I’m subbing at the high school this week in a special education classroom. That means that my twin sons who take life skills classes are in my department. This is great fun for them. But today my Mama Grizzly showed a bit when a staff member (not a teacher, a support staff) rudely snapped at one of them, first thing in the morning. No hello. Nothing. Just a bark.
The reason she snapped at my son was valid. It was how she handled it that wasn’t. He’d left his backpack in front of a locked classroom door, and while waiting for someone to unlock it, he slipped into my room to visit with me.
When the staff member arrived, she flew into my classroom and barked, “Whose stuff is that in the hall in front of Mrs. —‘s door?”
Isaiah, who is almost always cheerful and sweet, and wouldn’t do anything wrong on purpose to inconvenience someone, jumped up from his chair and headed toward the hall door, “Oh, that’s mine.”
To which she responded with a great scowl and angry voice, “Well then move it, it’s in the way.” (Or some such phrase of which I don’t remember the exact words.) All I know, is that I never talk to students that way, and especially not special needs students.
It’s all in how you say it. And I realize that teachers and staff have bad mornings. But bad mornings should be left at the schoolhouse door. Being a grouch doesn’t model appropriate behavior to students who need it more than anyone. I dare say that teens with autism need it more than elementary-aged children (although they all do desperately need it).
I did complain to their teacher about her, but as I was doing so, I felt petty. It’s impossible for me to protect them from all the rude people on earth. Especially now that they are adults. (They are 19 but still in school until they are 21.) Still, as an educator myself, I feel that all students should be treated with respect. Tone of voice speaks volumes.
As I shared in my post on my philosophy of education, school may be one of the only places some kids have that’s a safe place to fall. If they are to feel valued, school personnel must treat them with respect. It doesn’t matter what a child’s label is, they are still deserving of politeness.
Maybe the snarky staff member works with hard behavior cases. I don’t know. But I do know that children will act the way you expect them to most of the time. I know this because I’ve worked with some very, very difficult students. No one should ever be valued less because of their limitations or emotional struggles.
This Mama Grizzly is learning which battles to fight. It’s not easy. There will be many more instances, I’m sure, when I won’t know whether to bite my tongue or take up the torch on behalf of my sons. It’s because of their vulnerability and inability to know if an offense is truly something they should be reprimanded for, or an honest, un-meant mistake. A student with autism isn’t always going to process that a book bag in front of the door might be in someone’s way.
This frustration at the world for not understanding autism is part of what parenting these kids is so difficult. We want people to understand them, and frankly, most people aren’t even going to care. It’s something I’m learning to accept. Even 19 years later.
I think as long as I live, the Mama Grizzly side of me, will always wrestle with the teacher in me, to teach the world how to get it about autism, kindness, and respect. Thankfully, the kind side of me won today, and I didn’t go toe to toe with the staff member. A part of me wishes I hadn’t complained to the teacher.
Sometimes I feel I should wear a sign that says, “If you think I’m opinionated, you should know how much I want to say and don’t!” There’s so much inside of me that feels like it’s going to blow at times when people are rude to my children or other people with disabilities.
Only with God’s help am I able to model appropriate behavior when I’m feeling protective. Since my gift is words, it’s also my weakness, and I know I need to temper my opinions with grace.
Have you ever felt the need to stand up for your children? How did you handle it? What do you think I should have done? Should I have said something or not?