On Wednesdays and Fridays I teach fourth graders. Since the beginning of school a boy named Thomas would meet me at the classroom door. Thomas takes my hand and escorts me to the next class. His class.
Thomas is always excitable, curious, helpful, and friendly. Every time I see Thomas he has a huge grin stretching across his face. Thomas has become a welcome touchstone for Wednesday afternoons.
Except this week.
He wasn’t there to greet me at the door. He wasn’t there to help me between periods. He wasn’t at his desk. His books weren’t out. His name card wasn’t displayed.
Pointing at the empty desk I asked, “Where’s Thomas?”
The Chinese teacher looked up from her cellphone, “He had an accident. He broke his leg.” She explained another boy in class played “a trick” on Thomas by tripping him.
Almost a year ago — to the day — I broke my hand acting. I empathize with Thomas. If you’ve ever broken a bone you know the shit he’ll have to put up with for the next two months.
You should also know that Thomas isn’t like the other kids. He falls somewhere on the autism spectrum. It takes him twice as long to understand a concept and he’s usually a few minutes behind class discussions. And Thomas has a spirit as big as the Rock of Gibraltar. He always tries and gives his best. He always participates. He’s always happy.
Yet I sense the other students are embarrassed to have this boy in their class. The students roll their eyes at his answers. They tolerate him. He’s beneath them because he’s not like them.
Their reactions break my heart. I felt angry and sad thinking of all the times the kids have been mean to him. For all the times Thomas tried and other people laughed in his face. For all the times Thomas felt alone without a friend in class. For all the time he’ll be spending without social interaction and wondering what his classmates are doing and if he’s missed or thought of…
Fuck the lesson!
Today everyone’s making cards to send to Thomas!
The Chinese teacher left to get some construction paper and came back with two 12″ x 18″ sheets. “Which one do you want? Red. Orange.”
“Both.” I sent another student to get reinforcements of green and blue.
We learned ‘we miss you,’ ‘get well soon,’ ‘feel better,’ ‘best wishes,’ and so on. And every student decorated their own card creatively. I made a card too!
Yesterday the Chinese teachers went to Thomas’ home to give a lesson and brought all of the cards. I wish I could’ve seen his reaction!
The world needs more people like Thomas. We’d all be better off if we took a note from his book.