A Teacher’s Perspective on Wonder

Last night, my family went to see the movie Wonder. I hoped my two, young sons would watch the movie and leave with a renewed understanding of what it means to be kind, but I wasn’t prepared for the lesson it had for me.

It is November. The season of darkness and paperwork. By November, teachers are run down. The September honeymoon has worn off, and students, co-workers, administrators and parents are all showing their true colors.

Feeling constantly behind and exhausted, we are trying to remember why we ever wanted to do this job in the first place. We feel defeated and discouraged. We know it is far too early in the year to feel this overwhelmed, and we wonder if we even have what it takes.

Wonder is the story of Auggie Pullman, a 5th grade boy with Treacher Collins Syndrome, a condition that can cause extreme facial difference. Auggie’s disability is obvious. It is a constant reminder of the struggles he faces.

I don’t work with children who have physical disabilities. I teach students who look just like everyone else. Some have hidden disabilities in their learning or emotions, others are highly intelligent.

My students’ appearance reveals nothing of their inner challenges, and without that physical reminder, sometimes I forget.

I forget that some of my students go home alone with no one to ask them about their day. I forget that some of my students put themselves to bed at night, or wake themselves up on a cold November morning.

I forget no one helps them pick out their clothes or makes sure they are clean. No one reminds them to brush their teeth or wear a jacket. I forget they only eat at school.

I forget that some parents work all night. When I’m frustrated my calls aren’t returned or my meetings aren’t attended, I forget how many parents are just trying to get by. Working multiple jobs or buried so deep in their own issues and dysfunctions, I forget some parents just are thankful their child is safe at school.

Other parents care too much. They can’t imagine anyone else doing their job. I forget that every day I am in a room filled with others' most precious possessions.

I forget how hard school is. I forget how much it hurts to lose a friend and the deep stomach crushing pain of watching friends choose others over you. I forget the debilitating self-consciousness and fear of not fitting in. I forget how hard it is to concentrate on the teacher, when your mind is consumed with worry.

I forget that students, co-workers and administrators who may look “normal” might have secrets we know nothing about. Even the happiest appearing families have struggles and secrets. Some students smile just to hide their pain.

This season, while I’m drowning in paperwork, lesson plans, progress reports and reports cards, I forgot that each student is a wonder.

I am surrounded by wonders. Even my toughest students have a story and a life that brought them to me.

We have the opportunity to remind every student they are a wonder. We can help them see their life beyond their current assignment, beyond their current grade and beyond their current struggle. We can remind them that friends will come and go. We can show them what it’s like to see others as wonders.

In order to do this, we have to give ourselves a break. We have to remember that we too, are wonders. Wonder doesn’t leave anyone out.

I’m grateful for the reminder of Wonder. Our jobs are tough. Our work is endless and consuming. It’s hard to experience wonder when we feel like we are drowning, but maybe that’s the point.

Wonder isn’t a feeling, it’s a choice.

Choose wonder.

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15 thoughts on “A Teacher’s Perspective on Wonder

    1. All children are indeed wonders! Thank you for inspiring me to remind others of the importance of being impressed with every student. May we become advocates for kindness every step of the way

  1. A colleague who was reading the book Wonder with us, but was a little behind, asked me, “Why does Justin get a chapter?”

    I told him that Justin’s chapter hit me like a ton of bricks, and really put the story in perspective for me, especially given the precept, “be kinder than necessary” because you never know what someone is facing. Miranda (?) said the universe had been unkind to Auggie. Justin gave a new perspective in that chapter, similar to your thoughts. Auggie has EVERYTHING but a normal face, while others have a normal face but NOTHING else.

    I am not a special ed teacher, but I do have special needs kids in my class. I’m taking the class to the movies on Tuesday, and my student from Mexico told me she’s never been to a movie theater; others couldn’t afford it if we had not had it donated to us; many will go home to unloving parents and feel like Justin.

    Thank you for the article! You nailed it. We are All Wonders!

  2. As a special needs parent of a kid who looks completely normal on the outside but struggles with autism and socializing and speech difficulties I love this post!

