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Do You Know Me?

We are by nature compiled of little mannerisms, habits, obsessions, and characteristics. They make us who we are. They are formed by our experiences, sensories, emotions, and thoughts. These little nuances determine our behaviors, our focus, our likes and dislikes, and the challenges that we will carry and have to overcome. They are tiny parts of us but knowing these pieces are HUGE in helping the people around us communicate with us. 

I have an enormous sensory issue. I hate touching paper, wearing jeans, and loud noises. Certain textures of clothing and food make me cringe and want to run away screaming! Some of these sensory issues could easily control me...if I gave them permission to do so. As a child they totally did. I would wear dirty clothes straight out of the hamper rather than wear something I knew would make me uncomfortable. I couldn't turn the pages in my book because of the feeling I got when the paper rubbed together. I had issues with writing because of obsessions about letter formation. On top of all of this, I had Tourette's Syndrom (undiagnosed at the time) which filled my days with facial tics, movement tics, and random noises. This created a lot of problems at school in my early elementary years. I'm relatively sure I was my mother's biggest problem and probably my teachers' too. I grew up, learned some pretty amazing coping skills, and became a successfully functioning adult. (That last part is debatable on some days! haha) 

The point I'm making is that the people in my life started to make these connections to my behavior. They began to invest time in helping me overcome or avoid my sensory triggers. My mom learned to buy me clothes that were made of soft fabrics or had lots of stretch to them. She picked her battles when I decided I was going to eat a mustard sandwich for lunch every day of my 3rd grade year. Looking back she was a pretty amazing mom! She was flexible. She knew me.

As adults, we gather around and talk about our little quirks and laugh them off. When people say things that are directly opposite of who we are, we stop them and say, "Do you know me at all?"

Someone approached me the other day. "Oh my gosh! Are you wearing jeans?" I couldn't help but laugh because it gave me insight into how much that person knew me. (Sidenote: I was not wearing jeans. I was wearing what I call "pretend jeans" which are leggings that look like jeans.) It may seem silly but it gave me comfort knowing that someone I work with knew me that well.

As a teacher, I often reflect back on my childhood and how I struggled in the classroom. I only became a successful student after I learned how to cope with my own challenges. I call them challenges because challenges are relatable to everyone. Everyone has challenges. Yours may be different than mine but they are challenges just the same. Something we have to identify, create a plan for, and then work to overcome. Our students have challenges too. Do you know them?

Do you know your students? Do you know their specific academic struggles, their behavioral struggles, their sensory triggers, their emotional triggers, or their tiny nuances that make them who they are? Can you talk deeply about your knowledge of them? Every little piece of information you know about your student will help you provide targeted behavior interventions, academic instructional plans, sensory breaks or strategies, social stories, or oral language interventions.

We are the key to their success. We can give them what they need, which is a toolbox of strategies they can use throughout their life. I am still using some of the strategies I learned in early elementary. We can make them feel safe and comfortable by showing them that we know them,  want to understand them and help them. There is a comfort in knowing that the people around you know your struggles and aren't judging you for them. Instead, they accept you and want to help. We have to remember that just like my mom let me take a mustard sandwich for lunch every day for a year, we too have to pick our battles and recognize what is important and needs to be addressed and what is something we can choose to let go.

I have sat and talked with many teachers over the years. These conversations are some of the most amazing and powerful I have ever had. Listening to a teacher talk about her students with specific detail and describe the plan she and her student designed to help them is inspiring! It evokes a sense of empowerment in me. It makes me feel a desire to be better and to do better for my students. There is no greater resource for educators than learning from other educators. I am gearing up for our local EdCamp and I feel like a child waiting for Christmas Day. Days where I get to visit with other educators and learn from them, the ones in the trenches, is a true gift and I get excited about it! I have a dream of planning a day like that for our elementary teachers in our district. I want to gather them together and allow them the opportunity to share their greatness, their challenges, and leave feeling a sense of unity and empowerment. These are the moments that inspire us to grow as educators, which directly impacts our student growth.

I am a student. I have challenges. Do you know me?

~ Liz


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