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.


Part Three—The Hard Years

After having taught at Oneida for 2 years, I got married and moved to Knoxville. I taught for three years at a large elementary school just across the county line. It was at this school that I learned about school politics. Not my favorite subject I can assure you. I learned that what is best for administration is not always in the best interest of the students. Frustrating.
“Red Tape” aside, I had a good time at this school. I had a wonderful teaching assistant who also became a dear friend. I could have never made it without her.
I taught one year of resource, with kids that had learning disabilitities, one year with a small group of boys that had emotional/behavioral problems and my last year with a class of more severe disabilities.
It was my last year that was the most fun. I had a little, second grade girl in my class that made the year interesting! She had cri-du-chat syndrome which is French for “cry of the cat.” (due to the infant’s high pitched crying resembling that of a cat) This is a syndrome that is due to a chromosomal abnormality. L.B. liked to lick everything in sight. That included you if you happened to be in her way:) My assistant and I spent a lot of time cloroxing the room down each day after school. L.B. was fascinated by my pregnancy that year. She would touch my ever growing belly as if she knew something good was going to be happening. Her mom would tell me that she went home at night talking about Mrs. Satterfield having a baby “in there”. I’ll never forget the day in May that L.B’s mom came to me and asked if she and L.B. could visit me in the hospital when I had my son. She wanted her daughter to see that indeed a baby was the end result. I said, “sure”, and so good to her word, here came mom and L.B. You could see the awe in L.B’s face when she saw my baby. It was precious. It still makes me smile to think about it. Last night I was thinking about her. She is 20 or 21 years old now. I wonder how she is?
The next Fall I started teaching at an inner city school in Knox County. (where I lived). The two years at this school were the hardest for me. I was challenged physically, mentally and emotionally. There were days when I didn’t know if I’d make it out alive. No, that is not an exaggeration. Little known to me when I accepted this particular position, that I would step into a world totally alien to anything I had ever experienced before. I had been hired to work with a group of nine of the most street smart, emotionally disturbed, and physically aggressive boys that you might run across…especially for an elementary school. I was trained in therapeutic physical restraint, crisis intervention, problem solving, and had the added assistance of mental health counselors (for the kids,not for me….though some days I could have used it). I should have known how this was going to go down when my first student sauntered through the classroom door. He was all of six years old, but tough as nails. (In the following story I do not wish to offend anyone with the language, but I think it is necessary in order to tell the full story. It is shocking to hear these words…and I’m sure it will shock many as you can imagine how I felt when I got it yelled at me.) “Little” John greeted me with, “HELL no! You a white bitch. Hell no! No muther fuckin’ white bitch is gonna be my teacher.” Well, and hello to you too…..and thus the school year began. I started out with a female assistant who left just a few months later when one of “our boys” hit her in the back of the head with a large book. It knocked her to her knees and caused her to see stars. She informed me that she felt bad, but that she didn’t need this and was quitting. Entered Dale. A tough man who was a huge help to me. We became quick friends. I actually liked Little John even though I never knew what the day would hold with him. One day he informed me that as soon as my back was turned he was going to break a window, get some glass and cut me. Friendly little guy, huh? It could get scary, but even more then that, it was sad. I worked hard to teach these boys their academics, but each day was peppered with restraints (for their own safety and those of their classmates) and crisis management.
