“No one can say, of course, except each for himself, but I believe that it is possible to say at least this in general to all of us: we should go with our lives where we most need to go and where we are most needed.” (Frederick Buechner, Secrets in the Dark, p.39)
I like that quote, a lot. Buechner is, maybe, speaking of something else, but I think he is also speaking in an, albeit, roundabout and unbeknownst-to-himself kind of way, about special educators; our calling; our day in and day out among students who are differently-abled. Maybe you are not so much into thinking that what you do every day is a calling—something that you did not choose, but something that chose you. Maybe you are.
Either way, I don’t think any of us would deny that there is something unique and wonderful about what we do. There is something that we cannot quite describe, something we cannot quite put our finger on, something we cannot quite make sense of in what we do. I’m not trying to set us up on some ethereal plain unattainable by those teachers in the general education classroom. What I am saying is that not one of us who teaches in special education classrooms—either self-contained or resource or as a co-teacher—thinks for a minute that we are in those places by accident. We may have each one taken a different path to getting there (my own path took me through Bible college, a few churches, the unemployment line, a video store manager). I’m glad I took the path I did because all of those steps have prepared me for what I am doing today and will do every day for the rest of my life.
So, here I am—entrusted every single day with the lives of the most beautiful children I have ever met: each unique in his needs, each special in her own tendencies, each joyful for different reasons, each with her own specialized set of triggers. Yet each; one.
And it is hard to go through a minute of the day without thinking about how I can help my students. I go to bed every single night thinking about a new way to teach nouns and verbs; I wake up each morning thinking about the greetings I will receive from the kids as they get off the bus. Sometimes I have to invent new ways to be patient. Other times I can scarcely contain my joy and want to run around the school in a festive dance telling all the people about some huge breakthrough in a student’s life. Many times an idea will come to me while prepping for some other project and I will get sidetracked (my wife accuses me of having an adult onset ADHD; squirrel!) and start something new before finishing something old.
But you know what? I wouldn’t trade what I am doing right now for anything in the world. I love being a teacher! I love being in a place where I am needed. Here’s part of how I know I am where I should be. One day, one of my students was having a difficult time getting adjusted to some situation in the classroom. For some reason, after he had calmed down a bit, I turned and looked him in the eye and simply asked him, “Do you love me?” The response? “What?!? This isn’t about love. Love is for girls. I don’t talk about love.” Here is a child who does not even know that love is a human thing, not a girl thing. It was another one of those ways I have learned to practice patience.
Buechner is right: we should go to the place where we are most needed. I have a sense that teaching is about far more than letters and numbers and schedules and recess: at some deep level, hidden or otherwise, some of our students simply do not even know what it means to be loved. Maybe part of our job as special educators, as educators, is to help our students understand that they are loved and to remind them in different and subtle (or not so subtle) ways each day that they are safe, that we do love them. I am glad, so glad, I am a teacher and that I am blessed with the opportunity every single day to love the children entrusted to me.
“Where we most need to go. Maybe that means that the voice we should listen to most as we choose a vocation is the voice that we might think we should listen to least, and that is the voice of our own gladness.” (Buechner, p.39-40).
Teaching makes me glad. We teach because we love.