Part Four—The Last Decade

By the time I started at Norwood Elementary I had seven years of experience under my belt. I had taught in rural America, the suburbs and the inner city. I was bringing with me a plethora of things that I had learned along the way. At this school I met my new assistant, who would go on to become one of my very dearest friends, both inside school and out. The two of us were known as the “dynamic duo” around school and kids from other classroooms would often get our names confused…unsure of who was who.
Years later I would be talking with my assistant and she confessed that when she first saw me walk into school she was unsure about me. She thought I looked “too nice”….but I changed her mind when she saw how I took care of business and nipped any problems in the bud. (Hey, I’d just come from the inner city…this school was piece of cake comparatively speaking!)
At this school I had the opportunity to have after school math/science class with the general ed. kids. I got to teach students how to balance checkbooks, track weather patterns, understand severe weather, grow our own plants, learn about graphs, and figure out how much money they would need to spend a day at the ballpark. It was fun! The kids really enjoyed their time with me and I with them. We ended the year with a big, blowout luau party to celebrate our successes. Life is good when you are wearing flip flops and drinking your Kool-aid from a glass with a little umbrella in it:)
After teaching at Norwood for three years my son was turning five. He was able to come with me to school and attend kindergarten there. That was one of the great perks about being a teacher. It was a happy time knowing that my son was just down the hall. Little did I know what was just around the corner for us. Just how strong we would need to be….. On November 4th of my son’s first year in school his daddy died. My husband was only 34 when he died from a heart condition. I will never forget standing next to the casket talking with people who had come to give their condolences, when the door to the room opened and my fellow school teachers came walking in. They must have decided on a time to meet, because they just kept coming. One after the other….there must have been fifty teachers. I was so touched. Kendrick’s kindergarten teacher gave him a teddy bear, that was just what a sad five year old needed. We still have that bear to this day….a memory of another’s kindness.
Over my ten years at Norwood I learned what it is to have to control my emotions at meetings with parents. My anger threatened to boil over at a mother who took drugs and drank during her pregnancy and then had the gall to accuse the school of not doing enough for her child! I cried along with a student who suddenly lost her grandmother around the same time that I lost my husband. Her pain broke my heart.I learned that no matter how much I’d like for it to be, many children go home to emptiness. Not all children have balanced meals at home, some don’t even have clean clothes or toys to play with. I could make school good and safe for them while they were with me, but I couldn’t change their circumstance once they left.
I remember the pride I felt when my students were able to overcome the odds and be successful at school. I felt like a proud parent when general ed. teachers would come to me and tell me what a good year one of my kiddos was having. I remember a decade of happy faces at Norwood. No, not every day was perfect or even good for that matter, I had frustrations too, but overall it was good.
As the years went on, I began to be trained about autism. I started to get more and more autistic students and even though I was at first unsure of how to relate to these children, I soon found out just how fascinating they could be. I began to be intrigued with this diagnosis and still am to this day.
One of my sweet autistic students had a fixation with flipping light switches on and off. This was the year that my classroom was like a disco. Every time I turned around the lights were flashing on and off. It’s a good thing that none of my students were prone to seizures because all this light flashing would have surely done it! I went to all the light switches up and down the hallway and put messages next to the switches. “Only adults touch light switches. Do not touch!” My student was beyond frustrated with this situation. He could read so he knew he shouldn’t touch the switch, but oh how he wanted too! Some days were better then others—and one always knew what kind of day it was according to whether you were standing in a dark hallway or not:)
From this school I will remember friendships, fun, meetings, paperwork, struggles, successes, challenges, and most of all learning….about life.