My son’s teacher saved his life - Literally. I adopted my son Cosmo from foster care when he was 17 months old and he has several issues that make him complex. In addition to having Klippel Feil Syndrome, he also has Expressive and Receptive Language Disorder and Cortical Visual Impairment, which can lead to a great deal of frustration. He can be a lot to handle more so than the typical child in the classroom. In early August, Cosmo was eating a cracker and choked, he was unable to breathe. Ms. Shari quickly began actions to save him. She first administered back blows to try to dislodge the cracker, they were unsuccessful, she tried again, and was still unsuccessful. She then performed the Heimlich maneuver on my medically fragile child and dislodged the cracker. He threw it up in her hand. By that time the administrator of the school was there, she asked Shari if she needed to leave the room for a few minutes to take some time to re-group. “I am not leaving this boy!” was Shari’s reply. The next day Cosmo ended up hospitalized and emergency surgery was performed to remove his tonsils, adenoids, and cauterize multiple places in his nose that were bleeding. The surgeon said his airway was almost completely blocked. Surprisingly, this is not the only reason why I am nominating Shari for teacher of the year. This was the big act, but every single day there are multiple ways she changes his life and the lives of the other children in her classroom. She puts the kids on the lunch cart and pretends it is a train, you can hear her yelling “choo choo!” throughout the building as they squeal with laughter. She has them all go outside and wave at the man who picks up the trash in the dumpsters – they all know him by name and wave at him every week – there is a picture of him posted on her door and he is treated like royalty for them. She lets them get dirty, very dirty because kids and clothes can be washed and getting in the dirt and exploring is ok. She teaches them to go comfort their friends when they are hurting and to celebrate with them when their friends are succeeding – even the little things. She makes up little songs about everything from going to the bathroom to washing your hands to finding a pencil. She sings to them loud and often. She teaches them to be good people, she teaches them to be kind people and to love one another. She lets them know she is there if things get hard – she is an anchor for them all in this crazy world. She reminds us, as overwhelmed parents, of the same things.
When COVID-19 hit, and everyone went on lockdown, I locked Cosmo down at home. He was miserable, he missed school, he missed Ms. Shari. The school remained open for essential workers and Shari was there – caring for children. She sent videos to Cosmo telling him she loved and missed him and would see him soon. She sang songs to him – holding up puppets with letters since he loves letters. He watched those videos on repeat – they were his comfort and company.
I think, for Cosmo, the greatest gift she has given him, in addition to actually saving his life, was seeing the importance of it, for seeing him for who he really is. She doesn’t just see the challenges he faces or his past trauma – she sees the magnificent, bright, funny, capable little boy in front of her and she is incredible. As a white mother raising a black child I worry, for the first time in my life I am experiencing the challenges faced by the black community as they send their children to a school setting. Ms. Shari could have been like some other white teachers and treated him unfairly – but she isn’t, she lifts him up – she celebrates his beautiful black skin and the fact that it is different than hers, and that his family is unique. Just like she faced the danger of the choking head on, she faces everything head on and says we are different and you are beautiful because, “Ms. Shari loves you so much!” I would be a better person if she had been my teacher. I know she teaches a class for 2 and 3 year olds, not in a typical elementary school, but I saw this award and I needed the world to know – she is amazing and we would all be better people if we knew her.