This week we write 2 stories to see what it’s like to bump them up against each other. The first is by Andrea and the second is Kelly’s. If your story interrupts your reading, please write and share in the comments.
My dad and step-mother Pat came to visit when our first-born was still a toddler. This is a big deal. Not only are they our favourite people, they travelled far – from B.C., to see us. So, we had a plan, several options for restaurants and local sightseeing. There would be good food, wine, laughter and stories amid playtime with little grandson. On the Saturday of their visit, Pat and I went to Kingston to shop and somehow managed to leave the men behind. Before we left, however, we had decided that night would be game-night. There was a new-at-the-time board game that we would purchase in Kingston. My husband and I had played Blockus with friends and really loved the simplicity of the translucent clicking pieces and the nostalgic way it reminded us of Tetris on our old PC.
Pat and I returned with the game, an armload of toys to spoil, and a few delectables. After supper we played and clicked, laughed and got completely creamed by my dad. No surprise. My dad is the ultimate strategist. We know he’s a genius for real.
We played a couple of times and at one point there was contention over one of the rules. My dad was adamant. How could he know? He was playing for only his second time ever. I read the instructions, he said. We played on, filing the board with tiny squares of colour, and searching for the perfect fit at the perfect time. Then, my father came clean, “Well, actually I may have done a bit more reading online. Surprisingly, there are quite a few YouTube videos on how to win out there.” He had spent the afternoon researching!
He learns…in his free-time. He became a heart surgeon because Medicine was the most difficult and challenging thing he could find to take in school. Beyond a career that requires a life of learning, my dad is an encyclopedia of knowledge about horticulture, astronomy, botany, geology, biology, zoology, geography, gastronomy, and more. This presents not only as an adorable nerdiness but also as a lust for life. Every morsel of his experience is absorbed and questioned. As I grew up, I had lessons in anatomy as we prepared fresh crab, cooking mechanics and chemistry, tree and constellation identification, observations of tide pool ecosystems – it was Science immersion every March break and for a month each summer.
I wonder at his ability to find wonder in the smallest of daily things. He is driven by it. And there isn’t a necessary outcome. He can win in epic ways, but that’s not why he does what he does. Scrabble, Sudoku, Blockus are like nourishment and he won’t ever be satiated. He is not a mysterious magician. Dad will reveal every single secret, shortcut, and tidbit of knowledge you care to listen to. He admitted he fooled us because anyone could have done what he did. Why didn’t we?
In June, because my own day to day experience doesn’t feel like a natural end to a school year, I think a lot about school. I watch Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and rely on my own 23 years in a school to remember what June feels like in a secondary school. In special education ( I am speaking from my own experiences ) there are many Junes when it is down to the very last second, last mile and last hope for credit accumulation and that measure of success every student wants. For any one person that has ever worked with me, never say die is an actual occasion for many students, parents and teachers. There were times we had to concede but for more times than not, the village took great pride, strength and deep satisfaction in those hard yards near the end because chances were given and taken and high fives felt like Superbowl Sunday. For many students these wins were the ultimate game changers.
I saw a picture pass by this week on a feed and my friend Tammy Thompson was sitting between two students as they finished their very last exams before graduation. These two students had been only two of the many that Tammy holds as her own every single day. This picture let me sit for a long time and think about what exactly is special about special education. If I had to pick one thing, one entity, one reason I can tell you the choice is simple and clear. Educational assistants are the special in special education. These humans, to me, are the embodiment of motivation, purpose and empathy. They lead, guide, build, create, hand hold, tear wipe, and spiral back – sometimes all of these in the same 74 minute period, let alone a day in the life of.
Andrea and I have been thinking about motivation and we have talked about fortune and glory – the selfie, retweet, the “follow me” way to know someone has seen what you have done and you are seemingly recognized. Our blog is a part of how we put ourselves out there and figure things out. We wondered why we create?
I thought about the last 23 years and the human beings I am closest to as a result of being, first in a classroom side by side and then as a department head with a resource room and more educational assistants sitting beside more students as we tried desperately to get every single child to June, the hardest yard of all.
If I needed to figure something out my first conversation was always with an educational assistant. They knew the students deeply and had a picture over time that let us make informed decisions with the student. Their understanding and appreciation of the student voice is deep and their ability to listen with grace and patience is a lesson I had to learn over and over. They understood the why and the how and when times were dark and the wins fewer and farther between, they somehow found another speed, another mile, another way to go back in. The ultimate sit beside that refused to let go simply because a student said no or had fallen down. There would be no give up, shut down nor better luck next time. If you had ever asked me why and how special education is actually pulled off in a secondary school, those of you who have worked with me know who we can trace it back to…to Nancy, to Tammy, to Judy, to Gloria, to Sarah, to Kelly, to Lynn, to Laura, to Brenda, to Deb, to Mary Lou, to Mary Jean, to Mary Lee, to Marie and on and on and on and to the sit besides they did with me for every child they believed in.
