This week, Renay had the honor of being a guest of Megan Gross, California Teacher of the Year 2017, and a Finalist for National Teacher of the Year 2017. It was a really fun evening where co-authors of ParaEducate Renay, Megan, and Lisa Yamasaki were all back together in an event designed to highlight the best teachers and their practices in California.
After a bit of laughter and sharing of meals, all the participants heard many stories. Not just the story of the “teacher who believed I could”—and sadly folks who persevered despite the fact that teachers told them they could not—but the importance of the stories we carry with us.
This is not unlike the stories we know in our lives of working with students with disabilities. There are the moments they get the new academic or social cue. And we celebrate that. And we worry about the students who walk home late after game practices or the student we’ve reported to county services many times. We wonder sometimes if that student that leaves the campus this afternoon will be able to come back. The student who needs medication to function in the world that has not had any of their medication for a week. We all know those stories just as well as our own. Stories come in all shapes and sizes. Some stories are generations old. Others were just last week. Some make us laugh; many make us cry.
But what makes those jovial and sorrowful moments bearable, are the familiarity in our stories that we share between people who otherwise might not expect some common ground. It is what made the “Over the Line” activities a decade ago profound. That the folks one did not expect to have similar circumstances that we shared those stories too. This natural rapport isn’t about endearing or asking for pity, this rapport is about “I’ve been where you are.” An idea sometimes that is hard for students to see at young ages or appreciate until they are much older.
The story is only the story if you know how to get the story out. Most recently Renay and a co-worker puzzled out the challenge of how a student could complete a detailed “I am From” poem as a non-reader and a generally unreliable source of information about events in his life as the student gladly answers ‘yes’ to everything including questions that are not ‘yes’ or ‘no’. With few options and only two classes to work on the activity, some folks would just let the student be excused from the activity. But Renay figured out the poem for the student. It was not nearly as long as his peers, and he did not opt to share his poem with the class read aloud on turn in day, but he had the parts that mattered and in a format that he contributed to the creation of that honored his family and the diversity that came to the classroom, which was the crux of the entire assignment.
One flipside thought for you before we leave, as Renay left she was contemplating the night when she was asked, “Why don’t we send student teachers or researchers to find out what makes all the Teachers of the Year successful teachers?” Understandably, this would be an opportunity to learn from Master Teachers who are so worthy of our veneration and attention as they travel not only the country but the world finding communities and commonality in the world and in our stories. It’s a chance that creates advocates in our Teachers of the Year when voices may not be heard to further our stories of education and life together.
One last little note: we got an exciting email this week. On Monday, March 6, 2017, from 1:30 pm to 2:30, come meet Renay in the SXSWEdu bookstore where she will be signing copies of ParaEducate. She’ll be honored to meet you. Renay and the rest of the “Undeniable Truth About Inclusion” present on March 8 at 3pm. More events are coming! Can’t wait, two weeks away.
Do you have any questions about this week’s blog? Do you want to offer a guest blog? Find ParaEducate online here, here, here, here, and on our website. ParaEducate is a company interested in providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published weekly during the academic school year on Thursdays, unless a holiday. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.