On “Likel” and “Merf”

Alice: But I don’t want to go among mad people.
The Cat: Oh, you can’t help that. We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.
Alice: How do you know I’m mad?
The Cat: You must be. Or you wouldn’t have come here.

This is my favorite conversation in Lewis Carroll’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  The primary reason for my preference of it, is that it so closely echoes the sentiments of working at my job.  In fact, I once had it taped to the window of my classroom with the words “Welcome to the MD World!” typed above it (I need to find it and hang it back up).  I work in a high school with kids that have Multiple Disabilities (MD).  And to say that it is its own “world” is barely an exaggeration.  Rules, manners of speaking, and ways of seeing and understanding life are completely different than those of individuals who are not affected by the most profound special needs.  People always tell me I must have such patience to do my job.  I tell them it has little to do with patience, that what is really required is a sense of humor.  And just a touch of madness.  Not a day goes by that my students do not tell me I’m crazy.  And my reply is always the same: “I am crazy; it’s what keeps me from going insane.”

There comes a time, however, when one begins to wonder if we, as the adults, are having more of an impact on the students, or if they are having more of an impact on us.  I have two wonderful ladies who work as paraprofessionals in the classroom with me.  I could not do my job without them (in point of fact, they have both been doing this job much longer than I, and so must be even more mad than I am 😉 ).  Today, out of the blue, Ms. W – in the middle of a song she was singing with a student – yelled out “Likel!”.  Now, “likel” is a word that our one student uses all the time.  We have never accurately been able to determine its meaning, since the student uses it in such a versatile manner (it really can fit in anywhere).  I looked between Ms. W and Ms. J when this happened and said, “You know you’ve been in special ed too long when you start using ‘likel’ at random times.”  Another word this same student uses, and that we have picked up on is, “merf”.  Usually this seems to be an expression of frustration.

We start to incorporate the students’ phrases into everyday conversations, even when we are not in the classroom.  I have become so adept at mimicking my students’ voices and inflections, my family and friends can tell which kid I am imitating without my saying so.  I can no longer complete the phrase “Thanks so much” without tacking on the words “very kind” at the end, as my one student does (I have gotten some odd looks from cashiers for this one).  If I say the word “fine”, it must be said in a rapid-fire succession of “fines”: “Fine, fine, fine, fine, fine” (at least five are essential).  This is the manner in which one of my students’ expresses her frustration.  These are just a couple of examples.  The list trails ever onward, as day by day I become a little more like my kids.

I cling to that little bit of madness; it is the only thing that keeps me afloat in my very own “Wonderland” known as my classroom.  Don’t judge me too critically; if you visited my world, you’d be mad, too…

 -S.D. Bullard

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~ by sdbullard on April 11, 2012.

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