In a fourth-grade classroom, embrace of differences makes a powerful impact

I am a public school teacher at an elementary school, and our school recently welcomed parents, family members, and students to an open house. Typically, I expect to be the one to share with family members some of the exciting aspects of our school community and curriculum. On Thursday night, my experience was a little different.

I work with students with intellectual and neurological impairments. I teach students who develop differently and often approach life in a way that differs from their peers. I am fiercely protective of my loving students, particularly in social situations where they may be judged unkindly. But the truth is, my students change others’ lives for the better.

One of their typically developing peers, from a different fourth-grade classroom, visited my room toward the end of the night and asked, “Do you sometimes feel like people underestimate the potential of kids in your class?”

I responded, “Yes, I do. But then there are people like you who always see the best in others and include students like mine, and you’re the kind of person who makes a difference in the world. The world needs people like you.”


She said, “Well, I have someone in my family who learns in a different way and she looks different than other kids, but sometimes I think her heart is even bigger than regular people’s. Like maybe she’s the one with the super powers and the kids who judge her don’t know anything at all.”

The wisdom in that insightful, incredible child just blew me away. This child reaffirmed my belief that my students — our future — will be loved and taken care of by those who choose to embrace others’ differences and pave the way for positive change in our schools.

As she started to leave my classroom, I hugged her and said, “Girl, you’re moving mountains already.”

Meghan Walsh, West Roxbury