Growing up, I was a fairly well-behaved student. I did my homework. I paid attention during class. I always raised my wand (my way of raising my hand since I couldn’t physically do so) when I had a question, and I respected my teachers. In other words, I never caused enough ruckus in the classroom to get notes sent home to parents, skip out on recess, or get detention.
Many faculty and staff members throughout my schooling painted me as the picture of innocence. For the most part, I was, so I understood their perspective. But as the only kid in a wheelchair, I found that many teachers deemed me innocent because of my disability before they even got to know me. Some spoke more gently to me, and others gave me sympathetic smiles when I approached them. Being the shy, diligent student that I was, I gave them no reason to think anything less.
However, that wasn’t always the case. My eighth-grade English teacher quickly picked up on this fact not long after I started taking her class. We had been acquainted two years earlier when my brother had her for a teacher and she caught him teasing me in the hallway. Being the sassy little sister I’ve always been, I gave attitude right back to him. She laughed and cheered me on.
In time, I learned that this encounter really embodied her spirit well — joyful, boisterous, and everyone’s favorite cheerleader. What really brought us together was the fact that she saw past the innocent façade. She respected me as both a student and a person, and saw me for who I really was. Some of my fondest memories of middle school include her, and one in particular has always stood out to me.
One day, she and I decided to play a prank on some teachers and staged giving me a detention. Because she knew how many teachers perceived me, we thought it’d be fun to shake things up and show them “a side of me” they never knew I had. (Disclaimer: I never received detention in all my years of schooling. Maybe I was more innocent than I thought.)
Between our acting and other people’s reactions, the prank was executed beautifully. I stormed out of her classroom, and she ran out after me. In the hallway, she yelled at me to stop being disrespectful while I yelled back in defiance, claiming, “No one tells me what to do.” We argued, and students stared. Teachers looked up from their lesson plans, but tried not to draw more attention to us. Eventually, my teacher “reprimanded” me to get back inside her room. When she slammed the door shut in one last effort to make a scene, we released pent-up laughter behind closed doors.
I was never asked about that encounter, or even the fake detention. I didn’t really expect to since I had displayed such erratic behavior and it seemed so believable. I think people were in complete shock. If anything, I’d like to pretend it gave me some street credibility.
Today, my teacher and I are still great friends. I’m grateful that she took the time to actually get to know her students, which is one of the reasons why she is loved by so many, including me. While I received a great education and had excellent teachers who all accommodated my physical needs, few left an imprint on my heart the way my eighth-grade English teacher did.
Being seen for who I really am as a disabled person is a gift in itself. But being seen for who I really am and knowing I’m accepted is the greatest gift of all.
Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.
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