We Shouldn’t Fear What We Don’t Know

Standardized testing is happening at school this week, which means a week of timed tests, irritable students, and, most importantly, snacks. Shout out to administration for the gracious delivery of Welch’s fruit snacks, Cheez-Its, and Nutter Butters. You the real MVP. 

All teachers must either administer the LEAP/iLEAP test to their students or act as hall monitors if they don’t have a set homeroom class. Because I am technically a resource teacher, I was slated to act as a hall monitor. This meant that I was to sit in the hall and act as a runner if a testing teacher needed anything (bathroom break, test materials, etc.). I was preparing myself for a week of sheer boredom… and then a teacher didn’t show up on Monday. 

Students who have accommodations with testing are pulled from their homerooms and brought into small groups so their accommodations can be met. For example, if there is a student with dyslexia, they will be pulled from their typical classroom environment and tested in a small group setting where their test can either be read aloud or they can have more time to take the test, since LEAP/iLEAP are timed. 

There’s one student, in particular, at my school that has Autism. He was scheduled to test with the teacher who was absent on Monday. The student needed to be placed with another teacher, and administration chose me. 

Enter one of the coolest weeks of my time at school thus far. 

On Monday, I was informed that I would be testing the student with Autism, who I will refer to as *Bryson from here on out. Testing begins promptly at 8:30, and I received my testing packet at 8:20am, giving me ten minutes to pull Bryson from his homeroom and also review the testing manual and accommodations. Needless to say, I felt a bit stressed and also annoyed that I was put in this position. I don’t like feeling unprepared, and I felt incredibly so. Not to mention, I have never administered the LEAP/iLEAP before, so I was a bit intimidated.

Once I got settled in the tiny music room nestled in the cafeteria with Bryson, I soon realized this would be an enjoyable week getting to know a new student with this extended one-on-one time. Bryson is incredibly intelligent and a very gifted drawer. He doesn’t have much interest in math, but, hey, not many people do, myself included. 

We began testing, and I began reading the instructions aloud. One part of the test states that if any students are carrying technology that they inform their teachers. I asked Bryson, “Do you have a cellphone on you?” knowing that he didn’t, but I wanted to kind of joke around with him to let him know that I’m a friend and not someone who will push him aside and pretend like he’s not present. It happens more often than you’d think with people with disabilities. 

“No, I do not have a cell phone.”

“Calculator, Bryson? Do you have one of those?”

“Nope.

“Laptop? TV? You didn’t bring your TV, did you?”

“Ms. Heckel, we are not allowed to bring our TVs to school. You’re a teacher. You should know this.”

And that’s when I lost it, and that’s also when I fell in love with Bryson.

Testing was a breeze. He reads very well and is a joy to be around. He also isn’t a fan of taking breaks and prefers to just fly through the test so he can spend the remainder of his time drawing or perfecting his tic-tac-toe skills, which I taught him how to play on Tuesday. 

Throughout this week, I learned that Bryson loves the color red, Doritos, Nerds, and Coke, and really enjoys animals, his favorite being cats. He has a Spiderman lunchbox, thought it was okay to burp REALLY LOUDLY until I told him it was rude, to which he responded, “I don’t want to be rude. I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings by burping in their faces,” which, of course, made me laugh. Again. His favorite flavor of ice cream is, oddly enough, strawberry. He is very generous and always asking to share his snacks with me. He also knows every single word of “On Top of Spaghetti,” which he performed for me yesterday. He even went as far as to sing the backup vocals, which, as a performer myself, requires intense dedication and practice. I was impressed. 

On Monday, I was annoyed that I would have to be testing, which meant, for me, that I wouldn’t be able to tend to my own work from 8am-12noon. Here I am on Thursday feeling very thankful that I had this opportunity to test Bryson and get to know him. I almost felt like there was a purpose in this… isn’t there in everything? 

Students and teachers have been observing the way Bryson and I interact with each other. Some smile. Some stare. I’m sure some laugh. Regardless of their reaction, it’s important for them to see Bryson existing in their “typical” environment. Is Bryson different? Yes. But aren’t we all? 

Regardless of the differences in a person, especially someone with a disability, we all deserve to be loved, heard, and treated with respect. More importantly, we all deserve inclusion. This isn’t something I have just learned, but it’s a lesson that has resurfaced this week during my time spent with Bryson.

Sometimes it’s easier to dismiss what you don’t know or what scares you, just like it’s easier to not push yourself harder at the gym or prep your food ahead of time to keep you from hitting the drive-thru a few times a week. 

But, like everything else, remaining in your comfort zone does not yield growth. Remaining in your comfort zone actually makes you smaller. 

I challenge everyone to grow. Get bigger! Expand your knowledge of things that are unfamiliar, whether that be a school subject or culture or people. 

Get to know it all. Learn about it. Because our differences are not going anywhere. 

They’re here to stay, so we might as well embrace them. 

And to Bryson, keep being you, but please, for the love all things holy and good, keep your burps to yourself.

*Name of student was changed to protect identity.

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