I vividly remember one day when a mother came bursting through the door near the beginning of school. She did not know me yet screamed, “White bitch! You not to touch my son. I will fuckin’ beat yo ass. You hear me?” She was nose to nose with me, spit flying, and I just knew she’d hit me…I was tearing up because I was so thrown off guard by this verbal assault. After this I vowed no one would ever see me cry again. I would learn to be tough….I had to be. It was all about respect. Oddly enough, this same mother requested to go on one of our class’ field trips shortly thereafter. This class had to go on “adventure” trips where we had to work as a team. It forced the kids to confront their fears and at times it was stressful. The trip she went on was when we went caving. We were about a mile underground with our guide. He told us not to touch the walls due to black widows…we only had his flashlight and the lights on our helmets. I’m claustrophobic anyway AND I’m terrified of spiders so I was dealing with my OWN issues on this particular trip.We got to one section of the cave that was so narrow that you had to put your arms out in front of you, slide on your belly and pray you didn’t get stuck. Half way through this narrow tunnel I started to panic. Really panic. I just knew I was going to die in this hole, and for what? Then I heard that mom’s voice. “Go, Mrs. S. Go. Just do it!” I managed to get through the hole and then it was her turn. She was scared and it was my chance to encourage her. She stopped half way through. Near paralyzed with fear, yelling, “My ass is as big as a football field. I can’t get through.” I kept yelling at her to move. Just move. She did and from then on we were friends. No kidding. Just goes to show that nothing is impossible. Our next trip was obstacle courses and zip lines. Once again I’m beyond nervous. I am on a platform all the way in the top of a VERY tall tree. I am harnessed onto a zip line and told to jump. My heart was about to beat out of my chest. The instructor told me to just close my eyes and jump. My students were like little ants down there on the ground watching their brave (crazy?) teacher being the first to go. I stepped off the platform and went flying through the woods like Tarzan. Only I didn’t yell like Tarzan it was more like a blood curdling scream of imminent death. Thankfully, I made it and lived to tell the story.
This time brings back memories of threats on my life and restraining orders, being bitten by a student and having to endure a series of hep shots because of it, physical restraints that I just knew if the child got loose he’d kill me, police escorts, chasing an escaped student through the neighborhood, a drug dealer that ran through our school cafeteria and holed up in the office, refusing to come out because if he did the guy on the street would kill him. I also have sadness from this time over the senseless loss of one of the school’s kindergarten students. She was in sitting in her front yard when she was hit by a stray bullet. A drive by that took the life of a sweet little girl. At this school drive bys were not uncommon. Other schools have fire drills. We had drive by drills. Children learned when they heard a whistle to get down on the ground. One day one of my students came in totally exhausted. I asked why he was so tired and he told me that his mom wouldn’t let him sleep in his bed last night. I was indignant and made a mental note to call this mom to “discuss” this with her……until I heard the rest of the story. There had been drive bys in the public housing all through the night. The walls are thin in these houses and the safest place this mother could think of to protect her son was for him to sleep in the bathtub. She didn’t pull him out of his bed because of neglect, but out of love.
So, you might wonder if I came away with anything after teaching at this school for two years. I did. I learned that many times people act certain ways out of fear of the unknown. Change can be scary…and that everyone needs help sometimes.

