My Favorite Student

Alas…. a blog post!!!! You guys, I have missed you.
Since my last post, a couple of exciting things have happened in my world:

1. I found my wedding ring!!!!!
Just kidding, but I DID find a really fab fakey for $7.99 on Amazon. (here is the link to buy your own) Just kidding again about the link, because nobody wants to buy this disgusting already yellowing costume ring. I bought several different styles because some days I feel like Kim K, and other days I’d rather channel a more modest Michelle Duggar, ya know? It mainly has to do with how recently I’ve washed my hair. Anyway, I’m only horribly depressed about my wedding ring when I think about it….so, on to number 2.

2. I started a fun little side job/hobby. Let’s call it a jobby. My new jobby is making fun custom boards for crazy moms. I’m making birthday boards, shower and nursery decor, and monthly milestone boards for my fellow moms who want to document all of their babies’ new developments each month until their first birthday. I tried to do this with Owen, but I stopped at about 8 months because as much as I want to be on top of my game, I am just not. But that’s fine. Keep doin’ your thang Pinterest moms. Anyway, I’m currently calling my jobby Benny B Designs. (My 5th graders called me Mrs. Bennett, then Mrs. Benny, which eventually turned into Benny Ben, which then turned into Benny B… I don’t know… kids are weird.) I have an instagram account for it, and have looked into starting an Etsy store, but apparently Benny B Designs is taken by an old lady who knits weird blankets that has sold one product since she opened it in 2013. Part of me wants to cyber bully her into closing her store, but the other part of me is like “fiiiiiiiiiiiiiine WWJD.” So I say all that to say, I will be coming up with a new name for my jobby soon so be on the look out. Barry says ‘Boards 4 All my Betchez’ might target the wrong crowd, but whatever.

Okay, now that you have been briefed on the happenings of my life, I want to tell you about my all-time favorite student, who made a huge impact on my life.

Being a teacher is much like being a mom in the sense that you slowly become totally crazy. You go through a million emotions a day, switching back and forth from absolutely adoring your kids, to wanting them all to go on a super long Caribbean cruise at a moments notice. You are so emotionally vulnerable in the classroom, because whether you want to admit it or not, your students become a part of you. You spend more time with these kids than their parents do, so eventually, little pieces of your heart are walking around outside of your body, and you have to watch as they try and figure out how to become compassionate, independent, GOOD people. You have to walk with them through it all- some of the good, but mostly the bad. Because of this, by the end of the year, there are some students that you just never ever want to say goodbye to. I want to tell you about my boy. We will call him Evan.

To properly introduce you to Evan, I have to go back to the moment that we met:

It was Back to School Night, and I was SO nervous to meet my new kids. I don’t care how calm, cool, and collected you are in the classroom… if Back to School Night doesn’t give you nervous diarrhea than I don’t trust you, and also, you’re lying. So anyway, we had just moved back home from San Antonio (praises be!) and I basically had 2 weeks to get my classroom and my brain ready for the first day of school. I. WAS. A. MESS. It didn’t help that on the day of Back to School night, I received my roster and saw that I would be getting 3 classes of THIRTY-ONE STUDENTS. You read that right, y’all. I also learned that since I was teaching Social Studies and Science, and because they aren’t considered “core subjects” (stupid.) all of the fifth graders that were receiving special ed. services in math and reading, would not be pulled out for assistance during my class. Guys- I am a huge advocate of inclusive learning (I originally planned to be a Spec. Ed teacher), but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t scared out of my mind to teach 3 different classes with 5+ students with special needs in each. I started the year without a paraprofessional in my class, so I was VERY intimidated by the task of meeting all of the students’ needs and accommodating each of my lessons so that all 93 of them would succeed.

I learned that I would be getting 3 students with autism in my home room class, which is nerve wracking because you really have to figure out the ins and outs of these students’ routines and behaviors before you can form any kinds of successful teacher/student relationships with them, and let’s face it- the first week of school is typically not an easy time to foster this much needed one-on-one time. So anyway… let me describe my first impression of Evan, who I knew had autism, but hadn’t really learned anything else about him from his previous teachers. Let’s set the scene: Evan is Asian. There is a huge language barrier already between his family and myself.

