Everything I learned about presenting myself positively to the world I learned from my parents. My father, one of the smartest people I know, has always thrived on giving people factual information in a straightforward, honest way. My mother winds her way through life doing kind things for others and giving of herself in an extremely gentle and nurturing way. Together they taught me graceful skills and strategies to navigate life’s social awkwardness and gave me the voice to introduce myself. Let me introduce myself. My name is Kristy. I am a fifth grade teacher. I love learning foreign languages, am dangerously good with art materials, and run four miles along the Charles River every Saturday morning at 10:30 am, rain or shine. Oh, and I also was born with one hand. I neglect to mention that sometimes because I simply… forget. Having only half the fingers of the average person IS different, though, and differences do attract attention, initially. As a young child, my parents modeled for me various appropriate ways to respond to the attention I occasionally attracted. They helped me understand that staring and questions mostly stem from pure curiosity. Once someone’s questions are answered, everyone can be free to feel comfortable. I eventually learned to take over the task of answering gracefully for myself. Single-handedly (ironic word choice), the most memorable teaching moment from my mother was how she helped me introduce myself when my family moved from New Hampshire to Massachusetts halfway through first grade. After we both decided on the best way to do it, she asked my new teachers if we could do a giant show and tell. So we did. Interestingly, over twenty years later, I still have people from my graduating class tell me that they fondly remember that day in first grade when I, the new girl, stood in front of the entire first grade with my mother and talked about my hand. Everyone’s questions were answered and everyone got to come up to me and shake my hand (not sure which one). That day at recess, after my mother left, I was a celebrity in the school playground. I had a mob of around one hundred kids trying to talk to me and be my friend. I attribute this single act to be the reason why I was never bullied or picked on in school because of my hand. It is also the backbone of my approach towards every first day of school from now until the end of my teaching career. The fifth graders I teach are about ten, which is old enough that most hold themselves back from asking questions about my hand for fear of being rude. That is why I still use my mother’s show-and-tell strategy. Within the first ten minutes of class on the first day of every school year, I give a short, two-minute talk about my hand and being born “asymmetrically.” Then, I open the floor up for questions. Some kids are brave and ask, and others wait until they know me better. Either way, I tell them that they are welcome to ask me anything about my hand at any time during our year together. Once I do that, we can move on and no one is left wondering or distracted. This is important so that we can get to the important business of academics. As this is my fourth year in the school system, many kids know about me before meeting me, or have heard varying levels of the truth. One even admitted that she had imagined me as an elderly woman with absolutely no arms at all. I’m sure many interesting rumors get passed around. At any rate, rumors dispelled, I assume most of them forget about my hand completely after the first week. Others remember it more than I do. One student this year constantly tells me how much she adores my left hand: “It’s so cute! I love it so much!” Truthfully, though, we have many other things that require our focus, so it takes a back burner. And so I continue, thanks to my parents, to introduce myself with confidence in all walks of life. Have I always been this self-assured? Of course not, I’m only human. But it makes me happy to think that when I’m honest and upfront, it makes me feel comfortable about being different. And when I’m comfortable, other people are comfortable. Only then can we get to the very important task of learning and bonding over what makes us similar.
Check out my blog! www.misspolyglot.blogspot.com