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Thread: A Special Memory

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    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    A Special Memory

    A Special Memory


    You take an assignment for moderate to severe special Ed. You’re hesitant and have some sort of unexplainable fear of the kids. You have reservations. You imagine what might happen if one of the students goes off like nitroglycerine and explodes, then what do you do? I’ve always been afraid of breaking things, declared awkward as a child. This may be my worst assignment ever. What if nothing happens at all? Then what do you do? The regular teachers aren’t there, so visiting teachers rely on aids and technicians, who know these kids inside out.

    Monday is Education Cirque du Solei.

    T’s got a cardboard barrel full of wooden shapes with holes in the top that correspond to the shapes inside. He’s got curly hair and spaghetti-thin legs. He rolls in in a wheelchair. “Who let the dogs out? Woof, woof-woof.” Stack of quarters along with funnels that fit quarters, nickels, dimes, pennies, all different colors too. He drags the coins between his teeth before putting them in, and places them through cut-out and into the cylinder. He never turns to look; he does it by sense of feel like a Pin Ball Wizard…because he’s legally blind. He shows me how to properly toss a bean bag during PE.

    I see instantly: the tecs- professional, efficient, this crew… terrific.

    You’ve got these multi-hat wearers. The Special Education Technicians are teachers, mentors, professionals, who employ multiple strategies to teach learning standards to students with particular strengths and weaknesses, wants and needs. No matter what happens, they are, like psychologists, expected to remain calm.

    Most regular teachers work in a vacuum, alone, and in rare cases, with a Teacher’s Assistant. These people work as a team. Their esprit de corps is high. He who doesn’t bend… breaks, so flexibility becomes key, and they stay focused and on task, remaining the calm center of any threatening hurricane that may surround them.

    ABC Games Music Therapy before lunch. M works on her art project with L, the TA, who is good with color, and her fashion sense shows it. Everything must match everything for L. M is wearing a T-shirt that reads “Just Because I Don’t Talk Doesn’t Mean I Don’t Understand”. On a blue tempera field they’ve just painted, L is helping her glue gold swimming fishes in brassy bold relief. Later, M manipulates a miniature multi-colored Ferris wheel, like Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Coney Island of the Mind.

    In rolls T with his mom. Bring out the holes and wooden shapes. He can flip down the foot rests with his feet, and we secure them in place. The chair abounds with straps and Velcro, padding, and restraints. To me it’s an odd spidery machine on wheels. To T, it’s just another familiar chromium appendage that helps him get around.

    When I see the boys in period one rock back and forth while watching their screen, it reminds me of Afghan and Pakistani boys rocking back and forth while committing the Koran to memory.

    C can’t leave the table when the bell rings without placing her chair just so. She checks it to the millimeter. We finally talked after a few days and I found out she draws wonderful whimsical creatures with bright colors and has a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo and a fish for pets. She’s unusually quiet, but her quiet exterior masks the visually bold and eloquent student that lives inside.

    Miss Veronica! It’s time for Miss Veronica! Miss Veronica demonstrates a happy dance, and then demonstrates an anxious dance. I’ve known the steps for the anxious dance ever since I could walk, so I don’t have to take notes or watch.

    You have to keep an eye on Tom Cruiser. He elopes! He’s a serious cruiser, a walking ballet. You can leave any doors open either. After a while, when he gets to know you, he passes close by on his cruise. It’s kind of unsettling, but he’ll glide by silently, sniff you, or gently touch your hair. They told me this kind of action scared two subs away.

    D rarely talks, watches Goodfella and The Senator doing their routine, but from his screen, even though he’s right across the table. One day when I looked over his shoulder, he was watching a YouTube about how to change the oil pan on a Lamborghini. He sports camouflage shorts with cargo pockets and trimmed hair, pulled up in a man-bun in the back. D has kind eyes and disposition to match.

