The Children That Changed Me– The Memories Make Me Smile

The year is 1997. I’m still teaching in the same county, just a different school…one closer to my house. This would be the school I would teach in for the next ten years. I liked this school. I met many wonderful teachers and a lot of interesting students while there.

When I started at this elementary school I had seven years of experience under my belt and was fresh from the inner city experience. I felt like, since I survived that, nothing could slow me down now! The first day I met my new teaching assistant. She sized me up right away. Checking me out to see if I was up to par. I guess the “evaluation” turned out okay since we became fast friends both inside school and out. We were the dynamic duo of our little school….and boy, did we have some adventures together!

One little girl in particular always kept us on our toes. I will call her Vonda. I will not use her real name to protect the innocent or not so innocent as the case may be. She was EXTREMELY ADHD along with having learning disabilities. Now, I know a lot about ADHD…when I say she was EXTREMELY I mean it. This is the same girl that would walk around the room and touch everyone as I was trying to teach. I don’t mean a hand on the shoulder, or even a tap. I mean a full out ” squeeze you ’til your eyes pop out” hug. Or she might decide to give you a new hairstyle if your back was turned for a split second. The girl was constant motion. One day, right in the middle of a lesson, she jumped up, raised her arms to the ceiling and yelled at the top of her lungs, “Give it up for Jesus!” Okay. I love Jesus, but to be honest I wasn’t in a worshipful mood right then. I didn’t feel the need for a tent revival. I asked her to have a seat. My assistant told her to sit down….she did not. She bounced around praising Jesus instead of doing her schoolwork. You can imagine what the rest of the class looked like with her conducting her very own “come to Jesus” meeting and me attempting to have a lesson. All of them went wild, like monkeys at the zoo. Later that day, I informed her mother about the incident. Her mother apologized for her daughters impromptu church service…but she laughed. She said, “I have to tell you this story about Vonda.”

We were at church the other Sunday. Everyone was listening to the preacher, preach. We were all into the service, when Vonda started acting out. I didn’t want her to interrupt the service so I gave her “the look”. She ignored my “look” and continued to be disruptive. I whispered for her to sit down and be quiet. She looked the other way. I had, had it! She started in again and so I reached over and gave her a pinch on the leg to let her know I meant business. At this, she let out a loud, high pitched shriek. The congregation thought she was calling out because she was “in the spirit”. I just let them think that, as I gave Vonda another look. She was going to be “in the spirit” again if she didn’t quit!

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I had a good chuckle over that story. Her mother and I bonded that day. We both knew what we were up against.

Not all my stories are easy to tell. Some hurt. Some stories I have chosen not to share because they still haunt me today. Stories of child abuse, drugs, and neglect…and a system that many times failed my students. My heart broke. My anger flared at the injustice of it all. When a person is passionate about something…sometimes emotions get in the way. Such is the story that I am about to tell……

I had a new student. I will call her Shelly. Shelly came from a home that was dysfunctional to say the least. Long story short it was all about neglect and emotional abuse. She had grandparents that loved her, but a mom that I don’t really think understood what real love meant.  I really liked Shelly a lot. She was a good kid except when she had “melt downs” and flipped desks and pulled over cabinets and threw things in a rage. You see Shelly was emotionally disturbed. She had a difficult time controlling her impulses….because mom saw fit to do drugs and drink alcohol while she was pregnant with her. She chose those vices over her own child’s health and well being. Shelly would never be “normal” because of her mother. The blame should be laid directly at her mother’s feet. Anyway, as a special education teacher I had to have meetings with parents at least once a year to go over progress.  I don’t know if mom was just having a bad day or what, but as we sat down at the table for the meeting she says to all the school personnel, “the fact that Shelly isn’t making much progress is YOUR fault.”  Now, I am usually a fairly calm and collected person. It takes a lot to get me truly riled up. At that moment I wanted nothing more than to come across that table at her. To scream in her face, “NO. It’s YOUR fault. YOU made the choice to do cocaine. YOU chose to DRINK. YOU chose this life for your daughter before she was even born. How dare you!! Go home and look in the mirror. YOU. YOU. YOU. Your daughter is damaged because you thought that YOU were more important than her and her future.”  I didn’t say this. Instead I just sat there and stared at her. I had to detach myself from it. From the situation. You see, over the years I learned that I can’t fix everyone. It’s not possible. Even though I wanted to help, I could only do what I could do,when my students were with me. Unfortunately, some times I had to turn kids over to situations that were less than desirable…because that is what our system says to do.

Tomorrow I will finish my blog series…my teaching-the later years.

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