By: Cayla from Running, Recipes, and Reading
I have a new Facebook friend. Her name is Katie. We became friends last week on her 18th birthday, the age I tell my students I can honour their friend request. But Katie isn’t just any friend, she is my all-time favourite student.
I met Katie in my very first year teaching, when she showed up, reluctantly, in my grade 6 Special Ed class. Katie has a non-verbal Learning Disability, which makes it difficult for her to read orally, spell, and write with proper grammar and punctuation. For a long time, we didn’t really talk, she would just come in, do her work silently, and leave. Until she noticed that I wore my keys on a Hospital for Sick Children lanyard. I told her that my niece had cancer and that I bought it as a fundraiser. I’m not sure if that was what she was expecting to hear, but it was the answer that made her feel comfortable enough to tell me that she had just found out over Christmas that her Dad had cancer, too. From that day on, we had a special bond.
The next year, Katie was in my mainstream grade 7 class. She was pretty hard on herself but even harder on me, such as telling me to lay off when I corrected her too much or pushed her too hard. One day, after a particularly frustrating Geography class, she started to cry.
“Katie,” I said. “What’s going on? There is no way you are getting this upset over not understanding how mountains are created.”
She took a deep breath, looked up, and then exploded, “My Dad has cancer, my Mom had to go back to work full-time, I’ve got a learning disability, I’m by far the tallest kid in the whole grade. And…. I just found out I’m getting braces!” She cried even harder. It was all I could do to not cry along with her. I supposed I could have consoled her, told her that its not that bad, but it really was that bad.
“You are right. Things really do suck for you right now. But they will get better. I promise.” And then I gave her a hug. And then we went back to learning about mountains.
I’m not sure if was coincidence or because she actually believed me, but things did start to get better for Katie. She became more receptive to accepting help and she started to show more self-confidence. And by grade 8, the girl who thought she was an ugly duckling had blossomed into a beautiful swan. So beautiful, in fact, that when shopping with her mom one day, she was scouted by a prestigious modelling agency. Katie graduated from grade eight on the Honour Roll, receiving the school’s most prestigious award, the Future Ace, an award that the teachers voted unanimously for her to be the recipient of, something that never happens. I think that when she accepted her award, I cried harder than her parents.
Every once in a while, Katie comes back to visit me, and every time I talk to her, I get teary eyed over how proud I am of her and how far she’s come. She told me just the other day that she still struggles with her LD; sometimes teachers don’t believe her and give her a hard time and she tends to avoid the subjects that highlight her difficulties. But she’s still on the Honour Roll and will be attending university in the fall.
I think it was fate that Katie sent me that Facebook request when she did, at a time in my life when I am worried about my son, B, more than ever. I watch him going through his own grade six growing pains and my heart aches when I see all that he is struggling with. But then I think about Katie and how she was his age when I first met her and how she was just as angry and confused and frustrated. And then I think about where she is now I tell him (and myself), “I know things suck right now, but it will get better, I promise.” And they will.
As a special education teacher and mother of two, Cayla has the
privilege of being surrounded by tweens all day long! Needless to say,
she appreciates the “alone time” recess provides. Cayla vents muses
about her life on her blog, Running, Recipes, and Reading, an integral part of helping her center her life and find the beauty in humanity. Follow her on twitter: @runreadrecipe.