    You’ve heard of helicopter moms? Does the term sound pejorative? Compared to special needs moms, helicopter moms never get off the ground, and special needs parents expect more. Special needs children are taught all the normal curriculum, as well as people skills, communication skills, life skills, useful inside and outside school. Each lesson is tailored to the individual. Goals are set, progress is measured, recorded, and lessons are ratcheted upward incrementally.
    Miss S, Mr. D, Mr. C, Mrs. L, Miss A, Mr. F, O, B, Mr. S, Mr. R, and a supporting cast of professionals work small miracles behind the scenes every day, while the rest of the school has no idea what they do. They imagine the special Ed teams are some kind of glorified babysitters. If you want to be misunderstood, underrated, and underappreciated at the same time, apply for Special Ed and reap the disrespect.

    Sometimes these kids are louder than you can imagine. Sometimes they’re too quiet, or too close, or too remote, or too sleepy, or too woke. But guess what? We’re all on the spectrum somewhere, even the staff. Teaching is always a two-way street. At the very least, we try to give these kids a few skills and even the most difficult and challenging students give us patience in return.

    I have to mention the speech specialist, Miss A, the Different Strokes for Different Folks master. For my class, she takes on three at a time. She may work from left to right or she may have to change it up. D doesn’t talk so she employs Big Macs for him but has to record and enter different prompt words or phrases for different occasions, and occasions change by the minute. She’s in constant motion, engaging and reengaging all three of them, with their different abilities, using her voice, eyes, and touch. It is a balance, as she juggles all three of their attentions at one time, keeping these normally ephemeral attentions suspended in the rarified air of engagement and discovery. They love every minute of it. You can see her powers invisibly lifting them up. It shows in their eyes and the corners of their mouths when they smile.

    The climate she creates encourages enlightenment, inspires them to keep on learning. Fun on the surface with serious learning just underneath is the name of the game.

    When you can’t talk, how do you communicate? With your eyes and touch. With the PCS Board with the Core 40 set of symbols for words and expressions, or the Tobii Dynaview 1-15+ which allows you to talk with your eyes even if your limbs are awkward or useless. This Hawking-like device costs over fifteen thousand dollars and is worth every penny. But when it comes down to it, the cleverest and most effective devices are the teachers, SEAs and SETs. The human touch can never be underrated.

    You realize after a while that many of these kids will never be alone. They will always need help. They’ll never cash a paycheck, or get married, or be independent. There will be no cure in their futures. Some of the parents have no plan for their child’s future, denying their own mortality and expiration date.
    When I see somebody struggling to get a fork full of food, any food, into their mouth, I see that challenges are relative, individual, and we each have our own. The fact that I can shower, fix my own breakfast, dress myself and drive to work is seen from a different perspective. I no longer see a just a routine. It becomes a blessing, one of those blessings formerly taken for granted.

    Mister D, Ancient Wisdom One, is leaning over C in his wheelchair, feeding him lunch, spoonful by spoonful, wiping his chin. Mister D is insightful, erudite, and can hold up his end of a decent conversation.

    “Chew it smaller and smaller,” he tells C, holding his head back gently, wiping his chin with his bib.

    “Chew it smaller, that’s it. Smaller and smaller.”

    I’ve never seen a man more tender. D wears a grizzled beard and wire-rimmed glasses that can see through bull****. His voice proves to be a soothing unguent to the boy propped back in his wheelchair, covered from lap to neck.
    “Chew smaller. Chew smaller.”

    Relaxing Music for Reading plays on the Promethean Board while Mr. D’s left hand cradles C’s head, and his right hand holds the nourishing spoon.

    “Chew, chew, chew.”

    The beauty of life’s poetry floors me at times. To live, you have to chew in order to swallow life.

    On Tuesday, H takes twenty-three steps with some assistance. On Wednesday, it’s twenty-four. I teach S how to make a proper Y and later, how to hook his lower-case g to the left. The progress is there. It’s just dragging its heels, and here’s why:

    Quadriplegic. Cerebral Palsy. Visual Impairment. Seizure Disorders. Ulcerative Colitis. Severe Oropharyngeal Dysphagia. Spasticity and Contraction of all Extremes. Downs Syndrome. Autism. If you can imagine it; our kids have it…in spades.

