I will probably always remember the look on Maryjane Mellmer’s face when we met. We were in the elementary school Structured Communication Class (SCC) where she serves as the Teacher. FYI – SCC is a Special Ed program for kids with autism. She was supporting the efforts of a Para-educator to physically control a fifth-grader who, obviously, didn’t have much self-control. I was there to start a three-week assignment as a substitute Para-educator. When my introduction included me saying, “I want you to know that I’ve never done this before … I don’t just mean that I’ve never subbed in this sort of classroom … I mean I’ve never worked as a sub in any classroom”, though she had a numb look on her face, through a forced but brave smile and with intentional enthusiasm, she said, “Well, OK!”
To my surprise and probably to Maryjane’s surprise too, we’re now in our fourth school year working together in that same classroom, Room 20. When I tell others about my experience in Room 20, I consistently tell them that I’m blessed every school day to get to work with 21st Century Miracle Workers. Of course, I recognize the exaggeration in saying that. The Miracle Worker is the story of Anne Sullivan, whose tutoring of the blind-and-deaf-from-infancy Helen Keller not only connected Keller with the world in order for her to have a decent life, it made it possible for her to have an exceptional life. Anne Sullivan was one of a kind. Miracle Workers like her don’t come along every day. With that said, I can’t think of a more fitting description for Maryjane. This past month, the school district where she works honored her with its Employee Excellence Award and in doing so; they acknowledged her as the leader of a team of 21st Century Miracle Workers. In other words, they agreed with me. Considering these things, I want to tell you a little bit about how Maryjane came to her role as a Special Ed Teacher, along with some details of what she is achieving in that role.