Each student encounter taught a valuable lesson throughout my 42 years of teaching. An authentic voice is given to each student’s story, and the reader can glimpse that student’s struggles, triumphs, and educational journey while in my classroom. Throughout my career, I discovered new ways to reach students that were certainly not in the lessons I learned from the textbooks and experiences of college courses.
What do you say to a student who raises his hand and asks, “Can I call you Sugar Lips?” These stories were, at times, humorous, profound, and at times heart-wrenching, with every emotion in between. Every student had a story, and every story had lessons to be learned. There were times I wondered who was the teacher and who was the learner. At the end of the book, I share ten valuable life lessons for everyone I learned from these special kids. In this age of inclusion
and diversity, this book will make you laugh, cry and cheer for people with special needs.
Here is a sample of one of the stories. I changed all the names to protect each student’s privacy. This is just part of the story of Matt from my first year of teaching. I was a new teacher in a new school with much to learn.
Matt was a tiny boy with anger management issues. The first time I saw this sweet little boy, I was sure that if I was patient and consistent with him, he would lose the poor attitude and comply with the work that I gave him to do. How could he possibly cause that much trouble?
Here I was, a first-year teacher in a new program, starting at ground zero. The first thing he said to me was, “I got kicked out of my last school. I won’t last very long here.”
“We will see about that. I am not planning on going anywhere, and neither are you,” I replied. I had been expecting this tough little guy to have a hard shell, but I was sure I could bring out the best version of Matt. I figured I could outlast any difficult situation he might present and prove to him that I was in it for the long haul.
“We will see about that,” he answered. He never seemed very happy about anything, but initially, there were no huge issues. I kept thinking about his opening remarks and knew I would have to prove to him that I was in this class and that nothing he could do would change that. I felt like it would just be a matter of time before I would convince him I cared.
For several weeks, we did not have any problems. I thought this was the end of the big showdown. I felt he would believe me if I just told him I wasn’t going away. Did I mention I was young and naïve? I was confident that he was making progress. Things were going quite well with this charming young man, and I could see he was just clearly misunderstood. That lasted about two weeks.
Now I know there is a term for it: the honeymoon period. It was short-lived. Then one day, the dark cloud came over Matt’s head, the winds started howling, and for no apparent reason, he decided he was not going to listen to anything I said. This did not bother me at all; I knew it was coming. It was the proverbial calm before the storm. I just figured something happened at home, and I would be the calm of his raging storm.
I had a specific behavior plan and knew that if I was consistent and fair, he would get back on track. He quickly went through the steps of my plan, and the veins in his neck bulged as his face got redder and redder. So much for that theory as the storms of frustration, need, and anger reached an epic peak. Suddenly, Hurricane Matt arrived. Books started flying through the air, and his desk flew across the room, tossed as easily as if it were a pair of shoes.
I knew he needed a cool-down area so I got him to my time-out room. This was a room that I felt quite good about because it had glass windows and doors. I could see the student while they were away from others, and they could cool down with the repositioning they needed to restore a calm demeanor. At that point, I realized sweet little Matt had somehow morphed into a 300-pound gorilla capable of slinging a large school metal trash can through the shatterproof time-out window glass. The whole class just stopped what they were doing and stared at the rubble in the room. I just stood there speechless. I knew I had to remain calm, but I felt my own heart racing in my body. Now what should I do?
This is just part of the story of Matt from my first year of teaching. I was a new teacher in a new school with a lot to learn. Read the book to find out how I handled this situation.