    Caseloads exceed those specified in union contracts. A flyer hangs on the wall and reads,

    “Stop Understaffing Special Ed! Jan.30th Meeting”

    Special education teachers write Individual Education Program reports for each of their students. They must plan meetings with parents and service providers, check schedules, write reports, deal with extreme behavior issues, while balancing competing priorities from various supervisors. A special educator spends more time in meetings and doing paperwork than teaching. No wonder the burn-out rate is fast and furious.

    “Prep period? What’s a Prep period? Lunch? You take it when you can.”

    Helped The Senator, Goodfella, and D make Rice Crispy Treats under the tutelage of Mr. D. Coated the pan with spray, while all three pulled on blue Nitrile gloves. Mixed up the rice and miniature marshmallows, then added vanilla and put them in a bowl.

    Microwaved the mix then put it in a glass pan. Pounded it, patted it, put it in the fridge. Fifteen minutes later, watched Middle School, the Worst Years of My Life, ate Rice Crispy Treats and enjoyed the show. Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite was in it. All the kids ate one, including me, and D went back for seconds.

    Once upon a time I was a regular teacher. When you have five periods a day with thirty-five kids each period, it’s hard to form emotional connections, the sheer numbers prohibit it. With eight kids it’s a different story. Within a week, you’re hooked.

    Tone, touch, eye contact, is imperative, if you want to garner attention. And don’t forget, model, model, model. Monkey see, monkey do, is the essence of effective education.

    Did a reading lesson with E today called Louie Shops on Line, a wants and needs lesson. It’s on a touchscreen, bad for me and bad for E, as I let her touch it four times and me twice. That’s six times I have to stride across the room to seek C’s help to reset the screen to the previous page. Touchscreen, the amazing teaching-tool, and bane of my existence, me being Mister Awkward Fingers, has a hard time with it. M thinks it’s funny and laughs. When it comes to awkward fingers, she knows we’re in the same boat.

    H, on this day, dread-locked and happy, cries out a greeting to me when she’s rolled in the door.

    “Here’s H! Good morning H, how do you feel today?”

    She smiles, her eyes widen, she reaches out, our hands touch.

    “Good,” I say, “Me too.”

    “George Herbert Walker Bush.” The Senator says it into his laptop, and it comes out gravelly and makes him sound 50 years older. His buddy, Goodfella, hears it, turns to him and points and says, “Senator, you funny guy.”

    Then it’s time for them to move their chairs to the front of the Prometheus Board with its enormous touch screen. CNN 10 School News with Carl Azuz is up first. They ask questions at the end. The Senator watches it earlier, sneak previews it, so he can answer the questions flawlessly and pick out the music. Miss S and C our SET figured it out how he did it last week. The boys extend all ten fingers to mark the end of his news. After that they set up today’s calendar, and it’s the kid’s choice after that. Whether it’s Goodfella, or whether it’s The Senator, it’s music, and it’s Ragtime.

    It’s always Ragtime. Scott Joplin. Until now, I didn’t know you could dance to ragtime.

    Miss S is business-like, accommodating, flexible, funny, but serious as a coronary when the hammer needs to fall.

    J’s goal is to exercise and build his reading skills. Miss S sits patiently at his side sporting tasteful hoop earrings, eyebrows on fleek, not one hair out of place. Because she’s so in charge, we’ll call her the Lioness. J, a senior, is proud of his reading skills, and plows ahead with youthful enthusiasm.

    “Slow down.”

    “Well, I’m reading, aren’t I? I’m saying all the words.”

    “I know that, but that’s not the point.”

    She gives him a no-nonsense look that reminds me of my mother.

    “Your reading is good, but you’re running all the sentences together.”

    On J furrows, turning the words up willy-nilly, and as usual, his enthusiasm gets to him again and he rushes ahead and stumbles.

    “Stop for the periods. You don’t stop. In the last two pages, you’ve run on and on. That’s why you were confused when I asked you questions later.”

