Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Hey. This is Ryan. This school year is turning out to be an unusual one. We've never had so many kids absent and then to return to school looking like zombies. But today was one of those days that reminded me why I teach.

I have a student in my speech class who has Down Syndrome. His name is Jeremy. Jeremy is about 5'3" with a shock of blonde hair. He wears glasses and has the typical features of a kid with Down's, but his personality is what sets him apart from the rest of his classmates - he is the funniest kid you'll ever meet.

I met with Jeremy and his parents before school even started in order to get a read at how functioning he is. In speech class, I'm pretty rigorous and the course can be pretty intense. Jeremy is very high-functioning. It is because his mother has never treated him any different from the other kids. Simply put, Jeremy is held to the same standards and expectations of kids without Down's. For instance, when he was a baby, the doctors said he would never walk. "Bull," his mother said in their faces. "He'll walk just like anyone else."

And when his Primary leaders would carry him or help him through the halls at church, his mother would kindly tell them to put her son down. He would walk on his own, thank you very much. So he did. With the help of the walls, but he did it himself without any mollycoddling.

That's why Jeremy is so good at everything he does. From the first day of class, Jeremy decided to tease "Mees-toe Hansen." (It was "Bruthuh Hansen" for about two weeks when he learned I was Young Men President in his old ward.) Every day I walk into the classroom, there is some funny thing Jeremy has set up to surprise me with. When I sat down the first day, he was hiding under my desk to scare me. I pretended to be scared when I sat down and he couldn't stop giggling. One day, he decided to try to hold the door shut while I came in. I pulled the door open so hard, he came flying out into the hall - again, laughing hysterically. The other day, I was running behind so I hurriedly pulled open the door and ran into the classroom. Only Jeremy had put my podium in the middle of the doorway and I ran into it with a loud, "Ooooph!" Laughter. He's come up to stand next to me during my lecture, link arms in mine and announce, "Me and Mees-toe Hansen are getting MARRRRIEEED!"

All this entertains the rest of the 25 students. He has a hard time concentrating, to say the least. We've been working on taking notes and appropriate social talking. (When discussing nonverbal communication and social distances, I mentioned that in some countries, men walk hand-in-hand and it's not considered gay. "Awesome!" he said to raucous laughter from the rest of the kids - and myself. I had to turn to the board to hide my giggling.)

He had a "D" in my class. This upset him to no end. Jeremy has not talked to me since Monday. And today was his first speech. We decided to work on organization and reading his speech instead of talking from notecards like the rest of the kids. All hour, he kept asking me if he were next. To distract him, I finally came up with the plan of putting him in charge of my big blue timer. His job was to time all the kids' speeches and to tell them to go. Of course, Jeremy started them by yelling, "On yo mahk, get seeeeetttt, GO!"

It was finally his turn. The class fell silent as he approached the podium. He was visibly nervous, but put his paper down and looked at the class. He then read his speech about "Webkinz," a type of stuffed animal that comes with a code to play games online. He collects them and brought his pet snake with him to show off. He powered through the speech, stumbling once or twice, but always looking up. When he finished, I couldn't have been prouder. The entire class erupted in applause. One "stoner" kid got to his feet and started whistling. Pretty soon, the entire class was giving Jeremy a standing ovation. I felt like crying and rushing to swoop him into a gigantic bear hug. (I didn't, because when I pat him on the back or put my arm around him, he loudly announces, "He touched me! Mees-toe Hansen touched me!" I have to shush him and turn beet red.)

Jeremy looked at his classmates and raised his clasped hands in triumph and said, "Thank you! Thank you!" Then Jeremy took a bow. We all laughed and every kid got up to shake his hand or pat him on the back. It truly made my day and reminded me why I got into teaching in the first place - to witness firsthand greatness from teenagers. Our youth are capable of so much and their love for their classmate showed that today. No one could stop talking about Jeremy's triumph today. I wish I would have video taped it.

Take it from me, dear readers. We can accomplish great things, if only we had the innocence and attitude of Jeremy.


Anonymous said...

Ohhhh, I soooo needed to read that today!


Jenn Walker said...

That is so awesome! Dale had a similar experience last year--not as humorous, but the bottom line is the same. It is just amazing what teenagers will do if they are given the chance!

Brenda said...

Loved the story, thanks! It brought tears to my eyes :)

Scrappycook said...

The world needs more teachers like you. Wonderful story.

sunnie said...

This story made me cry.

Sandi said...

That is an awesome, inspiring story. Thanks for sharing.

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