In 1995 I started teaching in a new school system. I was placed in an inner city classroom that consisted of nine streetwise boys…all of whom had some sort of emotional disturbance. I admit at that time I was naive’. I had no idea what lay ahead of me. Let me just suffice to say that during my two years at this particular school I got bit, spit on, threatened, hit, bruised, called every name imaginable and then some. Unfortunately, my assistant and I had to spend more time keeping order than actual teaching. I learned many lessons during my time at this school, with these particular students. Even though these kids had seen and done things that no child really should have to deal with, or an adult for that matter, I was allowed to catch brief glimpses of the truly young children that they were. One young boy had several members of his large family that were mentally ill. An older brother had “a breakdown” one night and broke every window in the house with a ball bat. Then chased his mother and siblings around the house threatening to kill them….until the mother called for help. The next day when this student came into the classroom he was tired, irritable and angry….and really, who could blame him? His own emotional instability didn’t allow him to process what was going on in his life. I appreciated that I had mental health counselors at my disposal to help with the kids, but I still felt inadequate to even make a dent in this child’s life.
These kids weren’t sweet and lovable like some of the other students I had in the past. They were tough, and closed off. Walls had been built up, long before I came on the scene. To be honest with you I spent a lot of those days tired and totally depleted mentally, physically and emotionally. Early on it struck me that at the end of the day I could go home. Home to a husband that loved me, an infant son, a house in a middle class neighborhood where I didn’t have to concern myself with drive-by’s, drug deals, or gangs. A place where I could be refreshed and where I felt safe. My students didn’t have that privilege. I cried for them. I spent time wondering if having me for a teacher would make any difference at all to them. To this day, I’m still not sure. I like to think I did something positive, but I don’t know. I learned that sometimes life, is difficult, no matter how much we wish it wasn’t. Sometimes we just do the best we can. Then we have to let it go.
The time was 1992. I was twenty-four years old and a new bride. After marrying I moved and started teaching in a large suburban elementary school. By 1994 I had a classroom of Danny, Brittany, Josh, Lori Beth and Lilly. My little class was a hoot! We were a motley crew of red hair and freckles, big brown eyes and giggles, glasses, hand clapping and tiny little feet. I enjoyed that class so much. I have to admit Lori Beth was a favorite. I don’t think Lori Beth’s mom would mind for me to tell you that she has Cri-du-chat syndrome. (French for “cry of the cat”) Lori Beth was a licker. If you got within an arms grab of her….you were hers to lick. She licked everything. Most days I went home smelling like spit. I loved her though. She was a happy little girl. I remember thinking one day, that the world looks on those with “disabilities” as different, or dumb (or unfortunately, much worse). Although it has been my experience that most of these children that I’ve worked with have been happy. Really happy. Not fake happy to try and fool others. They usually don’t sweat over the small stuff. Life is what it is and they move on. Usually, with a pretty good attitude, all things considered. Now, I’m not here to say that my students were all sugar and sweetness. They could have attitudes, cry, throw themselves to the floor, pitch a royal fit, and if they were really into it—spit on me or bite me. Hey, it’s all in a days work. The thing is they didn’t hold a grudge, they moved on. One minute they are kicking on the floor, the next they are holding my hand telling me they love me. I love my students for that…..because I always knew where I stood with them. Plain and simple.
Now, back to Lori Beth. In the beginning of school year ’94-’95 I became pregnant. This was all new to Lori Beth. She was amazed to watch as my stomach grew bigger as the school year went on. Her mother asked if it was okay for Lori Beth to touch my belly. She had been talking with Lori Beth about how there was a baby growing inside of me. Now for a 2nd grader with a syndrome that causes mental retardation, going all abstract about babies and how they are inside a woman’s belly, is no easy feat. I gave LB’s mom credit. LB treated me as if I was a precious piece of art. She even contained herself about the licking. I knew she wanted to lick her hand and touch me….it was killing her, but she refrained. (her mom must have given her the lecture about not licking her pregnant teacher. haha!) I was due at the end of the school year…as a matter of fact I missed the last three weeks of school that year. Lori Beth’s mom asked if she could be allowed to bring Lori Beth to the hospital to see me and my new baby. She wanted Lori Beth to see the culmination of all this big belly-ness. True to her word, mom and Lori Beth showed up to see me the day after my delivery. What a precious sight it was. There was Lori Beth listening to her mommy explaining that this was Kendrick, the baby boy that had been growing inside me. She looked at me. She looked at him. She looked at her mom. She was putting it together. It was an “ah ha!” moment. Chalk one up for real life learning that day.
My goodness, Lori Beth must be somewhere around 22 years old now. All grown up. I miss her.
More stories, more students, tomorrow…….We’ll take up in the year 1995.