Humbled by Life

We all live busy lives. We all have stress. My stress maybe less (or more) than yours. But it is my stress, no more (or less) significant than yours. Years ago I had someone try to tell me that my stress wa nothing compared to theirs. I looked at this person and said, “Don’t tell me that my stress is nothing. Your stress is nothing compared to a CEO of a company and I don’t disregard your stress!” I think that we need to keep that in mind when we deal with people when we think that we have a harder life, or a more stressful life. What I do know is that I am extremely blessed.

I para subbed for the first time this week. It was for a special education classroom. I had sub taught before and thought, “I know this. I had done it before.” In fact, I have sub taught for special ed in the elementary level, the middle school level and the high school level. It was just a para job; I got this! WOW was I wrong. I mean I did my job and I felt I was of benefit to the classroom. This was not a class like I had subbed before. My previous subbing jobs in a SpEd classroom was as a resource class. Students are integrated into a class and then attend their resource class when English or Math is going on and they come to the SpEd class for help. That was my previous experience. This class was a contained Special Education classroom. These children were in the same class all day (except for P.E., Music or Art). These are children that cannot be in a traditional classroom because of developmental issues. These children are a handful.

There were 7 students in the class, 1 teacher and 3 paras. I should have known by that ratio that this was not going to be an easy day. I was assigned Mike (not his real name). It was my job to keep him on track. He is known for wandering both physically and mentally. There was a lot of hand holding and saying, “Look at me. Let’s get back to work. No we can’t be over there right now…”

The day begins with checking in on the Smart Board. They mark what they want for lunch on the SB and then go do some physical activity. Now let me tell you that the Smart Board always bites me in the hiney when I sub. I am a PC girl so I freeze up and worry that I am going to do something wrong with the classroom electronics. And here we have children that can’t even be in a traditional classroom but can work a Smart board better than me.

Next the students stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance. Not only do they say it but they sing it. When I heard those students singing at the top of their lungs the song of our country, it brought tears to my eyes. Even now it is very touching to think about.

After the Pledge, they go right to work. All 7 of these children know the routine. Even though they may lose track of what they are doing at any given time, they know where they are to be and know what they are to be doing. The next step is to go over the calendar and the weather outside. This is all done on the Smart Board and they ALL know what to do. I am considered an intelligent person and these Special Ed kids (I think kindergarten age. I was never told and it really did not make a difference) know electronics better than I. I was humbled on that day.

It might be noted, that all of these children are being taught sign language and the teacher often communicates using her voice and her hands. The purpose fo this I am not quite sure and frankly, there was not time for personal chit-chat. Throughout the day I was amazed at the capability of these children and also the lack there of.

I did have a chance to work with all of the children when they went through their stations for the core subjects of math and reading. The reading station was individualized for each student. Their skill level ranged from computerized reading to sign language letter recognition. Except for Mike who exited out of the computer program and opened all kinds of windows, the students stayed on task . One child, who I assume is autistic, would zone out, for lack of a better description, and it was difficult to ge them back on task, but I did with help from another para.

Math went well. My job was to have students look at the size of paper sea shells and estimate how many of these sea shells it would take to measure the sink. My first group guessed spot on. It was a very basic task but it was part of visualization and estimating for math. One boy was very disengaged. He has a habit of just lying down and becoming a wet noodle. Picking him up and trying to get him to stay standing was very difficult. I did get help from another para when this happened. I do not think he was picking on me. Obviously he had done this in the past but I felt very helpless.

After lunch the class had recess and they played on the playground, kicked balls and played chase with all of the other classes. I thought that they would not interact with the other students as they are in the contained classroom and don’t interact with other students during the day. But it was just like a 2nd grade classroom. They play with their classmates but it extends out to other classes.

The day ended and I looked at the paras and said that they must be exhausted by the end of the day. I would not say that I was exhausted mentally or physically but it was one day for me. They do this five days a week and I have to imagine that it can be trying.

My thoughts went to the families of these children. The challenges that are faced in the classroom are faced exponentially at home. The teachers are there for the students 100%. Parents and siblings have other things going on at home. There is house cleaning, cooking, paying bills, coming home from full-time jobs, spending time with a spouse and other children, homework or outside activities. I wonder how it can all get done. And for these families, it is 7 days a week.

I may have stress but I am sure that it seems nothing to the families with children that have different abilities. My children are independent. They are teenagers and really don’t need me anymore. They cook, do their own laundry, drive. I still guide them and do for them, but they are able to do almost everything themselves. That may never be the case for some families. I am sure that there are many blessings in these families. These children are blessings and have many lessons to teach the world. I learned a lot in that classroom. These students taught me a lot.

We all have stress. Mine may not seem as important as yours but I know after subbing in this contained Special Needs classroom that, right now, my stress is insignificant. I am truly blessed. Are you?

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