Finding one booth still empty, I claimed it immediately as the hotel serving area filled with hungry and equally excited Learning Center middle-schoolers. Our second day in New York City would include a day adventure in China Town. The "Big Apple" evening would eventually wind down with an early dinner followed by a Broadway play.
A young mother from our group made her way to my table and asked if she could join me. I always admired and appreciated parents who signed on for any of the school's major travel trips. After all, touring big cities with students familiar only with small, rural towns was an activity where we welcomed strong parent volunteers.
I sensed she had something on her mind. She spoke soon. "May I ask you a question?"
Although I wondered if something might be wrong, I replied calmly. "Well, of course."
No mincing with words, she got right to the point."Do you think I could be a teacher?"
My response was equally to the point. "Carrie, do you think you can be a teacher?" She did not hesitate. A strong YES caused me to realize just how serious this single mother of three, then manager at the local Goody's Department store was about doing whatever it would take to become the kind of teacher she went on to describe. I was moved deeply as she shared just how much time and energy she devoted to educating her youngest child diagnosed with Autism. Self-driven, this dedicated mother had decided that the long list of what all she had been told her son may never do was going to be turned into the shortest list she could possibly create. Her self-education towards a career in teaching had begun the moment she knew her son was battling a learning disability. On her own, not yet involved in any sort of formal education, she studied hard to discover learning styles to which her son would favorably respond. I could not help but be impressed.
I suspected she had the characteristics of someone who could become a teaching legend. Our school found a way to bring the talent of this hard-working, self-trained artist into our classrooms, providing her with a work schedule that turned her goal of continuing her formal education into a reality. She never looked back in the midst of juggling her own school work and giving herself fully to inspiring students through her artistic talent as she raised a family of three and never lost faith in her dedication to beating the challenges of Autism.
This strong woman now holds both K-6 Elementary and Exceptional Children certifications and teaches 4th grade at The Learning Center. Her approach to learning in all subjects is arts-rich, hands-on and dedicated to reaching a diverse population of learners. One daughter, inspired by her mother's quest to be a teacher, is now a double-certified, middle school teacher of math and science. When I asked the daughter how much her mother's love of teaching impacted her choice to become an educator, her reply came quickly. "95% inspired by my mom." The long list of what an autistic learner may never do has remained a short list indeed in the hands of this talented teacher.