This week, I had an unforgettable opportunity to observe a dedicated and extremely compassionate educator working with a severely challenged student. My best guess is that the young man was 5 or 6, and he began the teaching session by claiming that he couldn’t read sentences.

Twenty minutes later, the boy proudly read, “The ant is fat.” The mask on his face prevented me from seeing him smile. But his posture and sparkling eyes transmitted the exuberance he felt at his accomplishment.

Because I never had any learning disabilities and neither did my children, I had no personal sessions with special education. But what I observed taught me volumes about what’s important to that discipline and students with special needs. It consisted of two words – kindness and patience.

This teacher was long on both qualities and I suspect that because he was, the boy didn’t get frustrated or impatient. Letter by letter, word by word, the teacher kept approving and complimenting the little boy until he succeeded.

The brief session was a lesson to all of us. Maybe I need to keep plodding when I encounter difficulties with any of my devices. And drivers prone to rage on the road when there is heavy traffic need to think more about taking a breath before weaving and screaming. We all have situations where the art of focus can be immeasurably useful.

As I found out later, “The ant is fat” was the first sentence that this first grader ever read. When the teacher applied his wisdom to emphasize that this was the beginning of the rest of his life, I couldn’t help but celebrate with both of them. Clearly, this was a student who would have challenges, victories, and celebrations for a very long time. I feel privileged to have been able to witness one of them. Shalom.

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