I watched them all refuse to let a child sabotage themselves and go down in flames. They kept coming back around and in my memories, which I have many of, the students were not only successful, they were better for having known such unconditional care and love. These are the students that needed the most and these are the people who supported an almost unmeetable need on a daily basis.
They must do it for the money, the fame, the follows and the glory. They must do it for the challenge in the cuts in education to see if they can do twice the work with far fewer educational assistants in each school. They must do it for the respect of their peers and colleagues.
I have been beside many educational assistants, in the hardest days I have ever had in education – ever, and I tell you, they do it because they don’t have another way. They do it for the love of children and for the love of what they believe school actually means.
They believe in education for all, every single student that walks in the door, regardless of life, baggage, identification, wheelchair, feeding tube, thickness of OSR and safety plan. They simply believe. There are no other humans in a school I would rather spend those hard yards with. June is tough in special education, if you want wins, sit beside the toughest, they got me to the end zone every single time.
A: It’s June and I think I may be exhausted and looking for shortcuts. It’s also a time where we really step out of our way to care for each other and our students. How do we stay focussed on the end game?
K: I got a reminder email on Friday about a report I have due and I am visiting 5 schools in the next two days. My dining room table has piles and mercy help anyone who may touch one of the piles. Folks are looking for help preparing for job interviews and on and on – I found myself drifting to The Beast. It all felt a bit noisy – necessary but noisy. I had a need at 5 am on Sunday morning to write and think and reflect. The reports are important but I feel different this year about the end game. I am not sure I am as hysterical as I usually am. There is an excellent chance I will not be wrapped up by Friday and my piles will be there the following week needing attention. I may have changed…
A: The end gets swallowed up by the next beginning. The unavoidable reflection of this time of year propels me forward but I’m too exhausted to prioritize. I’ll just take a bit more reflection with friends. I absolutely feel what you are saying.
K: I am not sure I feel able to prioritize. I read the article you sent me yesterday morning, I muddled in the book I sent you a picture of and I found myself dancing around some research that led me back to Carlina…it’s not like I am looking for an answer to something but we have been talking and I have a thread that needs unravelling and figuring out. I may be too tired to actually be coherent but it’s there. I have been a strong closer at the end of the year my entire career but this year, my brain is not quite satisfied and it won’t let me off the hook.
A: Bad news – I don’t think it ever will. Lol I felt that way in June of last year and ever since. Something more than an itchy tag perhaps. That’s why we’re here – to unravel. The cycles and structures of our system define beginnings and endings but maybe it’s only that.
K: Your father took me directly to my father. He read everything…he had books and papers marked in spots for me to read. He never stopped unravelling. When his eyesight became poor my mother found a giant machine at a university and had it brought to him so he could make the words massive and read. The threads were always there for him. I did not understand it, I watched him fight his eyes to get to the words. He loved learning and was not satisfied with existing structures. In fact when there was a structure missing, he made his own. He wanted to figure it out. It took me longer to feel this than he did. I wonder where it came from? Partly from me, partly from you but I am wondering if the cycles and structures may be the itchy tag.
A: I am learning a lot from watching others fill in boxes and reports. It’s like you said, the final yards and push to the line is so urgent at this point. What if it was urgent all along? I know that if I move the line further away it would take away the urgency. Without urgency we are not accountable? Why do we need a line?
K: I love how school feels near the end. The control centre Nancy would run out of the resource room, new registrations, graduation and Lisa making sure it was incredibly special, piles of papers but knowing it would all wrap up and feel complete. We arrive in September less urgent. I am deeply thinking about your question, what if was urgent all the time? I am fighting a need to feel finished and complete and at peace in the end of the year but the line has moved and now the line feels far away yet I don’t feel a sense of urgency to figure it all out, it’s just that I have not figured it out and will take the time I need regardless of the end of the year.
A: It has moved. My dad was not exhausted by this, he was was immersed. There is joy in figuring things out…forever and endlessly. Is this an ingredient for learning? Adjusting the finish line?
K: I think it has parts of both. I love how school feels. It what I miss most. I have had many first days of school; that feeling in your tummy does not go away at 45. I miss that feeling of renewal and do overs and try agains. That in itself may be the special in special education talking. We often need more tries. But in all of that doing, the time to slow and figure it out was absent. I did not know what I was missing. I have so much to learn and figure out – we have words to write and threads everywhere. I know deeply in my heart that I wish I was in a school this week – locker clean out is its own kind of smell but it’s part of the end zone. A group of people spent 198 days together everyday learning and in some cases clawing their way to the end. We cross the line together. My line, the one I am not sure I even knew was there – your father’s, my father’s, it does not care about the calendar.
A: We often need more tries. But in all of that doing, the time to slow and figure it out was absent. I am blown away by these words. The doing is checkboxes for the win. I am also thinking about the first day freshness and the wellness of a new beginning.
K: Moving the line may be where the wellness lies. Permission for ourselves and for our students to listen longer and slow down. By June we are so wiped out, looking back is often difficult. I somehow think the learning and the stories back there are what should be propelling us forward.
A: Cycles of thought are September to June only? I agree move the line. Your dad would have.