The Special Needs Issue – Tamas Lorincz

A First (?) Day — Tamas Lorincztamas

I have thought about this day for a long time.  I feel my heart beating in my throat; I’m not able to breathe deeply enough.  The closed door lies just ahead, and behind it my future.  I hear the bell, again and again.  I can’t put this off any longer. I have to go through it.

It was a journey for me to get to this stage.  My parents insisted I remain with people like me, to make it easier.  But I had greater ambitions.  My hopes were high with what I wanted to achieve and the people I wanted to inspire. All this to be abruptly halted, one minute after the bell, by two pathetic inches.

People turn to look at me and the first impression I have made is the last I had wanted to.

“Open the other door so he can get through,” they all say to each other, to no one in particular.  I wheel myself back a little to give the gathering crowd space.

“I can’t, the latch is stuck,” says another, as I feel myself disappear into the blackness I have occupied so often throughout my life.

Another person tries the latch, then a third, before it finally gives and they are able to open both doors so that my wheelchair can pass.

I haven’t inspired awe, I have attracted pity.  The students look at me with a mixture of curiosity, doubt and a bit of fear. They have no idea what to do with me.

When did the word ‘special’ become fraught with so much derision?  I am not ‘special.’ I am not ‘unique.’ I do not have special needs and I am not ‘differently abled’. I’m just not able to move my legs.

This…..inconvenience, hindrance, even idiosyncrasy, will mean, inevitably, that I will have to deal with the humiliation of the door, and others like it, everyday.

I remember all too clearly the trauma of my last school, where I had to fake sickness before class performances to avoid being carried down the stairs to the auditorium.  Where I had to wait until lunchtime to go to the toilet because the only one fitting a wheelchair was near the basketball courts outside.  I could go on, and on and on and on, but it gets boring, as you can imagine.

I wheel myself into the middle of the room.  The students clearly have seen nothing like it before. Surely, a teacher isn’t supposed to be in a wheelchair.  There’s going to be a lot to get used to.

“I bet you’re wondering how you’re going to get me to sit on a whoopee cushion,” I say to the faces staring at me.  I wait for laughter.  Slowly, it comes.  The students lift their eyes from the ground to look at me, seeking my permission to laugh properly.

“A funny teacher!” says a boy in the back of the class, as if he’s just discovered oil. The rest of the class, fortunately for me, agrees. I have plenty more of these at hand, enough to last a year probably.

So I settle in.  I don’t know what the rest of the year holds in store. More laughs, I hope. And maybe some of the students may grow to dislike me, to complain about homework and grades, and realise that I am not so special.  Quite normal, actually.

I dedicate this post to every teacher who overcomes their own personal obstacles to bring the joy of learning to classrooms around the world. I wish there were more of you to teach us all. For further insight you might wish to read Dorothy Lepkowska’s November 12th, 2012 article from the Guardian, Where Are The Disabled Teachers?

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Tamas Lorincz

Tamas is an English teacher from Hungary who has just completed his MA in TESOL. Thus finishing his formal learning for the time being, he will be able to focus on what he is really interested in: informal learning, and gaining a better understanding of teaching by becoming a self-directed learner. Tamas at the moment works for a language testing agency in Hungary, and he concentrates on developing community platforms for language learning and practice. Tamas' blog: A journey into learning

23 thoughts on “The Special Needs Issue – Tamas Lorincz”

  1. Please direct me to the highest mountain top (or nearest sattelite station) to read out your post so EVERYONE can hear it. And to a printers so that it can go up in the teacher’s room of every school and in the staff room of EVERY workplace.
    Naomi (@naomishema)

    1. Thank you Naomi, it means so much coming from you. I admire what you do with your students in very difficult conditions and I love how you face the challenges with optimism, humility and ethusiasm. You’re a great role model for me and I am humbled by your comment.

  2. Well said, Tamas. Several of my colleagues have faced similar challenges. Watching students begin to see that different doesn’t mean stupid or ignorant, only different. Different can be awesome! Keep up the great ideas and continue to share.

    1. Thanks John, It’s great to see that more and more people have a chance to become our students’ experiene of what the world is like, and how wonderfully different we all are. In the old days, school, learning and curricula were the same, the looks and appearance of teachers and materials was regulated so that students thought everyone was the same and there was one acceptable model we all had to aspire to. I love living in a world where this is not true anyome. It’s messy, it’s different, it’s challenging and that’s what makes learning and being human so absolutely wonderful an experience.

    1. Thanks, Roseli. I’m so happy you enjoyed the post. I loved writing it. It was something I have been thinking about for a long time and it was wonderful to have an opportunity to do so.

  3. Tamas,

    While you were describing the scene I was picturing the reality which the young people out there from early age are encourage to base their beliefs – in the appearance rather than what it really matters. Some kids learn from our society to be so cruel and they can even pick on kids who have a parent who is disabled.

    Couple of years ago I watched a beautiful movie about “Front of the class” and as we are raised to believe that we fit or don’t fit in certain roles that movie made me realise that something was wrong with that belief.