Part Two —-The Early Years of Teaching

Yesterday I talked about the people and activities that got me involved with special education. Today I’m going to tell you about my early years in teaching.
I graduated from Carson-Newman College in Tennessee a week before my 22nd birthday. Four years of hard work had come to an end. Now, I just needed a job:) I packed up my dorm room and moved back to my home state of Maryland. I had every intention of going back there to live. I was filling out applications, going on interviews with school systems, while also working full time at the group homes that I mentioned in my last post. One afternoon I received a call from a former professor. He told me about a job opening in a small town in the mountains of east Tennessee. I flew back down to interview with this school system and was given the job on the spot. The special ed. supervisor gave me a quick tour of the town and took me to the only apartment complex in the area. This was to be my new home. Within two weeks I had gone back up to Maryland, retrieved all my earthly possessions and moved into my new apartment in Oneida, Tennessee.
Now, Oneida in the early 90’s was a small town set back in the mountains. I sort of felt like the main character in the story of Christy as I began my new teaching adventure. I was barely 22 years old, and green as they come. I WAS the special education teacher for grades K-6. I had many teaching assistants to help me with all the kids for which I was so grateful. Looking back, I have to say I couldn’t have picked a better school to get started in. The people I worked with were some of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. Some of the 6th grade students I had that first year are now 30 years old! Okay….now I officially feel old.
The kids of Oneida Elementary taught me more in the two years that I was there then I ever taught them. One sweet boy comes to mind. He was in 6th grade at the time. His family was very poor, and I believe day to day living was a struggle for them…but this child was always friendly, respectful and a hard worker. One day he was late to school and we had things to do so I was irritated when he finally showed up an hour late. I sternly told him that he needed to be at school on time, self righteously believing I was teaching him the importance of punctuality. I’ll never forget this young man looking almost eye level to me as he said, “Miss Webb, I’m really sorry for being late. The wall of our house fell in last night and I had to help my Daddy wrap plastic around so the weather would stay out. I didn’t sleep much.” I wished I could have taken my stupid words back…instead I hugged Daniel and I apologized for not understanding. Having grown up with everything I needed I was absolutely naive to how some people lived. I learned a valuable lesson that day.
Another day I had to have some paperwork signed and couldn’t get the parents to come to the school to sign. My special ed. supervisor and I went to the home of this particular student and knocked at the door. The father opened the door and after hearing what we needed, invited us in. Animals were in the house….and I don’t mean just cats and dogs. I mean various small farm animals. I was taking this all in as I gingerly sat down on the couch (making sure to glance down before taking a seat). The father proceeded to tell us about his prize fighters. I wasn’t really following along, until he mentioned his fighting roosters….and then I got it. Cock fighting. (Which by the way is illegal in Tennessee!) He told us not to worry about that, he crossed the state line into Kentucky on Saturday nights for the fights. My, oh my, was I learning life lessons about people.
Oneida was a small town. REALLY small. When I first moved there I was seen as an “outsider”. People were not unkind, but I knew they were watching me—after all they considered me “a yank”. I never realized how small the town was until one day I was getting a prescription at the pharmacy when one of my students literally popped up from behind the counter and scared me half to death! He was hanging out with his aunt (the pharmacist) until his mom got off work. (the sisters were identical twins which threw me for a loop for a moment)
Another time I was at dinner with a male friend. There was only one sit down country restaurant in town and it was connected to the local motel. (same owners) The next day at school one of my female 5th grade students demanded to know what I was doing at the motel last night?! Good grief. I explained I was JUST at DINNER and then went home, and why am I explaining myself to a ten year old????
Then there was the time one of my 5th grade students showed up at my apartment doorstep. It was 8:30 in the evening, getting dark outside when I heard my doorbell ring. It was Jason. Our conversation went something like this. “Hey, Miss Webb.” “Hey, Jason. What are you doing here?” ” Well, I was looking for your place.” “Why?” ” I dunno” “Hmm….well you found me.” “You ready for bed?” “Yes. (as I stood there in my pink pajama set and slippers) Um….how did you find my apartment?” “Cause, I’m smart that’s how. I figured you lived at the apartments. I looked for your car and found it parked in the parking lot. It was on this side of the apartment building so I started knocking on doors and ringing doorbells. I figured you’d answer eventually.” “Interesting. Good deduction. Now it’s getting dark and we have school tomorrow. Do your parents know you are out?” “Uh….I dunno.” “I want you to ride your bike home. NOW. Promise?” ” Okay. See ya tomorrow.” ” Bye, Jason.”
My life in small town U.S.A consisted of joining a bowling league for entertainment, having an act in the school’s local talent show, attending the high school basketball games, and going to the local Walmart. Everyone went to Walmart for entertainment….after all that’s where one met up with everyone to chat. One day when I was there on my regular shopping trip, minding my own business, I was sidelined by one of my students. I hit the floor like a sack of wet concrete. I felt arms around my neck and realized it was Luke. He had escaped his parents grip, saw his teacher down the aisle and galloped at me like he was going for the win at the Kentucky Derby. Hey, if I had seen him coming I would have steadied myself for the assault…but alas, I was caught off guard and was not very graceful as I hit the floor. Luke’s parents were very apologetic as they helped me up. Luke on the other hand didn’t seem to mind that he nearly gave his teacher a concussion. Next time, I decided I might just wear a helmet when doing my shopping.
My first two years of teaching were fun. I remember lots of smiling faces, lessons, paper and glue, arts and crafts, the Halloween costume parade, sharing the gym and cafeteria with the middle and high school, talent shows, and friendships. Like I said earlier I couldn’t have picked a better place to live and work as a new teacher.