    J slows down a bit, and he checks his progress by glancing up at her. When he sees her almost clandestine smile, he knows he’s won her approval. Now they’re in sync, and the work and play of teaching and learning continue arm in arm. Plowing together will prove fruitful by the end of the learning season in June.

    And who’s to say when learning ends? As long as you don’t have a menopause mind, learning and fruitfulness can go on forever.

    Oh look, it’s third period, and Mr. K, the Music Man is here with his bag of instruments and melodic tricks.

    I glow, you glow, we glow together,” they sing, as he passes out rhythm sticks, shakers, maracas, and tambourines. It’s easy enough to share the light when you’ve got Sunshine in Your Pocket or learning in your bag of tricks. Mr. K has a slight moustache, a slight beard, but he’s large on perception, insight, and talent, playing them all equally well. He hands out the shakers, maracas a la Mick Jagger, and tambourines, and the entire room plays along with the song. You can attach a maraca to a hand if it’s bound to padding, and that’s just what we do with C. And he can move and shake along with the song. If he hears a string of numbers, he’ll predict the next number in order to stay along with cadence. Predicting letters of the alphabet is one of his strengths. Then it comes time to change things up.

    “Switch instruments. Same or Different? Timberlake or Taylor Swift? Bruno Mars? Uptown Funk?


    This hit, that ice cold

    Michelle Pfeiffer, that white gold.
    The kids begin to rock.

    All of us have people expecting progress from us, but the expectors measure progress by their own yardsticks. My student’s yardsticks are a little different. But they can do it, and this song expresses their feelings.

    Don’t believe me, just watch! For H, it’s about walking 23 steps unaided.

    Don’t believe me, just watch! For Tom Cruiser, it’s about spooning breakfast cereal by himself.

    Don’t believe me, just watch! For Goodfella, it’s about knowing that Beethoven was German by recognizing his 3rd Symphony.

    Don’t believe me, just watch! For The Senator, it’s about saying Hello every morning and making sure D gets a turn at the board.

    Four out of ten have seizures and are prescribed benzodiazepine or other related drugs. Education relies on cognition and memory. There’s the rub. A student can get through a lesson one day, but when you return to the lesson the next day to scaffold the learning, you find out less is retained. Of course, these kids have issues, but then so do the drugs. When the next day comes, you and your student find yourselves back to square one, when yesterday you were half-way to square two. Maybe on day they may treat seizures with meds that won’t impair cognition or memory.

    The Happy C, we’ll call him C. I like his rebel attitude. In many situations where you’d expect a yes, he gives you a solid no. You can find anything he likes, anything you know he likes for sure; it doesn’t matter.

    “You like this, don’t you?”

    “No,” C smiles. Then he asks you, “How are you?”

    “I’m good, how are you?”

    “Boo.”

    He gives you a piece of the unexpected and you rejoice.

    C is a Jack of all Trades and Master of all. He can lift students and feed students and give meds to students because he’s certificated SET from head to toe. He’s calm, good natured, a natural for the job. C is bearded, baseball-capped, with checkered Vans, bouncing all over the place like a racquet ball in serious flight, always on the run. And at the same time, he’s taking finals for a degree in Language, Speech, and Auditory Learning at San Diego State. He’s a full-time student and a full-time worker, an inspiration. His finger is on the pulse of every class, his ear to the ground, and he knows every kid by heart. This is the caliber of people I work with.

    If a carton of milk is misshapen, you assume the contents are worthless. No so with human beings. Consciousness it gold, anyway, anywhere, you find it. One of my biggest mistakes was assuming these kids were fragile when in reality, they are enormously resilient. Never gauge a book by its cover.
    Mister D is playing a game of chess with J.

    “Mister D, I’m going to put you in check!”

    “Alright, do your worst.” A couple of moves later I hear I hear Mr. D again, “Man, you’ve got me in check!”

    “I told you!”

