I debated whether or not to post this. It feels somewhat unseemly to pass on someone else’s kind words about oneself. But well, to be honest, I’m proud of it. I’m humbled by it. And I want to share it. With you.
You see, you stood right next to me at the podium that night eight months ago as I looked out over the sea of faces at Back-to-School Night and said that I’d like to start an Inclusion Committee.
You lent me your strength as I choked back tears and said, ‘As the parent of a child who sometimes needs just a little extra compassion, I implore you to join me in showing our children that reaching out is far more rewarding than lashing out.’
We were shoulder to shoulder as I plowed through the rest of my awkward, stilted speech.
You held me steady despite my shaking knees as I said, ‘I am asking all of you to join in the discussion. Inclusion is not just a special education issue. By definition, it is just as much a topic about the effective education of all of our children.’
And you were there to celebrate with me over the next few days as over thirty people ultimately stepped forward to join the fledgling committee.
Hell, you even laughed with me as we jokingly came up with slogans. (My personal favorite of which was from my friend, M – Include. Or so help me god our committee will kick your #@!! which really just served to prove why we probably shouldn’t have a slogan.)
Through it all, you were there.
And so it is in that vein that I want to share this with you.
You might want to freshen up your coffee first though. This could take a few minutes. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Last week, I co-ran the first-ever awards ceremony and reception for the special education council in my town. The awards were designed to recognize the teachers and staff members in our school district who consistently demonstrate outstanding dedication to our kids.
I collected nominations from parents around the district, along with testimonials about each nominee. The stories were touching, heartfelt and hopeful. They painted pictures of every day victories and staff members who run circles around their job descriptions to UNDERSTAND and to REACH and to TEACH and to SUPPORT our kids.
I did my best to condense the stories into forty-five second(ish) blurbs to read as I presented each award. I left out the nominators names to protect the confidentiality of the children, but I read the stories aloud in the voice of the nominators. I thought it was important for everyone to hear the impact these people have on the real lives of real kids. In the first person.
I found beautiful blank certificates and with Luau’s formatting help, I crafted them into personalized Certificates of Appreciation. A friend and I stayed up into the wee hours and framed every one of them. I printed the nominations in full to give to the honorees with their awards. I formatted them as follows:
[Staff member's Name]
Nominated by, [Parent's Name]
Parent testimonial describing the staff member and why the parent feels s/he should be recognized.
I refused to cull the nominations. If a parent wanted to honor a staff member, they would be honored. Mostly because I couldn’t possibly figure out how I might weigh them against each other. It was unfathomable to me to leave someone off the list. So as the nominations poured in, the list simply grew. In all, we recognized a staggering forty-nine staff members.
Among the ranks of nominees were special ed teachers and one-to-one aides who had taken the time to truly understand their charges. There were BCBAs who supported parents just as much as kids. There were PE teachers, an art teacher, central administrators, a school receptionist, inclusion specialists, a high school English teacher, a first grade teacher. Every one of them nominated by a parent (or parents) for their dedication to their kids.
The event was wonderful. We laughed , we cried (a lot) and above all we celebrated and honored the incredible people who have made it their life’s work to make life better for our children.
Last Friday, I got an e-mail from one of the teachers in our school, the inimitable Ms C (of the Learning Differences Video fame and one of the council’s honorees). She asked if I could stop by her classroom before school let out for the summer as she had something she’d like to give to me. I could never have imagined what it turned out to be.
Framed, in beautiful print, was the following.
Jess [My last name]
Nominated by Ms C and Ms A
Only Jess could create a committee that in its infancy accomplished what [our school's] Inclusion Committee did this year. Jess succeeded in bringing parents and teachers together in a way that is unprecedented at our school and her vision opened people’s minds to the possibility of a school built on mutual support and awareness as it relates to the variety of strengths we all have – strengths that both connect us and make us unique.
Jess truly understands what it means to ‘pay it forward’ and her appreciation and acknowledgement of the hard work that teachers do motivates us to be the best we can be each and every day. She inspires in us not only compassion, but a desire to learn and share our knowledge with others.
The fruits of Jess’s passion and dedication have reached far beyond her daughter’s classroom, directly touching teachers and thereby enriching the lives of the children in our school.
Jess’s unique ability to see things from multiple perspectives and to give voice to the challenges and blessings of being the parent of a child with special needs have been invaluable to the professional and personal growth of teachers.
I made the mistake of reading it in front of her. Tissues were found and mascara was salvaged – barely.
I was touched beyond measure – proud of all that we accomplished together this year, humbled by the recognition, and above all, grateful.
Grateful to those in the trenches. Grateful to the chairs of the special ed council who gave me the platform and the support to stand up and say, ‘Join us.’ Grateful to the thirty some-odd people who signed on to help me do the dirty work. Grateful to Ms C, Ms A and all of the teachers and staff members who have become compatriots – and friends. Grateful to have been part of making an impact in our little corner of the world.
And grateful to you, for being there with me every step of the way.
The framed nomination sits on the desk next to me as I type.
Katie read it earlier today. Squished together into our desk chair – her ever growing legs spilling over my lap and up and over the arm of the chair – she grew quiet as she read. When she finished it, she rested her cheek against mine. “Mama,” she said. “I know that you’re the mom and I’m the kid, but I want you to know that I’m proud of you.”
As I look at it now, I see in it a circle of gratitude, growing ever wider.
I see in it the fruit of risk, of vulnerability, of taking the chance that if we tell our stories, people will listen.
I see in it the possibility of a future that is different than the present.
I see hope.