Today, a re-post, of one of my favourites, from my first, now-defunct, personal blog. There is more to Brayden’s story, and I will post the follow-ups, too. Brayden changed me, forever and always. I miss him with an ache that is physical at times: I can close my eyes and remember what it felt like when he threw himself into my arms and hid his face in my neck. He is, in many ways “the one that got away” from me as a teacher.
Anyway, the story starts like this:
I accepted a special needs child into my classroom 2 weeks ago. We’ll call him Brayden. He is what I sometimes call a “laundry list” kid: fully equipped (by age five) with a list of challenges that would incapacitate many adults: turbulent home life? check. Abandonment issues? check. Overachieving sibling? check. Fine motor delays? check. Attentional difficulties? check. Sensory integration issues? check. Possible language processing disorder? check. Social struggles? check. Food sensitivities? check. Sleep issues? check. You see? A laundry list, indeed. It’s not quite enough that he needs a classroom aide or a special school, but more than enough to make his participation in a private school with an “enriched” program VERY VERY difficult for both him and his teachers.
Brayden has been in our school for 2 years, and is classroom assignment this year was to the kindergarten class next door to mine. I have written very little about my next-door colleague here, but she is a good teacher. She cares about her students. She is fair, consistent, conscientious about meeting standards. Her classroom is structured, busy, with a clear routine. Her expectations are clear and applied with an even hand. The other notable factor is that the children in her classroom this year happen to be a particularly loud, energetic, chaotic group. For a little boy who flinches at a touch, turns his head at the slightest whisper, soothes himself by chewing the buttons off his shirt, this is perhaps not the ideal environment, not the ideal group of classmates. (To be clear: in no way am I trying to suggest that I, my classroom, or my students ARE ideal… we are, however, different.)
Anyway, a few weeks ago, there was a substitute teacher next door, who ended up calling the office in a tearful panic when Brayden was refusing to cooperate with her in any way, and had finally thrown himself on the floor in a Big Noisy Fuss. To help the sub make it through the day, my boss asked if I would take Brayden for the afternoon. He came. He played. He spent the afternoon with new friends who hadn’t labelled him Bad Brayden. From that experience grew an idea — to have Brayden spend afternoons with me, giving him a fresh start in a new (calmer, quieter, more flexible) environment, with new (calmer, quieter, gentler) friends. I was willing. my aide, was willing. Mrs Voisine (the teacher next door) was willing. Brayden’s mom, grateful-to-the-point-of-tears, was willing.
So, now, Brayden comes in the afternoons. And, at the end of the month, when one of my other students is moving to Europe and I have a spare chair, Brayden may start coming in the mornings, too. He arrives so promptly after lunch recess that Mrs. Voisine sometimes has to call to make sure he is with me and not still out on the playground. His rest-time pillow goes down right next to my desk and he sings to himself while looking at a picture book. He is the only child who rests in the same place each day, and although he has noticed that fact, he is okay with it. Bit by bit, he is moving in: he has hook and a cubby and a workbasket. He has insisted that he needs an attendance card, and a line partner. Although our afternoons are mostly centre-based play, music, gym, snack and stories, he sometimes looks around at an art project or craft from the morning’s work, and asks if he can do one, too. The answer is always yes.
It is not perfect. He is not perfect, I am not perfect, my other students are not perfect. There are hiccups and speed-bumps as he learns our routines, explores boundaries, tests the limits of my flexibility and the other students’ patience. Even before Brayden started joining us, we were working very hard on being good, kind, respectful, classmates and resolving conflicts calmly. He gives us all lots of opportunity to practice these things. Afternoons, which were previously the more relaxing half of my day, are now the times when I feel like I am teaching the hardest: managing the environment, modelling how to use materials appropriately, mediating conflicts in a way that I want students to emulate, constantly monitoring my tone of voice and body language. Admittedly these are things that I should ALWAYS be doing, but Brayden needs me to do them deliberately and conciously ALL. THE. TIME. He is so desperately needy, so touchy, so sensitive: to a word, a touch, a perceived injustice, a prickly tag in the neck of his shirt.
He is the kind of child that exhausts me, the kind of child who challenges, pushes, intrigues me.
I already love him with a fury that is almost frightening. He is already changing me, already teaching me things I need to learn.
He is already making me the teacher I want to be.
*God’s Will, by Martina McBride. It will always be Brayden’s song, to me.