Tuesday, August 9, 2011


- By Barbara Davis -

As students are getting ready to head back to school, I am reminded of a quote I recently read from musician James Durbin. He said, “A teacher once told me I’d never amount to anything.” As a person with multiple disabilities and the mother of two sons with autism, reading that quote made me sad because it brought back a lot of memories of similar teachers for both my sons and me. Fortunately for all of us, we also had some pretty amazing teachers who made a real difference in our lives.

James has Asperger’s Syndrome – a high functioning form of autism – and Tourette’s, which causes facial twitching and other symptoms. Despite this teacher’s remark, he went on to perform in a local theater group, in local rock bands, and ultimately, to audition for American Idol and make it all the way to the top four. He also has a fiancée and a two-year-old son. I’d say he definitely amounted to something.

A teacher’s job is not only to educate, but to guide, mentor, inform and encourage. A good teacher strives to equip a student with the means to reach his or her fullest potential; she (or he) does not tear a student down and put up barriers to success. Thankfully, many students like James go on to use these hurtful words as a challenge, and they are able to accomplish wonderful things in their lives.

Other students, unfortunately, may automatically internalize those hurtful words, especially if heard from more than one teacher. Students with disabilities and other “differences” are vulnerable to being bullied from their peers. This is outrageous enough, but they certainly shouldn’t be bullied by the teachers who are supposed to be guiding and encouraging them.

A teacher often has a lasting impact – positive or negative - on his/her students. Fortunately, good ones outnumber the bad in my experience. If you are a teacher, or are aspiring to be one, I hope you will do whatever you reasonably can to enable your students to reach their fullest potential. If you are a student who has a teacher who belittles and discourages you, I hope you will not let your teacher’s hurtful words keep you from reaching your fullest potential. When you refuse to allow others to discourage you, you become the best person you are capable of being. You also show the teacher and the rest of the world that disabled doesn’t mean unable.

Photo Courtesy of Keith Hosey. All rights reserved.

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