Thursday, March 27, 2014

Embracing and accommodating our differences

I broke my leg last week. Innocently enough, I was walking down my stairs in darkness to go find my headphones, so I could listen to some music. Why? Because I kept having the song, "Hail, Knight of the Woeful Countenance..." from Man of La Mancha run through my head - over and over and over. I figured a little music in my ears might drown out my over active mind. Unfortunately, my foot met up with a hand weight that rolled out from under me, causing all my weight to come crashing down on a folded up leg. Yep, broken fibula.

All of a sudden I'm a person with limited means to get around. I'm in pain; I can't drive; and I'm on crutches. I come to work when a family member can drop me off, and I go home when they can pick me up. A casual trip to another building in the district is out of the question. A trip to a place with stairs is practically impossible. Even a trip to a classroom in my own building is an onerous task, complicated if there are people in the hallways or doors to open along the way. (Unfortunately, I'm not a person of much upper body strength. Who knew?!)

As I get around in my semi-disabled state, I'm full of empathy for our students and their differing needs. Have you ever thought about - I mean really thought about:
  • High School students without cars?
  • Families without cars?
  • Students with physical ailments you can't see?
  • Students with fears?
  • Students who have limited English skills?
  • Students who have limited reading skills?
  • Students who haven't attended school regularly?
  • Students whose cultures are completely different than yours?
  • Students who work all evening to help support their families and don't get their homework done?
  • Students who were up all night with fussy siblings and are now sleepy?
  • Students who are hungry?
  • Students who learn differently than the way they're being taught?
  • Homes with no heat?
  • Homes with no water?
  • Families who don't understand the value of co-curricular activities?
My thoughts go on and on. Yes, I've thought of these things before, but can we really understand without having experienced them? We all judge our own worlds and the worlds of others through our own life lenses. It's easy to forget that we don't all have the same means, the same abilities, the same lifestyles, or the same backgrounds. We come together as diverse learners on personal journeys that we can only relate to if we build strong relationships and share who we really are with each other. Do students feel that comfortable with their teachers? Do teachers feel that comfortable with their students?

I broke my leg. My differences are readily seen, and I will experience those differences for a very short period of time. The same can't be said for many of our students. They need our empathy and our caring for as long as it takes as they journey through their own lives of living and learning. Let's never forget that.

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