Friday, February 17, 2006

A New Agenda

I used to believe that everyone has an agenda, well intended or not. I have no problem with other people’s agendas as long as they don’t push them to hard…for example, if someone’s agenda is to save the dolphins or feed the homeless, I may feel that they are wonderful agendas, but I would get pretty frustrated if people incessantly talked about these to me…not because they are not important, but because there are too many important things that need to be examined to get fixated on one singular one…For this reason, I have never been a huge agenda pusher, even though I have them and I think they are worth addressing.

When I taught a Special Day Class, which consisted of eight students all diagnosed with autism, I was a little taken off guard with how un-welcome me and my students were when we first arrived on campus (the class had been moved from another campus due to silly logistical reasons…I just loved that, as surely it is logical to move a classroom of children with a diagnosis of autism to a whole other campus with a new teacher and aides and everything!). Needless to say, it was a huge eye-opener to how blatantly discriminatory people can actually be. When my prinicipal was showing me my classroom, she made it clear to me how much of an inconvenience it was to have my class on their campus as their students were already underperforming and we were distracting their staff from their own students needs. And then as she introduced me to some of the general ed. teachers, they would look at her (not me) and ask, “Why do we have to have her class HERE?”. I am quite certain many parents can relate to this, but I was shocked by the BLATANCY of it… I wanted to ask people if they realized that they just asked that OUT LOUD. In the beginning of the year, assemblies, events, performances, presentations came and went that I was never informed about…People clearly knew which box was mine, as I would get sweet (not really) little notes about one of my students who had done this or that during lunchtime/recess/etc. But when it came to announcements or information about school events, they seemed to make it to every other box but mine…After several weeks of this, I developed my own agenda…Goshdarnit, I was going to get my guys (all my students were boys this year) invited to outings, assembly’s, other classrooms, special parties, etc! I believed that to know them is to love them, so I was gonna get people to know them. So I began getting to know all of the teachers, showing up at 7:00 every day, having coffee in the teacher’s lounge with the few other early arriving teachers, I played tennis with one of the third grade teachers, went to coffee on a regular basis with one of the Kindergarten teachers, volunteered to help plan the Christmas party, and as our school had a lot of male teachers I even stooped so low as to flirt a little (hanging my head in shame). The thing is, that it worked…I mean within weeks, me and my eight guys were getting invited to art classess, music classes, assembly’s, Halloween Parades, Library time, petting zoos, outings, etc. If there was an assembly that my students were late to, I even got phone calls to my room from other teacher’s who wanted to make sure I knew about the assembly. I considered agenda a success until…

One day when I was sitting by myself in the teacher’s lounge a First Grade teacher named Antonio, a very shy forty-year-old man who stuttered a little when he was nervous and I knew nothing about approached me and asked if he could talk to me. He seemed nervous. Oh dear. I said yes and prepared for an all too familiar concern about something or other regarding one of my students. SquareGirl, I’ve been wanting to talk to you about this, but I haven’t had a chance to talk to you before, but I wanted to tell you that I would love have your students come to my classroom. I was a little shocked…I had never really had an unsolicited invitation to a classroom before. I Asked him the questions that I had become accustomed to asking, “How many students?”, “How many aides?”, “What time during the day works best for you?”, etc. It didn’t matter, he told me. Whenver, wherever, whoever. Not, “I’ll take the quiet one, but please don’t send that one who makes all the noise”. Or “Sure, but only your second graders on Wednesday’s for art”. It became increasingly clear that he actually wanted my guys in his classroom, and he wasn’t doing this as a favor to me. In fact, as we talked, it became increasingly clear that Antonio was a man who was kind, compassionate, unimposing and pretty much agenda-free. This for me was one of those Universal lessons that I find so profound due to the simplicity of the message that I had never even payed attention to before. It was then and there that my agenda changed and I realized that I needed to spend a lot less time on people who needed me to make them like me in order for them to be inclusive and accepting of me and my friends, and a lot more time and energy noticing the people who don’t need me to push that kind of agenda on them because they are already compassionate, inclusive and simply kind.

6 Comments:

Blogger Wade Rankin said...

Sometimes the path of least resistance turns out to be the right way to go. Great post.

6:55 PM  
Blogger Kristina Chew said...

Where were you these past 2 1/2 years when I did exactly the same thing (ok, no flirting) to help "integrate" Charlie into his public school classroom and school? While we were not met with the same outright "what are you doing here" this message was communicated in ways more subtle and there was no Antonio. I even edited the school newsletter (even when Charlie was not in the school at the end), was PTA co-pres, volunteered for the Halloween party, sold frozen cookie dough (though Charlie can't eat the cookies) and the whole show.

I have reached the same conclusion as you. I can't knock myself out seeking to convert those who are not listening---it does help a bit, but then one suddently notices that someone who appears silently and simply with a miracle solution. And real change happens.

10:39 PM  
Blogger not my blg said...

Squaregirl,

Thank you so much for doing what you do to help our children. I'm against cloning but you make a powerful argument for it. If we could clone a thousand of you into our public schools, we could make a difference in the world.

7:26 AM  
Blogger KCsMom said...

Hi Squaregirl,

Your students/parents must absolutely adore you! I too wish there were more folks like you working with our kiddos:)

3:13 AM  
Blogger SquareGirl said...

Wade, yes the path of least resistance...sometimes it seems too easy to be true, even though it is. thanks.

Kristina, I would have imagined that you would have gone that distance for your Charlie. It is a proactive and positive approach and It did help...but when I met Antonio, it really made me see that maybe I SHOULDN'T HAVE to be going to such great lengths...maybe I should expect no less than kindness and compassion from others. There need to be more Antonio's in the world and I hope that you begin to find some...I am sure you that some of the future Antonio's may be student of yours right now.

Alexander's Daddy, I am quite sure that the world does not need, nor would be prepared for any more clones of me, but thank you. I think it is the job of us who really SEE the amazing beauty of children who are not labeled "typical" to do what we can to help others see that it really is so much More thatn a label...

KC's mom...Well I adore my students/parents which I think is the most important part!

9:48 PM  
Blogger Estee Klar-Wolfond said...

Squaregirl,

I love what you have written. Sometimes the path of least resistence is right. Other times we are pressed to raise our voices for what we truly believe and want to achieve.

Thank you for a dose of wisdom,

Estee

5:10 PM  

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