A Teaching Moment with an Unexpected Ripple Effect

by | 02.19.19

I’m a special education teacher, and I’ve taught in a range of settings – including in a classroom for medically fragile students. The girls in that class were just like other kids their age in a lot of ways: they loved learning and laughing with their friends … and they were excited about the prom coming up. But when it came to looking forward to that rite of passage, they also had to face barriers most of their peers didn’t have to face. For starters, getting a prom dress.

Students in a medically fragile classroom don’t have the ability to just hop on a bus on a Saturday and head to the mall. There are ventilators, oxygen tanks, a spare battery, a spare oxygen tank to carry – and the students need a nurse to accompany them.

I knew how important it was for my students to participate in this event, and I didn’t want these barriers to get in their way. I thought about how we could help. We had access to nurses at schools. We also had access to a lift van. And finally, I knew that in Portland, we had access to an organization called Abby’s Closet – which cleans and mends around 7,000 donated dresses a year and gives them out to kids in need.

Abby’s Closet was only open one weekend of the year, but I called and explained the situation and pleaded, “Is there any way we can come on Friday?” At first, I was told it was impossible – they had way too much work to do to prepare for the weekend. I thanked them and, as I hung up, I heard a shout in the phone. “Be here at ten,” she said, “We’ll figure it out.” And so we showed up at ten – and the staff at Abby’s Closet went above and beyond, helping my students in and out of their wheelchairs and guiding their shopping until they all had a dress they loved.

The following school year, I didn’t have to call and beg for a weekday visit, because my phone rang with an invitation. “We can’t wait to see you this year! Can you be here at 10?”

When we arrived, we saw my students weren’t the only kids there. There was a group of students communicating with each other in sign language. There were some nurses accompanying kids who were in wheelchairs, from the Kidney Kids program. There were students arriving with red-tipped canes, from the Vancouver School for the Blind, their hands fluttering across satin and chiffon, feeling sequins and fringes, looking for the right dress that would make them feel beautiful. Abby’s Closet had even invited Miss Oregon to help the girls shop. The founder of Abby’s Closet told me, “You showed us last year that we could be doing better.”

Do you blame me if a little tear snuck out of my eye?

This whole experience was one of those teacher moments. One of those instances where you realize the work you are doing can have a ripple effect.

As a special education teacher, I see my students shut out of places too often. Excluded from events and venues. It’s my job to advocate for them – to makes sure they are included – but things don’t always turn out so well. So when we do have moments like this, we have to hold onto them. We have to remember: Teachers impact lives. And so often, the ripple effect of our work impacts so many more than our own students. And that’s why I #LoveTeaching.

About the Author

Brett Bigham
Brett Bigham

Brett Bigham is a teacher in Oregon. Follow him on Twitter @2014ORTOY.

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