    One is saving the other, like Trotsky saving Alexander Alekhine, who later became a grand master. Mister D is a consummate Life-skills Master, guiding J to victory through the chess game of life. This particular game demonstrates the practical value of foresight and strategy, two tools that J can use, even if the demonstration requires Mister D to purposely lose. The savvy instructor knows that victory builds confidence and a taste for the game. That was his particular goal, and he achieved it.

    PCS Core 40 Board. Picture Communication Symbols. ABC Mouse. Starfall.

    Mr. R is in today with his grey striped shirt and razor-sharp focus and soft voice that can blast when it needs to, working with T.

    “What is that coin?”

    “A Quarter.”

    “YES!” Give me the blue rectangle. “Yes, that’s it. Good job! What’s the brown one?"

    “A Penny!"

    “Yes, good job!”

    D colors between the lines with vivid Gauguin colors. They’re showy, saturated, and polychrome colors, and D, with a fresh haircut, looks five years older, applying the colors with gusto, intensity, and focus.

    The Senator, Goodfella, and D play Super Mario with Wii sticks and race round the track with custom built vehicles driven by their custom-built personas. Goodfella needs to practice his fine motor skills. The Senator is significantly better, but D is Queen of the Course. She’s won four out of five races and one second place. I ask her why, and she whispers,

    “I’m a gamer. I’ve been playing this game for years.”

    The soft-spoken girl plays a hard game. Sometimes the boys can’t take it. They figure girls should be playing Barbies or something.

    “Oh, come on! Tartar Sauce!”

    “Hey, move it!”

    “I’m driving here!”

    “Watch out for the banana peel!”

    “Oh look… game over!”

    At same time and in the other corner of the room you hear slurp… slurp… slurp. The sponge-ended probe goes into C’s mouth and out comes an ice-cream soda-pop sound. He’s got a bib with apples on it over his head, while musical nursery rhymes play softly in the background. Now it’s time for lunch.

    On go leg braces,

    On go straps and adjusters.

    Up go two eyes,

    In goes the applesauce,

    Out goes the spoon,

    Listen to the cow jump over the Moon.

    And so it goes. You take a job for the money and a bunch of kids run off with your heart.

    If teaching is a two-way street, then what have I learned? I learned not to judge a book by its cover and that people who appear fragile can be strong inside.

    And big heroes can reside in small places.

    ©StevenHunley2019


    https://youtu.be/OPf0YbXqDm0 Uptown Funk Bruno Mars
    Last edited by Steven Hunley; 12-18-2020 at 08:45 PM. Reason: need to edit out a name

  2. #2
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    A moving story, Steven! Seems drawn from a real experience.
    #Stay home as much as you can and stay well

  3. #3
    MANICHAEAN MANICHAEAN's Avatar
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    The ending was particularly good buddy.

    End on a note that makes the reader think.

    Best wishes for Christmas.

    M.

  4. #4
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    Near the end of one semester a Special Education teacher at a nearby high school bailed out. I got to be a long-term visiting teacher for a couple of months. You can see why of all students out of school because of the pandemic, these are the ones who have the most challenges when having to learn online. They are challenged when learning in person. Because they are students, they are afforded certain protections. So I had to change or use letters for all the names. I work with kids in everyday middle and high-schools. I work for the court and county schools where all the students are on probation. But of all these, the Special Ed kids are the most endearing. Their strength, good humor, and resilience, astounded me. I probably learned more from them than they did for me.

  5. #5
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    You are teaching them on line, of course?
    #Stay home as much as you can and stay well

  6. #6
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    Many of the kids I had in this class have full-time support in the home. Some have physical challenges to working online, but they are used to challenges. They'll get by with a little help from their friends, or so the Beatles said.

  7. #7
    MANICHAEAN MANICHAEAN's Avatar
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    The human spirit will never cease to amaze buddy.

    You are using your talents well and the constant learning is reciprocal on both sides.

    Hang in there and stay safe.

    Best wishes.
    M.

  8. #8
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    I hope your work makes you forget a bit about Covid!
    #Stay home as much as you can and stay well

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