Beyond Athletics

The Gift That Keeps on Giving: Growing Up with a Special Education Teacher

woman advocating for anti-bullying poses in Halloween costume

(Anne Chmiel with students at a Halloween event)

Elena Delle Donne, WNBA player for the Chicago Sky, was featured in the Huffington Post last week for a piece on her own experience being bullied. She gained perspective through her love for two things: the game of basketball, and her older sister Lizzie, who was born without sight or hearing, and was born with autism and cerebral palsy.

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, a time when coaches, student-athletes, families and spectators can all question: How are we doing our part to promote love, acceptance, and inclusion?

Who teaches us not to bully?

My mom retired this summer after over 30 years as a special education teacher. Looking back on my mom’s career, and celebrating her service and commitment to the field, it’s obvious that her teaching days have shaped the greater part of her life. What has never been quite as obvious, but is something I’ve learned through her retirement, is the profound impact her career has had on me and who I am today.

In demonstrating her appreciation, patience and love for her students, my mother exposed me to a deeper understanding about the uniqueness every person has to offer.

While (fortunately for my sister and me) my mom was able to take time off when we were growing up, I’ve always had the example of a strong, nurturing, hard-working, do-it-yourself woman. Even when she wasn’t working, she was volunteer coaching, tutoring, or offering aid, and often brought my sister’s and I along for the experience.

Above everything else, however, I’ve realized that having a special education teacher for a mom has taught me compassion and acceptance from the youngest of ages. In demonstrating to me her appreciation, patience and love for her students, my mother exposed me to a deeper understanding about the uniqueness every person has to offer.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my mother helped me not only appreciate my gifts in life, but has taught me how to find and appreciate gifts in others.

Watching my mom at work has impacted every aspect of my life.

She’s the reason I’ve never understood bullying – the thought of making fun of someone for the way they talk, walk, dress, you name it, has always been so utterly perplexing to me, and still is to this day.

Her example is the reason I’ve been an advocate for organizations like the Special Olympics and Big Brothers Big Sisters.

She’s the reason I got my degree in Middle School Education – the worst of adolescence, and where much bullying begins.

Do you know someone who needs a voice, who needs a hand to hold, or a friend to count on? Let’s get on board with acceptance and inclusion. You never know what profound impact even the smallest act of kindness may have.

About the author
Laura Chmiel

Laura Chmiel is a marketing coordinator and a lead writer for NCSA Athletic Recruiting. As someone with a passion for athletics and education, she graduated from Indiana university with a B.S. in Elementary Education. After school, she gained first-hand experience helping student-athletes and their families get to college.