Melissa Benedicto: When someone asks me, “What do you do for a living?” What I tell them is, “I’ve been spit at, kicked, pinched, slapped, you name it, I’ve endured it.” Anyone want to guess what I do? Yes, you’re right. I’m a Special Education Teacher.
I went into teaching because of my first teacher in life- my mother. My mom lectured all the time. She worked as teacher’s aide in a special education classroom that consisted of students more cognitively and physically severe. I would often visit and helped out in this setting. And it was here that I saw the compassion and care for each student. And it was in this setting that I decided this is what I want to do in my life.
I was 25 years old in my first teaching assignment. I had a student and we’ll call her “Megan”. When I saw the services provided for “Megan”, it included a behavior specialist, which any special ed teacher knows, means negative behavior. That a special ed teacher alone is not able to handle so the specialist was called in. Well to my surprise when I first met “Megan” she looked up at me and she said, “Hello, my name is Megan.” This little 6 year old looked and sounded as if she may have outgrown the need for a behavior specialist. So I bent down to smile back at “Megan” and to talk to her at eye level. And she takes this meaty part of her palm and it connects with the cheek on my face. I got slapped guys. I got slapped by a 6-year-old so hard, I almost get knocked off my feet! And this was literally my reaction. When she saw and heard me, she just started crying because she realized what she had done was wrong. And it was at that moment that I had to tell myself, “Melissa, don’t take it personally, this little girl had no control of her actions.”
Currently, I teach 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. Yes, MIDDLE SCHOOL. I teach junior high kids with learning disabilities. And the big difference between these two grade spans is, while I was physically hit by my babies in my first teaching assignment, my “big kids” as we call them, are VERY VOCAL. I’ve been called every name in the book in three languages, English, Spanish and sign language.
So I had a student in 8th grade. She had gotten into trouble because she was sending out emails to other students using inappropriate language. So we sat down, we talked about making better choices and how disappointed I was with her decision to send out these emails. She was miserable because 1 – my lectures are lengthy and not fun, and 2 – she couldn’t use her iPad. The next day, she came to school giving me attitude. At the end of the school day, when I came back to my classroom, to tackle those dirty cups of coffee in my sink that had accumulated throughout the whole week, I noticed something was different. My cups were all washed! I find out, this student who I had lectured at length just the other day, had washed all my dirty cups of coffee! She had done chores as if it was her own home without even being asked to do it! Let’s just say my disappointment in her really meant something and this was her way of making it up to me. It was at that moment I knew, this is where God wants me to be.
Since becoming a teacher, I’ve had 3 kids of my own, Rachel, Rey, and Ryann. And I’m not just a teacher, I now teach and nurture with these things. “Mom Goggles.” I play mom on a daily basis. Why do I do this? I have one secret that gets me through each day, each struggle, each challenge these kids have thrown my way, and that is prayer and understanding of God’s love in my life. When I became a mom for the first time it was traumatic. My Rachel was born not breathing. Her lungs had collapsed. And because she was so sick and fragile, we couldn’t take her home. My husband and I were at the neonatal ICU every minute of the visiting hours. We prayed everyday and thankfully, God showed His love by healing my baby girl. And because He showed his love through this miracle, I find a way to share that love in my classroom. I may have given birth to three amazing kids, but I’m a mom to dozens of students.
According to the Southern Education Foundation (SEF), 51 percent of all students attending our nation’s public schools come from low-income households. Yes 51 percent. It’s no wonder why they come to school not wanting to work. Who cares about math when they’re worried about your next meal. That’s why I’ve stockpiled my classroom with bags and bags of cereal. My classroom is open before school and during recess for any of my kids who wish to eat. It’s a time when their worries of home can fade away for just those few minutes.
I’ve been teaching now for over 10 years. And as one school year closes and a new one opens, I somehow find more room in my heart for more love for these kids. I don’t know how because let me tell you, there are days when it’s just too hard to get through. The only explanation I can think of is that there is someone up there filling up my cup, to keep going. I thank God that He has blessed me with colleagues and administrators that share the same love for teaching kids. I thank God because, there are many prayers I’ve said, many requests I’ve made and with each prayer answered, my cup is refilled. Which essentially is my fuel in life. Aside from being a school teacher, I’m also a choir member inside the Church Of Christ, my husband is a head deacon and yes, we live very busy lives, but a life centered around God. A life centered with meaning and purpose means an endless supply of inspiration, fuel, and more room in your heart to share that love we receive from God, but a responsibility to share it with others.
I know I would be a different teacher, if I didn’t have my faith. But there are little things that happen every day that not only put a smile on my face but just swell my heart with joy. So, as I was writing my script for tonight’s talk, I came down with the flu. I was out of my classroom for almost a full week because of this nasty virus. My kids made cards for me, and here is one of the cards, and it says, “Dear Mrs. Benedicto, I hope you feel better. Here is some advice you can take. Drink lots of liquid. Don’t get out of bed. Don’t go anywhere…” And my personal favorite, “…Tell Mr. Benedicto to make you food in bed. We all miss you, but please don’t come back so you don’t get any of us sick. Think about yourself. Love, Bryan.” I guess you can say, it’s that reciprocated love, coupled with my faith, that allows me to make more room in my heart. Thank you!
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