The part that is true

The Part That is True There's a Book for That via Carrie Gelson

I know a boy named Harry.

He may be in my class this year. It might have been last. It may have been ten years ago. For the purposes of this post, I will write about him as if he is a current student. He might be.

He may be a real boy or part of many boys.

Every detail may be exact. Some might be blurred.

This is not the truth that matters here. 

You just need to know this. This child is amazing.

The truth is that there are boys named Harry. You might know one.

The truth is many people miss what is amazing about Harry because they are so worried about the box he doesn’t fit in.

The truth is that Harry brings out ugliness in adults that I never anticipated. I know it mostly stems from fear. But it is ugliness just the same.

The truth is that some people are so worried about why Harry won’t fit in their classrooms or programs, that they have no space to think about how they could help create an environment that might fit him.

The truth is that my life is enriched from having been Harry’s teacher.

The truth is that I feel protective about my Harry and other children like Harry out there.

The part that is true is that as educators we need to look first at ourselves before we welcome students into our classrooms. Each child has the potential to teach us much more than we might teach that child. But it starts with who we are and what we are open to.

In the classroom, my Harry is not always doing what others are doing. Sometimes he is. He is always engaged in something. It is just not always with the lesson at hand. Although, sometimes it is. Some days, it often is. Other days, not so much.  I’m okay with that. Generally, he is following along with what we are talking about – listening with at least one ear. He does many of the activities that we do. Some he doesn’t. As his teacher, I know where he is at. I see growth. I can measure progress.

My Harry loves to read. He makes paper airplanes. He would like to launch rockets. He fashions them out of paper and masking tape and various other things. When lessons happen at the carpet, he is at his desk. Reading. List making. Searching through magazines. He listens with one ear and ignores with the other. When he has an important point to make, he raises his hand and shares. Sometimes his insights and observations stop the room. He is clever. Sometimes he is cheeky. His memory is amazing. 

One might look at Harry and think he is oppositional. He kind of is in the sense that he always likes to be right and that he is quick to argue with anything. Sometimes just because. Some might think he is defiant. Rude. I find his argumentative nature amusing. It is a protective ruse. I pretend to take it seriously but I see the vulnerability underneath. There are reasons he is so guarded.

Harry has lovely manners. He is often polite. Sweet. Charming. If he doesn’t know you, he won’t speak to you. So you won’t know this. You need to earn his trust by not intruding in his space. Once he trusts you, he chatters away, telling you all kinds of things. He shares interesting things he reads. Games he has devised. Wonders about the world. Sometimes he is so open and vulnerable that it breaks my heart.

There are reasons why Harry spends time somewhat differently and needs extra support with interactions and playground play. The reasons were not his choices and they are out of his control. It doesn’t matter exactly why. The truth is that there are some reasons. Reasons that make Harry need some extra support and to be included in our classroom community with more flexibility. Reasons that you don’t know when looking at him. An invisible “disability” that makes it even more important as adults, to protect him from judgement. Even more important to stop thinking about ways to change him and to start thinking about ways to have school work for him.

We talk about being inclusive. We talk about accepting diversity. We talk about being kind. We expect it between children. We expect it between adults. But what happens when the adults don’t offer it to certain children? What happens when Harry is called all kinds of things? What happens when people look at my Harry and other children like Harry and start from a place of discrimination and then use the “different” behaviour they see to not move past that place of judgement? 

The part that is true is that it is not okay to have school be an inhospitable place for Harry. It is not acceptable to have adults speak cruelly and insensitively about him. It is not excusable to not speak up when this sort of thing happens. 
When I look at Harry learning and laughing and taking more risks every day, I know that my job is not to bask in the happiness of his growth and success. My job is to pave the way for more of the same in his future.
The part that is true is this: Every child matters. Children like Harry need you to know this most of all.

53 thoughts on “The part that is true

  1. I’m crying…BIG tears – tears of joy and tears of sadness at the same time. I know a boy named Harry too. I may have had the opportunity to work with him in the past or I may be lucky enough to still be learning from Harry. The part that is true is that he’s AMAZING and he matters! The part that is true is that adults need to read this post! The part that is true is educators need to open their hearts and minds and really try to walk their inclusivity talk. The truth is they would be amazed how much they could learn from kids like Harry.

    Thank you for writing this post and thank you Carrie for making space for children like Harry!

    • Aren’t we lucky to have learned from such amazing children!? The part that is true is that we are as lucky as we are open. How I love sharing the learning, the journey and the children with you!

  2. I have had a Harry or two or three (even a Harriet a few times) as a classroom teacher. You have spoken so eloquently about them. Even at the best of times, when we know what they need, someone will challenge us. It isn’t easy following what we know is right. Sometimes I just used to celebrate that they arrived at school that day. Other days I cried when I read their journals. Today I make sure that there is space for them to hide out in the library if they want to be there. For the times when the library is closed to the rest of the school, I have a deal with them that if I don’t see them then it is as if they are not there. They find secret nooks and crannies to read in. On occasion they have read through the bell and I didn’t notice them til much later on…

    • Cheriee – thank you for sharing this and all of your other messages about the Harrys of the world. I feel so blessed that you work your magic where my children are – it’s all about the culture and community we create. Your library is obviously much more than a haven for book lovers.

