Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Thanks for Being Tough

Dear Mrs. Day,
You know how most of my speech was about victory and survival? Well, ironically, I can't believe I survived that! I mean, my speech was better than I had expected, but I would never have DREAMED  I could turn a four- minute speech into one that might just as well have been a perfect 6 minutes long! Thank you SO much for pushing me like you have in this semester! If you had gone any easier on me, my grade would be even worse than it is now (plus I would still be a chicken on the stage today!)

I often feel like I've failed kids. That I haven't done enough for them.  But not this student. The student from the above email, I actually felt like I was picking on him at times.

He's in a wheelchair, you see.  Spina Bifida. My instinct was to coddle him.  But I soon realized, he had had enough of that. And it was his body that was handicapped, not his mind.

In addition to being in a wheelchair, he had also been home-schooled (Don't jump all over me. I have had some excellent students who have been home schooled. But some, including this one, don't have the skills, social and otherwise, needed to "survive" in the school setting).

In talking to Mom at conferences, she appreciated most of the challenges going to high school afforded him. She wanted us to be tough.  And things happened that made me tough with him.  

Fast forward to last Friday morning before school.  It's our annual staff Christmas Breakfast potluck.  We all look forward to it.  Shortly before school starts, I see him sitting in his chair outside the library door.  I just know he's looking for me.

"Mrs. Day, I really need more time for my speech.  I haven't got it memorized, it's not long enough. I just need more time to prepare."

It's tempting to just say OK.  But it is clearly written on the assignment handout I give all students that once the order is set for speeches, there is no changing.  And if you skip are really sick the day you are supposed to give your speech, then you go to the end of the list.  Or maybe, you just receive a zero. Depends on the case.

His case is this.  Once he has a computer in his hand, it gets all of his attention. He hears nothing--not people talking around him, not bells, not directions.  And even though somewhere in his backpack is a sheet entitled "Commencement Address" filled with all the important information one would need to complete this final speech, he doesn't remember this. Or if he does, like all students, he thinks he is the exception to the rule.

I explain all this to him.  Again.  (he also accidentally deleted his speech once during the time we were working on it)

"Go down to my room and go over the speech. You are giving it today. It might be short, it might not be memorized. But it is not fair to the people behind you on the list for you to get more time.  It is now or never."

"Fine," he snapped as he rolled down to my room.

By the time class started and a few others presented, he was ready.  And you know what?  It was quite good.  A little short. Not memorized.  But good.  And as you can see by the email at the beginning of this post, he learned more than just how to give a graduation speech.


  1. Way to go Deb! The reassurance of knowing YOU MATTER and pushed that student. A good lesson for all educators and one he won't soon forget.

  2. Recognizing when to make accommodations, and when those accommodations are counter-productive is a teacher's most powerful discernment. Well done.

  3. Three cheers for you! You are a great teacher: the perfect balance of heart and instincts. How rewarding!