Thursday, March 26, 2009

Teacher inspires student

What, exactly, is "special ed"? When I was growing up, we had a "LD" (learning disabled) class. But I only remember it being for the severely physically and mentally challenged. Today it seems that children are labeled special ed for behavior problems, refusal to learn, "emotionally disturbed," and everything else. I think a lot of times it's just easier for us to get the "problem children" out of our classroom rather than figure out a way to work with them.

Maybe this says more about me, the subconscious messages I received over the years, and the overwhelmed nature of having some students in our After-School Academy who are easier to push aside than figure out ways to work with them.

I don't know Hakeem Bennett. All I know is that he is in a special education class. But I know when he was given the opportunity to express himself, he did so in a way that won him the honor of his story being turned into a book.

I wish we had more staff to spend time with individual students at our After-School Academy. I bet we would find we have a lot of Hakeem Bennetts who, if given the opportunity, could also have some award-winning ideas.

Brooklyn boy's prize essay to become a book dedicated to blind teacher

Matthew Brown, a blind special education teacher in Brooklyn, is the inspiration behind a student's essay lauding his daily determination and patience.

A new Superman book is drawing inspiration from a Brooklyn special education student and the blind teacher he considers an everyday hero.

Eighth-grader Hakeem Bennett, 13, won a national essay contest and will appear as the title character in the upcoming title, "The Kid Who Saved Superman."

His teacher, Matthew Brown - who is blind in one eye, has tunnel vision in the other and takes a guide dog to school - will also be incorporated into the story line.

"I was going to cry," Hakeem said of the moment he found out he won the contest sponsored by Stone Arch Books. "I was happy - happy for Mr. Brown to get recognized."

A student at Public School 36 in East New York, Hakeem was encouraged by his guidance counselor to enter the contest about real-life heroes last month.

It didn't take long for him to decide Brown, 38, would be the subject of his essay.

"My teacher Mr. Brown is visually impaired," he wrote. "That [is] not what makes him a hero. It is because he takes public transportation every day with Stanley his dog to school. That is why he is a true everyday superhero.

"In our class we had a project of being blindfolded and trying to find our way around the class. It was hard for me. ... I feel sad he can't see the beautiful things around. That bothers me."

Brown said he was "very touched" that one of his students would heap such praise on him and called it "humbling."

"It just reminds you why you do this," he said.

He wasn't at school Tuesday because a car ran over his foot Monday on the way to work. The injury will keep him at home for a few days.

Nevertheless, Brown calls his blindness a "gift."

"It allows me to see people for who they are," he said.

Hakeem said his teacher's qualities go beyond his disability.

"He makes sure you understand. If you don't, he'll work with you one-on-one," he said.

"When you're angry, he calms you down. He knows how to treat you fairly."

Brown has worked at the school for six years. His principal, Johanna Schneider, called him "an awesome person."

She, too, will be featured in the story line of the chapter book, which comes out June 15.

"I've always been a fan of comic books," she said. "I'm just sorry it's not Wonder Woman."
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