As educators, we must be committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure that every child succeeds. While this certainly means that we will provide extra time and supports to help our students learn, we are only attending to half of the job entrusted to us as Catholic school educators if we simply focus on meeting the academic needs of the children entrusted to our care. We must also seek to cultivate a sense of awe and wonder in the Creator among the children we serve.
To pursue this with passion, we must first open the door. It is one thing to provide for the needs of the children that we know can succeed in our school. If we are excluding students based on presumed limitations, are we not also ignoring Jesus on the other side of our doors?
Saint André Bessette offers us an extraordinary example of an individual who not only persisted despite his own academic limitations and sickness, but provided an example of how we might cultivate this awe and wonder in God among our students with diverse needs. Saint André lived a life that, even while it constantly hung by a thread, was marked, almost absurdly, by absolutely prodigious accomplishments. Saint André was so sickly when he was born that his parents had him baptized immediately, fearing he would not survive the night. Orphaned at 12, unable to read, physically under-developed, and constantly ill, he felt called by God to the priesthood. With persistence he was eventually accepted in the Congregation of the Holy Cross. In spite of Saint André’s assignment to be “just” a doorman, he was truly doing holy work. He believed that Jesus might be on the other side of the door every time he opened it, allowing countless miracles to take place.
If we are to follow Saint André’s example, we must recognize that every student is a gift. Every chance to help him or her grow is an opportunity to change a life. Every response to the call for inclusion is validation for answering the knock on the door. We are the Gospel on the ground, bringing hope with each intervention we try, each collaborative discussion, and each accommodation to ensure student success. Not only do we include all those whom we are called to serve, but in doing so we ensure that God is known through our words and our actions.
The next time you are considering an application from a new student, try to imagine Jesus’ name at the top, especially on those applications that indicate a life lived on the margins. Envision Mary tenderly signing on the final dotted line with an unsteady hand. Picture Joseph prayerfully organizing all of the necessary documentation for his child, even as the fear of rejection wells up inside of him. When we see all students through this lens, we embrace Christ’s call to serve justly and inclusively and bring hope to our school communities.
Are you an educator who is passionate about opening doors for all students, regardless of their learning differences? Visit the Program for Inclusive Education at ace.nd.edu/inclusion and apply to become a member of our first cohort of Inclusive Educators.