Student Nomination Story

I usually don’t pay attention to most of the people I meet in school. Process was the same every year. New year, new school, new faces that I eventually forget about as they didn’t make much of an impact to begin with. That was the deal with me most of the time. With me being on the autism spectrum, I have trouble speaking with people. So, as part of special education, they assign me to a speech therapist so that I could hone my skills in conversation. I also so this as more of a hassle as I thought my time was better spent working. I met Amy during my freshman year. She’d come in during one of my study halls to pull me out. She always said “can I take you out for a bit?” which makes me think it’s optional. I always went with her, though out of fear of upsetting her. Room 134 is where we’d go at south (at north it was room 123). She goes in and I follow suit. We’d sit down, me at the end of the table with her to my right; then the session begins. At first with Amy, I was kind of a steel trap. She’d get a couple of “mhms” and some shoulder shrugs here and there. A couple of times when she’d ask me a question, I’d just sit there with my eyes staring into space (mostly because I didn’t know how to answer or didn’t want to). She’d help me practice conversation by getting me to ask who, what, where, when, and how questions. Most of the time, though, it was a low mumble whenever I asked one and it would take me like 10 years to come up with one. Amy would try to fill the silence by talking about her kids or something she’d be doing the weekend and offer me a chance to jump in on the one-sided conversation. Occasionally, on some good days, I’d be pretty talkative. I’d talk about something I was interested in like games, movies, some weird fact I learned about, or just talking about general stuff. Most of the time, though, it was just silence from me. The whole point of this was to get me to be better at talking to people, but that’s kinda hard when the subject can’t even answer a simple yes-or-no question. North campus was uncomfortable for a bit. The place was more maze-like with shorter hallways and had a big common area which made the place feel too open. Eventually, I got used to it though. My sessions with Amy changed when I transitioned. Being pulled out was still annoying, but not nearly as much as before. When we talk, I still give the occasional “mhm” and shoulder shrug, but now there were more words involved. I started giving thought-out, on-the-spot answers to her questions. There were still moments of silence in-between my answers, but now I actually respond to most of her questions. It’s not all business with her too. She’d ask me about video games or movies and I would give her my opinion. I tell her if I’m planning on seeing a movie, she’d ask abou it, I tell her, and then she gets interested and might plan on seeing it. Same goes for video games. Practicing with Amy has actually helped me in other ways. I used to not ask for help during class as I want to figure out the work on my own. Most of the time, it ends with me sitting there for like 20 minutes with no clue what to do. Now, whenever I’m confused or missing something, I ask the teacher any chance I get, which from experience, has benefitted me greatly. And whenever I’m asked a question, I can answer it if I know it. I can also sometimes behoove myself to answer it if I’m not called on. When I was with my friends, conversation just came naturally because we were so comfortable being around each other. I’d always ask a question if I had one. When I was with people I didn’t know, it was way more difficult as you don’t know that person very well. Thanks to Amy though, I’ve managed to make progress little by little to improve my skills when speaking with others. Although most people I’ve met in school haven’t made much of an impact on me to make them worth remembering, Amy’s one of the good few who helped me improve both in my work ethic and myself as a person. I appreciate all that she’s done for me and I will remember what she taught me for years to come.

Ryker Rathje

To see more exceptional teacher nominees, visit The Honor Roll.