31 Days of SMA: Being a Teacher With SMA

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by Kevin Schaefer |

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Day 13 of 31 Days of SMA⁣⠀ Topic: Teaching with SMA⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ This is Angela’s story:⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ On the first day of school, I sit my students down on the floor around me, criss-cross applesauce style, and tell them about what it’s like to have SMA. I explain that they’ll get to be my assistants all year long and help out in ways that they’ve never been asked to assist a teacher before. And, that’s when I launch into the “I can’t” list.⁣⠀ ⠀ ⁣“I can’t turn the lights on in our classroom.”⁣⠀ ⁣“I can’t open a marker cap.”⁣⠀ ⁣“I can’t pass out Tuesday Folders.”⁣⠀ ⠀ ⁣With bulging eyes and wowed mouths, they listen as I tell them that my “I can’t” list could go on forever. ⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ I quickly coach them to the positive, “We focus on the things that we can do with each other’s help. We can turn on the lights, and open marker caps, and pass out Tuesday folders, and learn to multiply, and treat each other with kindness…and on and on and on. Together.” ⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ At the end of August, I will recite this speech for my twentieth time to eager third graders. It seems as though I’ve blinked and reached seasoned status on the faculty. Whereas SMA and being an educator has certainly had its challenging moments, like the time the door accidentally closed behind me in the teacher’s lounge and I was stuck with unsupervised students waiting in my classroom, the combination of my condition and career has exponentially benefited my life and the lives of my students. ⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ It’s the little things, like when a 2nd grader grabs onto the handlebar on the back of my chair during carpool and I hear one of my kiddos whisper to them about wheelchair etiquette and how that’s not a very nice thing to do. It’s the big things, like when a former student sustains a spinal cord injury and we exchange a moment of empathy when I visit him in the rehab hospital as he learns to navigate the world from a wheelchair. ⁣⠀ ⁣⠀ August is not only the beginning of school, but SMA Awareness month as well. It’s definitely the month when my students are most aware that their teacher has SMA because as the year progresses, my disability normalizes almost to the forgotten point and we get to work on our “I can” list. Together.⁣

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