At one time in my teaching career, I was assigned the classes of learning disabled students. Although teaching these young people was rewarding, it also had its drawbacks. Many days, I felt frustrated and at wit’s end. I tried every tactic and technique to teach them the most basic English skills, yet the results were often disheartening. Some days, I just wanted to walk away from it all, so futile my attempts at educating them seemed to be. Success became as elusive as leafy shadows on the woodland ground.
Then, something happened—not to my students, but to me—that made me see things in a different light. It happened one Sunday at Mass where I was privy to one of the most effective sermons ever preached. It was so effective that no words were even spoken; it was so unique that the priest had nothing to do with it. It was delivered, in fact, by a little Down’s syndrome girl who was seated in the pew in front of me. Love personified, she absolutely enthralled me as I watched her interact with her older brother. After carefully assessing his posture and his position, she stood up and rearranged his shoulders, making sure they were very straight and upright against the pew. Then she straightened his head so he was looking directly forward. Finally, she pushed him sideways so that he made contact with their father who was sitting next to the boy. Satisfied with the improvements, she patted his hair, kissed his cheek, and then plopped down squarely on his lap. The young boy, unperturbed, unembarrassed, returned her affection with a soft kiss to the top of her head. It was a sight to behold.
Within the space of a few minutes, that special child challenged me to reevaluate the way I measured “success.” Like my own students, she would probably never become a proficient reader or writer, yet the sermon she “spoke” that day was a masterpiece in its own right. The little girl taught me that all people, even those with intellectual limitations, have special gifts which only they can give, and it is in this unique giving that their success should be measured. She reminded me to be as open and appreciative of their gifts as her brother and father were of hers. Teaching the academically impaired did not get any easier after that day, but loving them and valuing them did, thanks to one of the best sermons I ever “heard.”