-depressant), walking a few feet farther away from you in the hallway than is typical (caused by misperception of space) asking too many questions (my need for explicit instruction) and my voice being just a little too loud (caused by some executive functioning deficits.) The faculty in my department and I proceeded to have multiple meetings and discussions about the topic, right in the middle of the semester when my schoolwork was at its zenith. Moreover, I received a cryptic email about your complaints immediately following Lasik surgery. I cried for four hours, but somehow I managed to avoid rubbing my eyes. That’s a very fortunate, because having a layer sliced off of your eye with a laser is a big deal; if I had rubbed them, I might have gone blind.
In any case, perhaps this experience can serve as an opportunity for us both to reflect on what’s really important in life. Obviously you don’t know this, but my biological mother died suddenly of cancer in 2016. I was already severely depressed and the news that she was dying pushed me into a psychotic break. When I visited her for the last time, she was frequently in and out of a morphine- induced haze and I, having lost most of my capacity to think rational thoughts, could rarely speak. As I stared catatonically into space with tears running down my face, I desperately wanted her to be well so that we could go shopping and chat the way that we did when I first met her-but of course we would never do that again. Our family had planned to go on a lake trip together someday, but we would never have that experience now. It really, really sucked.
Sometimes, life is cruel.
And you’re sad that I yawned.
I’m working on fixing the behavior, I really am. It would make my life easier; who wants to spend their time at the meetings I’ve described when one could be, say, out walking or visiting homeless people? Also, I’d like to have a job, so if not yawning will make that happen, then I’m all for it. Nevertheless, if my yawning means that you don’t want to participate in one of the best Special Education programs in our nation, well, that’s your problem. Indeed, I’m wondering why you are a Special Education teacher at all? If you can’t deal with a disabled adult, then please go take a sabbatical from teaching and remediate your ignorance before you teach disabled children again. Then use your gifts to make their worlds better. The world will be better for it. Other than that, I’m not sure what I can say.
I suppose I might say that I forgive you for putting me at risk of going blind, triggering me and disrupting my semester. I also forgive you for being selfish and petty. I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt because disabled children need the evidence-based educational techniques that I saw you use. I’d rather have them have a skilled teacher who was kind of a jerk than have children taught by a “nice” person who was not implementing the strategies that will open doors for them in adulthood. Nevertheless, your beheavior toward disabled adults must change. Otherwise you are helping to maintain a hostile society for the children that you and I care about.