As I scrolled through my Twitter feed the other day, I came across a tweet mentioning the campaign to end the derogatory use of the R-word. This tweet triggered my own memories and thoughts about my experiences working with students who have intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Throughout high school I had the privilege of working as a teacher’s assistant in Mrs. Baker’s multi-needs classroom, Room 507. As a highlight of my high school experience, I looked forward to this class period every day.
In class, there were a range of abilities. I worked with students who had Downs Syndrome, Autism, those who were confined to a wheel chair, and those who were non-verbal.
On most days, this classroom taught me more than my core curricular classes. To me, the derogatory use of the R-word is a completely invalid portrayal of the students I encountered.
The students of Room 507 taught me some of life’s greatest lessons – and led me to believe that everyone you meet has something valuable to teach you.
1. Love fully and blindly
When I entered Room 507 everyday, I was greeted warmly with hugs and smiles. Always. On one of my particularly worst high school days, I missed class and went home to cry in the comfort of my home. The next day, as I walked into Room 507, the love of my classmates filled my soul. Their smiles were enough to make me smile, but their love did not end there.
One of my classmates came up to me, hugged me, and then told me that the class had a surprise for me. She then presented me with a poster that read “We love Kendall” in big bold letters in the center, surrounded by all of the reasons why, written by each of my classmates. It was an incredible gift. The reasons that lined the poster were not because of my hair, or my clothes, but because of the person I embodied and the love that we shared as friends. After two years, the poster still hangs framed in my room at home where I can wake up and see their beautiful reminder of love.
When I stepped into this class each day, my bad hair day did not matter, nor did the grade on my test from the previous class. I mattered as a person. They loved me fully.
2. We are all more alike than we are different
In addition, Room 507 taught me about the other teacher’s assistants I worked with in the class. The other helpers were never from my quintessential “group” of friends. In fact, most of them were very different from me.
During the class period however, the students we worked with taught us our similarities. They showed us that we loved the same, laughed the same and desired the same things. The students loved us fully; there were no barriers to their love and in turn, we loved each other fully and formed a group of unlikely friends.
3. Life should be full of laughter
Laughter is what life is all about. The students I worked with experienced the most profound moments of sheer joy. They were excitable characters, eager to laugh at each given opportunity.
Sometimes the circumstances, situations, reasons or actions that triggered their laughter were perplexing to me. I think they lived so very much in the moment, that they recognized the full humor in life that I failed to notice. They reminded me to slow down and take time to find the joy in small silly things.
4. Every day marks a new opportunity to live your best life
Not every day in Mrs. Baker’s class was peachy and bright. There were days of anger and frustration, of sadness and pain. However, my classmates taught me that each day is new, and with each new day comes a new opportunity to live better, to try harder, to forgive, to say you’re sorry, and to move on.
They taught me that the simplest things could change the course of friendships, that hugging out our arguments is always best and an “I’m sorry” is a great place to start. Mistakes occurred frequently in Mrs. Baker’s class, but with each new day, we moved on as a class and I think that this was extremely significant. Hiccups should be hiccups, not hang-ups.
Today, these lessons are still with me in my daily life. I believe that my experience in Mrs. Baker’s classroom demonstrated the importance of greeting everyone, from the businessman in line at the coffee shop to the security guard at the desk of my dorm, with a warm loving smile, just like those of the students.
As I go through life, I seek to ensure that no one passes by me unnoticed. I believe that if we open ourselves up to others, they in turn, open themselves as well and share their life with you.
My time spent in Room 507 was invaluable to me as a person. It provided support to my belief that we all have something to teach the world and a desire to share our truths with each other.
I feel blessed to have witnessed theirs.
Join the conversation: Have you ever had a Room 507 experience? When was a time that you learned lessons from an unexpected place? What did that experience teach you?