Half a Cup of Blues

Friday, May 13, 2005

This is what it is really ALL about ...

Teaching in a special education classroom, that is.

That's what I do. I work with, on average, 12 students at a time in a self-contained classroom. I have high school kids (14-18 years old) who have been unsuccessful in public school settings. They each have a mental health diagnosis (several in some cases) and many have learning disabilities as well. The majority of my students have serious neglect and/or abuse in their early lives. Many have already fought with drug and alcohol addiction. Promiscuity is about the only way they know to feel loved and, even then, they usually recognize it for the artificial and short-lived affection that it is.

By the time these students arrive at my door they have been rejected from many other schools and special settings. I am, in many cases, the last resort before this child is locked up in either a youth authority camp or a mental hospital. Failure has been their greatest success and they take a certain pride in that and will tell you that, given enough time, they will make you hate them and want them gone, too. And you know, looking at them, that they believe that with every fiber of their being. They've lived it and already think they know how it will end.

Try teaching math or english in that environment! I dare ya! I double-dawg dare ya! The very first thing that I have to do is make an impression and I do that with a HUGE welcoming smile and sincere interest in who they are. I have to build the relationship, not from the ground floor, but from some deep subterranean level where their sense of self-efficacy has been buried. I am always establishing physical contact of some kind: a pat on the back, a hug, a ruffled head, or even sliding onto the classroom couch next to them and asking, "Wassup?" The bad touches that these students have had have to be replaced with good ones or they continue to live physically isolated lives and look for that contact in negative ways (you can't believe how often a kid will become assaultive JUST to force a containment where they will be "held" until they are once again safe!).

So that's what I do. I love my kids. And, yes, they are MY kids. I stick up for them, I scold them, I mother them, and I teach them. Often are the times when a student will do for me what they will not even do for themselves, based on our relationship. Progress is made incrementally and slowly but it IS made. And then they blossom. They amaze me with the incredible insight and beauty that they bring forth once they know it is safe to be themselves. And that's where this is leading...

I got a card from one of my students. A Mother's Day card, in fact. It had a lovely picture on the front and sweet poem on the inside but it was the handwritten note that touched my heart. This is what it said:

"Happy Mother's Day, Michelle! I want to thank you for everything that you've done for me. You're so easy to get along with and you accept me for who I am. You and the other staff in the classroom have made school interesting. You've taught me to love learning and to love without end. Thank you! Always and forever!"

Wow. This is, indeed, why I choose to work with this special group of kids.

I am blessed.

Today's Plan: To remember what is important and to make a positive difference in someone's life.


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