  3. That is such a sweet post 🙂 I thought it was really moving! And every child does matter and people should treat them like they do and they will succeed! You are a great role model for that!!!!!!!! 😉

  4. Thank you Carrie! It is not always easy for adults to step out of their own box and allow children to be who they were born to be, to accept their strengths and needs. Maybe it is because we can’t accept our own?

  5. One of the reasons my school works is that we offer places for students like your Harry. We have students that arrive who have not been welcomed in other places. This is such an important post, Carrie. I’m happy you wrote about Harry, and wrote about having “no space to think about how they could help create an environment that might fit him”. Time for everyone to consider an attitude change!

    • Eloquent and so true. What I particularly like is that you did not use labels (e.g., ADHD, ASD). In my opinion, labels can have the effect of bringing forth preconceived ideas of what a child is *like*, instead of what a child *is*. In other words, one might respond to the traits of the label, not the unique abilities (and challenges) of the child.

      Don’t get me wrong. I’m pragmatic enough to recognize that labels are necessary when it comes to funding and support services. But above and beyond that, not so much so.

      Like you, the Harrys and Hartiettes of this world have taught me a great deal, particularly that normal is indeed a relative term.

    • Linda – it makes me so happy to know that a school defines itself as being a place for all and allows children to find the place and community they have needed. And yes, attitude changes are in order. Another part that is true.

  6. What a beautifully written piece honouring a child as a true individual as worthy as any other in our schools. He is lucky to have had you as a teacher.

  7. Nothing like starting my day with a big cry! What a beautiful post, Carrie – and one that is so very important for all teachers to read. There are many Harry’s in the world, but few who are able to see what you see in them. Harry is blessed to have you on his side. We are blessed to have you sharing this important message to all of us. Thank you.

  8. Harry has been with teachers for many years. Documentation and designations deconstructed his potential into code values. You have wonderfully revived a teacher’s perspective when the practice of differentiated teaching and integrated classroom practice challenge teachers with severe budget cuts. Your message helps us all find our way back to the student first. Thank you.

    • So, so true. That we need to remind each other. I just get crushed when some adults have closed themselves off to the possibility of hearing about all the wonderful . . I so love your post. I remember it when you first wrote it. An absolutely important reminder.

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  11. Oh. My. Word. Carrie–I got chills reading this blog post. Seriously. What a beautiful post written soulfully by a beautiful teacher. My wish is that we have more adults out there in the world who get the “Harrys” ( and “Harriets” 🙂 out there to help them blossom and thrive. Thank you for sharing this with us! I’m going to post on my FB wall !

    • Thank you Trudy. It was a post I have really needed to write. I am so happy it is resonating with readers and being shared. I think we always need to be asking ourselves if we are doing our very best for children. Are we making our classrooms and schools safe and inclusive for all? Sometimes, we need to look deeply. I so appreciate your words.

  12. Oh Carrie, this is absolutely beautiful. I shall be sharing this with my teacher-students this evening. I hope we have more teachers like you. This has often been my battlecry. I think being on the fringes has made me more aware of those who stand on the edge along with me. And while some have grown comfortable in their own skin, perhaps because of a loving family environment or a supportive social network, not everyone are fortunate enough to have the same affirming experience. Often, most teachers perceive their role as curriculum-dispenser: a clerical task that requires very little heart and sensitivity. Compassion is blanketed with deadlines, required teaching units, committee work, meeting KPIs, and the burning lack of time for absolutely anything that truly matters. The mere fact that you have taken the time to write this post amidst the chaos of everything else that you should be doing is a testament to your graciousness of spirit and kindness of heart. May more lives be touched by who you are, dear Teacher Carrie. 🙂

    • Myra, thank you for this beautiful comment. The longer I do this, I realize what truly matters is the children. When I start and end there, things are most meaningful. This post had been asking to be written. It wasn’t about the time it took – more about the timing of when I needed to write it. I so appreciate your words and your support.

  13. Wow. I have Harry and other incantations of him. Yes that box is so judgmental and restrictive what a beautiful reminder of why we are teachers and what matters in teaching. Thank you for this.

    • I am so pleased that you say this Julieanne – that this is a reminder of why we are teachers. I certainly hope that we all enter the profession without much judgement and learn quickly to lose it all. It should be a humble profession because children brilliantly teach us so much!

  14. Hi Carrie–I’m not sure if this message will be a double-posting, but your words in this article are worth me saying the same thing twice–and then some! I can’t think of a time when I’ve been more inspired by something I read on the internet. Thank you for being a voice for all of the Harry’s of this world.

    I work with the LSCI Institute (www.lsci.org), and I know that your message would resonate just as deeply with our Trainers as it did with me. I am wondering if you might be interested in presenting at our Summer conference. Would you email me at swhitson@lsci.org to talk about it?

    Thanks!

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    • Lynda, thank you. It has been a very significant thing for me – writing this and getting such a positive response. Has given me new energy for the day to day advocacy involved in making sure all children are treasured and included.

    • Jennifer – thank you for also sharing your perspective as a parent. Every Harry is of course someone’s child and they entrust him/her to us everyday to teach and adore. This means something to me.

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