I never wanted to be a teacher – at least not until I became one. The Asian immigrant parent’s dream is for their child to become a doctor or a lawyer, or if that fails, an engineer or perhaps a classical musician. I avoided practicing piano like the plague, I was awful at math (hey, I break stereotypes, okay?), I didn’t yet have Bob Odenkirk’s Better Call Saul character as a legal profession role model, and I barely (BARELY) finished my Bachelor of Science degree in physiology. An Asian immigrant parent’s dream child I was not.
Somehow, my dad convinced me to apply to teacher’s college and here I am, fifteen years later, still plying my trade as an educator. I’m lucky to have the job, but it’s hard not to feel like a fraud sometimes when I hear how some of my colleagues always dreamed of becoming a teacher. Don’t get me wrong – I think I’m pretty good at what I do, and I make it fun for myself (and, yes, my students), but some days I wonder how much of what I teach them will really stick in their minds as they move through the educational system.
We’ve been reading Wonder together over the past few weeks, and my class can’t get enough. They beg me to spend more time on the book. If they had it their way, we would do nothing but read Wonder. It’s a fantastic book, but it’s also an emotional slog for me to get through the chapters and to discuss and analyze with them. Some chapters hit too close to home.
After one earlier chapter, during which the protagonist’s sister talks about Auggie’s craniofacial difference, I had to pause to catch my breath. I saw one girl lean towards another and whisper, “I think he’s going to cry.” I didn’t cry, but I was definitely steeling myself to tell the class about my personal connection to the book and what it meant to me to read about Auggie’s fictional-yet-all-too-real struggles.
The class was stunned. And then stories about their own experiences with being different or knowing people who were different poured out of them. At the age of eight or nine, they’re still quite innocent, and the empathy and compassion in their eyes was so real. It was all I could do to hold myself back from embracing all of them and thanking them for being my students.
Last week, Marshall paid them a visit. Even before they knew his condition, they wanted to meet my children, probably just to confirm that I am, in fact, human, and not a sixty year-old ex-supermodel like I tell them I am (part of that is true). Since explaining Marshall’s Apert syndrome in broad terms to them, they’ve been feverish in begging for a visit. And so, twenty years younger than I became a teacher, Marshall stepped (or was carried) into a classroom for the first time in the role of an educator.
A lot about this visit has terrified me. My coworkers still either don’t know about Marshy or haven’t let on that they’ve found out. I still don’t know if I can handle talking about Marshy, other than to say that I love his sweaty cuddles and the way he calls to me with his single-toothed smile. Bridget thinks I’m too paranoid and that no one will even notice if she passes them in the hallway.
I’m also terrified of showing this much of my private life to my class. It feels like I’m crossing a personal boundary that I’ve kept in place all my career. If ever there was a good time to make an exception, though, Wonder and Marshy are a pretty good reason. Sometimes I hope that maybe meeting Marshall as a baby will spare him a small bit of hardship at school in the future. A quick little calculation tells me that maybe one of my current students will be one of Marshall’s high school teachers. Who knows?
Seriously, though, knowing how amazing my students are, this is as safe a place as any for me to share the joy I get from Marshall with other people, and start to let go of the fears I have of letting him out of my protective bubble. I can’t hide him, I don’t want to hide him, and it’s time I start to show the world how beautiful my boy is.
My class made me feel so proud of the young men and women that they are becoming. I had to hold my emotions in check constantly because I didn’t want my personal struggles to colour their reactions to meeting Marshall. They sincerely gushed over how cute he is, and exploded in joy when Marshy said, “Dada” a few times. It looked like Marshall knew he was getting a lot of attention, because he would turn his head to the side and slowly glance at them with a big smile on his single-toothed face. Yet the whole time, for some stupid reason, I was worried about others teachers walking in and my big “secret” being revealed to my co-workers (I’m at a new school this year). Bridget couldn’t care less, and walked down the hall with Marshy, stopping to talk to a teacher down the hall. I don’t know why I am still scared to talk about him at school.
It’s not shame. Honestly, it’s not. I think I’m still trying to envelope him in my cocoon in an attempt to protect him for as long as I can from stares. His visit to my class, though, has given me so much hope. There are at least twenty children who are going to grow up with an understanding of and empathy towards facial differences, and that makes my anxiety feel a little less scary.
I got a few notes in student agendas from parents thanking me for introducing my little boy to the class. The notes were full of genuine emotion, and though those parents may never find this blog, I thank them for their messages. Little by little, Marshall and my students are teaching me so much about humanity.