Prior to teaching elementary music, I was a special education teacher. Because of that experience, preparing my students for our school’s Special Olympics assembly held an important place in my heart. The entire student body would be singing a song celebrating our Olympians, and I wanted to make sure they understood the significance. This was an opportunity for them to shine a spotlight on their amazing peers, peers who were often left out. We discussed how each of us was special and had something to offer no matter our differences. During one discussion a hand went up, “You mean, we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover!” Yes! As the conversation continued, I was suddenly overwhelmed by a memory of doing just that when I was teaching special education. I proceeded to share the following story:
One day a new student came to my class. He was non-verbal, had vision and hearing impairments, severe balance and mobility issues, and only had one arm. The first time I saw him, I cried. How could I possibly reach this child? Certainly I was not experienced enough. I felt helpless. And then one day a college student volunteer was playing with my other students on the playground. As we lined up to come inside, He began carefully lifting each child so they could touch the ceiling. Each waited their turn, laughing as they were raised high up in the air. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my new little friend hobbling toward the college student. He stopped in front of our visitor, and stretched his one little arm up as high as he could reach as if to say, “My turn, my turn!” Squeals of pure joy came as he had his turn to touch that otherwise unreachable goal. In that moment, this precious child was in the spotlight.
As I finished my story, the realization that I had judged this sweet little book by his cover brought unstoppable tears. My voice cracked as I finished sharing with my students, and I watched their expressions change from curiosity and confusion to understanding and compassion. My unplanned confession brought new clarity and purpose for our assembly song preparation. But more importantly it encouraged those familiar with being in the spotlight to look for opportunities to shine the spotlight on those not so familiar.