In the movie, Stand and Deliver, when faced with a group of students struggling to meet the standards of the curriculum, Jaime Escalante suggests that “students will rise to the level of expectations” (Menendez, 1988). It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t instant but he believed and proved that with courage, effort and a variety of formative and summative assessments that he could take a group of students from some of the lowest math classes in the school to success in one of the most challenging math classes in North America. Oh yes, and a bit of ganas or desire would be required on the part of everyone involved. It’s a great movie if you haven’t had a chance to see it I highly recommend it. I introduce it to illustrate that a group of students systemically excluded, possessing a wide range of challenges were able, with the right supports, to experience a life-changing miracle.
At the very front of that miracle, the first step without which it simply would not have happened was a belief that whatever limits staff perceived for those students they could be challenged and changed. Mr. Escalante believed, initially more than the students, more than the student’s past academic achievement supported, more than most of their parents, that the students could do more and ultimately be more, than what was previously believed.
At the most basic of levels, every life is a miracle. Some miracles are a little bigger than others, some take longer, some won’t necessarily happen during your watch, but the question you must ask yourself is whether you truly believe in miracles. Do your actions demonstrate you believe you can have a positive impact on the frequency of miracles, large or small, in the lives of your students? Are you willing to look for the opportunities and learn what you need to learn, develop the skills you need to be part of the solution in the lives of the students with whom you work?
There is a natural enough tendency to dismiss the miracle as the exception, the one-off. But when it comes to students and success would you prefer to be the miracle exception or the student trapped in the mistaken perception? It happens. Consider the story of Ido Kadar (2012), as you read the book you learn about Ido, a severely autistic young man unable to communicate. His mother shared that, “Ido’s first speech teacher told me that he was mentally retarded. “How do you know?” I asked. “Maybe he can’t show what he knows and is merely ‘functionally retarded?’” “It’s the same thing,” she said” (p.26)
My wife, Chauna, was an education assistant for about 14 years. We read the book together while driving for several hours. I’m not ashamed to say that there were times when she had some trouble seeing the words and my vision of the highway as I drove and listened was blurred by the tears in our eyes as we reflected upon the students with whom we’ve worked. It is hard to think of the students who, one way or another, we may have negatively impacted by our limited ability to look for or find the key to their challenges.
In November of 2008, Ido wrote, “I hate my situation in life. Is it fair to give a person a mind to think but no means to communicate with others? Is God good or is God indifferent to my pain? I wonder, is God ever going to help me?” (p.44). Perhaps it is up to us to help. It’s our responsibility to prove by our actions there is no indifference to the students who are struggling in severe situations like Ido’s or any of the myriad of challenges the students we work with face each day in our schools and communities.
Ido’s Website – http://idoinautismland.com/
Kedar, I. (2012). Ido in autismland: Climbing out of autism’s silent prison.
Menendez, R. (Writer). (1988). Stand and Deliver. USA: Warner Brothers.
Other books you might want to check out on this theme:
Barnett, K. (2013). The spark: A mother’s story of nurturing genius. New York, NY: Random House
Grandin, T. (2006). Thinking in pictures: And other reports from my life with autism. New York, NY: Vintage Books.
One of Temple’s Ted Talks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fn_9f5x0f1Q
Kluth, P. (2010). “You’re going to love this kid!” Teaching students with autism in the inclusive classroom (Second ed.). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing.
Moore, S. (2016). One without the other: Stories of unity through diversity and inclusion. Winnipeg, MB: Portage & Main Press