Part One—My Memoirs From My Special Education Years

I have decided to use my blog to do a 5 part series on my years as a special education teacher. You will have a window into why I chose to teach, the people I met along the way, and the memories that will last a lifetime.
Special education was a part of my life even before I realized it was a part. I grew up with my aunt who was born in the 1930’s. She was born with mental retardation. At a time when many mentally retarded children were put into institutions my grandmother chose to keep her daughter home with her. As a young child I knew Mabel was different, but she was still fun and interesting. Who else had a candy stash in their closet, and had such an awesome key chain collection? It was interesting to me as I got older that she could tell you things, and remember in detail events that had happened when she was a child.
My family had a friend at church that had a little girl who was born with a rare chromosomal disorder that caused mental retardation. My sister babysat for them a lot. She was like an assistant to this young mother. As a teen I also helped this same lady teach a special needs class at our church.
I babysat for a neighbor of ours that had a son with CF. (cystic fibrosis) I remember showing up early for my babysitting jobs and being instructed on how to give this little boy his enzyme medication in applesauce so that he would eat it. I remember watching his parents give him therapy before they left for their evening out. They would pound on his back trying to dislodge the mucus that was robbing his lungs of air. I remember how unfair that all seemed…to be a child plagued by a disease that would eventually take his very life.
It was when I was a teen that my desire to do something for this particular population bloomed. At sixteen I volunteered as a hugger at the Special Olympics… was then that I made my decision. I was going to be a special education teacher…I was going to make a positive difference in the lives of children. I was young and naive, but I had the desire and the drive to begin the journey.
At seventeen I took a summer job as an assistant camp counselor with the camps sponsored by our local Association of Retarded Citizens (ARC). Boy was this an eye opening experience! This was a “social” camp for MR adults (ages 18-70’s)……and boy were they social. I remember one night towards the end of camp was the BIG dance. The ladies wanted help getting “prettied up” for the men that would be at the dance. Wasn’t it a hoot that at 17 I was helping ladies the age of my mom or grandmother get ready for their big night out! Older bodies but with the minds of young teens. We teased hair, we put on hot red lipstick, and pranced into the dining hall like we were the best thing to hit this camp since whenever. I remember the fun of watching them have fun. One man was in a wheelchair and stayed on the sidelines…..I asked him if he’d like to dance? He said, “sure” with a big smile on his face. I wheeled him out and spun him around like we were trying out for the Rockettes. He clapped and laughed. He was having fun–and so was I. I had such a good time as counselor that I came back each summer for the next five years.
Along with camps, I also became a house counselor during the summers at some local group homes. When I say that I’ve pretty much seen it all I’m not kidding. I got into an argument with a young woman when I vacuumed under her bed and she had no more dust bunnies under there. She was so mad at me. She told me she collected them! And further more I had ruined her collection. In the same house was Helen, at the time in her early 70’s. She was having a temper tantrum because the senior center bus was late and she thought they had forgotten her. I told her to stand next to the front door and wait. She was not patient and threw herself to the floor in a toddler tantrum. I came running into the room from the kitchen to see this woman flailing around on the floor. I said, “Helen, for goodness sake get up!! I don’t want you to break a hip.” This went on for about 5 minutes…when we heard a honk. The bus had arrived. Helen jumped up, brushed herself off, fluffed her hair, grabbed her handbag and waved as she went out the door. So there you go. Shaking my head I retreated back to the kitchen to finish making eggs for breakfast.
In another home was Gregg. He was 40 years old and severely, profoundly retarded. I think that working with Gregg is when I truly learned how to serve others. (His mom was elderly and could no longer care for him though she visited him often) Gregg was in a wheelchair. Gregg couldn’t feed himself, couldn’t bathe himself, couldn’t talk. I recall wondering what kind of life Gregg had….what he thought about, how he felt, if he ever felt sad about his lot in life……..then it occurred to me. Maybe God had allowed Gregg to live NOT for what he could give to others, but for the opportunity for others to give to him. There was no hidden agenda with Gregg. He had to trust that you’d take care of him. There is something very profound in that.
One of the funniest memories I have is of Phillip. Phillip was small, skinny and wrinkled. He was the ripe young age of 78. Not a tooth in his mouth and only a minimal amount of hair on his head. But what a hoot! I vividly remember this—I was once again fixing breakfast (seems like all the funny stories happened around that time). I was 21 at the time, home from college for the summer, and working at Phillips group home. Back then I was a cute, young blonde. Phillip was a big flirt. This particular morning he joined us for breakfast in the outfit that the good Lord gave him. He had on nothing but a big smile and an open robe. I had my back to him, fixing some bacon in the frying pan. When I turned around my mouth hung open and I was in shock.
Even though I was only 21 my “mom voice” took over. “PHILLIP!!! You get your rear end back in that bedroom and put some clothes on. You better not come back out here until you are covered up. That is NOT allowed, now get moving!!!” He sheepishly made his way back to his room. The rest of us sat silently at the table mulling over the morning’s course of events, eating our eggs and bacon….until I burst out laughing. It really was funny. I couldn’t help but laugh. Leave it to the playboy of the house.
I could go on and on with the stories. Life can be hilarious. Lessons are learned. Strength is gained.
Tomorrow I’ll talk about my first years of teaching.

