Can It Be Okay?

More from Rich Dixon


When you left me facing my first post-injury classroom, I promised we’d lighten things up.

I felt their uneasiness, much quieter than normal as they entered. Who is this guy? What’s with the wheelchair?

Some knew the story, but for most I was just another first-day teacher to figure out. They were more concerned with who sat next to them and how much homework their new math class would require.

I didn’t know that.

The bell. I rehearsed this moment over and over, sitting alone in this familiar classroom. The whole idea was crazy. How did I let my principal talk me into thinking I could pull off this act? Thirty pairs of eyes stared as I struggled self-consciously, picked up a pen, fumbled to mark the attendance sheet.

They welcomed the opening activity, grateful for a diversion from the unspoken questions circling the room. Students worked together. I moved among them, rolling uncertainly between desks, acting like it was just another first day while fear knotted my stomach. Should I say something about the chair, about my injury? How long could we pretend nothing’s different?

One boy looked up as I passed his desk. In the honest, unassuming manner only a thirteen-year-old could manage, he announced, “I think I’m going to like being in your class.”

“Oh yeah? Why is that?”

“Because,” he said with a grin, “I hate it when teachers stand and look over my shoulder.”

Right then, I knew. As I chuckled and shook my head, I knew it was going to be okay.

I moved on, commenting a little now on student work, making small talk. The atmosphere in the room lightened, students talking to each other and to me, the first day of the new school year underway.

Somehow, everything was going to be okay.

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