Yesterday I ran a marathon, which made me happy. As Robert and I were walking back to the car from the finish line I overheard a conversation behind us that did not make me happy at all. The conversation was between two rather loud women who both appeared to be teachers. Teacher number one was complimenting teacher number two on her ability to work with special needs students. She claimed that she could never work with “those children”. Teacher number two jumped in and said she adored her special needs students, especially the ones on the spectrum. That would have been okay, except for her follow up. “I just can’t work with my nonverbal students. How do I know what they are thinking? I am very verbal and I just can’t process things with them like I would with another student. It is very frustrating.” Since I was not part of this conversation I did not feel that I could jump into their chat. Also, I had just run 26.2 miles and was not feeling terribly verbal myself. But, a day later, here is my take away.
First of all, things that happen in the classroom stay in the classroom. Our work there is sacred and not to be discussed in the faculty room or at the finish line of marathons, or anywhere else for that matter. If you cannot at least try to connect with all of your students, maybe you should leave the classroom, for the good of all of us. Second, nonverbal kids can communicate and can process. Granted, one has to know the individual and watch for clues, but nonverbal persons on the spectrum can make their feelings, wants and needs known. I can process things with Boo Bear, and we do communicate, just in our own way. Two months ago I blogged about the loss of his service dog, Rosie. Rosie had been an integral part of his life for over 8 years. We spent a lot of time processing that, since she was here one day and then gone the next. For anyone on in a similar situation, I highly recommend the book Dog Heaven. We read that book a lot.
So, yesterday was a mixed bag. I ran a race and felt good about it. I overheard a conversation that gave me a look inside another teacher’s classroom and I did not like what I heard at all. This is one of the reasons I left teaching 3 years ago. Faculty rooms are toxic places where teachers chatter about all sorts of things they have no business saying. Our work is important and sometimes we need to vent. But it is not okay to bad mouth our students. Collaboration to make a student’s learning experience better is fine, claiming one cannot work with someone because they are “different” or “other” is not. People on the spectrum have enough challenges to face on daily basis. They don’t need anyone else mucking up the water by claiming they can’t process of communicate. This is your public service announcement for the day, you’re welcome.