Teacher Tip: Their stories will always be with you

As I prepare to click the tiny red “x” in the upper corner of my screen, which will close this Word document and file Bryan’s story away alongside receipts and school records, until I need to read it again, I am wishing that I did not have to use a pseudonym for this retelling. I want readers to know Bryan’s real name and remember him by it, and I want the community – the world! – to be outraged, to call out Ms. “Long” not only by her real name, but also by what she represents – the wrong person to have such an incredible opportunity and responsibility.

I never received a response to my letter, and I know that “Bryan Long’s” adoption went through. The last time I saw Bryan, he was still not speaking although he retained the gestures and signs we taught him and learned a few new ones. He was much heavier and had little of the “jump” in his step that I remembered. His new teachers were fighting the same battles with dirty clothes, lack of involvement, and medical issues. I will never know if Nicola’s biological mother stayed clean, stayed away from abusive boyfriends, and was able to be the loving parent that Nicola deserved.

It hurts to realize that Bryan’s story has benefitted me in many ways, and that there is little chance of a positive outcome for him. I know that I was not the fully-trained, highly-skilled teacher Bryan deserved; I taught every day from my heart and picked up teaching skills through trail, error, and a lot of mentoring from other teachers and paraprofessionals. Yet, in spite of my naivety and inefficiencies, and because of Bryan’s story, my path as a special educator will always be driven by advocacy. I have served as a volunteer and board member for CASA, and I am the last person anyone wants to meet if they are mistreating a child with a disability. I have written countless emails against other instances of injustice, faced hot and cold weather to advocate for political change, and used social media to repeatedly inundate my friends and family with pleas for equality, fairness, and human rights. Rereading this letter assures me that Bryan’s spirit and story have become and always will be a part of my identity.

For the many ways that I have grown, I am also still Bryan’s inexperienced, struggling teacher. I no longer even know how to get in touch with him, whether the Longs moved back to the Northeast or whether he is still carrying Mrs. Long’s purse around the grocery store next to John Green Primary. I doubt that I will ever be able to make a difference for Bryan that can in any way repay the difference his story has made in my life. I only hope that other educators continue to fall in love with this brave young man, and that by working to champion the rights of all people with disabilities, perhaps some of my efforts will lead to improved quality of life for everyone, Bryan included.