This is my mantra. This is the foundation from which I teach my students and my children. However, change is challenging, uncomfortable and at times frightening. But is the challenge real or perceived? Is the discomfort physical or mental? And is my fear grounded in fact or fiction?
For me the challenge is often perceived. The discomfort is usually only mental, and the fear is grounded in more fiction than facts. Therefore, I force myself to move forward outside my comfort zone into the realm of “CHANGE.”
Unexpectedly, the push to change my career path came to me on my short drive to work this fall. It wasn’t a day that I didn’t want to teach. In fact, I was excited to share my love of teaching reading with a fantastic group of pre-service teachers. They were discovering for themselves that supporting early readers is the merge of magic and science.
So what happened? It was an epiphany of sorts resulting from critical reflection on an incident that occurred last year when my daughter, Caitlin, was in kindergarten.
It started over dinner when she was deciding what to bring in for “show and tell” at school. Remembering her recent visit to my office, she asked if she could bring in the poster of her cousin that hung on my door. Excited about her decision, I agreed and told her that I would get it for her the next day.
The following afternoon, I carefully pulled the tape from the back and rolled up the poster of Nick in his Team USA uniform with gold and silver medals hanging around his neck. I, then, tucked it into my bag and headed home. That night after dinner, the kids argued which one of them would get to share the poster first. My son, Nolan, who was in third grade, stated that he wanted to take the poster to school on Thursday because Caitlin did not have “show and tell” until Friday. This seemed a reasonable request, but I said I would email their teachers and wait to hear back from them.
I sent their teachers links to articles about Nick’s accomplishments and video clips from the Beijing Games, along with a photo of the poster. Nolan’s teacher responded that night saying she had shared Nick’s story with her family and how they were all inspired by his success. Yes, like many world-class athletes, his story is inspiring.
I didn’t hear from Caitlin’s teacher until the next morning. She explained that she had forwarded my email to the principal and that she was concerned the poster would “scare” the children. I was appalled.
Nick Springer is Caitlin’s cousin. Nick Springer is a gold and silver medalist in the 2008 and 2012 Paralympics. Nick Springer is a world-class athlete who plays wheelchair rugby. Nick Springer is a survivor of meningococcal meningitis. Nick Springer is a quad amputee.
Unfortunately, the only label her teacher could see was the last, and she found it frightening.
The next day, I received a call at work from the school principal. Here is a bit from my side of the conversation:
“It is not if Caitlin will share the poster, but when.”
“How can we be okay with sharing images like Captain Hook with young children, yet we are afraid to share a photo of someone who represented our country in the Paralympics?”
“I find it more frightening that we have an educator who feels unprepared to embrace diversity in her classroom. If she can’t handle this conversation, what other conversations are not occurring?”
On the following Friday, with the support and guidance from the principal, Caitlin shared the poster. And, how did her classmates react? They thought her cousin was totally awesome!
However, I never found peace with the situation. Well… until this fateful car ride to work.
A book. A tool. That was it, I would write a children’s book celebrating Nick’s story, and it would be a tool for Caitlin’s former teacher and every educator to discuss, embrace and celebrate differences.
Thus, my journey began and I started researching picture book biographies. Over the past three months, I have read 44 picture book biographies. So far, only two have featured a person with a disability, Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull (1996) and A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant (2014). Of the 44 picture book biographies, 10 have been about athletes, but not one has featured a Paralympian. According to the CDC and the 2010 census, approximately 20% of adults in the US are disabled. Yet, individuals with disabilities remain a vastly underrepresented group in children’s literature.
My plan is to change this. I will be the “CHANGE” (or at least be a part of it). I will research and write the amazing life stories of people with disabilities or more accurately stated, “people with exceptionalities.” Yes, I will write stories of people who lead exceptional lives that educate, empower and inspire others.
If you have an amazing story to tell, please share it. Let’s be the change we wish to see in the world.
Believe in the possible,