Teaching in a special education self-contained classroom taught me to celebrate small victories. Accomplishments are not always measured by tests, checklists, or projects. Progress may not always be academic. A child identified with PDNOS plays with another child for 10 minutes a game that the other child chose. Few can understand the swell in my chest, and the relief in his mother’s breathing, “He’ll make friends,” she whispers. Once, J. told me his classmate bumped into him “and it was probably an accident” instead of punching the other boy or flipping over a chair. I felt liking throwing a school parade. That was almost two years in the making of social stories, one-on-one cool down walks, and modeling. These things aren’t reported in the papers, on the school report card, or acknowledged by anyone other than the teacher, the parent and [maybe] the child.
As the school year starts off, I’d like to say a very special thank you to the special education teachers out there. You are called names, your heart breaks, your “top of the world” moments aren’t understood by most. There are days where if you aren’t laughing, you are crying. But there are those small victories, and those triumphs culminate to progress for children who matter every bit as much as the next kid. Thank you for the ground work you lay to help those small victories along the way— the IEP meetings, writing the IEPs, and coordinating with so many other staff members. By celebrating the small victories with cheers, hugs, high fives, praise, you let these children shine and they learn that they have very much to be proud of.
Today, I took my uncle for his weekly grocery shopping. Usually, he keeps his empty frozen food boxes and empty fruit cans in the fridge. For two years now, I have talked to him about throwing things away. I have explained and explained again, that if he fears fruit flies he can put garbage in grocery bags and send them down the garbage shoot which is only three doors down. Last week I said, “I feel like you save your garbage just for me. Taking out your garbage is part of being responsible for where you live.”
Few in this world will understand my excitement (and tears), when I opened the fridge today and my uncle said, “Tada!” There was no garbage. I know my special education teacher pals get it. I leave for Florida in less than a week, and this made me feel better about leaving him behind. The progress we made this summer, the small victories, will stay with me forever.
My wish for you this school year is that at the end of the year your “Tadas!” are numerous and you feel like you have done your best to help prepare them for what comes next.