Justin Voorheis and Zach Coffman teach at a small middle school in Delaware. They work in what is called an “ILC,” or “Intensive Learning Classroom.” The students they teach are special education students, many with severe learning or behavioral disabilities. The students largely come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
I am a retired teacher, and for the past three years, since I left the profession, I have been doing some substitute teaching. Whenever I have an opportunity to sub at my old middle school, where Voorheis and Coffman teach, I jump at the chance. So, today, I took a half day job at that school, for the boys’ gym teacher. I have coached soccer with Justin for the past three years, and this morning, on my way to the gym, I stopped by his room to say “hi.”
There is a futon against one wall of the room, where the students sometimes like to sit and read, or work on laptops. Today, that futon was covered with wrapped gifts. Nearby, there was a bicycle.
“Santa Claus has been here,” Justin said to me as I walked through the door.
“Yeah, I see,” was my reply.
Justin pursed his lips, and said, “You know, these guys, they aren’t going to get much else.”
“These are for the kids?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Justin replied.
A small conversation becomes a big idea.
Zach Coffman filled in some of the details. He told me how one day, one of the students was saying that he would like to have a bike for Christmas. This led to a writing project, where the four students in the class were instructed to write letters to Santa. After the letters were complete, “Santa” replied to them. Santa acknowledged their wishes, and also added some suggestions about making sure they get their homework done, work hard, and pay attention in class.
Some of the other teachers in the building pitched in to help, and soon Justin’s room was turned into the scene I saw this morning. While I was in the room, one of the students came in for the start of the school day. He saw the bike, and the other presents, and his eyes widened. “Santa’s been here,” Justin said, smiling.
His eyes still wide, the student asked, “Where did those come from?”
“I told you,” Justin replied. “Santa left them.”
I had to get to the gym for the first class, so I didn’t hear any more of the conversation. I left the classroom with a smile on my face, knowing that there are four young boys whose holidays will be brighter this year, thanks to the kindness and generosity of teachers who care about them.
With all of the negative things that are in the media daily about education, this is a positive story that needed to be told. What these teachers did for their students shows how much they care about these kids. I can tell you from first hand knowledge that it’s not the sexual predators, abusers, and incompetent teachers who are the norm in public education; it’s teachers like Justin Voorheis, Zach Coffman, and the staff of their school, as well as of many other schools, who represent the vast majority of public school teachers.
A teacher accused of wrongdoing will be all over the six o’clock news. But teachers who do things such as this, whose numbers are far greater, will never get their stories told. Now, you have at least heard one of them.
Photo by Wes Williams