Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Putting It Together

"Connect, George. Connect."  James Lapine

DAY 4:  There's one thing you should know about me if you didn't know it already.  In my veritable OCEAN of self-doubt, there is one thing about which I am ABSOLUTELY certain - I am a teacher, I have always been a teacher, I will always be a teacher, and I am a DAMN GOOD teacher.  But my gratitude for my chosen profession and the success I've had in it are subjects for a different day ...

I spent much of the day (while my students were testing) wondering just what the heck I was going to write about tonight.  It hasn't been a particularly memorable day personally or emotionally, so I suspected it might end up being something about work.  It wasn't until my regular Tuesday afterschool help that I realized one of the things I'm most grateful for as a teacher - my ability to connect.  And what brought it into focus today was my connection with a young man who has serious challenges connecting with anyone.

When I was informed that I would have an autistic student this year, I have to admit I was more than a little uptight about it.  I don't believe that I've taught a mainstreamed autistic child before in my 25 years, though a discussion with my good friend, Janet, our Exceptional Education teacher, about the student's condition allayed some of my fears.  I'll call him John ...

John is an extremely quiet, good-looking young man - a Junior in one of my standard Algebra II classes.  He rarely socializes with the other students ... the one time he has this year, I was a little taken aback to even hear his voice in conversation with other kids.  He clearly dwells in a solitary world of his own and Janet informed me that he has to train as much on his social skills as he does on his cognitive ones.  It wasn't long before I was communicating with his parents by e-mail and they informed me that John already seemed pretty comfortable with me and was eager to work with me rather than his regular out-of-school tutor.  I started working with John last week during my afterschool sessions and I already felt like we had started "putting it together."  He now says "hello" to me whenever he sees me in the hallway and says "goodbye" when leaving the classroom - and it's my understanding that even the most rudimentary of social interaction like this can be a challenge.

Unfortunately, John wasn't the only student afterschool with me last week.  Today, however, we were able to spend 45 minutes truly one-on-one and it was remarkable.  It's fascinating to watch him as he works - he's extraordinarily and compulsively deliberate about his work, beautiful and precise handwriting, intensely methodical.  He relies heavily on his calculator for even the simplest of operations but then, at times, he'll stop to think about the addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division, his fingers will move with some mental arithmetic and he'll come up with the answer.  He only needs to see a pattern of steps once and can repeat them in a similar problem with little difficulty, though sometimes he'll look at his paper in this odd sideways glance (as if looking at the paper out of the corner of his right eye).  As frustation appears to be quick and often debilitating, I'm very careful to watch when his brow furrows and he rubs his face, and help him to slow down, relax, and reconsider the problem.  It's been an incredible experience so far, and my anxiousness has been replaced by wonder and excitement as I try to help John through what is a difficult subject even for a child without his challenges.

So, today I'm grateful for John and I'm grateful for how he has challenged my teaching ability.  I'm grateful that I've been able to connect with a young person who can have such trouble connecting ... And, finally, I'm grateful to be fascinated enough with this disorder that I'd like to learn even more about it.


  1. You are such a special man! I am grateful to have YOU in my life!

  2. I love reading your blog. I love your writing style, humor, and the theme of your postings.

    That's what I'm grateful for today.

    That... and chocolate horns from a Long Island diner.

  3. See even after 15 years, I still love ya Mr. Lipp!

  4. Thank GOD there are teachers out there, staying late, thinking about their students, and caring about the connection. They are lucky to have you (and we are lucky to get a peek into your teaching life too!)

  5. When I was teaching fourth grade there was this little girl in the ESE class who used to always say hi to me in the hallways. The ESE teacher stopped me one day and asked me how I knew her. She thought I must be a friend of the family or something b/c the student was autistic and never said hi to anyone. She started sending Bethany to me everyday for an hour or so and she would come and spend that time in our regular ed classroom. She really was a sweet little thing. I had forgotten about that until I read your blog. Thanks for the nice memory. : )