Author Chris Ulmer visited FSDB during September 19-20, 2017, providing a stellar experience for students and staff alike. He was born in Philadelphia, but moved to Florida after college because he wanted to “experience living on the coast.” Ulmer applied for teaching jobs in every state on the eastern seaboard below North Carolina, and Jacksonville was the first to hire him. Ulmer taught students who had a wide range of disabilities.
Early on he decided to create a video log (vlog) of his experiences in the classroom. While he enjoyed creating the vlogs, within the first six months he became disillusioned. His mission: to engage the general public in his special education classroom, touching the lives and ways of his students. But the only people tuning into his vlogs were his students’ parents/families and other teachers. He almost gave up; it was hours of extra work (frequently editing video until 10 pm) beyond his full time teaching job. But when he discussed throwing in the towel with his girlfriend (now wife), she persuaded him to give it a year. The reach of his vlogs expanded exponentially.
Ulmer developed a set of rules or “secrets” for life and Secret #5 derives directly from this experience.
At FSDB, he presented each secret and the story behind each. He also showed several of the special education student vlogs to the audience, called Special Books by Special Kids. Through his talks with students and staff, he emphasized how to “handle things with humor & sass.”
Secret #1 – Find your similarities with others.
Secret #2 – Start where you are. Accept yourself.
Secret #3 – Focus on the positive.
Secret #4 – Learn something new every day.
Secret #5 – Surround yourself with good people.
Secret #6 – Take a chance.
Secret #7 – Practice what you preach.
Secret #8 – If you’re going to do something, do it.
Secret #9 – In order to grow, you must sometimes feel discomfort.
Secret #10 – Never take anything for granted.
Secret #11 – All results stem from belief.
Secret #12 – The coolest thing you can be is nice.
Secret #13 – It’s okay if you don’t know.
Ulmer provided heartwarming examples of these secrets from his work with students. As an example, Secret #2 involves starting where you are. His student Kevin didn’t have a corpus callosum (major part of the brain) but his dream was to run a 5K race. When Ulmer heard about Kevin’s dream, he started Kevin’s training by telling him to walk as fast as he could across the classroom. Because Kevin’s muscles were not accustomed to it, he tripped and fell. Ulmer wrote a note home to Kevin’s parents explaining the injuries, and that Kevin wanted to run a 5K and Ulmer intended to help him accomplish that goal. The next day, he received no response to his note. But the day after, Kevin showed up to school with a bunch of bandages sent by his mom, in different sizes and for different parts of the body.
When Ulmer’s vlogs became successful and were viewed by many thousands of people on YouTube, he began getting emails from all around the world. Besides being a popular vlogger, Ulmer is working on a book that will be published under the title of The Human Condition.
Ulmer was especially absorbing for older FSDB students, who pelted him with questions during the Q & A session after his presentation. His attentiveness to the students was matched by his humor. When a Blind High School student asked facetiously, what was his favorite brand of shoes? Ulmer smiled and said, $5 shoes. The one departure from his usual presentation happened in the Early Learning Center, when he read The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle to the youngest of FSDB students. It is evident from the photos that the students enjoyed his visit!
Ulmer’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/specialbooksbyspecialkids/
Ulmer’s website: http://www.specialbooksbyspecialkids.org/
By Christi Boortz, Instructional Services
The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind (FSDB) is a fully accredited state public school and outreach center available tuition-free to eligible Pre-K and K-12 deaf/hard of hearing and blind/visually impaired students. Comprehensive educational services at FSDB are individualized, specific to the unique communication and accessibility needs of each student for independence and lifelong success. FSDB gratefully accepts private donations to support vital programs that directly benefit students and are not paid by state general revenue funds. To visit the school or to learn more about eligibility for enrollment, contact 1-800-344-3732. For more information, visit www.fsdb.k12.fl.us.