As I mentioned in an earlier post of mine, I was first introduced to Dr. Richard Lavoie’s work on Special Education and learning disabilities in my second year of university. I was instantly drawn to his enthusiasm as an educator, and to the powerful messages that he was offering to individuals working with students with special needs. I was incredibly fortunate over my recent alternative practicum to be working with a supervisor who encouraged me to further my understanding of learning disabilities by conducting some of my own research as part of my placement, and I am so grateful that I was able to do so. I have learned a great deal about the strengths, struggles, and unique individual needs of students with learning disabilities and/or ADHD, and out of all the sources that I came across, Richard Lavoie’s work definitely stood out the most. After watching a few of his videos, I soon started to immerse myself in his work and learn as much from him as I possibly could. I am now currently reading both of his books, and I have acquired nothing but insight, inspiration, and invaluable advice from him. As a soon-to-be teacher who will be working directly with students with learning disabilities in one capacity or another, I can say with confidence that Dr. Richard Lavoie is one of my biggest professional mentors.
After a while, I was curious to see if there was a way to get in touch with Lavoie, and I took it upon myself to find out. I soon came across his website, which included an email address. Although I wasn’t quite sure if he would respond (or even have a chance to read an email, with his very demanding schedule), I decided to give it a shot, and I sent the following email to thank him for inspiring me as an educator:
Dear Dr. Lavoie,
My name is Megan Leonard, and in a little over three weeks, I will be finished my Concurrent Education program and will have completed the requirements needed to become a certified Elementary School teacher. I have wanted this career since I was six years old, so this is definitely a surreal feeling.
I am writing to you to thank you for all of the insight and inspiration that you have provided me with throughout my program. I was first introduced to your work when my Education class watched your original F.A.T. City Workshop in one of our second year lectures. I nearly started to cry in the middle of the lecture hall, and growing up with a physical disability, I found myself instantly relating to the social implications of being “different” that you discussed in the video.
More importantly though, I was incredibly intrigued by your exercises, and their effectiveness in capturing the frustrations endured by children with learning disabilities. Although the video was made before I was born, I was shocked to see just how relevant most of its content still is today.
Over the past few weeks, I have been completing a volunteer placement with my local Learning Disabilities Association, and my supervisor recommended that I take a look at your work during my research. I have now seen many of your videos several times, and am currently reading your books as well. I am very passionate about improving the school experiences of students with special needs (I even wrote an Honours Thesis last year about students with disabilities and bullying), and I want to thank you for giving me a great deal of strategies and wisdom that will help me to do so.
I hope that I can see you speak at an event someday, so that I can thank you in person. Your work has changed the way I see learning disabilities, and in turn, the way that I will soon teach all of the students in my own classroom.
A few days later, I received an absolutely amazing surprise when I opened my inbox to check my email before I began work on an assignment for one of my courses. I thought I was seeing things or hallucinating at first, because in the corner of my laptop’s monitor was a pop-up that read “1 new mail notification: Richard Lavoie.” After picking my jaw up from the floor (I’m exaggerating a little, of course, but I was VERY excited at this point), I clicked the notification and found the following response from Richard Lavoie himself:
I read your email yesterday at 35,000 feet while on my way to a California speaking engagement. You made my day.
I smiled when I read that you are YOUNGER than FAT City…..that made me feel old AND proud at the same time. It is wonderful to know that that film continues to inform and inspire professionals….and will impact young kids that I will never meet.
The fact that you took the time and effort to write that email speaks volumes about your sensitivity, professionalism and character. Your own personal struggles and successes will enable you to have an uncommon sensitivity when you begin your teaching career. Those kids will be blessed to have you in their corner.
Always remember that kids need love MOST when they deserve it LEAST……Let that be the guiding principle as you enter the profession that you have longed for.
One of my personal heroes is American Senator Robert Kennedy, brother of JFK. On the evening before he died, he addressed a group of college students in California. He said:
“Few of us have the greatness to truly bend History itself… but if each of us selects on small piece of this world and works to change one small set of circumstances, the collective efforts of ALL of us will write the history of this generation.”
Good luck changing YOUR “little piece of the world”
With every good wish,
It would be an understatement to say that I am thankful for this response. Hearing from Richard Lavoie and receiving personalized advice from him means the absolute world to me, and I will definitely be keeping his and Senator Kennedy’s words in mind as I prepare to finish my B.Ed. degree and enter my own classroom.