She was gifted artist of the likes I hadn't seen before in only grade four. With her golden head bent over her paper, she carefully created drawings that took my breath away with their intricate beauty. Her sweet smile, sunny disposition, and quick answers made her one of the most pleasant students to be around, except for one thing.
She couldn't read.
Over time, it was something that she had learned to hide. Some people may not have noticed, but I did; and she knew I could see through her attempt to hide it.
If assignments were given that required reading, her eyes, full of panic, would find mine.
"It's okay," I'd silently mouth to her. "We'll figure it out."
Her tense shoulders would relax just a little, and she'd smile back with uncertainty. I knew how she felt; she had confided to me at recess that she felt stupid, and school was just too hard. She hated it. At times she hated herself.
"Everyone thinks I'm so dumb," she cried. I had tried my best to wipe her tears, to share with her what a special, beautiful child I thought she was, but no matter what I said, it didn't soothe her battered spirit.
It's hard being a paraprofessional. I see all these amazing children; so full of promise and with such amazing talents, most of whom believe they aren't worth anything. They believe that just because they learn differently, they can't learn at all. Some have nobody in their corner fighting for them. Some don't even have breakfast or a coat to wear.
Sometimes the mountain seems so insurmountable that you feel like if you stop even for a second, the pain and despair will swallow you whole. There are so many children who are lost that you don't even know where to begin.
That afternoon during math I looked up to find that she was gone; and upon further investigation I found her curled up in the back of the cloakroom, weeping softly into her coat.
A boy had called her retarded when she couldn't read the word problems in her book, and this one act had been the final straw.
"I am so STUPID." she spat, tears rolling down her cheeks.
Ignoring all reason; we're not supposed to ever touch the kids, I gathered her in my arms and held her while she sobbed.
"You are amazing, don't you know? Remember that test you did so well on? How could you do that if you were stupid?"
"You helped me," she hiccuped softly.
"No," gently, I turned her to look in my eyes, which were also full of tears. "I taught you a different way to learn. It was your brain that did it. You knew the answers, I didn't give them to you. You CAN learn. You ARE smart. We just have to find a different way. There is so much more to life than school, sweetie. We'll figure it out together, okay? Please don't give up. You are far too amazing and beautiful to let this beat you. Believe it. Fight for it. "
Pushing a stray hair out of her face, she closed her eyes and sighed.
"I don't know if I can do it."
Grabbing her hand, I gave it a gentle squeeze.
"That's okay. You take a rest for now. I know that sometimes it's hard to believe, and that's okay. Until you can though, I'm going to believe it for you. "
Sometimes, you just have to save one at a time.