Ear Piercing Scream

I’m currently sitting on my bed with my lap top, well, on my lap. I’ve had a LONG day. You know the kind….the kind that nothing goes according to plan. The kind that seem to go on forever…….I think a good scream would make me feel better. I better not do that though, because I might give my kids a heart attack. Either that or they might think I’ve finally gone off the deep end. Yes, I got up this morning to make my breakfast and ended up with some of it on me. Butter fingers. School was in the tank today. The kids and I felt like we were stuck in quicksand. Today I was sitting at the kitchen table I saw my sons mouth moving, knew he was saying something, but it just wasn’t computing. Repeat, please? No, I have not had a brain hemmorage or anything. Just me, what can I say? This evening I was having some coffee and managed to spill it all down the front of my nice blouse. Lovely. See what I mean?
I am going to go to bed, will pull the covers over my head and hope that tomorrow will be a better day.

Pass Out At The Pump

I had on the downside of a half a tank of gas in my car….but I wanted a full tank because I have a full week coming up and as all us moms know…..WE are the chaeuffers of the family! So anyway, after the kid’s soccer game today I stopped at the gas station. $5.00 for a gallon of gas!!!!! (the station across the way was $5.07) After I picked myself up from the pavement and dusted myself off, I looked again. The price had not changed. The neon green light at the pump seemed to mock me. It seemed to say, ” if you want the privilege of driving then fork over the bucks lady!” What a rip off! Yes, I know that Hurricane Ike has wreaked havoc on the gulf. I realize that the pipelines for the southeast come from the gulf. Still! My Camry can probably hold around 20 gallons. Who has $100 for gas? It’s just miserable. Our van has a bigger tank then that. Good grief! I hope this gets fixed (or whatever) so that the gas shipments (?) can get here. Several gas stations in Knoxville have put plastic bags over their pumps so people won’t use them. They are already out of fuel. Another shipment was supposed to come on Tuesday, now it will be Thursday. People will panic–make a run on the gas, and then there really will be no gas. Either that or you’ll have to sell your firstborn just to get a few drops for your car to get from point A to point B.
I think Star Trek was onto something. We all need to get one of those machines that transports one from here to there WITHOUT gas!!!!!!!! Where is Captain Kirk when we need him?????

Panic at the Pump

Good grief! I woke up this morning and did my reading of the local paper online, like I do every morning. The big story is that between Gustav and Ike the oil refineries on the Gulf coast are not able to function and supply the south east like they normally would. There are several gas stations in Knoxville that have run out of gas and won’t get another shipment (hopefully) until Sept.17. People are lining up at the pumps and they are in a panic. One woman said last night she was in a line of 20 cars, another had to wait 20 minutes just to get to the pump…. One guy said the price will sky rocket because of this. I haven’t been to the gas station so I don’t know, but I’m not going to panic. Won’t do any good to panic anyway. If I am unable to get gas I guess I’ll just be staying at home.