A Partnership With Fergus O’Neill

While trying to decide what a worthy topic for my final blog post would be, I read through Geneseo’s Learning Outcomes for Baccalaureate Education (GLOBE) once again. The outcome of Communication stood out to me: “To demonstrate proficiency in English and skill in another spoken language” and “to engage in discussion, debate, and public speaking in a manner suitable to the listener(s) and the discourse.” This outcome reminded me of my brother Fergus, who is thirteen years-old and has Down Syndrome. Although he is very social and highly verbal, Fergus has a speech impediment that makes it difficult for a lot of people (sometimes including me) to understand what he’s saying. With regards to education, the main end-goal for Fergus is not to go to college or have a career, but to be able to communicate with and understand the world around him. The academic partnership that Fergus had with his previous teacher, Miss. Kelly, has been the most influential factor in helping him communicate more clearly and effectively.

Miss. Kelly was Fergus’s teacher for four years, up until last June. Their partnership still exists and remains strong, but since Fergus has a new teacher now, it has shifted from an academic one to a friendly one. Miss. Kelly had a beautiful impact on Fergus and an incredibly significant role in advancing his communication skills, but with those rewards she faced a lot of risks. I only just began thinking about what that partnership must have been like for her, because it never occurred to me that she faced risks in being Fergus’s teacher.

Fergus tends to accept ideas the first time they are introduced to him. When we moved houses a few years ago, we showed Fergus our new house, told him it was our new house, and he never asked about our old house again. Because of Fergus’s instant trust and acceptance, Miss. Kelly could theoretically tell Fergus anything she wanted to. She could teach him how to add and tell him it was subtraction, she could tell him his name was actually spelled “furkis,” or she could tell him that he’s eight years-old and he would probably accept all of these things as true. Miss. Kelly held so much power in teaching Fergus, so she had to be extremely careful about what she said to him and how she disciplined him. It’s difficult to be responsible for Fergus not only because of how influential he is, but because of how hard it is for him to recount events. At school, Fergus was under Miss. Kelly’s watch. If she lost him on a field trip, he would not be able to tell her where he went, who he spoke to, or what he saw. If he got hurt on the playground, it would be really difficult for him to explain to her how it happened. By being his teacher, Miss. Kelly signed up to not only make sure Fergus received reliable information, but to ensure his safety during schooldays. If she failed to do her job, Fergus could easily have been hurt or confused, which would hurt Fergus, my family, and herself.

A more upsetting risk, and one that is a bit upsetting for me to write about, is the possibility of investing time and energy into someone who may not reciprocate the same. After I leave home at the end of each break, Fergus doesn’t asks my parents about me. We are extremely close and I know he misses me, but he does not verbally say it. I can only tell he misses me because of how elated he seems to be every time I come home. By working so hard and getting so close to someone who is, at times, very disconnected, Miss. Kelly faces the reality that if Fergus were to never see her again, he would probably never ask us about her. I’m not inside Fergus’s brain so I don’t know if he would notice, but I think he would. I know that he loves Miss. Kelly and he is ecstatic every time he sees her, but by being in a partnership with Fergus, Miss. Kelly faces the risk of putting energy into Fergus without receiving verbal reward from him. He has too much difficulty organizing his thoughts and communicating them, so she has to just know and trust that he appreciates her even though he is unable to fully say it.

Getting Fergus to the point of comfortably, fully, and effectively communicating has been Miss. Kelly’s goal in being his teacher, but that same communication is also the main source of the risks that she faces by being in academic partnership with him. It’s odd to think about, because if Fergus could communicate perfectly then Miss. Kelly would understand and hear from him fully. He could thank her and converse with her much more easily. But if he could communicate perfectly he wouldn’t need Miss. Kelly. The beauty of their partnership lies in the fact that he needs and appreciates her so much, and she knows that without him telling her. The risks and the rewards of this partnership are not black and white because they need each other in order to exist. The reward only exists because of the risk, but the risk prevents the reward from being more tangible. That being said, Fergus’s lack of ability to verbally reward Miss. Kelly does not represent Fergus’s ability to reward her in general. Fergus has his own ways of showing appreciation, so Miss. Kelly has to notice the little things Fergus does in order for her to feel appreciated by him. The partnership between Fergus and Miss. Kelly is admirable, and I am really pleased that this class has allowed me to think about it more in depth.

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