Into the life of every educator there comes those extra special students. The ones who teach us what it means to be a true educator. The ones who push us to be our very best. The ones who force us to learn more effective ways to support them. The ones who break our hearts when they struggle. The ones for whom we have shed tears ~ tears of frustration, tears of pain and tears of joy. The ones who we spend lots of time with. The ones who we think about first thing in the morning and last thing before we turn off the lights at night. The ones we think about as we are out shopping, as we come across stickers or books that will make them smile. The ones that we wish we were better for, because they need us to be better for them. The ones who strengthen our resolve to be patient, to be humble, to be calm and to be creative. The ones for whom we cheer as they conquer their fears and accomplish goals that seemed insurmountable. The ones for whom we keep an extra eye on when they are on the yard. The ones who have enriched our lives and for whom we will forever be grateful.
On the first day of school in 2017, when we opened our doors to our first families, I roamed the playground, not knowing a soul. I came upon 2 brothers and their grandmother. They excitedly posed in our First Day picture frame. Their smiling faces beaming. Little did I know that one of those brothers would become my “one”. The one who was about to teach me more than I could ever anticipate. For the next 3 years, we spent lots of time together. On those days when the yard was a challenging place to be, he would help with odd jobs, like unpacking Chromebooks and iPads. On those days when being in the classroom was a challenge, he would come to the office. On good days, it was for a chat and a reset and then back to class. On the more difficult days, my office became a place of refuge. Yes, there were tough times when his body and mind were dysregulated and unkind, hurtful words were hurled my way. But, by the end of the day, he always made his way back to apologize. There were times, following a physical outburst, that he would reach his hands out for a squeeze, which seemed to help calm his body. I was, but one of the many staff members who supported him. I learned so much from them. They were masterful at helping him maintain positivity.
In the spring of 2020, he was offered a placement in a specialized classroom, where they were better equipped to support him. On his last day (in the middle of COVID, during a drive by pick up of belongings) he asked if I would come and visit him at his new school. Of course I promised I would come to see him and had every intention of following through on my promise.
Unfortunately, with the COVID restrictions and school closures, opportunities for that visit diminished significantly. But today, the stars were aligned, and I was able to drop into his school for a surprise visit.
I’m thankful for his current principal, who allowed me this gift. As I walked into classroom, he was working away on a cake for their upcoming cake raffle. Within seconds he realized that it was really me and our conversation commenced ~ like two old friends catching up over a coffee.
He was quick to share all of his accomplishments (making the volleyball and basketball team and playing the clarinet in music class) and introduce me to his classmates and teachers. We talked about his favourite hockey team and he quickly retrieved his independent reading book and together we flipped through the pages. I learned about his graduation suit and sparkly tie. Throughout the conversation, he continued to say, “This is the best day ever. I’m crying happy tears. This is the like an early birthday present”. Little did he know that I was holding back tears too. Tears of pride in this young man and his accomplishments. He proudly shared his plans for secondary school ~ along with an invitation to come and see him there. I shared pictures of my granddaughter and the cake that I had made for our cake raffle. I could have sat there and chatted all day. We took a journey down memory lane, with him sharing his best memories of being at our school.
I’m so grateful to the team at his current school. They have enveloped him with love, compassion and care. He is ready to take the next step of independence and enter the world of secondary school.
As it came time to leave, we captured a picture of us together and he recorded a message for me to share with staff at our school. I hugged a few colleagues good-bye and without missing a beat, he said, “Can I have one of those, it’s been a long time?”
As I drove back to the school, I couldn’t help but give thanks. I will forever be thankful that this special student came into my life and taught me to be a better educator, leader, and person.
Would love to hear your stories about the “one” who impacted your practice.
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Sue, you are an absolute treasure!
That our paths crossed is a gift that I continue to appreciate.
The families who pass through the doors of your school are so fortunate, indeed!
So blessed to be one of those families.
Sue, so beautifully written. I can so vividly picture and feel your visit with your past student. His smile must have been a mile long when he saw you.
Our students all offer us such special memories ones we will hold on to and cherish for always. As educators we are given such a wonderful opportunity as we inspire our students to grow and fulfill their dreams. They impact us and if we are lucky enough we will positively impact them as well. You have obviously and not surprisingly impacted this student., how wonderful for you both!
That brought tears to my eyes. In my 24 yrs with the school board, I have made a few special friends that I still keep in touch with. I’m not a teacher but I have also spent money, time and sleepless nights thinking of ways that I could be a better support to these special individuals.