If you saw my “to do” list it would make your toes curl. From “replacing the front porch” to “reclaiming the back yard” plus a thousand other little things to do on our 1915 house. Three years ago I was stepping into my role as Teacher of the Year. It was like stepping out my front door into a tornado and life has never been the same. That role created a “to do” list that is still beyond comprehension and is one of those things that will never be completed. As one thing disappears of the top of the list, two, or three or ten things have already appeared at the bottom of the list.
Imagine, if you will, you are a respected voice for a group you care about. For me there are three groups–people with special needs have me as their champion, lgbtq kids have me fighting in their corner and every day I represent teachers. When you have been given the honors I have it means your voice will be heard if you speak up. Those voices of the kids I teach and the kids I represent will be heard. It is hard to rest when your actions and words can make a difference.
That’s where my life has taken me. During the Fall I wrote three essays for national publication (I still can’t use “blog”…in my day an essay was an essay). For Microsoft Education I wrote a piece about access and opening doors for people with autism. For the Oregon Education Association Magazine I wrote about meeting Dr. Stephen Hawking and how he had a message for my students who use wheelchairs and speaking devices. I completed an essay for a book about supporting lgbtq youth, wrote a guest editorial for the Oregonian and the Bad Ass Teachers Association published my keynote speech from the Oregon Safe Schools Awards. The Huffington Post and the Tyler Clemente Foundation are still waiting for me to get their essays finished.
On top of this I have my own blog, my own twitter and Facebook, a business selling curriculum on Teacherspayteachers and a social networking platform that many professional PR people would kill for. I am finishing my 46th Ability Guidebook for people with autism. This one is for Croatia and adds an 11th country to my project. I have pictures for over 30 more books ready as soon as I have the time.
During the fall I also gave tv and radio interviews, wrote and gave three keynote speeches, sat on two education panels and was elected President of the Oregon State Network of State Teachers of the Year, named Chairman of NNSTOY’s Membership Committee and Chairman of the Day on the Hill Committee for their national conference, am Co-Chair of the ECET2OR conference here in Eugene and I serve on the board of two non profit organizations (Oregon Safe Schools and Clubfunder).
That was my fall. This is what I did in my free time. This is what I did while I wasn’t at work. My list for spring is…. daunting, to say the least.
But I bring this all up for a reason. This is not a “look what I did” post. You don’t have to look far to see what I’ve done lately. What it is is an example. Though I occasionally get a stipend, for everything I shared above that stipend totaled $125. That doesn’t even pay for ink cartridges I used printing materials for all the above events or the gas to get there. I’m doing this because it is bettering the lives of the kids in my classroom and, because of my interesting place in life, is bettering the lives of kids I’ve never met in places I have never been.
I do it because I am a teacher. And like all the other teachers you know, every single minute of our day is spoken for. There is never enough time to get everything done we want. Imagine being a 2nd grade teacher–how long does it take to cut out the pieces for 32 kids to do an art project? Just go cut out 64 eyes and see how long that takes. (and cut out a few extra because some will be lost or glued to the back on accident). Imagine the middle or high school teacher with 180 students and 180 papers to grade. If every paper got a single minute that is three hours. 2 minutes = 6 hours. 3 = 9. 4 = 12…
I hope you see where I am going with all of this… If you are a parent, the next time you see your kid’s paper with a bunch of red marks on it, know that that teacher probably stayed up late, skipped their favorite tv shows or reading a book, and instead tried to give your child 4 minutes, or 5 minutes or ten minutes of their time.
If you are a family member of a teacher, the next time you see them sitting with their never-ending pile of papers to read, bring them a cup of coffee or a tea and let them know you see their sacrifice.
And the next time you hear the media or a politician putting down the teachers, don’t accept it. Stand up for your teachers. Stand up for your schools. Appreciate what a good teacher gives to society and give them the job respect they deserve.
Only a few teachers are singled out and rewarded for this hard job. I have been blessed. But make sure the teachers in your life know they are appreciated!
Brett Bigham is the 2014 Oregon State Teacher of the Year and received one of the 2015 NEA National Award for Teaching Excellence, was named an NEA Foundation Global Fellow and was given the NEA LGBT Caucus National Teacher Role Model Award. He is currently working with Microsoft Sway to create Ability Guidebooks for people with autism all over the world. He teaches special education at George Middle School in Portland, Oregon.
Here is my newest Ability Guidebook for the Mikkel Museum in Tallinn, Estonia! I am excited to offer these supports for people in Estonia who have autism. If you speak Estonian, I’d love to get them translated!
It is always fun when I get a new Ability Guidebook finished! I am inspired because I have had a volunteer step forward to translate the books into Italian! You cannot Imagine how exciting it was to get that email! I am writing these books for Italy knowing that only a few English speaking tourists might ever need them.
But I knew that once the books were in English, if I could find someone to translate, they could then be a valuable tool for people with autism who live in, or who are visiting Rome.
My hope is that I will inspire some people in Italy to step forward and make some books of their own! Even now my friend Bill Pierce is visiting Vienna taking pictures to create some additional Ability Guidebooks. Some of Sam Sennott’s students at Portland State University chose to make a book instead of doing a final paper. These are more awesome people stepping up to help create a permanant library of supports for people with autism! (And a support for teachers who are taking their younger students on field trips to these important cultural destinations). I am thrilled to have Bill join me in this project and the students of PSU as well!
If anyone has decent pictures of the Vatican Museum entry I sure could use them….mine turned out pretty poorly.
