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The Day Time Stopped

Title – The Day Time Stopped

By – Shari Smith

    It was like any other mid-September day in 3rd grade, Room 303. I was teaching math, like I typically did each day at 10:00 a.m.

    Students were grouped in clusters of four, sitting at their desks as I taught a lesson on interpreting line plots using the Smartboard. Students were attentive, listening, and engaged in the lesson. All you could hear was the occasional methodical pencil scribbles on rustling paper. The lights were off so that the words and diagrams on the Smartboard were bright and eye-catching.

    I had only known my class for a few weeks; they seemed like a very astute, organized group.

    Whenever I assigned work, they got right to it without complaints or chatting. Many of them struck me as overachievers who had the intrinsic drive to succeed. If they were unsure about a question, most of them would come to me and ask for further clarification. If they questioned whether they were on the right track in solving a problem or writing a response, many of them would come to me and ask if they were correct. Their serious attitude about school was a refreshing change to classes I had in previous years.

    However, none of my observations or judgments thus far would have prepared me for what was about to happen in class that day.

    As usual, my mind was racing. A whirlwind of thoughts overcame me like a swarm of mosquitoes on a balmy summer night.

    I peered at my nemesis -The Clock-

    thinking, “

    We’ve been doing math for 30 minutes, there are 30 minutes left in the math block. Can I get the rest of this lesson done? Is there enough time?

    ” So often, even as a teacher with a few years under my belt,

    I felt as though I was fighting the clock constantly. I tried to utilize every minute, squeezing out every ounce of opportunity, but often felt defeated, as running out of time became a usual occurrence.

    Time was the allusive demon that haunted me as I reflected on the day, guilt stricken, realizing I hadn’t accomplished everything I had planned. I quickly looked at my computer to see how many more slides I would need to get through for this particular lesson. I estimated how long it would take to get through each slide and determined that

    we would finish about five minutes earlier than I had planned.

    Yes! Five extra minutes

    ,” I thought to myself.

    What would I do with the extra time? As I left my computer, my mind continued to wander. I thought about the science lesson I needed to teach after this math lesson

    , reflecting on the goals and objectives for that lesson. I thought about what materials I would be using for science and if I remembered to get them out earlier. As I thought, I walked around the room monitoring progress on the last problem I assigned, switching gears in my head, getting back to the world of math. The question I previously asked the students was, “

    How many students read three books in the month of September

    .” I wanted students to realize that the X’s on the line plot symbolized the students. Students wrote their answers fervently. There was an echo of pencil tips tapping the desks as children wrote. As I walked around the room looking at their answers, many students arrived at the correct answer, which was “nine students.”

    Boys and girls eyes up here please.

    ” As expected, before the word “eyes” escaped my lips, students were focused on me, eager, ready, waiting. “

    I need a volunteer to come up to the Smartboard and write the correct answer with one of the Smartboard markers

    .” A silent sea of hands shot up into the air. Almost all students had their hands raised.

    I quickly surveyed the hands raised,

    my eyes fixated on one hand in particular

    , a hand different from the rest, a rigid hand that made sudden, quick movements, John Doe’s hand.

    John Doe was a little boy in my class with Cerebral Palsy.

    He used a walker to get from place to place. Small in stature, and weighing a mere 50 pounds, his balance was shaky and he could easily be knocked over with the slightest bump. He wore braces on his legs for extra support. His body was very tense and rigid and his movements were never fluid, but consisted rather of quick jerks.

    His fine motor skills were that of a three-year-old, his writing was at most times illegible, and speaking was difficult for him.

    As his teacher, it took time for me to understand his speech. There were times when he would talk and drool would come out of his mouth as he had limited muscle control. Sometimes if I could not understand his speech, he would use his Dynavox communication device. He would type in a sentence and the device would communicate for him. Even the simple task of picking up a paper proved to be very difficult for him. When he attempted this task, it would inevitably take him several tries before he picked it up successfully.

    Everything was a challenge for John Doe.

    At the start of the year when I met with his occupational therapist, physical therapist, and speech pathologist, I was informed that John was expending four times the amount of energy in every task he did as compared to a typical child. Thus, he would fatigue quickly during the school day. He was assigned a learning tutor at a very young age because of his severe physical impairments. The tutor would help with John’s daily tasks of getting out papers, scripting for him, carrying his book bag etc.

    John Doe did not suffer from cognitive issues, rather he understood concepts quickly and participated often.

    In fact, John Doe never missed a beat. There were times when he even would remind me that I had forgotten to collect an assignment or where his hand would be the first raised to answer a question. He would often advocate for himself by verbally expressing to myself or his tutor what he needed to be successful.

