I always had a way with words. I simply poured my deepest thoughts onto a blank sheet of paper and never questioned the difficulty that it might cause for others. School came easy, and my affinity for the language arts classroom was fostered naturally and through many inspiring mentors. Who would have thought I would find an entirely different type of mentoring in one particular student at Grain Valley South Middle School.

As I walked into the classroom on my first day of student teaching, I never imagined I would be working with a child as creative, witty and intelligent as Mikey Elkins. Each day Mikey would fervently draw on countless sheets of paper with his pencils precisely sharpened and never straying from his own personal set of colored pencils. I thought. “Is that OK to have a student drawing throughout class?” I soon realized no matter the content I was teaching; Mikey was putting my words and instruction into cartoons and comics. Sure, some days it was more Mikey and less Ms. Carnes, but once given a direction, Mikey always delivered.

His artistic expression became his main avenue to learn, and I decided to let him teach me instead of me teaching him. When other students constantly complained about having nothing to write, I could always give a nod toward Mikey, who was never without his creative juices pouring forth onto the paper. I began to look forward to what he would come up with next and ways to incorporate his own learning into my instruction. “How would my lesson fit Mikey?”

Some might ask, “What is the big deal with Mikey compared to the other students?” Mikey is a seventh grade student with autism. However, his artistic expression is pure Mikey. He livens my day with witty remarks and adds a needed diversity to the learning environment. I knew I had to showcase his work to demonstrate to his peers and his community the importance of embracing all learning styles and to send a message that no matter the avenue a child might take to learn, each child always has something unique to add and plays a pivotal role in the learning of all students.

I will never forget Mikey Elkins and the education he unknowingly gave to me.