It is my second year teaching high school in Baltimore, my third year teaching with a wheelchair, and my eighth year with Multiple Sclerosis. I don’t use my chair all the time, but my school is close to the size of the Pentagon, and my balance is slightly worse than that of a two-year-old child’s. Consequently, in order to avoid any MS-related humiliation and/or unnecessary fatigue, I use my wheelchair while I teach my 9th and 10th graders American Government and United States History. This also enables me to wildly gesticulate with my hands while I’m teaching without knocking myself off balance mid-lecture.
During the first two weeks of school, I used my wheelchair at all times. I like to set a precedent – I am a teacher with a wheelchair. And while I get my students used to the idea of a rolling teacher, I also try to convince them of my supernatural powers that compensate for my neurological disease. Namely I like them to believe that I have x-ray vision that enables me to see notes, candy and cell phones hidden inconspicuously beneath their desks, coupled with the unique ability to know when they're lying to me about incomplete homework or class work). Unfortunately for me, all 180 of my students saw through the supernatural power façade before October.
During the second week of school, I stood up during my last period class. I was apparently so excited about the foundations of American government that I could no longer sit still. Grasping the desk to my left, I locked my knees and continued talking. I then noticed that my 7th period class was unnaturally quiet. Not only were they quiet, they were staring at me, and off to the right, Ashley’s mouth appeared to be hanging open. Mid-sentence I started to worry that something was on my face, or that I had a bizarre chalk stain on my boobs. I paused to ask if everything was okay.
Jasmine was quick to respond, “You’re standing, Ms. Hooks!”
I briefly reiterated that I can stand; but I can’t walk very well, and continued with my lesson. Mid-sentence, another hand shot up, and Stephanie asked how long I could stand for. My lesson seemed to diverge from the daily objective. She raised her hand again as I attempted to get the class back on track.
“Wait, Ms. Hooks Kevin’s in the bathroom, right? Can you stand ‘til he gets back and see what he thinks when he walks in? Maybe he’ll think we cured you while he was out.”
While rationally I know that playing practical jokes with my students during the second week of school is not a highly recommended teaching strategy, I couldn’t resist. A few minutes later I heard the door open and Kevin shuffled in nonchalantly. The rest of the students were watching him, waiting for a reaction with bated breath as he sauntered around my empty wheelchair and back to his seat. When he was properly sitting I felt his eyes look down at my feet and move all the way up to my eyes. Then, without raising his hand he interrupted me –
“Ms. Hooks, you are so tall!”