2014 Oregon State Teacher of the Year
2015 NEA National Award for Teaching Excellence
Three years ago I contacted the Rose Festival to suggest to them that they create some events that were more accessible to people with special needs. Because I work so much with people with autism I knew that there were quite a few people who were never able to visit Cityfair at Waterfront Park. With the combinations of crowds, noise, music and carnival rides it was more than some of my students could handle.
The Rose Festival has been awesome and for three years they have opened early one day during the weekend and allowed visitors free entry to the Walk on the Wild Side Animal Safari and the Kidzone. This finally allowed people with sensory issues a chance to visit the lions, skunks, lizards and snakes without any noise or crowds. I never dreamed the Rose Festival would be so amazing and every year is better. This year they are doubling the amount of time for the special needs day.
June 3 from 9-11 there is free entry to Cityfair for people with special needs and their families. Come see the animals and then walk around the carnival area. At eleven the rides will start running so maybe you can stay and try a ride or two!!
Below is a link to an Ablity Guidebook on how to attend the event. Print it out or pull it up on your phone. We look forward to seeing you at the animal safari!
This book is all about perseverance! In 2014 Mike and I were in D.C. for the White House Honoring Ceremony. It was an amazing week and we took every spare minute to meet with elected officials during the visit. We had a few minutes in between meeting Senator Merkley and Senator Baldwin and we decided we had time to make a book!
It was pouring down rain as we ran from the Hart Senate Building to the Supreme Court. There was over four inches of standing water in the street! We splashed through, raced into the Supreme Court and quickly squished our way throught the building taking pictures as fast as I could.
Needless to say, the pictures turned out pretty terrible and I didn’t have the shots I needed to make a book.
Nine months later I was awarded the NEA National Award for Teaching Excellence and Mike and I found ourselves back in D.C. I had my chance to get those pictures I needed to complete a Supreme Court Ability Guidebook! Again, the weather was none to cooperative. February snows kept us from our photo mission.
Last October I had the honor of being part of Kevin Jennings book tour for his book “One Teacher In Ten In the New Millennium.” He had accepted my essay “Teacher of the Year” for publication and I was able to travel to D.C. and L.A. for book readings. During that trip I was finally able to get the last pictures I needed at the Supreme Court.
So, finally, at last, with great happiness I present
This is a very simple Guidebook on how to visit the Minerveo Obelisk near the Pantheon in Rome. Most tourists would visit the Pantheon and then wander by the Piazza della Minerva to see Bernini’s elephant with the ancient Egyptian Minerveo Obelisk mounted on top. For our tourists with autism (or Italian kids on a field trip) they might need a more simple outing for the first attempt.
The trip to see the Pantheon and the trip to see the Minerveo Obelisk are the same. The obelisk, however, can be seen without entering a building and without too much difficulty. The visit can be done in a taxi to simplify it even more if the need be. If the visit to the Minerveo goes well, the next visit could be to the Macuteo Obelisk or to the Pantheon itself. Once the stress of the trip is out of the way, each additional trip becomes easier and easier.
One of things I believe most firmly in is that our kids with special needs have got to get out into the real world and participate more. I realized with my own students that some people need different supports than others. Some of my students with autism needed to know in advance what was going to happen. If they knew in advance where they were going and what was expected of them, then they were successful. That is why I created these Ability Guidebooks.
But not every person with autism is the same and no two outings are the same. Sometimes a teacher or parent needs to try some smaller, easier outings to get the ball rolling. That is why I sometimes make Guidebooks for outings that are hardly more than driving by in the car. “I Am Going To Willamette Falls”, for instance, is not much more than an explaination on how to safely get out of your car at the viewpoint to look at the falls. Visiting Portlandia is similar.
This Guidebook to visit the Arch of Constantine is one of those low-impact outings. You could read this book and drive by the Arch for your first attempt, the second you could get out and take a picture from the road and on a third you can park and take a walk around the Arch. The goal is a successful visit. That might take a few attempts with some people. But each visit is a step in the right direction and one victory gives you a foundation to build on.
The next outing, say to the Colisseum, would build on the skills learned from the first book. First, the student understands the formula (first the book, then a visit) and each outing following that formula will become easier and easier. With each success the student has learned that they can go new places. Each new place is a victory and the stepping stone to the next destination. As their confidence grows, the needs for the books diminishes. Before you know it, going places is as simple as getting in the car.
I am very please to announce, “I Am Going to the Arch of Constantine!”
If you speak Italian (or any other language and can translate, I’d love to hear from you!)
It is my hope that people who speak other languages will step up and translate some of the books into their own language. This book, for instance, may be of great assistance to an English speaker with autism who is visiting the Pantheon. I know that only a handful of people might need such a support. But I am more than happy to make this for a handful of people. In my classroom I was making these for one person in particular at first. I saw how much it changed their world and so I am willing to keep creating the books in the hopes that it will open up someone’s world. I want there to be a tourist, somewhere, who needs this book.
But, honestly, what I am truly hoping to do is inspire others. I’m hoping and Italian speaker will see this and translate it. THEN we have a whole different audience. In Italian this book becomes and opportunity for every person with autism in Italy. This book might mean the difference of some kid who is neuro-diverse getting to go on a field trip with the rest of his class. In Italian, this book can be a tool for every kindergarten or first grade teacher taking their class to the Pantheon.
And then if we ad German and Dutch, French and maybe Hungarian, then we are opening up a world. And those translators might be enlightened and encouraged to create their own books for their own city’s. My friend Florian from Passau is translating some now into German. Mike has translated several into Spanish. There are now books for Oregon and Washington, D.C., Peru, Italy and Greece.
I’m trying to make the world a bigger place for people with autism. I think it is working!Ability Guidebook_ I Am Going To The Pantheon!