I have a friend who once pointed out that when she made a point about something that gave me pause, I followed up the comment with a “huh”. In a very subconscious sort of way. In a pensive statement sort of way. Not in the form of a question as if I misheard. As a mother of three, I regularly have these “huh moments” as a result of my children relaying an anecdote of something funny or curious that happened to them during their school day.
Being a Jewish educator with an interest in special needs my children often excitedly save up relevant stories to tell me. From one of their public school teachers eating falafel for lunch, to taking a seat in the coveted classroom wobble chair, I always appreciate their efforts to connect with me.
Which takes us back in time a few months…..
Before our new normal of Quarantine School I would pick up my fifteen year old daughter after in-person high school. On this one particular day she popped into the car excited to playback a story for me. “Mommy, I got our answer about when I’m having my 504 meeting”. You see, my daughter has hearing loss which is supported by official documentation and classroom accommodations. Throughout middle school we had a meeting at the beginning of the year with the school to review. Now in her first year of high school we were wondering how this was being handled.
So when my daughter started the conversation about her 504 meeting with a smile on her face leading into giggling I knew I was going to enjoy this. A potential and probable “huh moment”.
Sydney said earlier in the day when she walked into sixth period, her friends asked her why her name was being called over the loudspeaker all day long. Apparently in between classes during the passing period, in the very noisy, overcrowded hallway, her name was being called over the loudspeaker since the second period. It was now the sixth period. When she finally made it into the guidance counselor’s office at the end of the day, she was informed that it was to update her 504 plan. Huh.
Let’s recap. A guidance counselor tried to get my daughter’s attention by method of loudspeaker in the halls during a passing period for her 504 plan supporting her hearing loss. I have had the unfortunate poorly timed experience of being in the school in between classes. It in no way, shape or form resembled an early episode of 90210, with Kelly and Brenda casually walking down the hall catching up on the latest gossip. This felt more like elbowing your way to get nachos at Gillette Stadium (insert your favorite ballpark here) during a playoff game. Huh.
My immediate response to this huh moment? “Are you kidding me? That’s awesome”. We burst out laughing. My parenting style is to keep it light. We spent the twelve minute ride home reliving the story, cracking jokes and giggling over the ironic details.
Leviticus 19:14 says, “You shall not insult the deaf or place a stumbling block before the blind.” Sydney’s story definitely gave me pause. How many times standing at the front of a Hebrew School classroom as the teacher did my actions not match up with the needs of my students? What did I do not realizing that I was making it harder for a student rather than supporting them? Giving Sydney’s guidance counselor the benefit of the doubt, I can’t imagine she put the stumbling block of a loudspeaker in the hall of a high school passing period to trip her up. It just didn’t occur to her that something so everyday is not so everyday for every student. Each day when I walk into my classroom in-person or over Zoom, it’s important to take a mental inventory of those potential stumbling blocks. What is going to obstruct learning for a student? What hoops is a child going to have to jump through? What hurdles will the student have to leap over? What shackle is holding back a student? As a teacher I need to grab my toolbox box: a crowbar, wire cutters, sledgehammer. Do what I need to do to physically, mentally and emotionally pry, cut out, and smash from our classroom learning the obstacles to delivering the lesson’s message to my students.
I need to build up my students with some thought. I need to purposefully remove those opportunities for one of my student’s parents to have a “huh moment”. As a person who likes to keep her cup half full, I thank that guidance counselor for turning this parenting “huh moment” into a teacher “aha moment”.
Let’s strive to replace those stumbling blocks with support beams and anchors.
This blog is posted by Jennifer Saber. Jennifer, who lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is Shutaf's Educational Development Consultant, North America.