  3. I would appreciate an edit to some of the language in this post. I have a facial difference and have for 19 years.

    First and foremost: many of us with a facial difference do not identify as “disabled”, however, you applied that label to (fictional) Auggie who was written with a very real condition. That is not right.

    Secondly, please monitor your use of the term “facial deformity”. The acceptable term is “facial difference”.

    Finally, a reminder to anyone reading: The author of the book “Wonder” has ZERO connection to the facial differences community. The book and film have been very controversial among us and many of us are not happy about the way all of this has been handled. I won’t tell anyone not to see it or not to read the book, but please take it with a grain of salt. If you want to learn about us and what you can do, please reach out to a facial differences organization and talk to people who actually HAVE a facial difference.

    RJ Palacio is not your source for information on what we go through.

    Thank you.

  4. “Some have hidden disabilities in their learning or emotions, others are highly intelligent.” Sentences like these perpetuate societal judgements that those with learning or emotional disabilities are not highly intelligent. I’m sure you had the best of intentions when writing this, but it is something to be more aware of.

  5. I’m a teacher who works with children with developmental disabilities, many of whom also have physical indicators of those conditions. I really appreciate this post, and I’d love to share it with my colleagues, but I also kindly suggest changing the words “facial deformity” to “facial difference”, which is considered less-stigmatizing language by the community and their advocates. Thanks for the thoughtful post!

  6. I just finished reading this blog and it really inspired me.It helped me remember one of the main reasons I became a teacher. (a Special Education teacher specifically). Helping people. It is something that I feel is the most important aspect of life. The fact that there are children in my classroom who go through those daily battles of when their next meal will be, what will be going on at “home” when they get there or even where home will be drives me to want to be the best for them.
    I feel that as a teacher it is crucial that we step back and self-reflect as OFTEN as possible. Not just once a week in a meeting with your manager, but on the spot self-reflection of how we respond to situations. Now I know that emotions are hard to control and genuine reactions to things are going to happen. But, taking a moment to discuss a situation with a colleague or friend shortly after can be so beneficial. Sometimes we are so enthralled with what the overall goal is, that we lose focus of the individuality of each of our students. We forget that “Little Johnny” is from a low income single parent home that cannot afford food every night. We forget that we too get “hangry” when we haven’t had enough to eat. Food isn’t the only problem either. Imagine not showering for a week because your water is shut off and you cannot afford to get it turned back on. Or being forced to eat dollar menu cheeseburgers for your meal (I know that may sound good but cmon) I commend my scholars for being able to put a smile on and get to school under circumstances that would make some adults squirm. We need to be committed to understanding the whole child. Goals, data, lesson planning, assessments, etc. are great and they push the overall mission but how can we expect our students to be motivated to learn if we do not approach them with the open mindedness that school and this very moment aren’t their biggest concern today. Building a relationship with these students and helping them see the biggest picture, that their world can change through education, is something that I NEED to do as a teacher. The answer to HOW that is done is never going to be answered with one recipe or step by step guide. It is, and always will be, based on the individual child. Humans are different but they truly are awesome in their own special way. Build the relationship to figure out why they are awesome and go from there.

    -PF

  7. Thanks for a beautiful response, I enjoyed the movie as well as your heartfelt post! Just some gentle feed back to please avoid using the term disabled. It is only Auggie’s appearance that sets him apart, and not his abilities. In fact, we could probably call him hyper-able! Thanks for posting!

  8. I am visiting your blog via An Encode Journey and this post left a lump in my throat and welly eyes.

    You sound like one of those truly amazing souls in the teaching profession.
    Yes – everyone has a story and not all scars are visible.

  9. The following line in your post is deeply disturbing: “Some have hidden disabilities in their learning or emotions, others are highly intelligent.” While it may not be your intent, it comes across as though children with special needs can’t be highly intelligent. As the mom of a kid who is highly intelligent AND who has multiple physical and learning disabilities, I ask that you please consider editing this post, and/or being more careful in your choice of words in the future. Kids with special needs already have to deal with enough stigma, they don’t need to have it reinforced by their teachers…

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