When I started college I knew I wanted to get a degree in learning disabilities. It wasn't until part way through my freshmen year that I realized the college I was attending didn't even offer a undergrad program in learning disabilites (LD). They had a Master's program for LD but not an undergrad. They told me I should consider getting my undergrad in cognitive impairments (CI) and then if I wanted to I could continue on and get my Masters in LD. So that is what I did! To be completely honest, I was terrified of teaching children with cognitive impairments . I had only ever worked with students with LD and never CI. What was their mental capacity? What if I offended them by treating them like a child just because they couldn't speak well? How would I be able to tell what they were comprehending? The fear of the unknown is a scary thing!
One of my first assignments was to become "buddies" with an adult women who lived in a group home. I was to go over to her house and hang out with her or take her out. I guess my professor knew the best way for me to overcome my fears was to dive in and learn all about my new friend by simply meeting and interacting with her. I quickly learned that she was very outgoing and friendly. Even though she had the mental capacity of a 5 year old, we were still able to relate and have fun together baking cookies, going out for coffee, and playing games. She has since been teamed up with new buddies and loves getting to know more people but I will ever be grateful for the experience!
Several years later I became a special education teacher. I taught part time in a resource room with students identified as at-risk or LD while I completed my Masters in LD. My second year teaching I was offered a full time position that included continuing my part time resource room position while also teaching the 4th grade at a small private school. It was such a blessing for me to be able to teach both groups of students. One of the biggest blessings was that just down the road was a school for children with CI. Each year my fourth grade class would become "buddies" with one of the classes at this school. The teachers at the CI school made a wonderful informational video about their school that I would show my class before we went to visit the school for the first time. There would always be some fear from my students before watching the video and visiting the school but once they learned that these students were no different then they were inside they quickly became excited to meet their new friends.
My fourth graders loved going to their new friends' school and playing in their sensory room, performing band concerts for them and playing parachute with them (where some students would hold the sides of the parachute up while others would race to the other side pushing their friends in their wheel chairs). We invited them to our school and made a Father's Day craft with them. My students had to help their friends move their hands to work the stamps or put the paper up to their head so they could use their head to push down (as some students could only move their heads). We also got to go bowling with them and learn about the special ball ramps they use. As my students moved up in grade levels the other teachers would continue these friendships by going roller skating with their buddies or going to a nature preserve.
It was such a blessing to watch joy and excitement take over where fears had previously reigned! That is my inspiration for this new blog series, "Fear of the Unknown" as I truly feel that the more we learn about something the less fears we have about it. I also believe that facing our fears help us overcome them (although I still don't want to face a mouse any time soon!) I believe that all children are created in God's image and that the more we can help each other and especially our students learn about each other's unique gifts the better off we will be. And now I will leave you with one of my favorite passages:
I Corinthians 12:14-27, "For the body is not one member, but many. 15 If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. 19 If they were all one member, where would the body be? 20 But now there are many members, but one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary;23 and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, 24 whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, 25 so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. 27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it."