The hour was almost up. I had been sitting at the table with two other teacher’s aides observing the counting of change. I had watched as students meticulously tried to put the quarters in a stack of eight coins. Five separate columns of eight coins made $10.00. It seemed like it took forever. And getting the coins in a stack was challenging. Once the last quarter was placed on top, the stack fell. More than once I wanted to grab the coins and put them in the stacks and into the coin wrappers. My headache grew and I felt the frustration of trying to teach special education students.
I had been a teacher for several years but after a recent move to Virginia, I decided to stay at home. Eventually I decided to work as a substitute teacher and I was kept quite busy. The variety of courses I taught had a broad range from history to English to science or band. Even art and Industrial Technology were on my list. But there was always the challenge of authority. A day of fun! That’s what the students always thought. Students talked, moved around their own chairs and made their own seating arrangement. Try to teach a lesson and you felt like you were spinning your wheels and going nowhere.
When I made the decision to quit substitute teaching, I was asked if I would consider special education. There was a real need for a regular substitute teacher and the change of pace was less stressful. I was so used to working around gifted and talented students that challenged my abilities. That was my comfort zone. Maybe a different focus was not such a bad idea. Trusting in God, I made the decision to assist in special classes.
The lower wing in the school was for resource or severely handicapped students. This is where I started my journey and gained a lot of insight into myself. The slow pace seemed enjoyable at first. But then my overactive personality tried to take over and move the pace just a little faster. Why does it seem to take everyone so long to finish? Wait, this is special education and for some even getting to school is quite an accomplishment. Teaching is more than just dealing with “regular” students. Slow learners need just as much help if not even more. Basic skills need to be mastered and a sense of pride in finishing something is equally important. God, can you open my eyes and let me see things through your eyes?
Let’s try it again. One… two… three… four… five… six…seven…eight. One whole column of quarters stacked neatly on the desk. Wonderful! You just finished the first part. Find the quarters in the change and stack them up. We made it all the way up to five before we had to start over again. Two columns finished. The next stack of quarters went up fairly quickly but as the last quarter was placed on top, the coins fell knocking over the second standing column. Back again to one standing column of coins. Over and over again we counted the coins and stacked them up. We finally made one full group of coins that made $10.00 and all those coins went into the wrapper. The student sitting across from me looked up with pride in his eyes and smiled.
My headache disappeared after a couple of weeks in class. Watching the concentration on the faces of students working on a project was a study in itself. It was hard—just as hard as calculus may be for someone in math. But the goal was the same. Learn the material, practice, and pass the test with flying colors. Small goals were important. Look at the person who is trying so hard to accomplish a task. Gaze into his eyes and find the hope that is hidden under the surface.
God used an experience like this to give me a new focus. We all take baby steps somewhere along our Christian life. We don’t always see the tiny lessons we have learned at the feet of our Heavenly Father, but His pride in us can be seen in His compassionate eyes. He will gently guide us along the path. We can discover new insights and then take what we have learned to reach others who may be struggling. Our "special education" comes from the greatest teacher available. His direction shows us exactly how to walk with Him as He opens my eyes to new experiences.