I’m always touting the same three notes in my personal symphony on this blog: that I am a history teacher, a literature teacher, and a writer.
But there’s a lot more to me than that.
I am also a potter, an art teacher, a set/prop instructor for the school drama class. I’m an avid hiker and world traveler. I love to cook.
But first and foremost, I am a special education teacher.
I taught Special Ed in a public school system (preschool, elementary, middle and high school – all four) over fourteen years, before changing gears in 2008 to do strictly contract work. My work with the private academy (where I teach Lit and History) is only one side of my contract work. The other half keeps my feet firmly grounded in my first love, which is working with those who have sensory impairments: deaf, blind, and deafblind.
Only now I get to work with BABIES. Babies and toddlers. I sit on the floor and play pattycake and peekaboo and sing “Head, and Shoulders, Knees and Toes!” to my heart’s content. I get drooled on. I fight chubby fingers who want to pull hearing aids out of tiny ears and stuff them in tiny mouths. (Ear molds make excellent chew toys, apparently. Unfortunately, they’re also a classic choking hazzard.)
I get to pull out my bag of tricks (see photo above) and play with stuffed animals, and egg timers, and alarm clocks, and basically indulge in making all manner of sounds that, in any other setting, would have people scooting their chairs away from me or quietly pointing me out to the management.
I get to take my dulcimer to my deafblind child’s house, and put it on his lap, and strum out basic melodies (I’m a horrible musician) while he feels the vibrations and strains to hear the chords that go with them.
Sometimes I make my own books, to teach pre-braille skills. I even make many of my own toys, from all sorts of oddments: paper plates and plastic spoons, Easter eggs and whiffle balls, matchbox cars and bandannas, oversized buttons and socks, old bits of textured clothing and cardboard.
And duct tape, of course. Duct tape is a necessity in any wizard’s wizarding kit. (Red is the best.)
Most of all I love playing with the kids, and drawing them out, bit by bit. There’s capacity for language in each one of them, regardless of whether they’re deafblind, or have cerebral palsy, or are tube-fed, or deal with all three. (That would be my dulcimer kid.) I love seeing their curiosity peeking out at me when no one expects it. I love to see how one single response from a disabled child can light up a whole household.
Every writer, it is said, has their wellspring of creativity. My wellspring has been, and always will be, my students – whether they sit through my lectures on American History, or fight me for hearing-aid-snacking rights.
Either way – my students rock. Period.