Wednesday, December 14, 2022

To the Teachers

 This is written to my 2nd and 4th grade teachers but really this could be applied to any teacher who has had a profound effect on any student autism spectrum or not...

Dear Mrs. Jendra and Mrs. Colvin,

As another school year comes to the halfway point, I, as I do every time this year now, think about the two of you. What you did for me was nothing short of extraordinary and here's the thing; you have no idea and probably never will.

Mrs. Jendra, you opened the door that got me out of only thinking about auto racing by using auto racing as a means to springboard into other topics. Your one question of, "Aaron, where is Silverstone?" got me to wonder about all the places Formula 1 visits each year which spawned my love of the world. While this may not seem like much to some, for me this opened my eyes that the world was greater than racing stats, or the barriers that enclose a race track because, prior to that question, that's all my world was. Did you mean to have this profound impact on me? Thinking back I think you did. Over the course of the school year you listened to my endless conversations about racing but then engaged me in math, and science. You really challenged me when I was bored and changed the way information was presented when I was struggling. It's amazing, really, that you did everything right despite the fact that Asperger's was still two years from officially being classified as a diagnosis. You had patience, and in the end you opened my eyes to a world of endless opportunities.

Mrs. Colvin, you too played an important part in my development. As with Mrs. Jendra you took an interest (or at least faked the interest) to what I had to say. Maybe it was that you noticed I didn't speak to too many of my peers, or maybe you really were interested, but whatever it may have been I gained confidence in speaking when you would ask me about a race, or the weather. Of all my teachers it was you who constantly said, "Aaron, are you sure you want to be a race car driver? I ask because you could be so much more like a meteorologist, or a doctor, or a lawyer." I laughed it off because a race car driver is the only thing I wanted to be and yet you saw the potential in me that I wouldn't realize until 2009! You also challenged me and kept me interested in what was being taught. Maybe it was that you used so many real world topics and examples to keep me interested, but whatever it was I was never bored in your classroom.

The truly life changing thing both of you did was something that I now close my presentations with. School was a challenge for me be it the length of time or the endless social interactions, and maybe you noticed the the challenges I had socializing, but both of you changed my life. If you remember, I loved academic games whether it was the flash cards or states and capitols (my favorite) but there was a problem in that, the game we would play where two kids would go head-to-head and whoever got it right would proceed to the next desk, well, the problem was no one else got to play. It wasn't that I was smarter than everyone else, it's just that both of those topics are my special interest (I now call it "Kansas") and I have extremely quick reflexes. In other grades I would not be allowed to play the game and would be given busy work to do. This busy work wasn't graded but I had to do it. This angered me but both of you thought outside the box and instead of banishing me you gave me the honor to host the game. Maybe you just wanted a break, but I think it was more and certainly more is what turned out.

I'm now a public speaker and have met many, many teachers like the two of you and each time I do I almost want to cry when they realize that a student in the distant past had Asperger's because here's the cruelest thing; you may never know what type of impact you had. So often people on the autism spectrum and their families get caught up in trying to fix everything right this second, but often times it is like planting seeds and you've got to give them time to grow. The two of you planted the seeds of public speaking and it took two decades to sprout, but here I am with over 500 presentations given and almost 50,000 people spoken to. This wouldn't have been possible without your planting of the seeds and when I see teachers that have the devotion, dedication, and compassion you did my heart is filled with such a high level of hope and joy.

I realize I must have been frustrating to work with at times and I often would question the reasoning or logic of your decisions, and I would be the first one to mention if we were one minute late for a subject transition, but you never once got angry with me. You both had patience beyond anyone else and this made me feel comfortable to learn in your classrooms. 

How do I close a letter like this? How do I say "thank you" in a way that is fitting to the two people that planted the seeds to give me the skills to become who I am? As I said, it is just cruel that you may never know, and since it's been so long and I can't find you on Facebook I don't even know if both of you are still alive. But maybe this cruel fact is what being a teacher is. It's like being a farmer with the possibility of never seeing the harvest. The only way I can show my thanks is to keep moving forward and to keep using my ability of public speaking to spread awareness and understanding and to present to teachers and let them know what you did for me because, somehow, both of you saw my potential. It's amazing what you did and I'm sad that you may never know what I've become because of you, but maybe that's the essence of being a teacher so all I can say, wherever you may be, is, "thank you."

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