That “Aha” Moment
Every teacher has a reason why they entered the world of education. Some say it’s because they love working with children, others say it’s because one teacher made a difference in their lives, and some will admit that it’s because they get holidays and summers off. When people ask why I became a teacher, specifically a special educator, my response is personal.
In the 4th grade, I was diagnosed with an auditory processing disorder and other special learning needs. School began to be more of a challenge; it became harder to comprehend the material and difficult to keep up. As I got older, I had teachers who didn’t “get” what I was facing. Teachers weren’t willing to think outside the box and find ways to help me succeed.
I still remember the day in Chumash class, when we learned the well known passage: “You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind” (Leviticus 19:14). It stuck out to me. Teachers were placing stumbling blocks, so to speak, in front of me on a daily basis. What stung even more was that I was in a Jewish Day School. Shouldn’t a day school go above and beyond to be inclusive? Why was I, a student with special needs, being allowed to slip through the cracks because I learned differently?
I may not have realized it, but that moment would be the catalyst for my becoming a teacher.
In college, when I made the decision to become a special educator, I imagined myself teaching in a public school. Then one day, I was talking with one of my professors. She asked where I saw myself as a teacher in 10, 15, 20 years, how I saw myself making a difference. I gave her a canned response: “teaching in a great school, helping kids learn and succeed,” but she pressed me to dig deeper.
I looked her in the eye and told her my true dream was to one day work with Day Schools to help them provide an excellent Jewish and Secular education to students with special needs. I had heard from Day Schools that were not working with special needs students, often making excuses as to why they couldn’t or wouldn’t accommodate every student. In my professor’s office that day, I realized that there was no excuse for a Jewish Day School to put a “stumbling block” before a Jewish child who had special needs. Every child deserves a fair and equal education and every Jewish child deserves a Jewish education.
I left college and entered graduate school where I studied special and elementary education and had a wonderful internship in a public school. A little part of me forgot the dream I had in my professors office. Then, as chance would have it, I was hired after graduate school by an amazing Jewish Day School, a school that goes above and beyond to do special education correctly. I immediately fit right in because I was surrounded by other educators who worked day after day to remove every possible stumbling block in front of our students.
I am reminded of the passage from Leviticus everyday, as I watch my students grow and succeed, as I find ways to ensure each child can learn the material and as I look into their eyes and remember what it felt like when my teachers didn’t take the time to make sure I was able to learn.
Every child deserves the right to learn. Every Jewish child deserves to have a Jewish education. Every teacher should have the opportunity to watch a child have that “aha” moment. Every child deserves to learn without having any stumbling blocks in his or her path and as a teacher it is my pleasure to ensure that there are never any in stumbling blocks in the way.