God, the Paraeducator

This month we made a big deal out of Teacher Appreciation Day at our schools, and rightly so. Teachers are amazing and deserve every bit of support and encouragement we can offer. There is also a Secretaries’ Day on our Hallmark calendar, and we show our gratitude then. But there is no day for the paraeducators at our school, and this month as I saw gift cards and flowers go home with teachers, I also saw a half dozen paraeducators go home empty handed, and it made me think.

We are the grateful recipients of the care of paraeducator support in schools: trained, patient staff who work alongside special needs students to offer support, redirection, and supervision so that our kiddo can participate in school meaningfully. Ours is an inclusion school district, which means that kids with special needs are not siphoned off into special classrooms or schools: they’re kept in the mainstream classroom and additional support is provided for that student there. I think it’s a beautiful thing: both for special needs kids who need to belong to the community at large, and for the able-bodied and neuro-typical kids, whose borders are enlarged by interaction with all types of people. Special needs kids have something to give, too, as this months’ feature article at Christianity  Today so wonderfully demonstrates.

Yoko Fines, a paraeducator in MD, at work with one of her students. (http://www.hcpss.org/news-posts/2017/06/yoko-fines-paraeducator-cedar-lane-school/)

But to get back to the paraeducators: one of the signs of a really effective, excellent paraeducator is how invisible their work becomes in the classroom. When things are going really well, you hardly notice that they are there, because the child is able to engage seamlessly with the classroom. The metrics of success are somewhat counter-intuitive: peace, and a remarkable absence of “issues”. In a way, it reminded me of the work of the Holy Spirit, whom I remember someone once describing to me as the “shy member of the trinity”: the Holy Spirit is always directing our attention towards the Father and the Son. When our love and actions are focused on God and others, that’s a sign that the Holy Spirit is really at work. The evidence of His presence is, in similar ways, quiet and beautiful. Love, peace, patience, gentleness, self-control. Jesus described the Spirit’s work like the wind: you see its effects, even if you don’t see the wind itself.

Which of us learned to ride a bike without the skill, support, and encouragement of a seconder?

We have a family friend who has been a career paraeducator and has served students with all sorts of disabilities through her school career. I have long known she is a woman who embodies a quiet strength, and the students she has worked with may never know how much thought and prayer she put into their flourishing.

But this disposition of hers—to become the most skilled supporter she can—runs into many areas of her life beyond her profession. In her personal life, she has taken in many frazzled young moms and offered seasons of support, prayer, welcome, and volunteered childcare. She and her husband loved our young family this way for a while, and it was the most beautiful, invisible gift to entrust our children to capable, kid-loving, safe people in a season where we desperately needed some respite care.

Among her long list of quiet gifts, she had a bus-driving license for some time, so that she could drive a 15 person passenger van for church outings if needed. She is credentialed and has a master’s degree, and so can support in multiple staffing ways in a school (the library, for example), in seasons when there are needs. She loves to exercise, and has completed training to be a coach and seconder for athletes at competition level. Professional athletes need someone to help them know when to rest, when to warm out, and how to train if they will be their best. These are just a few of her skills… In all these things—professionally, spiritually, physically—she is not in the limelight. But because of her skill and proximity, she is able to offer support and guidance in ways that few can.

Which brings me back to thinking about the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and God as a paraeducator. For a truly excellent paraeducator is not just a “supervising adult”, or an extra set of hands when needed. A truly excellent paraeducator is a specialist in the support that that person or situation uniquely needs, with eyes focused on providing just enough support, correction, and encouragement to enable the person to grow, learn, participate, and flourish as only they can. They are nearby. They are focused. They are FOR YOU in a way that no-one else can be. In the race of life, they are the ultimate seconder.

I confess I have long had a fairly mushy idea about the work of the Spirit. Like a gentle presence. Or a light current in the water. But thinking about the strength of the best paraeducators: their attention and presence, their skills, the prayer and resourcefulness and intentionality they bring: this reminds me that when Jesus said he’d send a counselor and a helper – a paraclete, in Greek – he was sending us the most skilled paraeducator of all. Each of us has a full time aide at our side, specifically trained to help us make it through the day.

And just like I realized on Teacher Appreciation Day, I don’t often notice it. But our Paraeducator is present, hard at work, a Specialist par excellence. And he is WITH us, every step of the way.

Oh autocorrect. Tsk, tsk.

What I meant to say to my newly-moved friend was “I’ll surprise you with some unpacking assistance.”

What appeared on my iPad screen was “I’ll surprise you with some napa king ass.”

Oops.

It’s not the first time the iPhone/iPad autocorrect function has blitzed my intentions. In my experience, about 20% of the time, the autocorrect guesses the word I was aiming for correctly. About half the time, it comes up with something annoying and nonsensical (‘a radium’ instead of paradigm, ‘go goth’ instead of ‘going to’), and the rest of the time it comes up with something hilarious. I present ‘napa king ass’ as exhibit A.

It’s this latter category that fuels comedy websites devoted to autocorrect fails. I confess that reading autocorrect sites is a guilty pleasure – a little like watching the TV Series “Friends”. Some of it is hilariously funny, but I’m also aware that much of it is ribald and distasteful humor. Above-the-belt gems such as this one are rare:

20130823-134157.jpg

To be honest, I don’t spend much time on the sites anymore, because the jokes have become offensive, and the theme of the autocorrects is too often sexual and distasteful.

And yet it’s not just that those websites are collecting the “worst” of the autocorrects. In my own typing, I notice that rude words often appear because I was typing too fast. Body parts and swear words seem to be very quick and easy replacements for regular words. It has almost seemed at times like my iPad really has a mind of its own, and its a very dirty mind at that.

Recently I’ve been thinking though that the default settings on an iPhone are not that different from our default settings as people. Given a slight mistake in communication, a slight error in judgment – I know my default setting is to take advantage of the mistake. I cringe when I think of my college years and how many jokes I made at others’ expenses, at how quick I was to point out others’ weakness and how much I wanted to have the last word. My own internal “autocorrect” was is as faulty as my iPad’s.

Caught in a tricky situation? My instinctive response is to cover my tracks.

Embarassed? My quick draw response is anger or seeking to embarrass another.

In fact, we are a lot like our iDevices. We are iPeople. I am an iPerson. And my autocorrect is horrible.

But the good news is that autocorrects can be trained.

My iPad’s default settings may have sexual innuendo at the ready, but with time the software is “teachable”. After typing a few memos, I can teach it that my misspelled “lasagne” should not be autocorrected to name a woman’s body part, but should in fact autocorrect to describe an Italian dinner dish. It now knows how to spell my children’s (somewhat unusual) names – I’ve “trained” it. It now recognizes (and will autocorrect correctly) to spell South African classic words like “lekker” and “howzit”. It has even learned some Christianese (it no longer corrects “shepherding” to “sherpa ding”.)

And the good news too is that, thanks to the Holy Spirit, my own faulty autocorrects are slowly being trained too. I lose my temper less quickly these days. I can’t say I don’t say mean things anymore, but I do thank God that I can see I say them less frequently than I used to. I swear less (I aim for never, but sometimes when you drop a trampoline on your foot, shoot happens.) My soul is even learning some Christianese – learning to say “thank you” instead of whining. Learning to pray instead of prattle.

It’s a slow process, but it’s hop panning.

Oops: I meant happening.

 

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