    And what about those who on the outside seems normal, but on the inside have a number of issues that need consideration and care. In the case of Brad Cohen his physical behavior made it obvious to people, but when I read his motivation to become a teacher, it is mind-blowing.

    “He wanted to be the teacher he never had and it was because of Tourette syndrome.”

    Now, I wonder based on your post, where are those brilhant teachers who can teach us so much? Kent’s example is really mind-blowing.

    “Kent is profoundly deaf, but he misses nothing.”

    Thanks for writing this post. 🙂

    1. One of the things I enjoy most about blogging is how posts bring back memories in others. Thanks Rose for shari this anecdote. I’ll definitely check out this movie. Thank you very much for the kind comment all al that you do.

  4. Dear Tamas,
    I have been deeply touched by your words. We know we are special, all of us, unique, we know, we have learnt that, I hope we can teach the world about accepting differences.
    Maybe we are just beginning the journey to build a better world, where we can learn to accept and see how everybody can shine, despite the many challenges we face, sometimes physical and sometimes even more challenging ones.
    Thank you for this lovely post.
    Hugs and G bless you

    1. What a wonderful comment, Debbie. Thank you! I agree. Our fear and distrust of difference is one of our worst historical heritage, which we are slowly learning to overcome. In the last few decades we have more developing in this respect than in the previous 500 years, and this acceleration is great. There is so much to do, and luckily there is so much we, as teachers, CAN DO.
      Thanks for the amazing comment again. I am touched by your kindness.

  5. Dear Tamas,

    You are such a great storyteller and the power of the message is all the more stronger

    You made me ‘see’ and feel ‘the pounding in my throat’, too!

    Great post – well done!


    1. You can’t imagine how much this comment means to me coming from you! Thanks. I do have Fida to thank for telling me that the first post I wrote wasn’t very good. I huffed and puffed and then sat down, and wrote this. Why do I ever doubt her!?
      Thank you

  6. Dear Tamas,
    My heart beats fast and also get speechless while reading your story. You’re an incredible teacher. I can feel it.
    It’s very inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing a wonderful story.

    One of my favorite tip top for teachers is ” as a teacher you just be like a goose…paddling quickly in the water..but it looks calm n’ beautiful in the surface…It means that Although we have have hard problems in our life..your students shouldn’t see it. We have to look nice and calm^^

    Wish you all the best

    cheers ( from Indonesia)

    1. What an absolutely lovely image, Ika.
      Thank you, I will use it if you don’t mind 😉
      I still think that here is a lot for me to learn, and being able to think about so many different aspects of my profession, and have these conversations is the best possible way to learn.
      Thank you for the great comment. Now, I’ll go and paddle a little bit more 😉

  7. Dear Tamas,

    Thanks a lot for your great and powerful post. I was deeply touched reading it.

    I don’t know who was the first to invent the “special need” term. We are all different, unique and special in our own way. But sometimes we experience difficulties trying to find appropriate way to deal with other people (or students). And we call them special, not realizing we are also special to them.

    All we need is to understand and respect each other.

    Good luck in your challenging job. Wish you continue to bring the joy of learning into your classrooms.


    1. Thanks, Larisa.
      I agree, the term special needs has an unpleasant undertone… It’s like the demand ml than their fair share and we have to do this for them, as if it wasn’t a mutually beneficial relationship. That mutual benefit is what we should hail and not focus on the drain on our resources they are are depicted as by using phrases like ‘special needs’. Some of the other posts in this series make this point very accurately.
      Great to read your comment, thanks again.

  8. Dear Tamas,

    What can I possibly add that has not been already said? A great post, which draws attention to a very important issue. So proud of you!

    Thank you so much,

  9. Vicky, you area too kind! Thank you for all that I have learnt from you and the other awesome people on our PLN. You a an inspiration, your love and attention to people and situations is one of the axons why I love being here and now. Thanks Vicky.

  10. Terms are just terms. What’s the difference between them? Those who give meaning are people. Instead of changing the way they think about disability they change words. When someone stands in awe towards any impairment words are impaired. Spread your thoughts and change minds

  11. Dear Tamas,

    More of this needs to be recorded and put out for sharing. In Turkey, the government has finally allowed the appointment of teachers with disabilities (though there were always those who became disabled after becoming teachers… Trying to ban things never works 100%).

    Living with difference toughens people, develops resilience. When it is always and every day, it gets tough, too tough at times; take it one day at a time, one step at a time. Living with difference certainly forces one to see things differently, and discover treasures unseen to the ordinary eye.

    Claire Ozel (this means Special, in Turkish)

  12. Dear Tamas,

    You are such a talented narrater…

    good post…thnq

    waiting to hear more from u


  13. Dear Tamas,
    Thank you so much for your inspiring post. It was beautifully written and significantly raised my awareness. Congratulations on getting through so many doors – both physical and metaphorical – and good luck with all the doors to come.
    Best wishes,


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