This past Monday, an article was published in our local newspaper in which I was quoted; a huge moment in my brief teaching career. The article was a narrative of a field trip we took in which we had one of my students, who is a paraplegic, backpacked into an underground cave. Being his teacher, I was heralded as a solution-maker prompting many friends and acquaintances to praise me and my efforts to include all students. While the praise is wonderful it was not completely justifiable, for the credit for this solution in inaccessibility was not mine.
That honor goes to Miss Anma, our fearless physical therapist who has worked with this child ever since he entered our school. It was her words in September when we first discussed this end of the year quintessential 4th grade field trip, “How about we backpack him in?” Up until then, the solution was to not go the cave and rather go somewhere else, thus disappointing a whole set of 4th graders. You see this field trip is epic and is the definition of finishing 4th grade. Students talk about it on the first day of school and write about it as their favorite field trip before they have even gone. We knew from the start that my student’s wheelchair would not be able to go into the cave and so we resigned ourselves that this year we would go somewhere else. Until Anma spoke up. “Yeah,” I said, “why not put him in a backpack?” laughing a little at the idea but nevertheless not standing in the way of it.
Permissions were granted, a carrier was found who was willing to carry this 90 pound boy around for an hour in a makeshift backpack, training was had for the ordeal. And the whole time, I just got out of the way. The field trip was a massive success cherished by all involved. Posters have been made in my district with pictures of the boy in the backpack and a title “Nothing is Impossible.” Hallmark would be proud. Accolades have been given, satisfied shoulder pats and misty eyes all around. And yet, the true teaching moment for me came when Anma hugged me and said, “Thank you so much for all of your support and help with this.” All I could answer back was but I didn’t help or support; I merely got out of the way so that you could do your job. And that was my biggest lesson; get out of the way so that others can get to work. Why make it harder for everyone else when they are there to help educate just as much as you are. So the praise for this adventure should not fall to me, but rather to a ingenious, compassionate physical therapist who dared to dream up a wonderful solution knowing that I would get out of her way.