    John Doe loved school and would come every day with a smile on his face ready to learn. His determination to succeed and thrive was remarkable for a child so young who was confronting so many obstacles in his daily life.

    From what I observed, children loved him already. They talked with him, included him, and helped him when he needed it. I recall a time when he dropped a sweatshirt he was holding and a boy who happened to be sitting on the other side of the room saw this, got out of his seat, picked it up and gave it to him. There was also a time when he had water on his desk in a water bottle. John Doe’s tutor happened to be away from his desk at the time. Because of his inability to take the bottle in his hand due to lack of muscle control, a child in his cluster took the water bottle and placed the straw in John Doe’s mouth so he could drink. She held the bottle so John Doe’s could get his fill. If he dropped a paper, a student would pick it up for him. If students were sitting on the carpet for a story and he needed help getting up, his friends would help him. They adored him.

    From what I could tell, John Doe’s did not let his physical impairments hinder him in any way. He wanted to be just like everyone else.

    Getting back to the math lesson, students eagerly waited to be called on to come to the Smartboard.

    What I love about the Smartboard is that it is a tool in technology that is very motivating in itself. Children truly enjoy interacting with it and contributing their responses using this tool. One of those eager, patient hands was John Doe’s.

    With reservation, I called on John Doe to come to the board

    – “

    John Doe, come on up and answer the question

    .” He got out of his seat slowly, his tutor in close proximity on guard waiting in case he lost his footing and needed to be rescued from falling. He walked to the front of the room without his walker, his tutor close behind. His gait was awkward and with each shaky step, he looked as though the slightest misstep could lead him toppling. All eyes were on him. Students watched his every step. As John Doe walked, his hands would suddenly shoot out, his back would arch backward, some steps were short, some longer. It’s as if you could see his mind clicking through the steps of putting one foot in front of the other while simultaneously maintaining his balance. Each step was arduous. Some students needed to push chairs in so he would have the space he needed to walk. The class was silent. He made it up to the Smartboard after expending so much energy to get there. As I gave him the marker to the Smart board I thought to myself: “

    What have I just done? Did I set him up to fail? How on Earth is he going to write the answer on the ultra sensitive Smart board legibly? If he writes, the writing is going to go all over the place

    .” The questions running through my head sounded like an annoying fly buzzing in my ear. A sense of panic began to unfold inside of

    Immediately I suggested, “

    John, do you want Mr. Jennings, your tutor, to write for you?

    ” thinking that this would solve the problem. “

    No, I can do it,

    ” he said with confidence.

    I watched with bated breath as he grasped the marker and with painstaking care and effort, wrote the number “9” on the Smartboard.

    The “9” looked as if a kindergartner wrote it, but to my surprise, was legible. Immediately a sense of relief overcame me. I then asked him to say the answer he wrote aloud, thinking that if students were unsure of what he wrote they could hear what he said for further clarification. As soon as he said “9,” I smiled enthusiastically and said, “

    Yes, excellent job John Doe, you are right.

    At that very moment, my entire class spontaneously began clapping for him without any prompting from me. John Doe stood there facing his classmates and smiled the biggest smile as if to say “

    I did it!

    He was so proud; it was written all over his face. He stood there beaming for a few seconds. The clapping continued for an entire minute as he made his way back to his seat. I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t stop the tears. I wiped them away quickly so that students could not see my reaction. I met eyes with Mr. Jennings, John Doe’s tutor. We shared a moment of speechlessness.

    I was overcome by the compassion and kindness that each and every one of my students showed for their fellow classmate that day.

    They realized how difficult everything is for him to do. They marveled in his stamina and drive.

    Time stopped, the lesson didn’t matter so much anymore.

    I had been so concerned about the lesson, about the time element, about adhering to my schedule, about if John would be able to write on the board legibly or not — what transpired was a lesson like no other.

    What happened that day at that moment was something I will never, ever forget. This moment left an indelible mark on my heart. My students taught me something that day. They taught me the power of human compassion for their fellow human being.

    This moment changed me.

    Part of my credo as a teacher is to begin each year spending time with my whole class discussing the importance of respect. It’s my mantra; and it becomes the mantra of the class. We were only in week three of class, and while respect was an important issue we had discussed, the execution of their compassion and respect for John Doe came from their hearts. This was not learned in a lesson, or even in several class discussions, it was learned from their families and hopefully from their interaction with John Doe throughout their school years.

    Including John Doe in the classroom not only served John well, it served his peers well too.

    They learned to be compassionate, kind, and respectful young people through their interaction with this special little boy.

    So, that was my very favorite math class of all time.


Shari Smith

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