I was looking at the prompt for this nomination essay—“Be specific! Include as many actual conversations and moments as you can.” I’ve tried to come up with anecdotes that detail this past semester, but there were just countless examples of her kindness and empowerment to choose from. So from fear of being disorganized, I’ve compiled an outline: 16 ways Mrs. Sydney Neukirch has proven to be a valuable educator for disabled students.
She’s discreet, but not ignorant. The best thing a teacher can do for a student with Tourette’s is not to pretend it’s not happening—it’s to understand the struggles the student may face and accommodate accordingly.
She recognizes that she can’t know everyone’s experiences. Mrs. Neukirch is able to realize that there are some things she will just never fully understand, as there are experiences she has not gone through. This applies not only to me and my difficulties regarding disability, but also her entire diverse group of students. Mrs. Neukirch gives value to different perspectives and leaves open the opportunity to share things from our point of view.
She’s flexible. Mrs. Neukirch goes out of her way to make sure I have equal opportunities to show her my knowledge. There was a time that I couldn’t participate in a class discussion because of a stressful and active tic day. Mrs. Neukirch made an effort and took the time to sit down with me and have the discussion with just the two of us.
She follows by example. Mrs. Neukirch takes her cues off of me in response to my tics. She laughs when I laugh, and she turns the other way when I’m embarrassed. There have been too many instances where I’ve had to argue with someone else that a painful tic isn’t funny; I’ve never had to have that sort of conversation with Mrs. Neukirch.
She leads by example. Mrs. Neukirch is always careful to act in a completely appropriate manner, and she has never treated me with anything but respect. These and other qualities are some that I hope her peers can learn from her.
She gives the opportunity to advocate. Mrs. Neukirch is never one to silence mine or anyone else’s independent voice. She gives me the space to explain to her how to best support me, and she listens to what I say and does everything she can to help me be successful and to advocate for me on a higher level.
She doesn’t take advantage. Certain tics of mine allow just enough room for another person involved to jump into a blameless assault—and I can’t say that no teacher has done this. But I know I can trust myself around Mrs. Neukirch because she has done the exact opposite and proven that she respects my control and my body.
She educates herself. It is clear that Mrs. Neukirch always maintains a desire to grow. She takes the time to learn how to best support me, and that is something I appreciate beyond words—something that many others are unwilling to do.
She offers privacy. No questions asked, Mrs. Neukirch allows me to be flexible with my time and workload. Incredibly stressful situations have arisen for me this past semester, and Mrs. Neukirch gives me the freedom to share whatever details I want with her, when I want to. In turn, I share more with her because I trust her—a trust that was established by not forcing me into anything and genuinely earning my respect.
She encourages strengths. Mrs. Neukirch understands that one positive comment can go a long way. She praises not just me but all of her students upon receiving good work, and it can be a huge motivator to be keeping up with those expectations—especially with ADHD, doing work not for just the sake of doing it can be the difference between a successful and failing student.
She knows how to handle sensitive situations. Tourette’s can put a student in plenty of embarrassing or uncomfortable situations. Mrs. Neukirch is practically a master of handling these issues without drawing attention and in the most deferential way possible. Her courtesy makes me feel safer and more comfortable in class and in school.
She knows when to make a big deal. And more importantly, she knows when not to.
She gives me space. Mrs. Neukirch doesn’t push (at least not in the wrong way). Without demanding some sort of answer or excuse, she allows me to tell her what I need, and then she gives it to me; it’s a delicate pairing, because one is not helpful without the other.
She does everything within her power. I remember a time where I was struggling with a homework assignment simply because I couldn’t hear the video (due to hearing loss). Mrs. Neukirch toggled with the website until she found a way to turn on closed captions, even being willing to go get IT support just to help me be successful in her class.
She asks for help. If she has a relevant question, she doesn’t just guess, nor does she disregard it entirely—she asks me. It’s impossible to help someone learn about a unique situation if they don’t express what they don’t know yet. Mrs. Neukirch does exactly that and as a result has been able to grow in her own perspective.
She knows me by my name. It’s unbelievable how many people see me as simply “the girl with Tourette’s”. Teachers I’ve had for a full year will remember nothing about me other than my disability—to them, that’s what defines me. Mrs. Neukirch recognizes that my Tourette’s is only a small but noticeable part of me.
Not only has Mrs. Neukirch earned my respect, but she has earned my gratitude, and what better way to honor her than to express that?