“Hi! I am so happy to meet you. My name is Mrs. Bennett, and I will be your home room teacher this year!” -Me
“Evan tall with body odor.” -Evan
*long pause….*
“Okay….. um…… Yes! I’m sure you grew over the summer! You must be taller this year than you were in the fourth grade. Your fourth grade teachers told me you were very smart, so I am happy to have you in my class!” -Me
“No. He no smart. He special need.” -HIS MOM!!!!!!

UUUUUMMMMMMMMM okay. Off the bat I knew this was going to be an interesting dynamic.

Fast forward to the first day of school. Again, such a hard transition for students, especially students with special needs. For students with autism, the change in routine and the quick new transitions can be totally overwhelming. While the other students were working on a “getting to know you” ice breaker, I noticed Evan seemed to be in a lot of distress. He was crinkling up paper and ripping it with clinched fists. I asked him what was going on, and our broken communication frustrated him even further. I asked him to talk to to me in the hall and when he met me outside I figured out that he was upset because we put all of our supplies into big community storage bins for everybody to use.
“Those my markers. My mom bought them!!! I use them not you! ” -Evan
“Oh! You’re upset that somebody might be using your markers. Well look, Hannah is using markers that Allison’s mom bought, and Allison is probably using markers that Austin’s mom bought. We are all sharing.”
….. not the right answer. Looking back, I don’t know why I couldn’t just let him keep his own personal pack. Rookie mistake.
With fury in his eyes, trembling with anger, he softly poked the tip of my nose and said “YOU BASTARD.”

Oh lands. It was time to worry less about the whole, and learn more about each piece- and QUICK.

After understanding that I would need to be more intentional with him, it only took a couple of weeks to win him over. If something was too hard for him, he would immediately have an outburst of throwing books off of his desk, kicking somebody’s chair, or storming out of the room. He pretended like he was going to get physically aggressive- swinging at me, but then touching my arm softly. It was his way of communicating frustration without actual harm. When I was pregnant and he would do this, surrounding teachers that saw it happen would get really nervous and say things about it, but I knew he would never hurt me- He trusted me, and I trusted him.. and it felt good.

I owe our classroom community solely to Evan. As I learned to trust him and care for him, so did my other students. They knew exactly how he felt, what made him upset, and what made him happy. They took care of him. Every student in the classroom knew that he was different, that he was special, and mostly they knew that he was totally awesome. He served as the comedic relief in almost EVERY situation. Every single serious moment was ruined by sweet Evan, and I am so glad that it was. If I was having a ‘mean teacher moment’ and seriously getting on to my class for bad behavior, he would make everybody laugh by breaking the silence with “Mrs. Bennett why you so mad? You not cute when mad.”

During the dreaded ‘sex talk’ with all of the 5th grade boys (#scienceteacherprobs), I sat next to him and some other students with autism. The film that they make us show the kids has a naked cartoon man explaining all kinds of lovely, personal, uncomfortable things to them. The boys were so mortified that I was in there with them. Half of them were figuring out what I had to do to be pregnant, and were throwing daggers at me with their eyes, and the others were so embarrassed that they were staring at their hands the whole time. You could hear a pin drop.
“Look Mrs. Bennett!!! It’s George Washington!!!” -Evan
“No, Evan. This isn’t a social studies lesson today.” -Me
“Oh, Okay. But why that colonist naked?” -Evan
“No… that’s not a colonist. This is a video to teach us about our bodies. This isn’t social studies.” -Me
“I see King George the third penis.” -Evan

There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t get an “I love you Mrs. Bennett” quickly followed by a “You’re getting too fat Mrs. Bennett” from Evan.

I mean really. This kid. I love him. This boy is pure joy. Silly, emotional, sensitive, determined joy. On the days when I couldn’t find a kind word of encouragement for any of my students because of my frustration, exhaustion, and defeat, I KNEW that anything less than my everything was not an option for Evan. He made me live out the fruits of the spirit every single day, and he brought out goodness in even the toughest of students. He made my students gentle and kind. He taught them patience and self-control. The students that helped him with work took a new ownership of their education. He made them proud of him, and proud of themselves, and because of this, I will love him forever.

So to the teachers who have begun this school year with overcrowded, needy, exhausting students… look for Evan. Be intentional with one, and watch the piece change the whole. Find the good through the bad, and continue to seek the silver lining- because I promise you there is one.