Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Student for Life

I tell my students and their families that I consider my students to be my students for life. Therefore, from time to time, I receive invitations to visit with former students from years ago (as well as e-mails, phone calls, TXTs and Facebook chats). Today I visited with a student who left my room sometime ago. I've written about this young lady before, she has multiple disabilities, including profound blindness and quadripledgia, and types Morse Code using head switches. We sat in the shade on the back porch of her group home and chatted about old times, her new found love of all things Obama (replacing or maybe more accurately adding to her former love of all things Celine Dion) and her recent experience at an over night camp for adults with disabilities.

I shared with her how I found myself telling a story about the time she went out for an ice cream and, in 100 degree heat, requested a staff member read her the list of more than 45 flavors. When the recitation was complete she asked for it to be repeated. After the second listing the staff member, dripping with sweat, asked her choice and she said, "Oh, I want vanilla." We all laughed at how angry the staff was with her for making the list be read twice only to choose the most boring possible flavor.

She shared with me how she is about to begin two correspondence courses through the Hadley School for the Blind one in French and one in Container Gardening. All the while she will continue with her work at her day placement and her frequent e-mails to President Obama to let him know her opinions about his work on healthcare and other issues.

Do you consider your students to be students for life? Do you keep in touch or leave the linds of communication open for them to keep in touch?


  1. Yes. My students become part of my family. I still keep in touch with many students who graduated over 20 years ago. I've been invited to weddings, baptisms, and social events. I've had lunch with a few and had many phone calls, letters, and facebook exchanges. It is such a wonderful feeling to see that I might have made an impact on their lives.

  2. I like this post as it made me think about the whole concept...

    As a mum of a little boy with multiple disabilities I wonder when he gets to move into the role of peer not student with the adults engaged in his life.

    For example, as an adult I no longer see my teachers as teachers but as fellow adults, peers etc - this is what I want for him.

    I love that you retain a relationship with your students, but I would prefer for my son for it to develop away from 'student for life' to friend or former student - otherwise there is that risk he remains in a child role for ever... just a thought.

  3. I think, outside of my blog, I would actually use the word "friend". I know the woman I wrote about here refers to me as her friend and I refer to her as mine. We are even "Friends" on Facebook.

    However, as I am sure you are aware, we live in a litigious society and people have odd ideas about what is "ok", my fear is that some people would think it was odd or somehow unacceptable for an adult to be "friends" with a former student. Regardless of the fact that we are both adults, etc, etc.

    If you think about the "Circle of Friends" curriculum, which is very famous and in broad use, students with intellectual impairments are taught to devalue and distrust relationships with paid individuals such as teachers, aides, care workers, etc. There people are placed in one of the outer circles from the individual. Movement from one circle to another is not something that is seen as plausible within the curriculum and is cautioned against.

    I have heard some wonderful speakers address the flaws in such a curriculum. I don't have any answers to the dilemma you bring up, just further questions. In essence I agree with you. The former students and the families of the former students I am in regular contact with I consider to be friends, but it is a complicated and political issue.

    Perhaps there is another word that could be used? Mentor? I refer to former professors/college teachers who I stay in touch with as mentors.

  4. Yes, I can see where you are hampered somewhat socially and politically... notwithstanding you do live in the land of litigious fervor - Aussies are a bit more lax - equally judgemental, just litigiously lazier.

    I actually don't mind the concepts behind the CoF in that if you are paid you can't be a friend in the true sense of the word. It is important for children to understand this and more important for us as parents to ensure there are enough 'natural supports/friends' in their lives to make this obvious connection. If you only have people in your life paid to be there, then obviously telling someone they aren't friends is cruel. I'll dig around though for some of the alternate views on CoF - thanks for the heads up.

    In Alberta, Canada, for example, they have some programs whereby if you wish to move into that so called inner circle you have to remove yourself from the paid position in order to do so. If the friendship continues then it was a good choice.

    Once you are out of the paid role as teacher I think it is appropriate you refer to those students you consider friends 'as friends', some you may continue to mentor and others may simply be 'former student'. That's ok too. I don't expect everyone my son meets to have a connection, just as he doesn't 'connect' with everyone he meets.

    One of the key reasons we chose a mainstream setting was to ensure real friendships develop. I love that his peers, 6yo kids, will seek me out after school and suggest he might not be feeling the best because they thought he was a bit quieter than usual or bit paler... and maybe I best keep an eye on him. I love that they care to care and love that they are, at times, more intuitive than those paid to care.

    As always, thanks for the insights, the blog and the amazing knowledge base - you have very lucky students.

  5. Kate,
    I loved hearing the story of your friend and former student who I know too! I taught at EPIC for many years and "T" was one of my favorites. She came to my wedding in 1999 and I still smile everytime I look thru the pictures of her. What an awesome young lady, it's great to hear she's doing well. (love the ice cream story)
    I no longer work for EPIC, I am an Assistive Tech Specialist in a for a public school district.
    Just wanted to say thanks for your blog.. I come her often and go away with great info and ideas.


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