Sunday, March 30, 2008

How would you react to the question?

I teach special ed at an elementary school this year. My 4th and 5th graders need to be escorted to and from the "Cafetorium". The word cafetorium is made up by people that should know better. Cafetorium reminds me of the vomitorium, of ancient Rome. The food at lunch also reminds me of that Roman creation. O.K., the Roman vomitorium did not serve that purpose, but it sure makes for an interesting story.

As we return from breakfast or lunch, we very often see other classes traversing the hall. Well, I have a moderate case of Cerebral Palsy(CP). This is generally not worthy of mentioning, but it is necessary for this story. My CP is not serious, compared to most people afflicted with the condition. Every now and then one of the students will ask me why I walk the way I do. This is, almost always, a question coming from sincere curiosity. It bothers the faculty quite a bit more than it bothers me.

Typically, I stop, let one of my co- teachers proceed taking my students to the classroom, and talk to the student who asked me the question. My standard response is " My brain does not tell my legs the right way to walk." This typically is enough information to quell the student's curiosity. While it is a simplification of the condition, it is basically true, and enough information.

While this settles the issue for the child, I've begun to wonder about the adults, other teachers, at the school. Thursday, I actually saw a teacher scold one of her students for asking that question. I can not tell you how badly I felt for that student.

Why would the teacher be upset at the student for asking the question? Is it like I'm going to think nobody notices my gait if no one verbally addresses it? Maybe, they figure I will forget about it if no one mentions the condition. Honestly, I was mortified to see myself walk on videotape about 8-9 years ago. Ever since college though, I've never been embarassed by the question.

I work as a teacher, if I can't honestly answer that simple question, then I've got bigger problems than an inability to walk properly. I've had the condition my entire life, as an adult you learn to handle certain challenges. I've always taught in inner city schools, that question is the least of my worries. Some people have told me it is impolite, maybe, but if it is not brought out in a mean way, I explain the condition and that is it.

About a year ago, a high school student asked me about my disability, while he was in a different teacher's class. I had stopped in to get some clarification on a school-wide reading project from his teacher. After clearing it with her, I proceeded to field just about every question you can imagine, from her class, about my disability. I was discussing and explaining, as best I could, CP, to high school students, for 45 minutes or so. The teacher thanked me, and the students were more respectful, than could have been expected. I teach in a program for severely emotionally disturbed students.

I don't think I'm that unusual. I answer honest questions as if there was no malicious intent. I consider it a 'teachable moment'. Sure, the question could be considered impolite, but I like my approach more.


Blogger Mom said...

I am proud of your response to the questions about your condition. I hope this particular blog gets a large readership, because almost everyone I know could learn something from it. I know I did.

7:27 PM  
Blogger 新年快樂 said...


3:32 AM  
Blogger 新年快樂 said...


3:32 AM  

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